Chief Rochas Okorocha
For about 15 months Oguta State Constituency has remained without a representative in the Imo State House of Assembly as the area endures the combined weight of legal tussle and politics. Amby Uneze in Owerri, writes
For a local government that parades notable Nigerians and great politicians such as the maverick politician, Senator Arthur Nzeribe,
Justice Chukwudifu Oputa (retired Supreme Court Justice), Charley Boy Oputa, the Nwapas, the Bishop Nwedos of the blessed memory, the Ogbuagus, and a host of others, Oguta is an important town that cannot be toiled with in the scheme of things in Nigeria.
In terms of commerce and economic gains, Oguta is noted for the prestigious Oguta Motel, the aesthetic blue lake known as Oguta Lake, the fishing prowess of the natives, the popular Oguta yam that ranks among the best in the country, the crude oil deposits that made Imo State a member of the Niger Delta development Commission, as well as its abundant gas potentials, among others.
But Oguta has found it hard to rise to the challenge of getting someone to represent it in the Imo State House of Assembly.
The election to pick who represents Oguta constituency in the Imo State House of Assembly started normally like every other local
government in the state. On April 26 last year, when elections into the House of Assembly was held, the poll took off on a good note. But at the close of the election, out of the 11 wards in the local government, results were collated and announced in only seven while
the remaining four wards were cancelled by the Independent National Electoral Commission for alleged lack of electoral materials and pockets of violence.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Prince Eugene Dibiagwu, who polled 11,536 votes as against 3,336 votes scored by his closest opponent, Mr. Walter Uzonwanne of All Progressives Grand Alliance, went to court asking that he be declared winner of the election. The Federal High Court sitting in Owerri, presided over by Justice Funke Olubanjo, upheld the April 26, 2011 election for the Oguta State constituency seat based on the results from the seven wards declared by INEC.
The plaintiff had approached the court to stop INEC from conducting a fresh election in Oguta State constituency in the May 6, 2011
supplementary. Unfortunately for INEC, that supplementary election was not conducted, thus, leaving Oguta State Constituency without a representative in the Imo State House of Assembly since inauguration of the Assembly on June 6 last year.
The plaintiff’s counsel said the court held that the election was inconclusive because of the four wards where elections did not hold.
The court, therefore, dismissed the plaintiff’s prayer to be declared winner of the poll and ordered that elections should be conducted in the remaining four wards, namely, Ndi-Uloukwu/Umu Owerre, Mgbala/Mba, Obudi/Aro and Uwaorie.
The court also dismissed an application to be joined in the matter by the candidates of APGA (Walter Uzonwanne), Action Congress of Nigeria (Henry Igbomezie), and All Nigeria Peoples Party (Frank Ugboma).
The PDP candidate appealed the High Court judgement at the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division, which in its ruling mandated INEC to conduct fresh elections in the four wards.
Following the ruling of the Court of Appeal, INEC conducted a fresh election in the four wards on August 11, 15 months after the first
poll. But the state APGA chairman, Marshal Okafor Anyanwu, said his party boycotted the election because it wanted the election to take place in all the 11 wards instead of the four wards where elections did not hold last year.
At the end of the election, INEC declared the PDP candidate, Eugene Dibiagwu, elected having scored 15,338 votes to beat his opponents in the overall election. A release to that effect dated August 12, 2012 and signed by INEC’s Head of Department for Public Affairs, Chinedu Onyeji, read: “The Independent National Electoral Commission wishes to inform the public that the court-ordered supplementary election into Oguta State House of Assembly constituency has been concluded and the PDP candidate – Dibiagwu Eugene O – returned having scored a total of 15,338 votes. The full result stands as follows: Hon. Henry Igbomezie (ACN) – 2,520; Ugboma Frank Onyebuchi (ANPP) – 152; Walter Ikechukwu Uzowanne (APGA) – 3,401; Clifford Okoronkwo (CPC) – 47; Ebere Amadi
(DFPF) – 16; Loresha Nwosu (DPP) – 31; Rev. Daniel Stephen (NTP) – 18; and Obi Chris (SDMP) – 8.”
Two days later, Dibiagwu received his certificate of return from INEC in Abuja and subsequently presented himself for swearing in having satisfied all the conditions as stipulated in the constitution. But his swearing in was aborted twice by the leadership of the House of Assembly.
At the latest occasion, Dibiagwu came to the Assembly armed with a letter dated August 15, 2012 and signed by the Permanent
Secretary/Clerk of the House, Chris Duru, titled “Swearing-In.” the letter stated, “I am directed to refer to your letter of 14th August
2012 on the above subject matter and inform you that having fulfilled the constitutional requirements as per Section 94 of the 1999
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), you are to be at the House of Assembly on Wednesday, 22 August, 2012 for swearing-in as the Honourable member representing Oguta State Constituency. Congratulations!”
Prior to the swearing date, APGA had come up with an allegation that some prominent PDP leaders were mobilising to storm the House of Assembly to cause chaos. The allegation was denied by PDP. But APGA followed with another statement on the local radio by the House Committee Chairman on Information, Acho Ihim, in which it stopped the swearing-in and shifted the sitting of the Assembly till Wednesday August 29.
PDP’s state publicity secretary, Chief Blyden Amajirionwu, issued a statement rejecting the shift as an aberration to democratic norms and an infringement on the right of the people to democratic representation. He called on well meaning Nigerians to prevail on the
authorities to do the right thing.
But members of the Assembly have expressed confidence in the election of Dibiagwu as member representing Oguta State Constituency, saying judging by his antecedents he would deliver to the people what they have lost in the last 15 months.
The legislators visited Dibiagwu penultimate Friday at his Owerri residence, where they contended that the issue of swearing in was just a formality. The legislators believed Dibiagwu had already been admitted as a member of the legislature, having fulfilled all the
constitutional requirements expected from him.
Hon. Ikenna Emeh, representing Isu State Constituency, told THISDAY that by the letter inviting Dibiagwu to the House of Assembly for his swearing in, he was already a member of the legislature and should henceforth be addressed as a legislator representing Oguta State constituency. Emeh added, “No law would stop him being formally admitted into the House.”
Hon. Stan Dara of Orsu State Constituency lamented the forces against Dibiagwu’s swearing in. The member for Nwangele State Constituency, Hon. Ugonna Ozuruigbo, extolled the election of Dibiagwu and congratulated him.
Angered by the politics behind the non-swearing of their member-elect, Oguta youths attacked the state governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, last week in Owerri. The youths had taken to the streets of Owerri to register their anger, but the protest was quelled by a combined team of Army and Police personnel.
The botched swearing-in of Dibiagwu on August 29 was the third time the event would be stopped since INEC declared him winner of the August 11 poll. Okorocha was fingered as being the brain behind the stoppage, allegedly, because Dibiagwu had refused to defect to the governor’s party, APGA. But that allegation was denied by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Chinedu Offor, who claimed it was an order of the state High Court. He said the court had issued an order that nobody should be sworn in based on an allegation by PDP that the judge, Justice Ngozi Opara, had been compromised by the state government.
Meanwhile, a delegation of the Oguta Leaders/Elders of Thought, led by Chief Bonny Ejiogu, a two-time commissioner in the state, have visited the state secretariat of PDP to complain about what they called injustices being meted to them by the state government. They expressed dismay over the non-representation of Oguta State Constituency for over 15 months. A member of the delegation and former chairman of Oguta local government, Dr. Gideon Nwaeze, lamented the plight of Oguta people, saying the community leaders had been holding back their youths from violent protest over the issue. Nwaeze said, however, “There is a limit to such parley.”
Responding, the state secretary of PDP, Sir George Eguh, condemned the actions of the state government, stating that the House of Assembly has also failed to perform its constitutional role.
No one knows how long more Oguta people would wait to have representation in the Imo State House of Assembly. But analysts fear
that the situation may blow up with unsavoury consequences if the wait goes on for too long.