Governor Rochas Okorocha
Amby Uneze in Owerri
The Owerri Division of the Court of Appeal yesterday reinstated the 27 local government chairmen in Imo State, who were sacked by Governor Rochas Okorocha, on assumption of office.
The governor had unilaterally sacked the elected chairmen in June last year.
In a unanimous decision, the presiding judge, Justice Uwani Attaji, struck out the cross appeal by the government.
The appeal bothered on two issues for determination; whether the governor had the right to sack a democratically elected council chairmen and whether the governor had the right to institute a caretaker committee to administer the councils in place of a democratically-elected council executive.
The government, amongst other things, argued that there was a case against the council election prior to the election proper which called to question the credibility of the election.
The judge, however, ruled that any case against the election had been overtaken by the conduct of the council election.
The appellate court dispensed with irrelevant technicalities that were hitherto raised at the lower court in the interest of substantive justice.
The court ordered the reinstatement of the chairmen and restrained the governor or his proxies from interfering in their activities.
The counsel to the 27 chairmen, Dr. Livi Uzoukwu (SAN), described the ruling as victory for democracy and Nigeria.
In his reaction, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Soronadi Njoku, said the government would appeal the ruling.
Reacting to the judgment, the state Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Blyden Amajirionwu, described it as a vindication of what they had been fighting for which according to him, was justice and the rule of law.
“It is a vindication of what we have been saying that Rochas violates the rule of law. He is very lawless in his approach and the law is catching up with him,” he said.
Also, the Executive Director of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko, praised the decision of the court by restoring back to office the sacked chairmen, stating that it was a step in the right direction for the state’s growth.
Also reacting, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, commended the judiciary for its “bold, courageous and landmark” decision to reinstate the elected chairmen.
In a statement signed by his Special Assistant, Media and Public Affairs, Austin Uganwa.
Ihedioha said the judgment of the court was a bolster to the primacy of the rule of law, equity and justice in the conduct of governance by public officials.
He said the decision by the court has further reaffirmed the supremacy of the electorate and the tenets of universal suffrage which “no individual no matter how highly placed in society should diminish without commensurate measure of legal challenge by the people.”
According to him, “the judiciary deserves our commendation and encouragement in this bold and courageous step in enthroning the collective wishes of the people expressed through the ballot in determining who governs them at the grassroots level.”
He praised the courage and determination of the affected council chairmen, who expressed belief and confidence in the judiciary by sticking with the court processes.
Ihedioha called on the people of the state to continue to remain steadfast to the party as the party that has and will continue to project and protect the interest of the masses in the state.