By Amby Uneze
Former Imo State deputy governor, Mr. Jude Agbaso, was last week consumed by high wire politics following his speedy impeachment by the state House of Assembly over allegation of bribery. This report focuses on some of the details of the allegations against him.
On Thursday, March 27, members of the Imo State House of Assembly came to the legislative chamber with just an agenda on their minds: to take care of the business of the day and adjourn for the Easter break. This, they did and adjourned to April 9, 2013. By 1.30pm, they were done and had indeed, retired to their respective homes.
But suddenly, something changed. A few minutes later, information went round, summoning all the members back to the House for purposes of carrying "very important legislative assignment" and in a twinkle of an eye, all the members had re-assembled and were consequently ushered into the Speaker's office. While at the Speaker's office, they were dined and wined; there was no other strange face except for aides of the Speaker carrying instruction.
At this time, all the roads leading to the Assembly were manned by heavily armed security operatives which indicated that something serious was either going on or was about to take place. But the least anybody could have thought was the impeachment of the deputy governor, Mr. Jude Agbaso, since the panel had only sat for a day.
The Panel at First Sitting
The impeachment panel had invited Agbaso to appear before it last Thursday, March 28, 2013 to defend himself on the allegation of misconduct brought against him by the Imo State House of Assembly, but Agbaso declined the invitation on the reasons that the panel was illegal. He, rather, submitted a letter to the panel by a private legal practitioner, Emperor Iwuala, noting that the panel was not only illegally constituted but also unlawfully inaugurated by a judge of the Imo State High Court instead of the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Benjamin Njemnanze.
The letter maintained that two law suits touching and concerning the impeachment proceedings against the deputy governor were still pending before an Owerri High Court.
"Though I have not been served any summons as stipulated by law, I wish to draw your attention to the pendency of two law suits instituted by me at the Imo State High Court, Owerri Judicial Division, touching and concerning the purported impeachment proceedings against me.
"From the foregoing, it is clear that I am not only challenging the purported steps or actions that led to the constitution of your Panel but also challenging the appointment/constitution of your panel by the Chief Judge of Imo State and the subsequent unlawful inauguration and swearing-in of the chairman and members of your panel by a Judge of the Imo State High Court.
"Since we are in a constitutional democracy where the rule of law ought to be upheld, all activities and or proceedings of your Panel ought to automatically terminate or be suspended as a mark of respect to the Imo State High Court before which the aforesaid suits are pending. This is the practice in civilized climes where panels such as yours do not do anything which may in whatsoever manner overreach the decision of the courts where suits are pending.
"Furthermore, since the matters you have been directed to investigate are subjudice, your panel should respect the pendency of these suits, allow the law to take its course and or allow the legal and judicial processes to run their full courses. Doing otherwise will tantamount to pre-empting the decision of the High Court in the two pending suits," the letter read in part.
Owerri High Court Steps in
As if it had been concluded by the authorities that every matter pertaining the impeachment must end that day, March 28, the high court dismissed the case where Agbaso had challenged the violation of his fundamental human rights and stopped the impeachment process by the state Assembly. The presiding judge, Justice Florence Duruoha-Igwe, had earlier in the day ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit.
Duruoha-Igwe said her court could not further entertain the matter because it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case stopping the impeachment process of the deputy government by the Assembly. She said despite that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter, she went ahead to give her judgment, saying: "If the matter goes to Appeal, they will have the benefit of my input on the matter." Duruoha-Igwe also refused to grant the prayer of the applicant that the bank in which the transactions went through, should be investigated.
Of Dina, Adoption and EFCC
At the one-day sitting, the panel was informed that the star witness, Mr. Joseph Dina, Managing Director of JPROS International Nig. Ltd., who was summoned alongside the deputy governor, could not turn up to bear witness because he had been abducted by unknown gunmen. His lawyer, Mr. Giles Ugwunweze, told that the panel that his client was abducted that morning.
"My client could not make it to the panel because he was taken away by unknown gunmen this morning and his whereabouts is yet unknown but the Panel can rely on his written statement to proceed," he said.
However, it was later discovered that Dina was being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the allegation and other 'shoddy dealings' he had with the state government. THISDAY gathered that the Lebanese businessman was about to flee the country when he was apprehended at the airport by operatives of the EFCC, although no official statement to his arrest had been issued by the commission.
But Counsel to the Assembly, Adeniyi Akintola (SAN), overruled the deputy governor’s letter and continued with the proceeding, stressing that the panel was not joined in any of the two suits cited in the letter, and that one of the suits had been dismissed by the High Court for lack of jurisdiction.
And the Panel Continues
Chairman of the panel, Justice Godwin Chukwuemeka Ihekire (rtd), however ruled that the panel would continue with proceedings, having listened to the submissions of the counsel to the two witnesses present, Akintola and Ugwunweze that the panel should disregard the letter and continue with the proceedings.The proceedings witnessed by heavy presence of armed police men and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Clerk of the Assembly, Chris Duru, submitted documents including summons served by the House, notice of commencement of impeachment process on March 8, 2013, details of particulars of gross misconduct and petition signed by 10 members of the House on March 8.
Also submitted were report of the House's special ad hoc committee investigating the remote cause of the stoppage/ abandonment of work on some roads in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe municipalities, submitted on March 7, 2013; written statement by Joseph Dina’s cheques paid into accounts; certified true copies of tellers and cheques separately; vote and proceedings of the House on March 7, 2013; Affidavit of Notice of service of impeachment, second affidavit of service of impeachment notice pasted on the door of office and official residence of the deputy governor. With this, the stage was set.
Alleged Inducement of Lawmakers
The hurried manner adopted by the Imo Assembly in the impeachment process called for questioning. However, facts emerged that a top government official believed to be acting on behalf of the state government had allegedly made available between N10 to N15 million to each lawmaker to fast-track the impeachment process. The source revealed that with the exception of the representative of Oguta state constituency who did not show deep interest in the impeachment saga, and who refused to be bribed, it was yet another 'money-making' venture for the members.
Observers had queried why the impeachment panel that was given three months to conclude its investigation, did so on the day it sat for the first time and submitted report, even when it had earlier announced adjournment for the following day. And consequently, the Assembly met in the evening of the same day and ratified the report, five hours after it was submitted. And immediately, a letter appointing a new deputy governor was also transmitted to the Assembly even before the impeachment and the name was ratified without background checks.
The Agbasos Fight Back
Of course, the Agbaso family is not relenting, since a lot it at stake for it, politically and socially. And because of the social stigma as well as political setback that the development could engender, the family employed the services of forensic expert who had unearthed details of the bribery. Documents from private investigators have therefore established so many facts including the directors of JPROS International Limited, Three Brothers Concepts Limited and the IHSPN Limited. The facts also unearthed the account statements showing the movement of the funds and the MTN call log of Agbaso which showed no interaction between him and the contractor.
Particularly interesting was the revelation that Mr. MacDonald-Akano, Special Adviser to Governor Rochas Okorocha, who is also the Chairman, Committee on Monitoring and Implementation of Road Projects in the state, is a top shareholder and a board member of JPROS International Limited. Akano, investigation revealed, came on the company's board in June 2012, few months after JPROS International Limited was mobilised and even overpaid for contracts he has yet executed.
Although, the Agbaso family has promised to see this through, knowing full well the negative implication it portends for the family, what steps the family would take in either redressing the alleged injustice or confirming the allegations leveled against them is not known yet. But the political imbroglio orchestrated by Agbaso's impeachment may have opened another debate on the Okorocha administration. And since "he who goes to equity must go with clean hands," both the executive and the legislature would someday be required by the Imo people to offer detail explanation on the impeachment saga. That time may be the next election in the state.