Political Vendatta in Rivers
Though it was the Rivers State House of Assembly that last Thursday derecognised Celestine Omehia as a former governor of the state, it is however clear from ongoing events that it is a case of the voice of Jacob, the hands of Esau, writes Alex Enumah
In what could be considered the height of highhandedness, the Rivers State House of Assembly last Thursday passed a motion decognising Celestine Omehia as a former Governor of the state. The motion was presented at the plenary by a member representing Obio-Akpor Constituency 1, Amaewhule Martin Chike.
In a document dated October 6, 2022, and titled: “motion to rescind the Rivers State House of Assembly resolution on the recognition of Sir Celestine Omehia as a former Governor of Rivers State and the restoration of all benefits and entitlement due to him,” Chike recalled that on June 30, 2015, a motion was moved, seconded, and debated upon and a resolution was passed in favour of the recognition of Omehia as a former governor and for the restoration of all privileges and entitlements accruing to former governors.
The lawmaker further remembered that in line with the resolution, the state government vide an instrument published in the official gazette of the Rivers State of Nigeria No. 5, volume 52 of March 2016 under the hand of Governor Nyesom Wike recognised Omehia as a former governor and restored all his privileges and entitlements.
He said Omehia later received a lot in financial benefits and entitlements from the government including N600 million in benefits and N96.5 million monthly pension as of September 2022.
He, however, recalled that the Supreme Court in the case of Amaechi v INEC had declared Amaechi as the valid governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2007 general election and referred to Omehia as a pretender to the office. He emphasised that the Supreme Court held that in the eyes of the law, Omehia was never a candidate in the election much less the winner.
Chike said: “The continued recognition of Sir Celestine Omehia as a former Governor of Rivers State and the continued granting of privileges and entitlements accruing to all former governors of Rivers State to him is not in tandem with the highlighted pronouncement of the Supreme Court and the provision of the 1999 Constitution.”
He called on the assembly to rescind its resolution of 2015 and called on Governor Wike to derecognise Omehia as a former governor. He also asked the assembly to call on the governor to terminate all privileges, benefits and entitlements accruing to all former governors currently being enjoyed by Omehia.
The lawmaker said the House should direct Omehia to cease forthwith from using the title, “His Excellency”, and the suffix, “Grand Service Star of Rivers State (GSSRS)” used only by governors and former governors of the state.
He further said Omehia should be directed to refund all monies paid to him by the state government as benefits and entitlements, particularly N600 million benefits and N96.5 million monthly pensions to the treasury of the state government within seven days from the date of the resolution.
All 21 members of the House present at the plenary voted in favour of the motion and the House adopted the resolution.
Ruling in favour of the motion, Speaker Ibani directed that the resolution should be passed to the governor for his rectification.
By the time to motion got to Wike on Friday, he swiftly approved it. The governor while assenting to it, explained that the recognition given to Omehia was made in error. He said with the signing, the recognition that accorded Omehia, with accruable rights and benefits are presently cancelled.
As if the state just woke up from slumber, Wike urged people to get a copy of the Supreme Court judgment and understand that it is the right thing to derecognise Omehia in the eye of the law.
It is important to recall that as soon as Wike was sworn in as governor in 2015, one of the actions he took to spite his predecessor, Chibuike Amaechi, was to restore all the rights and privileges legally due to Omehia. He also hung his portrait in the Executive Chambers of the Government House, Port Harcourt to reflect his tenure, a privilege which Amaechi refused to accord him.
Wike also announced the restoration of Omehia’s entitlements, telling the whole world that he could not understand why Amaechi refused to honour Omehia. He added that Omehia was Rivers State governor, even if it was for one day. According to him, the government should not be personalised. He acknowledged the achievements of Omehia as a governor and lamented his denial of the privileges.
He said: “You will recall that in 2007, precisely May 2007, somebody superintended the affairs of this state and that was Celestine Omehia. He was governor of Rivers State from May 29, 2007, to October 25, 2007. But, unfortunately, we play politics of bitterness and rancour and that is not necessary. If you look around, it is only Omehia’s picture that is not here as a former governor. Take it or leave it, he was a governor of Rivers State and we have resolved to do what we think is right.
“Even if Omehia served the state for just one day, he deserves to be recognised as one that has governed the state. I believe that even if it’s a single day, he acted on behalf of the state. As a governor, he did a lot of things on behalf of Rivers State: He awarded road contracts and so on. Why will anybody say he was not a governor of the state? I will not accept such! I hereby put back his photograph and restore all his entitlements as a former governor of Rivers State,” Wike had said at the time.
Omehia governed the state for five months -May 29 to October 25, 2007 – after winning the governorship election held in the state on April 14, 2007. He was subsequently sworn in on May 29, 2007. But throughout his tenure, he was involved in a protracted legal battle with Amaechi that eventually ended at the Supreme Court.
The apex court in its judgment, later sacked him, saying he was not the authentic governorship candidate of the PDP. It consequently ordered him to vacate the Government House with immediate effect for Amaechi.
But no sooner was Amaechi sworn into office than he went for broke. Among the first things he did was his refusal to recognise Omehia as governor of the state despite the fact he had held the office, proclaimed the state House of Assembly and awarded contracts that he (Amaechi) inherited.
When he signed the state Governor and Deputy Governor Pensions and Fringe Benefits Bill, 2012, into law a few years after, he clearly omitted Omehia’s name among the beneficiaries even though he was democratically elected.
Though the judgment of the Supreme Court had declared that in the eye of the law, Omehia was never a governor, on June 25, 2015, Wike officially recognised him as a former governor of the state.
Watchers of the events in the state know that even though the derecognition was done by the House of Assembly, it was clear from ongoing events in the polity that it is the case of the voice of Jacob, the hands of Esau.
Omehia is believed to have fallen out with Wike over his loyalty to the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar. Wike and Atiku have been at loggerheads since the party held its national convention.
Wike had alleged that he was betrayed by some of his former allies which included Omehia and had vowed to fight them to finish.
“I was on a plane with him (Ikpeazu) and we were discussing and he said why won’t I leave this thing for God and I said what do you mean by that? Why are you overcrowding God? God has given me what it takes for me to crush these people, for me to crush my enemies and you are telling me I should leave it for God. No. God has given me what it takes. God has so many things to do. There are the ones I should do and there are the ones I should call God,” he had said while inaugurating a project in Abia last month.
Many now see the assembly’s action as a demonstration of its sympathy for Governor Wike’s war against some of his former allies who have parted ways with him following the outcome of the PDP presidential primaries which the governor lost to Atiku.
Reacting to the action of the state assembly, former spokesman of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Anabs Sara Igbe, dismissed the action of the assembly as null and void and a demonstration of their naivety.
He queried: “To start with, are they the ones who voted for him, did the Rivers State House of Assembly make Omehia a Governor? It is not the duty of the assembly to recognise him as a governor or not to recognise him.”
“The Rivers State House of Assembly has no power to make him a governor, to declare him a governor or de-robe him as governor,” Chief Igbe added.The former PANDEF spokesman said: “There’s no law in Nigeria or the constitution that empowers the Assembly to derecognise a governor. So what the House did today is vanity upon vanity and has no substance in the eyes of the law.
“They cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time. They are just exposing themselves to the public how naive they are and how parochial their thinking is. So to my mind, they did not do what is right.”