Egged on by Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, the State House of Assembly is set to impeach Sunday Onyebuchi, the deputy governor, on some flimsy charges in order to ruin his senatorial ambition in 2015
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Sep. 1, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THERE is palpable tension in Enugu State following the ongoing impeachment process of Sunday Onyebuchi, the state’s deputy governor. The impeachment saga, which commenced in July following alleged disagreements between Governor Sullivan Chime and his deputy, has unduly raised political tension in the state especially with the Governor’s recent pronouncement to the effect that there would be no second term for members of the National Assembly from the state. For now, it is not clear whether the attempts to impeach Onyebuchi have anything to do with his Senatorial ambition in12015 .
The Enugu State House of Assembly has listed three major offences against the deputy governor. These include running a poultry farm inside his official residence, which had been undergoing reconstruction since mid-2012 but had long been abandoned, and his alleged refusal to represent the governor at two official functions in Enugu and Onitsha. The State House of Assembly commenced the process by serving him with an impeachment notice in which he was given seven days to respond.
Apparently, the lawmakers mandated Justice Innocent Umezulike, the state’s chief judge, to set up an impeachment panel which he did without delay. The seven-man panel was headed by Franklyn Uche Oraeke with Uluakanwa Okoh, Nnamdi Martin Onyenwuru, Marcel Ebele Eze, Praise Mercy Anyim, Aroh Okechukwu Perfectis and Anthony Iguh as members.
Inaugurating the panel, the chief judge said he was under a constitutional obligation to set up the panel and wished them success in “this important but onerous constitutional function.” Oraeke, chairman of the panel, had assured that the panel would not witch-hunt anybody as its duty was just to conduct an investigation on the charges handed over to the members and make a report of their findings known to the state House of Assembly.
But the deputy governor had denied all the allegations against him and insisted that he did not commit any impeachable offence to warrant his being removed from office. He told the panel that he was not guilty of alleged acts of gross misconduct in the performance of his official functions.
Onyebuchi, who presented an eight-page defence with several annexures to the House, said that he was not aware of any resolution of the State Assembly that banned the operation of commercial poultry in residential premises in the state, pointing out that the poultry in his official residence was built by the regime of Michael Okpara in the defunct Eastern regional government and had been operated upon by several of his predecessors like the one operated by the governor in his own residence.
He described as untrue the allegation that he refused to represent Governor Chime at the flag-off of the second Niger Bridge in Onitsha by President Goodluck Jonathan, saying he was present at the event from its inception to the end as shown in the live television coverage of the event.
On the third allegation that he turned down the directive to represent Governor Chime at the last meeting of the South East Governors’ Forum held at the Lion Building, Enugu, the deputy governor explained that the governor did not mandate him to act on his behalf while he was away on vacation, adding that no manifest of the event was made available to him.
Onyebuchi, who noted that he had worked closely with Governor Chime, who at one time described him as a “reliable and loyal deputy, who understands the workings of government” said it was a shame that an allegation of disobedience should be levelled against him few months to the end of their second tenure.
The proceeding of the panel commenced with the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses mainly serving commissioners and the Governor’s aides, who had laboured to defend the various allegations levelled against the deputy governor. But on the first day of the deputy governor’s appearance, he said he knew that he would be removed but that before he leaves the office, the whole world would hear the truth about his travails.
This comment reported by several national dailies did not go down well with the prosecution and the government who, thereafter, clamoured for a ban on press coverage of the panel’s proceedings. Their request was granted by the panel. Thereafter, journalists were prevented from witnessing the proceedings in spite of the repeated protests by the deputy governor.
However, the ongoing impeachment proceeding took a frightening dimension on Wednesday, August 13, when the embattled deputy governor slumped while giving his testimony. The deputy governor who had maintained a daily presence at the impeachment panel that began sitting on August 6, slumped after giving evidence for a non-stop three hours and five minutes.
Peter Eze, one of his lawyers, said the unfortunate incident occurred five minutes after Ifeoma Nwobodo, chief of staff to the governor, and Anthony Ani, the state’s attorney general and commissioner for justice, entered the court room. Nwobodo was accompanied by the attorney general to the panel in response to a subpoena served on her at the instance of the deputy governor, who informed the panel that she needed to clear some issues relating to the allegations levelled against him particularly the evacuation of birds from the poultry farm at his official residence.
According to the defence counsel, the deputy governor was rushed out of the court hall for medical attention at about 11.38 am by his wife, Nneka Ada Onyebuchi, his children and some of his aides present. The panel stood down its proceedings until 2pm to enable them get a feedback from Onyebuchi’s family regarding his state of health.
Chris Aghanwa, Onyebuchi’s lead counsel, was said to have informed the panel upon resumption that the deputy governor suffered from postural hypotension. “The Deputy Governor was first rushed to one Dr. Akunyili of St. Leo’s Hospital, who could not handle it and invited one Dr. G. C. Anisiuba, a consultant physician and cardiologist, who attended to him. The doctor then issued a medical report “which reveals that he had postural hypotension for which he is now receiving medication,” he said.
Aghanwa tendered the medical report and informed the panel that his client could not continue with his evidence. But feelers in the state indicated that the panel continued sitting on Thursday, August 14, despite the request by the defence counsel that further proceedings be suspended till Monday, August 18, to enable the deputy governor recover and continue with his evidence.
Sources said that the panel was considering sending a team of medical doctors from the state-owned hospital to carry out fresh examination of the Deputy Governor to confirm what the medical expert from the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Enugu, had observed. This prompted an angry reaction from the Enugu Rescue Group which, in a statement signed by Martin Okenwa, its publicity secretary, condemned in strong terms the clear partisan attitudes of the investigation panel, especially its insistence, against medical advice, that the deputy governor be brought back to the hearing immediately, even in a wheelchair or stretcher. “This unusual hurry of a panel that has a constitutional period of three months to complete its work further confirms that it is executing a 2015 script written in the Enugu State Government House. We condemn the continued secret trial of the Deputy Governor by the Panel, which has barred the press from an impeachment hearing in a democratic society,” it said.
To Governor Chime and his political camp, the impeachment of the Deputy Governor would only take some time but it is a fait accompli, hence they have reportedly pencilled down Onyebuchi’s successor from his zone to ensure that his people are not denied the seat that was zoned to them since 2007. Onyebuchi had maintained that his greatest offence against the governor was his decision to seek for an elective position the Senate to represent Enugu East in 2015, the seat which the governor is believed to have reserved for one of his female loyal aides. But it yet to be seen whether the allegations against Onyebuchi are really impeachable offences as alleged by the State House of Assembly.