Enugu state has just staged a theatre of the absurd. The thematic plot centred on the so-called impeachment of the Deputy Governor, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, by the state’s House of Assembly. The lawmakers, acting out a script written by Gov. Sullivan Chime, accused the deputy governor of operating an illegal commercial poultry in his residence and openly defying his boss’ orders, including instructions to represent the governor at public functions he is unable to attend personally.
A panel raised by the state’s Chief Judge, as required under the 1999 Federal Constitution, ‘tried’ Mr. Onyebuchi and found him guilty of “gross misconduct”. Based on the panel’s ‘findings’, the House quickly impeached the deputy governor. And just as quickly, Gov. Chime swore in a replacement. Suddenly, Chime found the man he won elections within 2007 and 2011 to be “a bad spark plug” to get rid of, just few months to the 2015 polls.
The absurdity of Onyebuchi’s removal from office lies in the nature of the charges brought against him. We learnt that Gov. Chime who pushed for the removal of his deputy didn’t provide any charges initially.
He left it to House to cook up some but the lawmakers found nothing approximating “gross misconduct” to pin on the deputy governor. The charges of illegal operation of a commercial chicken farm in Government House and disobedience were an after thought.
It should be noted that Onyebuchi wasn’t the first deputy governor to have operated a poultry farm in his official residence. Several before him did the same. Even Gov. Chime did not deny he too owned one in his official residence.
It is, therefore, obvious that the real reason for Gov. Chime wanting his deputy sacked was not any “gross misconduct” but political falling off. Onyebuchi had not hidden his interest in fighting election to the Senate when their terms run out next year. But the governor has his own candidate for the senate seat Onyebuchi desires. Chime’s preferred candidate is his chief of staff. In other words, Onyebuchi’s real offence was that he dared to express an interest in a position which his boss also wanted, not for himself but a crony. The question is when has it become a bona fide Nigerian to seek an elective political office? It is an inalienable right of every citizen enshrined in Nigeria’s federal Constitution.
The other abdurdity is Gov. Chime’s decision for the impeached deputy governor to return to state’s civil service as a deputy director on salary grade level 15. Onyebuchi left the service on SL 13 when he opted for political office, first as an adviser, then as commissioner and finally as deputy governor.
The decision to return Mr. Onyebuchi to the civil service raises two questions, one moral and the other constitutional. The moral one is: if Onyebuchi has now become a “bad spark plug”, is it morally right to send him back to civil service where he would only be a bad influence?
Two, Onyebuchi was presumed to have resigned his position in the civil service prior to entering politics. If he did, he cannot now be returned to the service. If he did not, he and his erstwhile boss breached the Constitution, thereby committing an impeachable offence.
As one radio commentator said, Enugu is an interesting case study in use/abuse of power and constitutionalism.