Appeal Court Dismisses Amaechi’s Suit against Wike’s Judicial Panel of Inquiry

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Ernest Chinwo
The Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt on Monday dismissed an appeal filed by the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, challenging the powers of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the sale of valued assets of the state and other matters.

The court also declared that Wike, as governor of the state, has powers to set up a judicial commission of inquiry as it was in line with extant laws of the state.
Wike had in 2015 set up the Justice George Omereji Judicial Commission of Inquiry to probe the sale of valued assets of the state including gas turbines, the disbursement of N2 billion agricultural loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other matters.

But instead of appearing before the commission, Amaechi, under whose administration the assets were disposed, went to court to challenge the powers of the governor to set up the commission and also stated that the time allowed for his appearance was not enough.

But delivering judgment on Suit Number PHC/187/15 filed by Amaechi, Justice Simeon Amadi declared that the Judicial Commission of Inquiry was not established to investigate the personal activities of the former governor, but set up to investigate previous actions of government as they affect the people of Rivers State.

He also ruled that Wike by the provisions of the law is empowered to establish the Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate previous actions of government.
According to him, there is no law preventing a state government from finding out how her resources were expended.

He declared that Amaechi did not disburse and expend funds of the Rivers State Government and turned around to claim that such powers belong to the National Assembly.
On the claim by Amaechi that the 30 – day set aside for the sitting of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry would deny him fair hearing, the court held that the days set aside did not breach Amaechi’s right to fair hearing.

The court noted that the former governor has not filed a memorandum before the commission and has not appeared before it, hence he could not complain that he was not given fair hearing.
Ameachi, not satisfied with the ruling of the High Court, proceeded to the Court of Appeal where he challenged the court’s judgment that he did not have the locus standi to challenge Wike’s commission of inquiry among others.

Delivering judgment on Suit No: CA/PH/342/2015 at the Court of Appeal yesterday, presiding Judge Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, declared that while Amaechi has the locus standi to challenge the setting up of the commission of inquiry, Wike has powers to set up the commission and that Amaechi had no reasons not to appear before the commission.

In a unanimous judgment delivered on behalf of Justice J.S. Abiriyi and Justice S.T. Husaini by Omoleye, the court said the refusal of Amaechi to appear before the commission amounted to self-denial.

It insisted that there is nothing wrong for the governor to set up a panel of inquiry as it was in line with the laws of the state
Addressing journalists after the judgment, counsel to Wike, Mr. Dejo Laminkanra (SAN), said the implication of the judgment was that “their lordships dismissed the appeal of the appellant. But in doing so, a number of issues were resolved.

“One of the most important was whether the appellant has the locus standi to sue and that essentially raised the question of access to justice and the court resolved that issue in favour of the appellant to say that the appellant had locus standi to institute that action at the high court challenging the constitution of the commission of Inquiry by the state.
“Apart from that, the rest of the eight issues in the appeal raised by the appellant were resolved against the appellant, which goes to say that the substance of the appeal were dismissed.

“The Court of Appeal upheld the power of the governor of Rivers State to constitute the commission of inquiry into the sale and disposal of valued assets of Rivers state under the previous administration. That is a very pivotal issue because there is an existing law in Rivers State which is called the Commission of Inquiry law, a law which has been in place before the advent of the former administration of the state had relied on, taking advantage of and used to institute a number of commissions of Inquiry.

“The Court of Appeal resolved that question of legality of the constitutionality of the commission of inquiry of Rivers State, by clearly stating that the state House of Assembly has legislative right to legislate on the commission and that the governor of Rivers State has powers conferred under that law to constitute the commission of Inquiry, which he did. Not only that, that the decision of the High Court validating the outcome of the commission of inquiry in terms of references given to it is something to be noted, meaning that the High Court and the decision of the High Court is affirmed, in particulars of the terms of reference of the court.

Also speaking to journalists, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Emmanuel Aguma (SAN), said: “The court held contrary to what the High Court had affirmed earlier that Amaechi actually had the locus standi and having held that the court now went further to hold that the lower court was right dismissing the action.

So that in affect the appeal was dismissed and the decision of the lower court stands which is that Justice Omereji Commission of Inquiry was properly constituted and the corollary of that is that its findings are valid. Whether it is the finding of the sale of the gas turbine, or in terms of the disbursement of the agricultural loan, all the findings, the illegal withdrawal of N52.5 billion in 15 months without due process. So all those findings of the Justice Omereji Judicial Commission of Inquiry with this judgment now stand on solid ground.”