Former Rivers State Governor, Sir Celestine Omehia, has said he has no regret over the Supreme Court ruling that ousted him from office in 2007. Speaking exclusively in Abuja, Omehia, a lawyer, contended that the 2007 Supreme Court judgment “is a stab, a destruction of the Nigerian constitution,” adding: “That is the problem the governors are facing today.”
“Nigerians shouldn’t have accepted that judgment and the consequence is what they are facing today. And it will continue unless something is done,” Omehia said.
Omehia also opened up on the recent Supreme Court judgment which voided the leave granted him by the Court of Appeal over the tenure of Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi.
He spoke on these and other issues, including the crisis in Rivers State, saying he has no hand in the political crisis that has engulfed the state.
Omehia also absolved President Goodluck Jonathan, his wife, Dame Patience Jonathan and former Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mbu Joseph Mbu, for their alleged role in the crisis. Excerpts…
Your short reign in Rivers State was momentous and many believe you did so well as Rivers governor. Would you say the crisis in Rivers State has taken the hand of the clock backward in the state?
Well, if you say crisis in Rivers State taking the clock backward, I don’t know what that could mean. But the fact is that the administration in place now is there because the court wants them to be there. We tried our best in the five months we stayed in government. We had focus, we had projection and without delay, because the funds were there, we worked directly to our focus and achieved the much we could achieve within a short period of time. We laid all the necessary foundations. Some are still visible, some are still there. The shopping mall is still there. They call it Riv-Mall. The Mile One Market is still there. We achieved that. The Eleme Bridge, we have achieved that and the Town Market. Mile One Market, the Town Market, the Eleme Bridge, the other flyover, the two, we achieved all that because we foresaw the traffic problem and conjecture in Port Harcourt metropolis and we needed to be proactive in reducing them. We also saw the predicaments of our market people and the need for revenue also for the government. That is why we did the shopping mall and the market. And many other things we did because we were very proactive. We were focused and it was like we were in a hurry to achieve a lot for the people of Rivers state.
But the 2007 judgment brought all those to a stop and I can tell you I have no regret about it. So, whatever it is, we saw a new opportunity to continue with what we were doing in 2010. 2010 was when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) came up with their programme of election activities in Nigeria and Rivers State obviously, was fixed differently from other states. We decided to show interest in the governorship election in Rivers State then in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I picked the form, what they call intent form of N5.5 million. I paid for that, but because of some other internal handling of issues, I was deprived of primaries. So, I left and then went to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and contested the election in 2011. But before then, there was this judgment of the Federal High Court by Justice Kafarati where one Mr. Cyprain Chukwu, who is from Rumuepirikom, in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, who was the PDP legal adviser and also, personal legal adviser to Rotimi…
Yes. He was the party legal adviser and also, the personal legal adviser to Amaechi. He sued Amaechi and INEC, purporting that the Rivers State election was supposed to take place with other governors. And you know and as I know that the tenure of any person… Let’s even look outside the issue of governor. Any person’s term of office, according to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, takes effect, takes effect; I don’t know whether you understand, takes effect with emphasis ‘takes effect’ from the day the person takes oath of office and oath of allegiance. Even if you have been elected president, even if you have been elected governor, even if you have been appointed Central Bank Governor, whatever, until you take oath of office according to the Constitution of Nigeria, you cannot start functioning. And the constitution says a governor is entitled to a four-year term, starting from the date of oath of office. That is the law. And the Supreme Court also re-emphasized this in the case of Obi vs Ngige. So, when this case came up, Kafarati interpreted the 2007 judgment of the Supreme Court, which he is not entitled to interpret. The lower court cannot interpret or give meaning to the judgment of a superior court. He is just supposed to apply it as it is. And so, said that the oath of office I took on May 29, 2007, was taken by Rotimi Amaechi. That is the bend of the issue. The question is; can I take panadol for another person’s headache? It is not possible for somebody to take panadol for another person’s headache. Juxtapose it with the constitutional provision. You can only function from the day you take oath of office. That was why in 2007, the Supreme Court, in their judgment, Katsina Alu, ordered that Amaechi must take oath. They call it a consequential order.
After all said and done, blah blah blah blah bla, party wins election, individuals don’t win election, which I still contend that that is a stab, a destruction of the Nigerian constitution. And no person has said a word about that thing and that is the problem the governors are facing today, that so-called judgment. And in America, no person defaces the constitution and goes free no matter what you are. In Britain, nobody defaces the law and goes free no matter how highly you are placed. You have taken oath of office to defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and you deface that same constitution you swore to protect and defend and you are free. Nigerians shouldn’t have accepted that judgment and the consequence is what they are facing today. And it will continue unless something is done. Oliver Cromwell, in Britain, defaced the constitution and did all. And even after he died, the judgment against that issue came up and the corpse was exhumed and hung and sentenced. No person defaces the constitution and goes free. What I am saying in effect is that the constitution is sacrosanct and any person who has taken oath of office to defend the constitution and fails to defend that constitution must be sentenced. I don’t care.
Having done that, the Federal High Court under Kafarati, ordered that INEC should conduct election in Rivers State with other governors after interpreting the case. Imagine a case that was filed, services carried out, judgment delivered in 14 days. What in Nigeria! A speed of light. It has never happened in the history of the Nigerian judiciary. But we shall clap for him for what he did. He is the fastest judge in Nigerian judiciary. So, the judgment was delivered. We only heard of it in the news. And this was in 2010. I decided to appeal against the judgment. Fortunately, Lateef Fagbemi, Amaechi’s lawyer, also appealed against that judgment which was in favour of Amaechi. PDP appealed against the judgment. When I applied to appeal against the judgment in 2010, the Court of Appeal under Justice Paul Galinji, went up and down, went up and down so that elections will hold. He went, removed this, removed that until election actually held and Amaechi, according to election announced and continued as governor. However, when Paul Galinji was removed in the Court of Appeal, Abuja, the subsequent justices, upheld my appeal and said I was the person interested to be joined.
In a judgment at the Federal High Court by Kafarati, it was a 21-page judgment and Celestine Omehia, was mentioned in 19 pages. So, why can’t I be interested and a necessary party to be joined? However, Fagbemi decided to buy time and went to the Supreme Court that I wasn’t a necessary party to be joined. He is an appellant, I am an appellant. A necessary party after I was mentioned 19 times and the Court of Appeal had also agreed that I was. All was to get time and it lasted for more than one year in the Supreme Court. So, whatever trinity prayer that we were looking for, was not necessary. That was a mere technicality. The trinity prayer was a mere technicality. And as far as I am concerned, the judgment has come and gone and the Supreme Court has spoken. But we believe time is coming when the truth about the law, the constitution and the law, will be told in Nigeria.
The court said what you could not get through the front door, you tried getting it through the back door…
They thought I was getting through the back door because we applied to appeal against that judgment and the Court of Appeal justices, sitting three, granted it. So, unless they are terming the constitution of the Court of Appeal justices as illegal, it then means I was passing through the back door. But if the Court of Appeal was properly constituted and they took that decision as it were, I passed through the front door.
Are you disappointed with the judgment of the court?
The Supreme Court? Yes.
Legally, I am. The law as it were, I am. Look at the case of Marwa. Marwa joined at the Supreme Court and he was allowed to join. The mere fact that you are joined in a case does not mean you have won the case. It is only giving you an opportunity to state your position and the court to take a position. It is for you to come into the room where decision is being taken to state your case and the people seated on the high table, the justices, to look at all the facts and take a decision. It is not to say that the moment you are joined in a suit, you have won the matter. No problem about that. I am not worried about it. It has come and gone and I am moving on.
The court directed your counsel to apologize to Amaechi. Do you feel the court’s directive was deserving? And how painful was that to you?
Well, the court has the right to give any order, especially what appeared before them. If it is in the face of the court, yes, the court has the right to. For whatever reason, that is left between my lawyer and the court. So, I cannot easily interpret or give meaning to what order they have given.
Since you were not a party to the suit at the beginning, there is this general speculation that you were being used by Nyesom Wike to achieve his political mission. Some have even said he was the one paying the legal fees. How true is this?
It is false. Absolutely false. The fact is that at the time the judgment was delivered in 2010 and I tried joining in 2010, and Wike was still working with Amaechi. The second thing every person should bear in mind is that Cyprain Chukwu who sued Amaechi, is from the same village, the same ward, the same town with Nyesom Wike. So, I can impliedly say that Nyesom Wike knows about the suit and, therefore, couldn’t have worked against it for now. He may decide to be neutral, he may decide not to do anything. He may have decided to be neutral. But it is rather insulting to me to say that Nyesom Wike funded the case or had a connection with the case at all. It is rather insulting because I have my mind. I am a mature man, I know my rights as a lawyer. I am 28 years at the bar. I know what is legally right and what is legally wrong. I know as a politician, what is good for me, and what is good for the people of Rivers State and what is good for people following me. So, to say somebody else funded my case is an insult to me and to my followers and I wish such people could apologize to me.
Talking about the crisis in Rivers State, what is actually going on? Why can’t there be peace in Rivers?
Crisis in Rivers State is political. It is a political matter.
Don’t you think the crisis is eroding your past achievements?
It has nothing to do with my past achievements. It is political maneuvering between political interests.
Is there no way of bringing it to an end?
Well, there are the key players. The key players are the people of Rivers State on one side, and the Rotimi Amaechi on the other side.
Why is it difficult to bring the key players together? What is actually the issue?
I cannot tell what the issue was.
Or is it that Amaechi is not bringing the money forward for sharing?
You see, I again feel that, with due respect to you, that people who say sharing of money is an issue, are being myopic. How on earth do you think somebody could demand sharing of money when every money is budgeted for? From which sub head, from which part of the projects, from which part of the state funds that provide for the sharing of money? If the governor brings money for sharing, how will he account for that sharing? So, no normal person, no normal politician will go out and demand that you give him money to share because you are putting the governor or the person into trouble because he cannot account for it.
But people believe sharing of money is a common issue among Nigerian politicians…
Well, not all Nigerian politicians. The sensible ones, the intelligent ones, can never ask you to share money. And why is it that it is only in Rivers State that people talk of sharing of money? It is demeaning to the people of Rivers State. It is insulting to the people of Rivers State to say till some projects, don’t do this, bring the money for me to eat, I need money from you. It is like Rivers people are empty headed, that is why they are always asking for money.
(Cuts in) No, no, no. This is an issue that has recurred and recurred several times and I feel you people in the press should also look at it objectively and sensibly whether it is proper for somebody to say you want us to share money, and that is why we are quarrelling. No normal person, person like me who has been in government; Dr Peter Odili who has been in government; and all of us: Abiye Sekibo, who has been in government; Austin Opara who has been in government; we have headed different departments. I was commissioner and I know that every money in every ministry is budgeted for. So, how can you come to share it? And I will be stupid to demand a kobo from anybody for being in government. And I cannot also demand a contract in Rivers State. I cannot and I will not. Dr Peter Odili will not ask for contract or money from anybody. And we know the illegality and the hardship, the problem you will be creating for the state government for such demand. So, when you people in the press say people are demanding money and because of that, there is crisis, it is absolutely wrong.
It may not be you or the names you mentioned, but maybe other parties…
Who on earth? How would you say give me money, let me go and… For goodness sake, how? How?
What is your role in the crisis in Rivers State?
I have no role.
You are not involved in anyway?
No. I have no role in the crisis in Rivers State. One basic fact is that all the prominent politicians, all the well known politicians in Rivers State are on the one side of the divide, the Amaechi and the people he is growing up are on the other side. And these people that are growing up under Amaechi, are yet to find their footing in Rivers State politics. However, the people are being given prominence, which may or may not materialize.
There are several claims that Rivers State is going the All Progressives Congress (APC) way. How true is this?
Is going where?
That is wrong. It is not correct. APC will not have its footing in Rivers State. I can assure you that.
Some are saying that the President is joining forces with those fighting the governor because he believes that not doing so will affect him in 2015. Is this impression correct?
That impression is wrong. But in the first instance, if there is any misunderstanding between Mr. President and Rotimi, those are facts known to them. Mr. President has never come out to insult or talk about Amaechi. Mr. President has never come out to talk about the government of Rivers State. Mr. President has never come out to do anything that is detrimental to the people of Rivers State. So, I can’t see where Mr. President is fighting Mr. Amaechi. But I have seen and I have read, public pronouncements against the interest of Mr. President both as a person and as the leader of the Nigerian government. That is, the government headed and led by Jonathan.
And how would you describe that on the part of Amaechi?
I think it is improper, it is unfair and it is unreasonable. If you are talking about the culture of our people, you don’t insult your elders in public. Any person who is older than you by one day, you don’t insult him publicly. Forget the issue of democracy people are talking about. Forget the issue of politics.
All of us are from the same area. That is the moral aspect of it. Legally, if you insult or talk ill of the President who was elected by the people, you are also insulting the people of Nigeria. You are also insulting those who elected him. Forget what happens in America. There is no culture, there is no tradition in America. They can say anything in their system. But if you derogatorily make statements that are detrimental to the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, that is why I was saying that the constitution is sacrosanct, therefore, the position of President must also be respected. So, if there were insulting words on Mr. President, you are also insulting Nigerians who elected him.
In Rivers crisis, where do you situate the wife of the President who is a daughter of Rivers State?
Well, I don’t see her role in the crisis at all. Mrs Patience Jonathan has come out to say Amaechi is her governor, Amaechi is her brother, Amaechi is her relation and, therefore, there shouldn’t be trouble among them.
But some people see that as a mere political statement, that that is not the true state of affairs. What is your take on this?
I think they can set up a committee to look at the true state of affairs. If you don’t believe her, then set up a committee to talk to both of them and then, you can find out the true state of affairs.
With the removal of Mbu Joseph Mbu, former Rivers State Commissioner of Police, whom Amaechi believed was sent to fight him, what is the implication of the peace in Rivers State?
I think the removal of Mbu from Rivers State, will cause crisis in Rivers State.
Mbu is the best commissioner in Nigeria. He is the best commissioner Rivers State ever had. He is the best commissioner who has shown maturity, who has shown professionalism, who has shown independence in decision taking. He is one person that could not be controlled by the government. He is one person that has shown that he could decipher reports and go for the truth. Before now, many people couldn’t go to Rivers State until Mbu was posted. And there was peace. I can now see why there has been clamour for state police.
If any governor has the hold of state police, political enemies would go to jail 24 hours everyday. Some governors could truncate democracy through state police because he who pays the piper, dictates the tune. There will be a department in the Ministry of Justice, or they create a new department called Department of Security and their daily role will be determined by either the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) or the governor directly. And because the federal police are answerable to the Inspector General of Police, they can look at any directive from the state governor through their own eyes or with the eyes of the IG and then, take a decision. I can tell you that the people who clamoured for state police are the people from the western part of Nigeria.
What is the reason behind it?
The reason is that they want to hold the political power through the police and every person who disobeys them will go to jail. And there are many examples. There are many, many examples. I don’t want to name them. There are many examples where the police have been used as tool to truncate both justice and democracy. And they keep clapping for the governors from the west asking for this. That is absolute rubbish.
Nobody actually knows where your political direction is. Are you running for governorship again?
I am not going to run for governorship.
Are you going for the Senate?
I don’t know yet. I am yet to take a decision since after this case.
How soon will you take the decision?
I am going to a monastery…
Is it the one in Ewu?
No. I am going to a monastery after this. I won’t tell you. That has been my practice. When I was removed from government in 2007, I went to Our Lady of Lourdes. This time, I am also going to pray. And whatever be the decision of God, so be it. And I know I am going to spend seven days committing myself to God. Whatever God wants me to be, that is what I would be. No human being, no normal human being can obstruct it. So, until I commit this my destiny again into the hands of God, I will not make any pronouncement of what I want to do.