AN Enugu State High Court presided over by Justice R. O. Odugu, on Friday, nullified the impeachment of the Deputy Governor of the state, Sunday Onyebuchi and ordered the restoration of all his rights and benefits from the time of his removal up to the period his tenure elapsed.
The court, in a judgment that lasted for over an hour, quashed what was popularly regarded as ‘Enugu chicken impeachment’ that generated public outrage last year.
Onyebuchi was impeached on August 26 last year by the immediate past House of Assembly following the recommendation of the seven-man impeachment panel set up by the Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezulike, which investigated allegations of gross misconduct leveled against him by then Governor Sullivan Chime.
Onyebuchi’s impeachment led to the appointment of Reverend Ifeanyi Nwoye, who served as deputy governor from August last year till May 29.
According to the then House of Assembly led by the Speaker, Eugene Odoh, the former Deputy Governor was removed based on allegation of gross misconduct arising from rearing chicken in his official residence and alleged refusal to represent his former boss at two official functions within and outside Enugu State.
Justice Odugu, who granted all the reliefs sought by the former Deputy Governor, said that both the legislators and Nwoye, whom the court described as the beneficiary of the illegality, neither appeared to defend themselves nor sent legal representation throughout the trial of the case.
He agreed with the submissions by the plaintiff’s counsel, Chris Aghanwa, that the impeachment did not comply with the provision of Section 188 of the amended 1999 constitution, declaring that the rearing of chickens did not in any way constitute gross misconduct.
The ex-Deputy Governor had approached the court to challenge his impeachment from office based on allegation of gross misconduct, urging the court to restore him to office as well as order payment of his benefit if the matter was not concluded before the end of his tenure in office.
He had also asked the court to declare as unconstitutional, his removal, his replacement by Nwoye as well as whether the allegations contained in the impeachment notice amounted to abuse of office.
But ruling on the matter, Justice Odugu stated that while the trial lasted, all the defendant did not respond to the various summons served on them just as all the submissions made by the plaintiff were not faulted or denied.
He said that there was no copy of the purported resolution of the impeachment panel presented before the court. He faulted the secret trial of the plaintiff, emphasising that the proceeding for the removal of the deputy governor should not be hidden from the public.
Justice Odugu ruled that mere rearing of chickens by the deputy governor did not in any way constitute gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, adding that it has nothing to do with Section 188 of the constitution.
He further said that the alleged refusal of the deputy governor to attend two public functions assigned to him by the governor could not amount to gross misconduct.
The judge said that “Section 188 sub-section 11 of the constitution is not a weapon of the House of Assembly to police the duty of the deputy governor or to hound him out of office and besides, the plaintiff had told the court that the only constitutional duty assigned to him by the governor was the chairmanship of the boundary adjustment commission.”
Condemning the secret trial of the deputy governor, Justice Odugu said he could not understand how the panel arrived at the decision that the refusal of the plaintiff to attend two social functions constituted gross misconduct.
Justice Odugu, therefore, declared the state assembly violated their constitutional duties by embarking on the removal or impeachment of the deputy governor when there was no basis for it, saying the purported nomination of Nwoye to replace Onyebuchi was illegal and unconstitutional.
Setting aside the notice of impeachment and nomination of Nwoye, Justice Odugu ordered the reinstatement to office of Sunday Onyebuchi from August 27, 2014 to May 28, 2015.
The plaintiff, the court further ruled, was entitled to receive salaries, entitlements and benefits including pension for the period he served as deputy governor and awarded an exemplary and cumulative cost of N25,000 against each of the 25 defendants.