Imo Legislators Seethe With Anger Over ‘Detention Law’

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Hope Uzodinma

Amby Uneze writes that the people of Imo State are ready to confront Governor Hope Uzodinma over a piece of legislation that grants the state’s Chief Executive powers to detain people at his pleasure

When Imo State was created in 1976 by the government of the late Head of State General Muritala Muhammed,, the purpose was to bring government nearer to the people so that they could feel the direct impact of good governance. Apart from the military governors that ruled the state, it has had seven civilian governors starting from the Second Republic in 1979, Chìef Sam Mbakwe. That era ended in 1983. With advent of the current civilian dispensation in 1999, a steady stream of governors have been at the helm of affairs in Imo. All these while, no administration introduced what the people describe as ‘draconian legislation’ other than the current regime of Senator Hope Uzodimma.

What came close to the present regime’s controversial Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) No. 2 of 2020 was introduced during the first tenure of former governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha. That bill though signed into law by Okorocha dwelt on Reproductive System (Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Law No. 12 of 2012 otherwise known as Abortion law, but due to the clamour by the Church and to a large extent some sections of the society because some sections of the law were found to be offensive, Okorocha repealed the law.

While signing the repeal presented by the Clerk of the State House of Assembly and the Attorney General of the state, Okorocha noted that the law was made with an intention to protect women and the girl-child against the trauma of rape and incest, while providing stiffer penalties for offenders. According to the content of that law, every woman shall have the right to enjoy reproductive rights, including rights to medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where the continued pregnancy endangers the life or the physical, mental, psychological or emotional health of the mother. Though, as one of the excuses Okorocha gave then while repealing the law was that he did not read the contents of the bill properly. However, the import of repealing the law was that he actually listened to the views and needs of the people.

Coming to the present introduction of Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) No. 2 of 2020, which empowers the governor of the state to arrest and detain anybody at will without any court or police warrant is viewed by the people as an ‘anti-democratic’ policy that cannot be operated in a democratic setting. Specifically, Sections 484 and 485 of the law provides that the governor may effect such detention notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, including that of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended).

The recently signed law, a copy of which was made public on Friday, does not recognise the need for an arrest warrant for any person it deems to be “in legal custody.” The offensive Section 484 of the law reads: “Where any person is ordered to be detained during the Governor’s pleasure he shall notwithstanding anything in this Law or in any other written law contained be liable to be detained in such place and under such conditions as the Governor may direct and whilst so detained shall be deemed to be in legal custody.”

Section 485 provides that such a person “detained during the Governor’s pleasure may at any time be discharged by the Governor on license” and that “a license under subsection (1) of this section may be in such form and may contain such conditions as the Governor may direct.” The section further states that such license “may at anytime be revoked or varied by the Governor” adding, “Where license has been revoked the person to whom the license relates shall proceed to such a place as the Governor may direct and if he fails to do so, may be arrested without warrant and taken to such place.”

The sections definitely contravene the provisions of Sections 34 and 35 of the 1999 constitution, which guarantees fundamental rights to freedom of liberty and human dignity. Section 35(4) specifically provides that any person who is arrested or detained “shall be brought before a court of competent jurisdiction law within a reasonable time.”

Subsection five states such period could be one day “in the case of an arrest or detention in any place where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of 40 kilometres” or two days/longer period as may be considered by the court “in any other case.”

The people of the state slammed the lawmakers when section 484 of ACJL which grants the governor the powers under the to detain any person at his pleasure without acourt order went viral on social media.

But the immediate past Deputy Speaker and member representing Mbaitoli State Constituency, Hon. Okey Onyekanma insisted that the obnoxious section 484 of ACJL 2020 never passed through the Imo State House of Assembly. In a personally signed statement, he said he was not privy to the clandestine insertion of some obnoxious, vexatious, and anti-democratic clauses to the Administration of Criminal Justice Law Amendment bill 2020 which was purportedly passed by the Imo State House of Assembly and signed into law by Governor Hope Uzodimma.

The statement read in part, “My position is clear. The strange Section 484 which allows suspects to be detained at the pleasure of the governor is unjust and unfair. It also provides that a person must obtain a license before he or she is released. These stipulations were not in any shape or form part of the draft bill which was enacted by the Imo State House of Assembly, where I am an active and punctual member. The bill stated “Order” in place other than “Prison or Mental Asylum and not at the pleasure of the Governor.

“The injection of the toxic clauses into the ACJL is the height of absurdity. It intends to create a climate of terror in the state and make Imo a desert of totalitarianism in an oasis of democracy. The obnoxious clauses have rendered the so-called law unacceptable. It cannot stand. I appeal to everybody to remain calm. As your representative, I have started liaising with other lawmakers who feel equally scandalized by this possible case of forgery to earnestly begin the process of repealing the rogue section which conflicts with democratic ethos.

Similarly, the chief sponsor of the administration of Criminal Justice amendment bill, Hon. Frank Ugboma (Deputy Minority Leader, Imo State House of Assembly), representing Oguta State Constituency said “the Bill I presented had about a total of 372 Sections. How and where it was amended, recreated and reshaped into Section 484 and beyond remains a mystery and a legislative wonder of our time as what I presented and circulated to my colleagues during plenary, both in the First and Second readings did not contain such obnoxious and embarrassing Section 484. Neither was it deliberated in the House Committee of the whole. It indeed never existed in the House.

“No one has been able to explain to the members of the 9th House how and at what stage the said Section 484 was inserted into the Bill. It smacks of evil manipulation to throw Imo people into the dungeon. As a Lawyer, I have had cause to fight against such obnoxious laws and as an activist there is no way this section would have scaled through the plenary in the 9th House which I am part of. All of us are already available victims of these obnoxious sections. Not even those who practiced this calculated affront on the Constitution are exempted.

“This particular provision is a nullity ab initio in view of the unambiguous provisions of sections 1(1), (3), 4, 5, 6 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as Amended).This is very appalling. In my quest to ascertain which hands of Esau made it into the Bill I presented, attention was drawn to a list said to be the names of Imo people that facilitated the domestication of the Law in the State. It need not be overemphasized that in lawmaking, such contributions and or inputs from members of the public are usually submitted to the House for deliberations. I am however saddened that there is no record of presentation of such obnoxious contributions to the House. There is no record anywhere that such contributions were laid and/or circulated to members during plenary.

“I have requested that my colleagues constitute a committee to ascertain how such a horrendous act was practiced on this ordinarily good legislation. Its outcome, I believe would interest all lovers of democracy and enable future legislative vigilance. This was not the Bill I presented and sponsored.

“In the manuscripts that I received after each hearing and which I have today compared with that given to my colleagues, there is no hand of Esau. This has informed my view and I have today forwarded a Bill for the immediate amendment of those offensive and draconian sections,” he said.

In his defence for the state government on the raging section(s) of the said law, the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Hon. Declan Emelumba said that the vexatious bill was signed on March 11, over seven months ago. According to him, the bill has close to 500 sections. “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 in 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.”

Conclusively, therefore, Imo people had expected their governor to make policies that will promote good governance, welfare of the citizens, regular payment of salaries and pensions instead of dwelling on laws that are inimical to the development of the state. It is still not late to do the needful by following the footsteps of former governor Rochas Okorocha who repealed a law people termed as ‘obnoxious’ by repealing this ‘unpopular and draconian’ law, so that Imo citizens will in return appreciate the responsiveness of their governor.

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The injection of the toxic clauses into the ACJL is the height of absurdity. It intends to create a climate of terror in the state and make Imo a desert of totalitarianism in an oasis of democracy. The obnoxious clauses have rendered the so-called law unacceptable. It cannot stand. I appeal to everybody to remain calm. As your representative, I have started liaising with other lawmakers who feel equally scandalized by this possible case of forgery to earnestly begin the process of repealing the rogue section which conflicts with democratic ethos