Hope Uzodinma

The noise over the criminal justice law is unnecessary, contends Declan Emelumba

It has become a pattern in Imo State for the opposition to rake up one controversy or the other anytime that Governor Hope Uzodinmma scores high in delivering democracy dividends to the people of the state. Like the Frankenstein monster that seeks to destroy that which it cannot create, members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and their cheerleaders are always looking behind their shadows anytime Uzodinmma scores a bull’s eye in governance so that they will quickly come out with a negative propaganda to whittle down the effect. In their vain attempt to obliterate their incompetence and zero performance record while in office, they have resorted to sheer brigandage and sophistry even in matters that they created.

It is therefore not surprising that the opposition is trying to sell a dummy to Nigerians that Governor Uzodinmma has signed into a law a bill that gives him express powers to arrest and detain any citizen without recourse to the rule of law. The story in town being hawked by these frustrated and empty vessels is that a dictator has emerged in Imo State and that the citizens are no longer safe. To people not conversant with the modus operandi of the opposition in the state, this is bad news. But those who know them too well, know where they are coming from.

Not too long ago, Hope Uzodinmma rolled out 30 coaster buses for the conveyance of civil servants to and fro the State Secretariat daily and free of charge. That was after he had restored the dilapidated buildings and spruced up the environment, returning power and water supply to make the place conducive for civil servants. That had not happened since the creation of the state in 1976. Permanent secretaries, who had been trekking to work due to lack of official cars, were put out of the misery by the same governor who provided brand new official vehicles to them.

Just as the ovation of what the governor did was about to reach a crescendo, he rolled out 10 mobile clinics to take health care to the sick in their homes. The clinics equipped with laboratories and drugs and personnel provide their services free to the sick, the aged and the vulnerable. The rural areas have been agog with the news of the novel policy which is also the first of its kind since 1976 when the state was created. The outpouring of joy and appreciation by a grateful populace for Uzodinma is at the centre of the current allegation against the governor.

For the opposition who had a golden opportunity to perform for seven months but squandered it while pandering to selfish and vain glory, the successes being recorded by Uzodinma is like a hot knife thrust at their hearts. Because they can’t bear to see the people happy, they have reached for their tar brush in a futile effort to erase the good works of the governor. But that is a mission impossible.

For starters the Administration of Criminal Justice Law ACJ Law No. 2, 2020 was not recently signed into law by Governor Uzodinma. It was signed on March 11, over seven months ago. It has close to 500 sections. The bill was sponsored by Hon. Frank Ugboma, representing Oguta State Constituency where the sacked Deputy Governor, Gerald Irona hails from. The bill was sponsored in 2019 and passed accordingly when Emeka Ihedioha was still governor. The current Speaker, Dr. Chiji Collins was also the Speaker. Uzodinma inherited the bill and merely signed it into law on March this year. He did so because it was the domestication of a federal law which all the states of the federation are expected to concur.

It is really funny when the governor is accused of vesting himself with sweeping powers to arrest and detain anybody according to section 484 of the law. It is even more baffling that those who actually midwife the bill are claiming ignorance of that controversial section because apparently, they are no longer in government. The chief sponsor of the bill, Frank Ugboma claimed that the section was smuggled into the law signed by the governor.

Assuming, but not conceding, that the section was actually smuggled into a bill that was signed since March, how come Hon. Ugboma did not deem it necessary to raise the alarm since then? Why raise the matter at this critical stage that Imo people are hailing their governor for his welfare programmes that are touching the lives of the rural dwellers? Is it then difficult to locate the real motive of those shouting “crucify Hope”, “crucify Hope”?

It is instructive that before that law was signed by the governor, a review committee comprising the best of legal minds both in the bench and the bar in the state went through the provisions line by line. They not only approved it but the State House of Assembly sanctioned same as endorsed by the speaker before presenting it to the governor for his assent. Publishing the names of the eminent people who represented various strata of the society including Child’s Rights Advocate, Human and Child’s Advocate, and the academia with technical support from Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) will not serve any purpose, but suffice it to state that Uzodinma could not have signed the bill into law with any ulterior motive.

First of all, the governor is a democrat who believes in the rule of law. That was why he did not resort to violence when the PDP stole his mandate. He quietly pursued his matter to its logical conclusion to the Supreme Court. Secondly, he was a lawmaker for eight years. He understands the workings of the parliament, knowing full well that the passage of a bill is a collective decision by the House irrespective of party affiliation. Thirdly, Hope Uzodinmma believes that government is a continuum. That is why he did not rashly rush into the dissolution of even panels set up by his predecessor. He did not revoke contracts awarded by the previous government. He did not disrupt the activities of government just because a new governor came on board. In other words, signing the bill into law even though it was not initiated during his time was part of his philosophy of government being a continuum.

Now as to the application of the section 484, the bill was signed into law in March. Hope Uzodinmma had been challenged severally by many people, yet he is yet to resort to the law to defend or protect himself. Ambrose Nwogwugwu committed a criminal libel against him. He followed due process by reporting to the police who did their job by arraigning the man in a magistrate court. Some hoodlums recently attacked his convoy with dangerous weapons. Uzodinmma did not arrest and detain them at his pleasure. He also allowed the law to take its course. One man has been leading fake pensioners on daily protests to embarrass the governor. Yet he suffered amnesia in calling up section 484 to his rescue. Does that show him as a power hungry governor let loose on the hapless people of the state?

However, let it be known that apart from Uzodinmma being a democrat who will never engage in anti-democratic acts, he is a governor who swore to protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We should be aware that even President Muhammadu Buhari cannot override the provisions of the constitution of Nigeria. Any law that is an affront to the letters of the constitution remains ultra vires. Therefore the hullabaloo of the ACJL 02, of 2020 remains a storm in a tea’s cup. Those who are sufficiently aggrieved or alarmed concerning the controversial section can always go back to the Imo State Assembly which has not disowned the law to seek an amendment. Better still, the courts are there to interpret the law. People should therefore stop distracting Uzodinmma in his determined efforts to serve Imo people with a difference.

Emelumba is commissioner for information and strategy Imo State