Lawmakers As Thugs

by Ikechukwu Amaechi

Once again, the political mood in the beleaguered state of Anambra is febrile. It hasn’t been any better since 1999 though. But last week, the vile characters who call themselves lawmakers in the state House of Assembly raised the din of the contrived political crisis a notch higher. And by so doing, they finally left no one in doubt that they are nothing other than ruffians. And Anambrarians must be highly mortified that these pig-ignorant people claim to be making laws on their behalf for the good governance of the state.

But for how long will the people allow this impunity and brazen arrogance of power to go unchallenged, given that the reprehensible conduct of a few, continues to make the state and its indigenes plumb the depths of ignominy, almost in perpetuity?

Last Friday, the Mike Balonwu-led faction of the House proved beyond doubt that decorum and even legality are beyond their ken. That was the day they proved themselves to be no more than political thugs. To show how unruly they are and their scant regard for civilised conduct, the pro-impeachment lawmakers physically went to the Anambra State Government House to stop the governor from performing her constitutional duties.

The drama started on Wednesday. The National Judicial Council (NJC) wrote the Anambra State governor reaffirming the suspension of the disgraced Chief Judge, Chuka Okoli, and urged her to appoint an acting Chief Judge in his stead.

Justice Okoli was axed over his blameful role in the illegal impeachment of the de facto and de jure governor of the state, Mr. Peter Obi. He was not alone. The same punishment was meted out to his counterparts in other states that had similar cases. In fact, the Chief Judge of Plateau State who was equally suspended has since been replaced. It is a measure of the inexorable descent of Anambra into the chasm of hooliganism that while the other Chief Judges took their fate calmly, Okoli, goaded by his godfathers, challenged the NJC to a brawl.

Even when the NJC bared its fangs and declared him a persona-non-grata, the lawmakers thought they could save the job of their lickspittle Chief Judge, thus setting the stage for last Friday’s show of shame. They pooh-poohed the Council, claiming it usurped the powers of the state legislature by suspending Okoli. Having thus pontificated, they ordered him to ignore the suspension.

But this time around, they didn’t reckon with the determination of Governor Virgy Etiaba to get it right, even if this once, in a state blighted by political banditry. When they realised their game of deceit was up, they resorted to filibustering. On Friday morning, they rushed out a resolution urging the governor and the Judicial Service Commission to retire Justice Umegbolu Nri-Ezedi, the man who by virtue of his being next in hierarchy to Okoli, should be the acting Chief Judge, “without further delay”

Is it not laughable that this bunch of lawbreakers only realised that Justice Nri-Ezedi was 72 years and therefore should have retired from service, on the day he was to be sworn in as acting Chief Judge? Yet, despite their claim of having the evidence to prove their allegation, they could not even avail themselves with the document at their sitting. How could a people who hold such lofty office descend so low as to resorting to barefaced lies?

The resolution, no doubt was a shot across the bow to Etiaba. But unfortunately for them, it didn’t cut an ice with her. Desperate characters that they are, they resorted to thuggery, invading, literarily speaking, the executive council chambers where guests and top government functionaries were already seated to witness the swearing-in and stalling the event for six hours. They only lifted their siege when Etiaba left for Abia State. But they were beaten to their own game as the governor came back and hurriedly swore in the acting Chief Judge.

The action of the lawmakers which in every sense material is tantamount to taking the governor hostage and preventing her from carrying out her constitutional responsibilities poignantly illustrates how low they are prepared to descend not only in pursuit of their self-centred and lucre-induced agenda but also inordinate quest for power without responsibility. It equally shows how far off we all are, eight years after, from enthroning sustainable democratic culture.

Granted, Section 271, sub-section (1) of the 1999 Constitution confers on the House the powers to confirm the appointment of a Chief Judge as made by the governor on the recommendation of the NJC, yet, sub-section (4) states unequivocally: ‘If the office of Chief Judge of a state is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the governor of the state shall appoint the most senior judge of the High Court to perform those functions.’ By heeding the advice of the NJC, Etiaba acted within the powers of her office. So, why the puerile flexing of political muscles as exhibited by the lawmakers?

This latest act of impunity should raise a number of questions in the minds of Anambrarians as the general election approaches. Why would Balonwu and his co-travellers on the boulevard of infamy physically attempt stopping the governor from carrying out her lawful duties? Is it part of their lawmaking responsibilities? What manner of desperation would inform such ignoble conduct? What is in this desperation for the people who they claim to represent?

While it would be uncharitable to single out Anambra for chastisement since what is happening in the state is only but a reflection of the burgeoning national culture of lawlessness, scant regard for rule of law and utter contempt for judicial pronouncements, which are the unenviable legacies of the impetuous Obasanjo presidency, Anambra’s case is peculiar. The inexplicable docility of the majority in the face of insulting impudence of a tiny minority is what stokes the smouldering embers of political gangsterism in the state. Sooner than later, Anambrarians will realise that they won’t have the luxury of blaming Obasanjo for their political woes in perpetuity. Those who have made the state the butt of all national jokes are known. It is true that Obasanjo, their godfather remains the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces until after the elections and may not have any qualms manipulating the polls in their favour.

But they can only succeed if the people acquiesce. That is why the April elections should matter to every Anambrarian, as indeed every Nigerian. Kano State performed the feat in 2003. Anambra could, and in fact should, do same in 2007.

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