Reactions are trailing the suspension of Eleme Local Government Council Chairman, Hon. Philip Okparaji and 11 others by the Governor of Rivers State, His Excellency, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike.
The Governor had in a statement issued on 18th April, 2019 by his media aide, Simeon Nwakaudu suspended 12 Local Government Council Chairmen of Eleme, Okrika, Emohua, Abua/Odual, Degema, Khana, Gokana, Ahoada East, Ikwerre, Andoni, Omuma and Ogu/Bolo Local Government Areas with immediate effect for failing to participate in state official function.
But in a swift reaction, Barrister Loveday Obari, a renowned legal practitioner in Eleme said the governor has no right whatsoever to suspend elected council chairmen. He said the action of the governor was “illegal, unconstitutional and void ab initio”. He however said elected local government chairmen can only be suspended or removed from office based on the provisions of Section 13 of the Rivers State Local Government Laws, 2018.
His words: “The action of the governor suspending the 12 elected local government chairmen is completely illegal and unconstitutional. There is no provision of the law that gives such power to the governor to suspend the elected Council Chairmen. The law on the removal of elected council chairmen or vice chairmen is contained in Section 13 of the Local Government Law of Rivers State 2018. That makes provision for the procedure by which a chairman or vice chairman or both of them can be removed from office.
“Through the elected legislative members of the Local Government and the House of Assembly, the procedure begins from the council’s Legislative Chambers and proceed to the House of Assembly for confirmation of such action, the governor has no such powers, if the governor arrogates such powers to himself then it can only be implied that, maybe perhaps the president also has powers to suspend governors. That’s what the governor is saying because if the governor is arrogating power to himself to suspend every chairman in quote, it means that the president can also suspend every governor in quote”.
He advised the suspended chairmen to either ignore the suspension and resume office or proceed to the court to protect their mandates.
“The pronouncement of the governor is void ab initio. It is completely void and illegal. It has no effect. If I were to be an election chairman affected, I will go to work as usual, nobody has power to remove or suspend an elected chairman or chairmen accept through the due process of law as provided under Section 13 of the Local Government Laws of Rivers State 2018. So such chairmen they have their rights protected and guaranteed under the law, they can protect their mandate by making sure they go to work and if there is any obstruction of their access to their offices to do or carryout their routine duties, they can also approach the Court so that we can set the record straight for the future”.
Barrister Obari who is the APC Legal Adviser in Eleme Local Government Area noted that, though the suspended chairman of Eleme Local Government Area, Hon. Philip Okparaji is said to have underperformed and deserved to be sacked, he ought to be removed or suspended only by legal means if the people so wish.
Hear him: “Two wrongs cannot make a right, if the Chairman is doing or seen to have fallen below standard in terms of performance, the people have right to recall him, there is a provision in the Constitution through which an elected political officer can be recalled from a political office if the person is seen to have under-performed, so the excuse that the chairman have underperformed below standard does not hold water, he should do the right thing in any circumstance. We cannot resort to illegality. It is just like saying a suspected criminal is arrested and because of that he should be killed instantly through jungle justice without facing the law”.
In his reaction, Deputy youth leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, Hon. Frederick Oyor frowned at the action of the governor by suspending the elected chairmen unilaterally. He described the governor as a Sole Administrator for failing to adhere to democratic principles. He decried the diversion of the wealth of the State meant for Rivers people under the present administration of Nyesom Wike.
“But just that the government we have today, I describe him as sole administrator. Everybody knows that he is not towing according to the rule of law. If not, I have not seen, I have not heard, I have not read anywhere in the Constitution of Nigeria where an elected Chairman will be suspended based on a very trivial matter that you did not attend a committee meeting or thanksgiving. But I think the world is watching, everybody knows where we are going, we do not have a government in Rivers State, even they too, they know that the man is not operating within the rule of law, just that we cannot say any thing
“I don’t know but what I know is that, I described him as a sole administrator, he has does have democracy in his leadership, what he does is sole administrator, he does what he likes at anytime. We will watch, maybe after now we can have a government, the Bible says when the righteous rules the people will rejoice, what is happening in Rivers State now, who is really enjoying the money of Rivers State. The wealth of Rivers State is not with the people, who among his Chairmen or Councilors have gotten a car or build a house, what is happening with our money, my brother it’s a whole lot. Nobody can ask and I don’t know why people cannot ask, that is why he was afraid of an election. He wanted a situation as it were where he does not have any opponent, all he needs is what they have done, so the Rivers State we know, we are just waiting for when the time come then we will have a leader, we don’t have good governance now. What is the joy of any Rivers man, just look at, we don’t have any governance in Rivers State”.
Meanwhile, Members of the Rivers State House of Assembly has approved the suspension of the 12 council chairmen by Governor Nyesom Wike.
Inside Eleme gathered that shortly after announcing the suspension of the LG chairmen in Government House, Port Harcourt during the inauguration of Thanksgiving and Second Term Inauguration Planning Committees, among others, the Governor sent a request to the House to seal the action already effected.
The Executive request was read by the Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani, for adoption, debate and approval by the Lawmakers during plenary.
Lawmakers, who spoke during the debate on the subject matter acknowledged that the Governor’s action was in line with the Local Government Laws, 2018 as amended by the Assembly.
While making his contributions, Chairman of the House Committee on Local Government, Hon. Kelechi Nwogu, said the suspension of the council chairmen would serve as deterrent to those who might feel that they are above the law.