JUSTICE G.O. OMEREJI’S JUDICIAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
IN RIVERS STATE: Legal Matters Arising.
On Friday, June 19, 2015, the Rivers State Government announced the establishment of what it called ‘Judicial Commission of Inquiry’ to probe the last administration in the State under Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, CON. The Commission is chaired by Hon. Justice George O. Omereji, a Judge of the High Court of Rivers State. Nyesom Wike, His Excellency the Governor, stated that he was establishing the Commission under the authority of the State’s Commissions of Inquiry Law, CAP 30 Laws of Rivers State.
A COMEDY OF LEGAL ERRORS:
- The Commission of Inquiry Law which was cited as authority, in all its 23 Sections, did not authorise the setting up of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry. No. It merely stated that the Governor can set up an Inquiry. The Law clearly did not add or use the word Judicial in providing for the establishment of an inquiry into any issue and it could not have because, Judicial Powers are vested in Courts of Law. See Section 6(6) (b) of the Nigerian Constitution. Indeed, in the very popular case of GARBA V. UNIVERSITY of MAIDUGURU, the Supreme Court held thus:
“Judicial Powers are not vested in private persons, administrative tribunals or other authorities (underlining mine). Any purported exercise of Judicial Power by these bodies is a denial of the right to Fair hearing”.
Earlier, in HART Vs MILITARY GOVERNMENT OF RIVERS STATE & 2 ORS (1976) 11 S.C 211, the Supreme Court warned that “no labels such as ‘judicial’ or ‘quasi judicial’ are necessary as they tend to confuse the understanding and duties of a Commission of Enquiry.”
Nyesom Wike CON, Governor of Rivers State, was thus exercising a power that His Excellency did not have and Justice Omereji, to the extent that his lordship will be purporting to Chair a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, will be acting in vain, since His Lordship does not sit there as a High Court Judge – where he can exercise judicial powers – but as Chair of a mere Inquiring Body.
To add ‘Judicial’ to a mere administrative inquiry, did not reflect a doing of right according to Law as it gives the public the dangerously misleading impression that the Commission is a High Court by another name called. It is not.
- EVEN IF THE WORD ‘JUDICIAL’ WERE DELETED, THE ILLEGALITY WOULD PERSIST.
It would appear that the constitution of the Commission and its Terms of Reference are so incurably defective in Law that no amendment can validly save it.
In inaugurating the Commission, Nyesom Wike, the Governor, charged it, amongst others, to investigate the illegal deduction from the state’s savings account without compliance with extant laws.
By concluding that the act which the Commission is to investigate is illegal, or was done outside the Law, ( as the published Terms of Reference renders it) he has already made up his mind and is thus, asking the administrative commission of inquiry (that is what it is) to investigate the illegality.
- THE JUSTICE NGANJIWA JUDGMENT
In PDP Vs. CHIDI ODINKALU & ORS Suit No. FHC/PHC/FHR/256/ 2015, which the PDP, with Nyesom Wike CON, as he then was, now Governor, as its leader, filed before the Federal High Court, CORAM Nganjiwa J, challenging the then Governor Amaechi’s constitution of the Chidi Odinkalu’s Commission of Inquiry into politically-motivated killings, the PDP argued, with ferocious force, that by Section 4 of the Police Act, only the Nigeria Police, and not a Commission of Inquiry, could investigate crime. Nganjiwa J, agreed and restrained the Rivers State Government and the Commission from taking further steps in connection with the sitting and hearing of the Commission of Inquiry instituted by the then Governor.
Effectively, the Court held that the Odinkalu.s Commission of Inquiry established under and pursuant to the same Commission of Inquiry Law now relied on by Governor Wike, could not validly look into any alleged Commission of Crime as only the Nigeria Police could do so.
Based on that Judgment which Nyesom Wike CON, and the PDP procured, the same Rivers State Government, though now under a new head, cannot validly be setting up the same Administrative Inquiry under the same Law, to be investigating the alleged crime of illegal deduction of public funds (without recourse to extant laws) and sundry other alleged illegalities for, according to the Judgment of Nganjiwa J, that it is the exclusive function of the Nigeria Police and certainly not that of a Commission of Inquiry.
Therefore, even if the word ‘Judicial’ is removed from the name of the Inquiry, leaving it with its proper name of Commission of Enquiry, simpliciter, which was what the Odinkalu’s Commission was, the fundamental defect of legal incapacity as enunciated in the Nganjiwa Judgement, is still there affecting and afflicting it.
- NYESOM WIKE’S OBVIOUS BIAS.
Having held that the person to be investigated, Rotimi Amaechi, former Governor, acted illegally in the disbursement of public fund and that he ran a corrupt government, Nyesom Wike, the Governor, has prejudged the matter and shown his bias. Does it matter? Yes. How? This is how:
- THE JUSTICE ADAMA IYAYI-LAMIKANRA JUDGMENT.
Nyesom Wike CON, as he then was, now Governor, and as leader of PDP in search of political power, sponsored a House of Assembly member, Hon Victor Ihunwo who was amongst the minority that sought, almost successfully, to impeach the House Speaker, resulting in near-fatal crises in the State House of Assembly on July 9, 2013.
The Rivers State Government, in its wisdom to know what happened and how and to prevent a recurrence, instituted an Inquiry under the same Law under which the Omereji Commission under reference is nowbeing hoisted.
Wike and his group filed Suit No. PHC/1604/2013 (Hon VICTOR IHUNWO Vs. Hon JUSTICE B. A. GEORGEWILL & 10 Ors) which came before Iyayi-Lamikanra J. After submissions, the learned Trial Judged disbanded the Commission chaired by Justice B.A. Georgewill, then of the same High Court, on the ground – according to the Judge – that the Governor had interest in the outcome of the Inquiry. Simply, that bias was established against the Governor who set up the Inquiry.
In other words, Governor Amaechi who set up the Inquiry had an interest. To have an interest is a long-winding way of simply stating ‘bias’.
Bias manifests in prejudging an issue and committing to it in advance. It means a prejudiced, made up mind, even before the outcome is known or established.
- Thus, in R V. KENT POLICE AUTHORITY & ORS EX PARTE GODDEN (1971) 2 QBD 668,669 it was held that it was wrong and improper, indeed, a breach of the Rules of fair hearing, to refer the issues for determination to the same medical officer, Dr Brown, since the Doctor had already expressed an opinion adverse to the applicant and committed himself in advance.
Governor Wike having committed himself in advance that his predecessor acted illegally, that being the case, on the strength of the Iyayi-Lamikanra J, Judgement, the Omereji (Judicial) Commission of Inquiry is dead on arrival as the findings of the Commission, by Law, shall be made directly to the same Governor for ratification. The same person who had adjudged the yet-to-be-investigated conduct illegal is the same person to have a final say on the final findings!
Justice Iyayi-Lamikanra in his Judgment also followed the decision of the Supreme Court in GARBA V UNIVERSITY OF MAIDUGURI that a Commission of Inquiry, could not validly inquire into any alleged commission of crime.
The Judge held thus:
‘The 3rd Ground of this application is that the terms of reference of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry include enquiring into conduct which are criminal in nature or conduct which can attract sanctions of criminal nature or conducts which are blameworthy.
‘I agree with the contention of Learned Senior Counsel for the applicant that this would amount, (sic) particularly with regards to the jurisdiction of the regular Courts in criminal matters (sic). See the case of GARBA V. UNIVERSITY OF MAIDUGURU (supra).’’ Note please: The Quotation is exactly as I found it in the Certified Copy of the Judge’s Judgment.
On this additional strength, the Judge struck down the Commission.
- EVEN IN SIMPLE FACTUAL MATTERS, THE BIAS IS EVIDENT:
It is the same bias we see in simple matters of fact: The Governor said the Commission should investigate the circumstances that led to the sale of the State Hotel Olympia.
With a pure mind, the Inquiry should have been ‘to examine (or investigate) the Transaction concerning Hotel Olympia’.
The difference is so clear: In the former, jaundiced Term of Reference, it has been concluded that the Hotel was sold, while in the latter, the Inquiry is open and may lead to a finding of a sale or a concession or even a gift or even a pledge! Now, having so concluded that the Hotel was sold, would the Governor be humble enough to reverse himself if documents show it was never sold but concessioned or leased? This is the danger of a mind that harbours a predetermined outcome in the name of an Inquiry because I did the Hotel Olympia Agreement after approval by the State Executive Council and I know it was concessioned (another term denoting a lease) and not sold.
- JUSTICE G.O. OMEREJI, CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMISSION –
How not to serve.
It is always a source of joy to be called upon to serve one’s compatriots; but one must not always serve especially when doing so will open one to sincere and justifiable accusations of unconscionableness, or appear to be immoral and with ill-motive, and not a genuine desire to serve, as the actuating force, to all of which Hon Justice G.O. Omereji has opened himself, not as a High Court Judge, but as the Chair of the Commission to ‘try’ Amaechi.
Justice Omereji, (hereinafter simply referred to as The Chair so as to etch it in the reader’s mind that I am here discussing His Lordship, not as a High Court Judge, but as The Chair of an ordinary Commission of Inquiry, erroneously christened ‘Judicial’ Commission of Inquiry), has been my personal friend for some years. I have high regards for him. In course of our friendship, I undertook yearly, end-of- year visits to him and his lovely family in his country home at Egbeda in his Emohua Local Government Area, usually on the last day of the year. I had said this much publicly and in his presence and to his hearing. I have also, in public and in his presence and to his hearing, commended him on an aspect of his carriage as a High Court Judge.
Many times, I have also spent time with him in his Port Harcourt residence and in the last occasion in company of a then sitting commissioner in the state, Hon Ezemonye Ezekiel Amadi.
I suspended the active friendship when I got appointed to government and political hostilities brewed and I noticed his disposition and stance. I did not want that to strain the friendship.
In course of my friendship with The Chair and in all our discussions, especially before I joined the Amaechi Cabinet but also during my tenure there, he stated to me, many times, his angst against the person of Rotimi Amaechi, his animosity and their heavy differences. It was from him I knew that Rotimi Amaechi’s mother is from The Chair’s community or ‘compound’, as Africans like to use that word, ‘compound’ to stress close family ties. He has even advised me on some measures against Amaechi and I thanked him and left it at that without discussing with anyone or telling him my mood about it.
How, then, can he now accept to be ‘the Judge of such a man he so loathes’? How?
This is how not to serve!
Since it is clear that a Major Objective of the new administration in Rivers State is to dissolve the person of Rotimi Amaechi, politically, and having found him ‘guilty’ of illegal deduction of public funds and of running a corrupt government, there is no need to bother The Chair to investigate an adjudged illegality since The Chair is not a policeman or a member of the police in the tenor of Justice Nganjiwa’s Judgment. The Chair should be spared the unconscionable burden of trying or investigating a man he hates so much and which hatred he has several times expressed to me, and I am sure to some others, freely and sincerely since it is within his right, as a human, imperfect humans we all are, to harbour resentments towards any.
The Chair himself, on the basis of honour should have declined to try this serious enemy of his. What matters, once you are alive, is not life, per se, but the courage you bring to live it, so said the Sage. Here, we have in mind, the courage to say ‘No, Sir, I won’t inquire into my enemy because I will not be fair to him’.
That Commission of Inquiry is ill-conceived, ill-motivated and especially from legal standpoint, illegal vis-à-vis the Judgements referred to earlier, which Judgments the Governor Wike himself was a participant in obtaining. The Commission shall not achieve anything beyond political entertainments and excitements which The Chair himself has promised Rivers people when he stated, in his acceptance speech, that they will like the Commission’s work, thus betraying a mindset that misconceives to whom he makes his findings – to the Governor who may accept or reject – and not to the public whom he promised would love his work.
Law should always win politics and politics should not always win Law
Finally, the same lawyers who, with ferocity, argued Justices Iyayi-Lamikanra and Nganjiwa into Ruling that a Commission of Inquiry cannot inquire into allegations of crime, etc are exactly the same lawyers, yes, exactly the same lawyers, now appearing in the same High Court, Rivers State, arguing, with an even higher ferocity, that Governor Nyesom Wike was right in establishing a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged illegalities and crimes.
The desperate search for a Rotimi Amaechi political downfall, should not be a Magna Carta, to ridicule Law, its Practice and the Legal Profession.
Worgu Boms Esq.
2015 Practice Licence No. 00040778