Until March 28, Jude Agabso was the deputy governor of Imo State, but through some political manoeuvring and an allegation of corrupt practices, the state House of Assembly removed him
| By Olu Ojewale | Apr. 15, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IT WAS a well scripted episode. Within one day a deputy governor was investigated by a panel, impeached by legislators, the name of his successor was forwarded to the House and pronto the House approved. That was the fate of Jude Agbaso, former deputy governor of Imo State, who lost his job on Thursday, March 28. But since his dismissal Agbaso and his family have been crying blue murder, saying it is all about 2015 election.
Sources close to the two camps said that when Governor Rochas Okorocha was going to contest election for the governorship seat in the state, he was advised to join the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. But before doing so, he had to meet with the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who knew about Martin Agbaso’s ambition to contest for the same seat on the platform of the party. At the meeting, Okorocha was reported to have agreed that he would serve only one term. “Martin is a big man himself and he could not serve as deputy to Okorocha, so he appointed his younger brother to be the deputy,” a source said.
But since he became governor, Okorocha was said not to be really comfortable with Agbaso, who comes from Owerri zone. A school of thought says that Okorocha is planning for a higher stake in the next election, but he would like to position his loyalists so that if his plan does not work he may come back as the state governor. Besides, from the political alignment playing out in the state, he is not going to get the support of Martin Agbaso.
This, perhaps, lends credence to an allegation suggested by an observer that Agbaso’s impeachment must have been planned by the Okorocha government. Speaking about Agbaso’s inglorious exit, a government official told Realnews: “He is not popular. I think it was because of his greed that he fell into a trap if, indeed, he was set up.” According to the source, Agbaso wanted to resign as soon as the bubble burst, but his brother was said to have advised him against it, saying they would fight the government in court to a standstill. What makes the sack more intriguing is that the Nigerian constitution stipulates that the seven-man investigative panel that found Agbaso guilty had three months to investigate his case but it chose to do it in one day.
That notwithstanding, the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Owerri branch, said that the impeachment of Agbaso was in accordance with the law. Sabinus Opara, chairman of the branch, told newsmen that the former deputy governor failed to take advantage of the law as contained in the 1999 constitution to save his job. He argued that the process followed was in conformity with the constitution as it affects impeachment of a state governor or deputy. Opara said all the relevant portions and sections of the constitution were exhaustively followed by the House and the state chief judge. He, however, said that Agbaso could still go to court if he strongly felt that Section 188 of the constitution was not complied with in his removal.
Even after his removal, Martin addressed a press conference in which he cleared his brother of any wrongdoing and promised to fight on. According to him, the family engaged the services of forensic auditors who discovered that the controversial accounts were traceable to bank accounts belonging to JPROS International Nigeria Limited in Lebanon and Dubai. Martin, who said that the case had gone before the Appeal Court, promised that the matter would be contested to its logical conclusion.
“By the time we finish, we will know those who will go into hiding,” he said. He further said that it had been discovered that Mac-Donald Akano, an adviser to Okorocha and the chairman of the state’s committee on monitoring and implementation of road Ppojects, is on the board of the JPROS International Nigeria Limited, the contracting firm. He claimed that checks at the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, also showed that Akano was put on the board of the company at about the time of signing the contract in question. Martin also claimed that the forensic report had been forwarded to appropriate quarters, including the Police and the State Security Service, SSS. He said the aim of the exercise was to clear the name of the family from the mess it had been accused of. “You can’t do something despicable and think it will be business as usual. We’ve left that era of satanic behaviour. Governor Okorocha has the power as the governor of Imo State to do whatever he likes and as he deems fit. But he does not have the power to tarnish the image of my family and what is uppermost now is to clear my family name,” he said.
Trouble started for Agabso following a complaint by a member of the House Assembly at a plenary on Wednesday, February 20, that both Messrs JPROS International Nigeria Limited and Timik Construction Company, abandoned road projects at Warehouse Road Junction, Odunze-Aba Road, Amaigbo Street to Old Nekede Road and the dualisation of Orlu Main Town after being paid their dues. This prompted the House of Assembly to set up a six-man Ad hoc Committee to investigate why this was so.
During the investigation, the House discovered that the cost of the project had been brought down from its original N1.5 billion to N1.3 billion and that the contractors had received almost all the money budgeted for the road construction.
Yet, the JPROS International Nigeria Limited was paid N1.5 billion by the finance ministry. Despite being paid above the negotiated price, Joseph Dina, the managing director of JPROS, told the committee that his company could not continue with the road project because he received a directive from Agbaso to deposit N458 million into his personal account as kickback for the project.
The Lebanese-born JPROS boss said having done that, the company became incapacitated to continue with its work on the road. Dina then allegedly showed members of the committee the bank statement from Diamond Bank indicating the transfer of both the first and second tranches of payment, as well as the photocopies of the cheques issued for the payments.
Testifying before the panel, Agbaso denied that he collected money from the contractor. He submitted that there would have been no overpayment if the commissioner of finance and accountant-general had followed due process by ensuring that payments were based on milestones achieved by the contractors. Sources said it was while exchanging arguments with the committee members that he sensed that he was going to be impeached and thus, accused the governor of being behind it. The former deputy governor was also said to have accused the governor of bribing members of the assembly to get rid of him.
It was at this point that Okorocha was said to have summoned Agbaso, members of the House committee, party elders and advisers in his cabinet to a meeting in his dining room, where the former deputy governor repeated his allegation. According to a report, it was based on this development that a vote of no confidence was passed on the former deputy governor. Two days after, Benjamin Uwajumogu, the speaker of the House, wrote a letter to Justice Benjamin Njemanze, the state chief judge, to set up a seven-man judicial panel to investigate Agbaso’s misconduct.
The panel led by Justice Godwin Ihekire, who summoned Agbaso to appear before it, but he, instead, sent in a two-page letter through Emperor Iwuala, his counsel. In the letter dated March 28, 2013, Agbaso said he had not been served any summons as stipulated by law, and that there were already two suits instituted by him at the Imo State High Court, Owerri, concerning the purported impeachment proceedings against him. Based on the suits, the House should allow the judicial processes to run their full courses.
But less than three hours after the court struck out Agbaso’s suits for lacking in merit, 26 out of the 27 members of the House endorsed the removal of the deputy governor from office. Eze Madumere, former chief of staff to the governor, whose name was forwarded to the assembly, was confirmed same day. Madumere, was sworn-in as the sixth deputy governor of Imo State, Saturday March 30.
As the battle now shifts to the court room, it is very difficult to know who is going to have the last laugh. But as it is, the Nigerian Constitution does not give the deputy governor much say in the government. Hence, a good number have been so ingloriously removed from office. Will Agbaso’s be an exception? Perhaps, or perhaps not.