Rivers Crisis: Court sacks Amaechi's Commission of Enquiry

By The Citizen

The Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt yesterday annulled the Justice Biobele Georgewill Judicial Commission of Enquiry probing the July 9 and 10 fracas in the state House of Assembly.

The court branded the commission of enquiry unconstitutional and ordered it to stop sitting forthwith. Besides, it restrained the governor and the state's Attorney-General for themselves and as representatives of the government from receiving, accepting or howsoever implementing any report or recommendation from the judicial commission of enquiry.

Justice Iyayi Lanmikaran, in granting the two reliefs sought by the applicant, Mr. Victor Ihunwo, one of the five anti-Amaechi members of the State Assembly, held that the executive has no right to dabble into the affairs of the legislature under the 1999 Constitution.

The panel was set up by Governor Rotimi Amaechi to probe the fracas which was sparked when the five assemblymen who were on suspension stormed the House to impeach Speaker Otelamaba Dan Amachree and install their own speaker in Mr. Evans Bipi.

The attempt was resisted by the majority of the lawmakers who are on the side of the governor in the crisis that has polarised the PDP in the state.

Justice Lanmikaran also faulted part of the commission's terms of reference which, according to her, infringes on criminal issues that ought to be handled by regular courts.

Counsel to the commission, Mr. Olusola Dare said: 'It's the court's decision; we have accepted the judgment.

'The Judge has delivered her judgement. Everybody is bound by the judgment.

'The only thing applicable now is for us to decide the next line of action. We accept the judgment for now.

He said he would consult with his clients first to know whether the case would go on appeal.

The applicant, Ihunwo, lauded the court's judgment and said 'God has vindicated me.'

Restating his reasons for going to court in the first instance, Ihunwo said:'Chibuike Amaechi, governor of the state, is an interested party. So, as an interested party, he cannot be a judge in his own case. As a result, we know that we cannot get any good judgment from the panel he has set up.

'Some members of the panel are somehow related to him, e.g Agbaraosimili who has total loyalty to the chief of staff and the governor.

'This matter concerns the legislative arm of government and on no account can the Executive come in to settle our internal wrangling.

'It behoves on us to settle our matters by ourselves, and by this judgement, God has vindicated us.'

Asked if the PDP crisis could ever end, he said: 'I can't say that we, the five law makers loyal to Evans Bipi, are not ready for peace. What has happened today is a proof to the world that we are ready for peace.

His counsel, Dike Udenna, said: 'The incident we are talking about happened in the hallowed chambers of the Rivers State House of Assembly. By the doctrine of separation of power, the legislative arm of government is different and distinct from the executive arm. The Executive cannot now rise up to set up an enquiry to investigate the internal workings of the other arm of government.'

The State's Attorney General and Commisioner for Justice declined comment on the verdict.

The Obuah faction of the PDP in the state lauded the ruling with Mr. Jerry Needam, Special Adviser on Media to the Chairman, Hon Felix Obuah, saying the nullification of the commission has 'vindicated the position of the party that the setting up of the Commission ab initio was ill-intended and had no other motive than to witch-hunt perceived opponents of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi who is also a party in the crisis.'

The party hailed the courage displayed by the judiciary to 'insist on the truth and the fact that Gov Amaechi who was physically present at the scene of the incident and fully took part in the fracas cannot deny being part of the crisis and therefore cannot turn round to investigate the matter in whatever guise, as that would amount to a breach of natural justice to be a judge in one's own case.

'We are happy and wish to express our renewed confidence in the Nigerian judiciary to uphold justice in the face of intimidation and wanton display of power.

'Particularly noteworthy is the recognition of the fact that the state legislature is a separate arm of government as significant as both the executive and the judiciary and must not be hijacked by either of the arms.'

It wondered why individual members of the dissolved commission of enquiry accepted to serve in such a body 'which it described as a tool for indictment of opponents and probably, also aimed to rubbish the hard earned reputation of the members of the panel.'

A member of the House of Representatives from the state, Chief Andrew Uchendu, however expressed shock at the court's decision.

Uchendu, Chairman of the House Committee on Public Service Matters, said the state government reserved the right to look at the logic and basis on which the ruling was made and decide if it should accept or appeal the ruling.

Wanosike Samuel, Secretary-General of Grassroots Development Initiative (GDI), which has the Minister of State for Education Nyesom Wike as patron, described the ruling as a testament to the fact that the judiciary remains the last hope of the common man.

'The judiciary has always stood by the people of Rivers State and has always come to their rescue. We are happy and we congratulate the entire people of the state for this well delivered judgment,' he said.