The Kogi State government appears to be facing an uphill task in getting the newly handpicked Deputy Governor designate Edward Onoja, sworn in as required by the Constitution.
Onoja, who is Governor Yahaya Bello’s running mate in next month’s election, was named on Friday as successor to Mr. Simon Achuba.
Achuba was impeached by the State House of Assembly within hours of the submission of the report of the panel raised by the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Nasiru Ajana to investigate the allegations against him.
The panel headed by a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. John Baiyesha, had cleared Achuba of all the allegations against him.
Authoritative sources in the State said judges are reluctant to inaugurate Onoja because of the panel’s clearance of Achuba of the allegations against him.
The panel said allegations of misappropriation of funds and non-compliance with extant financial regulations by the Deputy Governor were not proved.
The report said in part: “In line with Section 188 (8 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) quoted herein before, we hereby report to the Kogi State House of Assembly that the allegations contained in the Notice of Allegations admitted in evidence by this Panel as Exhibit C7 have not been proved.”
There is now suspense over who will administer the oath of office on Edward Onoja.
Section 185 (2) of the Constitution provides thus: “the Oath of Allegiance and the oath of office shall be administered by the Chief Judge of the State or Grand Khadi of the Sharia Court Appeal of the State, if any, or president of the Customary Court of Appeal of the State, if any, or the person for the time being respectively appointed to exercise the functions of any of those offices in any state.”
Most of the judges are scared of getting sanctioned by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for acts considered to run contrary to the letters and provisions of the Constitution.
Chief Judge Ajana is an adherent to the spirit and letters of the Constitution and it has been difficult for the state government to approach him to administer the oath on Onoja.
Sources said on Saturday that some political forces were shopping for either an amenable judge or the President of the Customary Court to swear in the new Deputy Governor.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that neither the State House of Assembly nor Governor Bello had notified the Chief Judge yesterday of the removal of Achuba.
It was learnt that some forces in the state had been working on permutations on how to inaugurate Onoja without the Chief Judge.
A reliable source said: “The truth is that the Deputy Governor of Kogi State, Mr. Simon Achuba was purportedly removed behind closed doors barely 30 minutes after a seven-man panel, set up by the Chief Judge, submitted its report.
“The panel, headed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. John Bayelsa, said in clear terms that the Deputy Governor, Achuba, was not guilty of all the allegations contained in the impeachment notice of the House of Assembly. Therefore, there was no condition precedent for the removal of Achuba.
“Assuming, but not conceding that the allegations were true, the 1999 Constitution allows a 14-day grace before any impeachment proceedings can be initiated. The Assembly got a report within 30 minutes and sacked Achuba from office.
“Section 188 (8 and (9) of the constitution says: ‘Where the Panel reports to the House of Assembly that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter.
“Where the report of the Panel is that the allegation against the holder of the office has been proved, then within 14 days of the receipt of the report, the House of Assembly shall consider the report and if by a resolution of the House of Assembly, supported by not less than two-thirds majority of all its members, the report of the Panel is adopted; then the holder of the office shall stand removed from office as from the date of the adoption of the report.”
Another source said the illegality behind the removal of the Deputy Governor accounted for the stalemate over the swearing in of the new Deputy Governor.
The source added: “Up till now neither the House of Assembly nor the state government has notified the Chief Judge of the state of the removal of the Deputy Governor by the lawmakers.
“They are finding it difficult to prevail on the CJ, Justice Nasiru Ajana to set machinery in motion to inaugurate the purportedly nominated new Deputy Governor, Edward Onoja. They know Ajana is a stickler to the law and he will abide by the report of the panel he put in place.
“Some political forces in the state are now working on other alternatives to administer oath of office and allegiance on Onoja.
“They are considering using a judge of the State High Court, the President of the Customary Court of Appeal if any in the state, a judge from outside the state or a Chief Magistrate or any magistrate.
“Most judges in the state have been distancing themselves from the push to swear in Onoja. They do not want to be sanctioned by the National Judicial Council (NJC) and ruin their career. We have suspense everywhere.
“They are desperately looking for an amenable judge now to inaugurate Onoja.”
Meanwhile, there were indications that members of the seven-man panel, which cleared Deputy Governor Achuba, rejected inducement from some influential forces in the state.
A source in the panel said: “They came with all manners of inducement but we decided to be conscientious. We stuck to the truth because the allegations against Achuba were not proven.
“All our allowances were not paid since we started the inquiry based on our body language that we will not compromise.”