Enugu High Court quashes impeachment of former Deputy Governor, Sunday Onyebuchi

By The Rainbow

An Enugu State High Court has quashed the purported impeachment of the former Deputy Governor of the state, Sunday Onyebuchi

The Court presided over by Justice R. O. Odugu also ordered the restoration of all his rights and benefits from the time of his removal to the period that his tenure elapsed.

Justice Odugu granted all the reliefs sought by the former Deputy Governor.

Both the legislators and Nwoye, whom the court described as the beneficiary of the illegality, neither appeared to defend themselves nor sent legal representation throughout the trial of the case.

The judge  agreed with the submissions by the plaintiff's counsel, Chris Aghanwa, that the impeachment did not meet the letters and the spirit of Section 188 of the amended 1999 constitution.

The did not mince words in maintaining its position that  rearing of poultry did not in any way constitute gross misconduct as envisaged by the constitution.

Onyebuchi  had approached the court to challenge his impeachment from office based on allegation of gross misconduct, urging the court to restore him to office as well as order payment of his benefit if the matter was not concluded before the end of his tenure in office.

He had also asked the court to declare as unconstitutional his removal, his replacement by Nwoye as well as whether the allegations contained in the impeachment notice amounted to abuse of office.

Justice Odugu in his ruling affirmed that  while the trial lasted, all the defendants did not respond to the various summons served on them just as all the submissions made by the plaintiff were not faulted or denied.

He said that there was no copy of the purported resolution of the impeachment panel presented before the court, even as he  faulted the secret trial of the plaintiff.

The proceeding for the removal of the deputy governor should not be hidden from the public, he said.

'The defendants wrongfully exercised their powers by removing the deputy governor maintaining poultry which does not contravene section 188 of the constitution,' he said.

He added that the alleged blatant refusal of the deputy governor to attend two public functions assigned to him by the governor could not amount to gross misconduct, insisting that 'only a grave violation or breach of the constitution that can be regarded as a gross misconduct.'

The judge declared that 'section 188 sub-section 11 of the constitution is not a weapon of the House of Assembly to police the duty of the deputy governor or to hound him out of office and besides, the plaintiff had told the court that the only constitutional duty assigned to him by the governor was the chairmanship of the boundary adjustment commission.'

Justice Odugu said he could not understand how the panel arrived at the decision that the refusal of the plaintiff to attend two social functions constituted gross misconduct more so when the trial was done in camera. 'The office of the deputy governor is a public office, his election was also by the public, any secret trial therefore is a flagrant breach of constitutional provision for fair hearing,' he added.

He therefore declared the state assembly violated their constitutional duties by embarking on the removal or impeachment of the deputy governor when there was no basis for it, saying the purported nomination of Rev. Nwoye to replace Onyebuchi was illegal and unconstitutional.

Setting aside the notice of impeachment and nomination of Nwoye, Justice Odugu ordered the reinstatement to office of the Sunday Onyebuchi from August 27, 2014 to May 28, 2015.

The plaintiff, the court further ruled, was entitled to receive salaries, entitlements and benefits including pension for the period he served as deputy governor and awarded an exemplary and cumulative cost of N25,000 against each of the 25 defendants amounting to N600,000.

Reacting to the judgement, Onyebuchi, who was in court with his wife, Nneka, told reporters that he had been vindicated and has forgiven all those who were used to perpetuate the injustice. ‎'Some of them have come to confess and plead for forgiveness saying that they were used and I have forgiven them, even those who haven't come to me. The God I serve is God of forgiveness and therefore I hold nothing against them,' Onyebuchi said.

Onyebuchi was impeached at the tail end of his tenure on August 26, last year by the immediate past State House of Assembly following the recommendation of the seven-man impeachment panel set up by the state Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezulike, which investigated the allegations of gross misconduct levelled against him by then Governor Sullivan Chime.

Onyebuchi was replaced by his cousin, Rev Ifeanyi Nwoye, who served as deputy governor from August last year to May 29, this year.

According to the then State Assembly led by the Speaker, Eugene Odoh, the former Deputy Governor was removed based on allegations of gross misconduct arising from rearing chicken in his official residence and alleged refusal to represent his former boss at two official functions within and outside Enugu.