EBEBI: HOW THE COOKIE CRUMBLED

By NBF News
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Ebebi and Gov. Sylva
For those who have close relationship with him, Mr. Peremobowei Ebebi, a.k.a, Odudu of Africa, the impeached deputy-governor of Bayelsa State is an intriguing politician. Famed for his prowess at surviving difficult political battles, Ebebi has since 1999 when he appeared on the political scene of Bayelsa state, demonstrated that just like the feared Odudu masquerade in Ijaw land, he is a master of the game of politics.

Little wonder Ebebi was the arrow head of three successful impeachment processes in Bayelsa ushering him into the pantheon of political gurus.

But unfortunately at exactly 10.49 am on Thursday June 24, the drum beat stopped for Odudu when the Speaker of the Bayelsa House of Assembly, Mr. Weniripre Seibarugu after two-thirds majority of the lawmakers backed a resolution by Mr. Jonathan Obuebite, pronounced Ebebi impeached and removed as Bayelsa deputy-governor.

Close observers of the impeachment process since it commenced on June 1 would admit that the zeal and enthusiasm invested in the process by the lawmakers was enough testimony that they were determined to unveil the Odudu mask. From the signing of the impeachment notice to the request for the Chief Judge to set up a seven member investigating panel, the lawmakers working hand in gloves with an array of forces in Abuja had already numbered the days of Ebebi.

For his antagonists, Ebebi deserved the treatment meted out to him since he had also impeached people in the past without blinking an eye. To them, his recourse to rush to the court of law to stop the impeachment process and by extension the investigation panel was a plot doomed to fail as the power brokers have already decided his fate. But for his loyalists, Ebebi's impeachment is a pyrrhic victory which the masterminds would soon realize.

For them, Ebebi for once has refused to place his fate in men of power but in the law courts as he seeks justice to redress his political humiliation. According to them, Ebebi in the vicious war to remove him from office is bruised, down but not out as he fights back through the laws of the land.

The journey to the end
On June 8 inside the chambers of the Bayelsa Assembly, the 17 members who have commenced the impeachment process of Ebebi betrayed no emotion as they sat at the plenary session. But it was not long when Mr. Fini Angaye (Kolokuma/ Opokuma 11) went into the main business of the day as he moved a motion that the House should pass a resolution requesting the Speaker to direct the Chief Judge of Bayelsa to set up a seven-man panel to investigate allegations of gross misconduct against Ebebi.

The motion seconded by Mr. Alfred Egba stated that the House having been satisfied that the impeachment notice had been served personally on Ebebi at his private residence located behind Oando Filling station and RCC Nig Ltd, Katampe Hill extension opposite Gwarinpa, Abuja deemed it fit to request the Chief Judge to set up the seven-man investigation panel.

Some of the allegations against him include: *That Mr. Peremobowei Ebebi, the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State willfully deserted his official duties by refusing to attend, without reasonable cause, the weekly Executive Council meetings of Bayelsa State since January 2010.

*That Ebebi willfully failed and, or refused to attend state functions without lawful excuses since February 2010.

*That Ebebi has abandoned his office and official residence since February 2010 without official leave and has deliberately neglected and refused to perform the functions for which he was elected.

*That Ebebi, in February 2009, applied for and received N29,660, 909 for medical treatment in Germany but he fraudulently converted the said sum as he neither traveled to Germany or refunded the said money to the state Treasury.

*That His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Ebebi without regard to the dignity of his exalted office, openly fought with the then caretaker committee chairman of Ekeremor Local Government Council, Chief Ben Robert Eyorokumoh and shot him with a gun thereby causing him grievous bodily harm.

Ebebi in violation of his oath of office was also accused of sponsoring acts of terrorism with a view to make Bayelsa ungovernable. Few hours after the House resolution, speculations were rife that the Chief Judge, Justice Kate Abiri was not willing to set up the panel because she is a cousin to Ebebi.

Known for her strict adherence to the provisions of the constitutions, there was anxiety on the part of anti-Ebebi forces that her failure to constitute the panel would spell doom for the impeachment plot.

But unknown to many, Abiri was undergoing a personal war as she has been inundated with curriculum vitae by lobbyists mostly politicians who want their preferred candidates in the impeachment panel.

Sources said to demonstrate her unflinching commitment to the rule of law and in line with the constitutional provisions of section 188 (5), Abiri decided to look outside to appoint the Chairman and two other members who are not from Bayelsa.

To the chagrin of most Bayelsans, on June 14, the names of the seven-man panel were disclosed.

According to an impeccable source, Justice Abiri picked members of the panel especially the Chairman based on track record of performance and after conducting background check on each of them.

Abiri was said to have known the man as a man of integrity in her course of handling election petition cases in Owerri, Imo state. She was also said to have included two other lawyers who have no links with politicians as members of the panel to ensure that the rule of law and due process would be followed in its assignment.

Most Bayelsans were however suspicious as they queried the secret inauguration of the panel which according to them indicated that they were out to do a hatchet job for forces bent on removing Ebebi.

The Chief Registrar of the Judiciary, Mr Iniekinmi Abraham Uzakah however dismissed such insinuations.

'We are not bound by the constitution to announce that we have constituted the panel and we are not bound to inaugurate the panel. Section 188 (5) of the 1999 constitution should be clear to you on these. All we are doing is not secrecy but to offer protection to the members. It is all for security reasons' he explained.

Legal fireworks
After mulling over the directive to resign by President Goodluck Jonathan through his wife and influential Ijaw leaders, Ebebi decided to challenge his impeachment in court. Ebebi in a suit YHC/201/2010/ filed by his counsel Kemasuode Wodu challenged the impeachment process and asked the court to declare all actions taken by the House of Assembly as null and void.

He also prayed the court for an order setting aside any purported appointment or constitution of a panel and an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Chief Judge or his agents or privies from setting up, constituting or inaugurating or swearing in a panel of seven persons to investigate the allegations of gross misconduct.

However counsel to the House of Assembly, Sebastian Hon (SAN) challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear impeachment matters.

According to Hon, the case is 'premature, inchoate and not disclosing a reasonable line of action'

Hon who argued that hearing the case by the court is to interfere in the internal affairs of the Legislature, a jurisdiction which the court lacks added that the court granting the prayers of Ebebi is tantamount to directly or indirectly being requested to make orders that will stop other arms of Bayelsa state government from performing their constitutional duties.

Plot against panel
Determined not to be muscled out of power, Ebebi aimed at the panel and challenged its constitution. In another suit, he alleged that members of the panel are made up of cronies of the Governor and other government officials. In the new suit, the Chairman and members of the panel were defendants, while the state Commissioner of Police (CP), the state Chief Judge, the panel members, the Speaker of the state Assembly, Clerk of the House, Assembly members and the Attorney-General are also parties to the new suit. One of his counsels, Mr. Ejinyere explained that the document they are relying on is the brief of argument filed in the Court of Appeal by Denwigwe (SAN) of which the governor was the fourth respondent.

The Action Congress (AC) supported the claim in a statement signed by its Chairman, Mr. Miriki Ebikibina.

'The party condemns the inauguration of the panel when there is a motion on notice. It shows disrespect for the rule of law and a premeditated and orchestrated plan to pervert justice. The party not only observed with dismay but is disappointed that the Chief Judge could set up a panel that has a lawyer friend of the Governor, whose interest he represented in 2008 after the re-run election when the PPA and ADC petitioned the tribunal.

'It shows a level of desperation at all cost and for the governor to have his way by playing out his script at the expense of a fairness, equity and justice. As the party watched with knee interest as events unfold, the NBA in the state should rise against the process of selection and inauguration of the panel in secret'

Also the Movement for Active Democracy and Good Governance for Goodluck Jonathan and Sambo 2011 in a statement by Dr. Ama Osere, Dr. Opusu Asa and Mr Mientuade Anga, Chairman, secretary and Publicity Secretary respectively lent its voice to the criticism of the constitution of the panel. The group said it found it unbelievable that the Chief Judge could set up a panel made up of cronies of the state government and insisted that the panel could not be objective in its assignment.

However Mr, Dennis Otiotio, Special Adviser on Legal Affairs to Sylva punctured the claims that Denwigwe is a lawyer to Sylva. Hear him: 'Some people should not introduce politics into a constitutional issue. Governor Sylva was not part of the appointment of the panel members. I can tell you that if Sylva sees Denwigwe on the road he does not even know him. It was E.C Ukala that was contacted on the case. Governor Sylva did not even brief him personally as he instructed the Attorney-General to brief him about the case at the tribunal and he (Ukala) was the one that represented him.

There were lawyers in the legal team of Ukala whom he contacted himself to help him in the case and Governor Sylva does not know any of them'. Exclusive documents obtained by Sunday Sun revealed that in the two election petition cases involving African Democratic Party (ADC) and Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) where Denwigwe featured, he actually held brief for E.C Ukala who is the lawyer to Sylva and in the ADC case, it was for Sylva and Ebebi.

Sunday Sun can also report that the refusal of President Jonathan to intervene in the matter was deliberate as he believed anything he does could come later to haunt him. A reliable source said pressures were mounted on Jonathan by Ijaw leaders to intervene in the issue being his home state but he refused insisting that it is a constitutional matter.

Findings of the panel
After the failed attempt by Ebebi's lead counsel, Alex Iziyon(SAN) to persuade the seven-man investigating panel to adjourn for two days for the determination of the case challenging the impeachment process, the panel in its report found Ebebi guilty of nine of the 10 allegations of gross misconduct leveled against him.

Based on the findings, the panel presented its report to the House which was promptly adopted. And with a two-third majority, it passed a resolution that Ebebi be removed from office.

Who replaces Ebebi?
With the removal of Ebebi from office, a fierce tussle is going on among power blocs in the state on who becomes the new deputy-governor. Already names like Seibarugu, Beks Etifa, Commissioner for Youth Empowerment and Conflict Resolution, Mr. F.B Olorogun, Special Adviser of Legal Education and Mrs. Agatha Goma have been mentioned. Sylva himself has not helped matters as he was said to have promised up to 10 people that he would make them deputy-governor if Ebebi was eventually removed.

In the past few days, there have been tremendous pressure on Seibarugu to take the position as most of Sylva's core men in the New Phase group are rooting for him. Though from Bayelsa central, Seibarugu is being backed because of his loyalty and humility and his backers are ready to alter the zoning system to accommodate him and move the deputy-governor position from Bayelsa West Senatorial district.

Sylva who is said not to have any problems with Seibarugu as his deputy is however calculating into the future with his gaze focused on retaining the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket in 2012.

Sources said he is desperate to worm himself into the Jonathan camp and may have settled for one of the aides of Jonathan to become his deputy. The name of Senior Special Assistant to Jonathan on Domestic Affairs, Mr. Slybriks Obriki is being mentioned in some quarters as a likely replacement for Ebebi. The choice of Obriki from Ekeremor local government, the same area with the impeached deputy-governor, sources said would ensure Sylva retains the position of deputy-governor in Bayelsa West and at the same time rekindle his political relationship with Jonathan's loyalists.

Obriki is said to be a close confidant of Sylva who has helped him in the past and many see making him deputy-governor as payback time. A very impeccable source said whatever Sylva's final decision would be, he would consult with Jonathan before he announces his choice.