By Obi Nwakanma
A video currently in circulation detailing the attack on Mr. Jasper Ndubuaku, chairman of the Imo State Property Recovery team by people alleged to be “Imo youths” or “paid thugs” depending on which side of the story you choose, is very disturbing on so many levels. First, I should say that in the video I saw, there was no “youth” in the picture. Youth ordinarily describes young men and women between the ages of fifteen to thirty-five. Most of the people in that video range between their late thirties to early fifties. These are no youths.
It is of course true that individuals, out of forms of arrested development in the society, including stalled social development that makes them perpetually economically dependent continue to describe themselves as “youth,” and to thus occupy spaces ordinarily reserved for early social actors. The “youth” have become an omnibus description for jobless, maladjusted folk, whose livelihood now depend on the “Say-Tokyo-Kid” vocation, which anyone who has read Wole Soyinka’s play, The Road, may immediately recognize.
Today, there are too many “Say-Tokyo-Kids” stuck on the road. They are often the hired bodies when you need to rent a crowd for any occasion. The crowd-renting business in Nigeria is, I’m told, quite profitable these days. You can hire a crowd of mourners. You can rent a crowd for noise-making. You can rent a crowd of “youth.” You can rent any crowd for any occasion. It has become a very Nigerian thing, including the now, quite spectacular, but terrifyingly cheesy pallbearing dancers, who carry dead bodies in their caskets and dance them to their graves. Only in Nigeria. And only in Nigeria could Mr. Anayo Okorocha, defying all laws, hire muscles to set upon a government agent, and call them “youth.” Now, perhaps Nigerians do not read their laws any more, or have no sense of civics. Anybody who attacks an agent of government, that is a public service officer authorized to do the business of government – a civil servant, a tax collector, a bailiff, a police man, a soldier on active duty, a sanitary inspector, a law officer by any description, sworn or otherwise, etc, is liable to prosecution and a jail term appropriate to treasonous felony. Most folks ignorant of the status of government officers, and of the ordinary weight of government, may not understand that such officers are public agents and are therefore under the highest protection of the law.
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As an authorized agent of government, Jasper Ndubuaku was presumably acting with the full authority and protection both by state law and by the courts, and those who attacked him, and who could very easily be identified in the video must be sought, arrested, and arraigned before the courts for the full assizes to determine their crime. This is imperative if the Ihedioha administration is to regain the full authority of the laws of Imo state under which he was elected governor to enforce and execute all the legislations pertaining to the good governance of the state. We have learned that he has authorized the “citizens’ arrest” of Mr. Okorocha, the former governor of the state whose paid agents, or what we now generally call “thugs” allegedly attacked and beat up Mr. Ndubuaku. But the governor of Imo state does not have the authority of the law to issue any such order of arrest. It is not in the power allotted to the executive branch to order arrests.
The executive authority has only the power to enforce the laws of the Assembly or Parliament, and the orders of the court issued by a proper judgment of the court. I do not know why this simple question of the rule of law is difficult for even politicians like Mr. Ihedioha, who has had a long stint in Law making under a republican democracy, to grasp. There is something called shared authority under the schedule of the constitution that grants the three arms of government their powers. Only a court can order the arrest of a citizen. Mr. Ihedioha’s duty is to comply and enforce that order of the court. He cannot, and should not issue any ultra vires orders for a so-called “citizens arrest” of Mr. Okorocha under any circumstances. He may instruct his Attorney-General to approach the courts, and obtain a proper warrant from a judge or Magistrate, who must look very carefully at the merit of the case, with Mr. Okorocha’s lawyer(s) present, and in whose power it is to order the arrest of Okorocha over any allegations that might connect him to the attack on Mr. Ndubuaku. Failure to do this violates state law. That is one. Secondly, unless Mr. Ndubuaku and the Imo state government had obtained a prior proper order of the courts instructing the police, and agents of the Imo state government to seal off and recover Imo state property in premises belonging to the former Governor, any moves without the necessary court papers as required by the rule of law actually leaves Mr. Okorocha with the power to treat violations of his property as trespass.
Under the trespass laws, his agents could deal with Mr. Ndubuaku without consequence. And so the question simply arises: did Mr. Ndubuaku and the Imo state government obtain the proper court warrants that would empower the police to supervise the recovery of state property as is required by law? Or did they just go on a capricious limb? The police cannot proceed with orders without the authority granted by the courts. Did the Imo state government use the full legal tools available to them? If they did, where was the police to protect Mr. Ndubuaku as an authorized agent of the government of Imo state? These are important questions. Did the Attorney General of Imo state properly issue a directive to the Imo state Police Commissioner to seal off and accompany agents of the state led by Mr. Ndubuaku to recover state property based on a proper court order? By what means were those determinations made? Let’s be clear, Mr. Okorocha has rights protected by law. Those rights persist until he is proven guilty by a proper court of law. It is not just enough to say that Anayo Okorocha stole from Imo state, and that the governor has issued an executive order to recover such goods allegedly stolen from Imo state.
One’s property rights cannot just be abridged by ex-cathedra declarations of a functionary of the state. The Imo state Attorney-General ought to have properly advised the Governor and his administration on how to go about this business of recovering so-called stolen property.
If indeed the former Governor stole from the state and misappropriated the resources of the state, and I’m inclined to think that he did, but my presumptions does not prove him guilty, nor does the whimsical claims of the current administration matter except a proper procedure carefully and forensically establishes Mr. Okorocha’s guilt. And here is what citizens of the state expect from the Ihedioha administration: the rule of law. It is not within the power of the executive governor to declare Okorocha guilty. It is the job of the courts.
But the courts must be provided with the clear evidence to do this, and in doing that both recover stolen state property and issue appropriate punishment for the crime of stealing and embezzlement should such be the case, and depersonalize this process, which is now being seen as a playoff of Ihedioha’s personal animosity against Okorocha. His administration must avoid such an image if it is to maintain its legitimacy and moral high ground.
In all this, it is power only granted by the constitution of Nigeria for the Imo state Assembly to investigate the former administration. Not the executive office. The Judicial and Public Finance committees of the Imo state Assembly must be properly constituted by the Chief Whip, and the Speaker of the House, acting upon a note from the Imo state Governor to investigate finances of the past administration.
The Imo state Assembly must work quickly, and must invite all relevant agencies, particularly the offices of the Accountant-General and the Auditor-General of the state, subpoena all relevant documents, banks, corporations, suppliers, and Individuals who had dealings with the last administration, who must provide all relevant documents relating to the expenditures and financial activities of the last administration. These Committees of the House must be supported by the Financial Crimes Directorate of the Imo state Ministry of Justice to conduct a proper investigation, and produce a proper report which must then form the plank on which a government White Paper must be produced. If no such directorate exists under the Ministry of Justice, it is now time for the Attorney-General to establish and empower it by relevant state law. Recruit brilliant young lawyers, forensic accountants, investigators and analysts who must prosecute financial crimes against the state.
If there is determination that financial crime and looting had taken place in the Assembly report, it mandates the governor to authorize his attorney-general to properly prosecute Mr. Okorocha and any members of his administration who may be involved in financial crimes and looting of the state before the courts. Okorocha must be brought before a proper court of the state. It is the courts that must find him liable of a crime not the executive Governor of the state. And that is the rule of law. Anything else is political theatre.