Senior Lawyers Express Views over De-recognition of Omehia as a Former Governor of Rivers


Reactions have continued to trail the signing of the legal instrument activating the resolution passed by the House of Assembly to de-recognise Mr Celestine Omehia as a former governor of the state by Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike at the weekend.

Recall that the state assembly, in their resolution claimed that they acted in error when in 2015 they moved a resolution recognising Omehia as governor, having function in that capacity for five months before his sack in late 2015 by the Supreme Court.

The lawmakers claimed that their action was aimed at correcting the mistake of the last seven years. However, the de-recognition had generated issues, for example whether the sack of an elected governor by the Supreme Court illegitimises his tenure?

Also, can a state government derecognise a governor who proclaimed the state assembly, sign bills, awarded contracts? Doesn’t the law abhors vacuum?

Speaking on the issues, some senior advocates were of the views that the lawmakers whether in 2015 or now acted within their competence.

According to Mr Ejembi Eko (SAN), the Rivers State House of Assembly, has only acted in line with a judgment of the Supreme Court, which held that Omehia was never supposed to have been governor.

He said: “You cannot put something on top of nothing. The action goes to the root of his governorship which is the root of title to which he had ascended to that office.”
Eko argued that going by the Supreme Court judgment, Omehia’s tenure as governor was illegal as he was not supposed to be there in the first place.
On whether the state has powers to de-recognise a governor as in the instant case, the senior lawyer pointed out that laws can be amended and revoked, adding that the same lawmakers who passed the resolution to recognise Omehia as a former governor in another resolution are the same ones who have “now resolved that he should be removed completely from the archives of people who have ever been in that office, then I think it is within their competence and besides it is a legislative matter.”
He also held that since the resolution is a consequential relief, Omehia has to refund all the benefits accrued to him as a former governor.

“If you were never supposed to be in any position in the first place, that means everything that you have earned in that illegal position must be refunded”, he said.

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For Ahmed Raji (SAN), the Rivers State House of Assembly reserves the right and power to amend, vary or abrogate any law or resolution made by it.

“That is why it is often said that no parliament can fetter or bind its successor”, he said, “If the supreme law being the Constitution can be amended, how much less an ordinary statute or a mere resolution. I am unable to fault the legality of what the Rivers House of Assembly has done”.

Raji argued that if “anyone is aggrieved, the best thing is to approach the appropriate court. After all it is a testable legal hypothesis which has no direct precedent on all fours to the best of my knowledge”.

In the same vein, Mr Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) noted that it is the prerogative of the legislature to pass laws and that of the governor to give assent.

“In that wise, both have not done anything unusual. However, the Constitution has imbued the judiciary with the prerogative of determining whether or not a law of the legislative arm is constitutional, ultra vires, null and void.

“In the instant situation, it is near certain if not absolutely certain that the Omehia will turn to the judiciary for intervention and redress. A number of questions have been thrown up by the rather novel scenario on hand. For instance, bearing in mind that the same House of Assembly was the one that gave the gentleman official recognition in 2015, would there be justification for asking him to refund what he had been given in terms of monetary entitlements sequel to that recognition?

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“Again, the legality of the law directly affecting a person, and retroactively so, would come up for interrogation. Of course, I have no doubt that the previous official recognition as Governor is indefensible and untenable in law against the backdrop of the decision of the Supreme Court that he was never validly elected into that office.

“All said, what we have can rightly be described as a mixed bag and what Shakespeare called a mingled yarn. For now, it suffices for us to keep our fingers crossed and wait with bated breath for how the situation will pan out in the court of law.”

However, to Reverend John Baiyeshea (SAN), the issue seems to be more political than legal because the Rivers State House of Assembly which in 2015 passed a resolution to recognise Omehia as a former governor, which Wike endorsed then, has now made a U-turn, to derecognise Omehia by another resolution in 2022.

He said: “The judgment of the Supreme Court the House of Assembly is now relying upon to cancel the 2015 resolution was of course in existence then. The judgment was passed by the Supreme Court in 2007.

“So, because Omehia was in their political camp in 2015, it was convenient then for the House of Assembly with the endorsement of Governor Wike to commit a ‘deliberate error’ of recognising Omehia as a former Governor of River State.

“Now that they are in different political camps (bitterly for that matter), error has now been made a ‘scape goat’ for the resolution of 2015, and the resolution of 2022 has been hinged on to cancel the recognition of Omehia as a former Governor of River State”.

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Baiyeshea observed that if political enemies want to get at themselves, they will give reasons that on the surface appear justifiable and capable of being defended, adding that, “Now Governor Wike says they cannot continue with the error of recognition of Omehia as former Governor forever.

“Be that as it may with political issues, the effect of the Supreme Court’s judgment in Rotimi Amaechi’s case in 2007 is indeed that, Omehia was never Governor of Rivers State. That was why Rotimi Amechi was in fact and in law declared as Governor of Rivers State.

“Therefore, Rivers State House of Assembly may not be wrong, but if not for the present political differences, the House of Assembly and Governor Wike were using that recognition as a ‘reward’, which they can withdraw at their convenience, which is now!

“If Omehia thinks he has a strong legal right to claim the status of former Governor, let him test it in court. I doubt if Omehia will take that risk because he is not in the same class as Dr. Peter Odili and Sir Rotimi Amaechi, who were legally former governors of the state,” he added.



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