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Interrogating fairness in Wike versus Amaechi

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

“Anyone can be falsely accused of a crime. Everyone accused of a crime deserves a fair trial.” – John Garamendi:

“A fair trial is one in which the rules of evidence are honored, the accused has competent counsel, and the judge enforces the proper courtroom procedures – a trial in which every assumption can be challenged.” – Harry Browne:

The surest pathway to the attainment of justice is the strictest adherence to the observance of the principles of fairness or what is generally considered as fair hearing. Section 36(5) of the Nigerian Constitution best exemplifies fair hearing.

Speaking about fairness drives us to one matter in which there is a yawning gap and a clear absence of the ingredients of fair hearing because it is a politically instigated battle Brough about by the Rivers State’s governor Mr. Nyesom Wike against the immediate past minister of Transportation Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi over alleged heist of N96 billion whilst Mr. Amaechi was the Rivers State’s  governor.  He, the current governor of Rivers State also has a big issue regarding corruption because the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission have declared his key officials wanted over theft of humonguous amount of State’s funds.

Amaechi as it were, is of the All Progressives Congress whereas Wike as the current governor of Rivers State is of the Peoples Democratic Party. There is no love lost between both adversaries who were friends and brothers from the same Ethnicity before becoming foes politically.

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of the matter, let us read the mind of a lawyer on the import and significance of the concept of FAIR HEARING.

Y.A, Usman Esq  writes that ne of the cardinal features of Administration of justice is to afford a person an opportunity to be heard, which is generally derived from the principle of natural justice. Natural justice under common law connotes an inherent right of a person to be heard, and it is synonymous with the constitutional right of fair hearing. Unarguably, all relevant national statutes or enactments, particularly the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have recognized and constitutionalised the right of a citizen to fair hearing.

The lawyer said that the Principles of natural justice and likewise fair hearing are meant to protect all the rights of the public against any deprivers or oppressors. If a person is not given a right to be heard, definitely such a person looses all other rights which are meant to be protected by law.

Fair hearing as a principle under the constitution and statutory provision needs to be given to a party in both legal/judicial proceedings and quasi – judicial proceedings which consist of pre-trial, trial and post – right of a case. This paper will only give the definition of fair hearing without the definition of natural justice, this is because; the two contexts speak the same language and shall be considered together, he argued.

On THE MEANING OF FAIR HEARING, the lawyer affirmed that ordinarily, what constitutes fair hearing depends on the circumstances of each case. Fair hearing is defined in the case of AROBIEKE VS N.E. L. M. C1 it was held thus:

“Fair hearing means giving equal opportunity to the parties to be heard in the litigation before a court or tribunal, an ad-hoc tribunal inclusive. Where parties are given opportunity to be heard and the charge or complaint against the party standing trial or being investigated made available to them,  they cannot complain of breach of fair hearing principles…”

The concept of fair hearing in accordance with Section 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria, 1999 as amended is adumbrated as follows:

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“FAIR HEARING within the meeting of section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution means a trial conducted according to all legal rules formulated to ensure that justice is done to the parties. It encompasses not only the compliance with the rules of natural justice, but also audi alteram partem. It also entails doing in the course of trial, whether civil or criminal trials, all the things which will make an impartial observer, leave the court room to believe that the trial has been balance and fair on both sides to the trial. A fair hearing must involve a fair trial, and a fair trial of a case consists of the whole hearing. The true test of a fair hearing is the impression of a reasonable person who was present at the trial whether, from his observation, justice has been done in the case.

Having highlighted the meaning of fair hearing which summarily means a judicial or administrative hearing conducted in accordance with due process. This paper examines the principle of fair hearing from the following two angles, the lawyer argued.

To the matter at hand in Rivers State in which the PDP governor of Rivers State Mr. Nyesom Wike has set out to rope in the former Minister of Transportation into a phantom charge of theft of humonguous amount of cash from the State, we will look at the decision of the nation’s Apex court.

The Supreme Court few weeks back dismissed the appeal filed by a former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, against the decision by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State to set up a commission of inquiry to probe some transactions during his tenure as the state’s governor.

The apex court in its judgment by a five-member panel led by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, while dismissing the appeal marked: SC/911/2017, held that the assignment of the commission of inquiry was not to investigate Amaechi in person, and as such it was not about his person.

In the lead judgment prepared by Justice Emmanuel Agim, but read by Justice Adamu Jauro, the court said:,”The gist of this decision is to the effect that the commission of inquiry was to investigate some transactions, hence no one was on trial, hence the issue of denial of fair hearing therefore, does not arise.”

The judgment awarded N1million as cost against the appellant. Interestingly, Amaechi, while reacting to the judgment, said the pronouncement further vindicated his stance that the investigation by the commission ought not to be portrayed as personal to him because he was not on trial.

His position was contained in a statement by his Media Office as follows: “The statement reads, “Nigeria’s apex court today ruled on the Appeal filed by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi against the Rivers State Government on the Justice Omereji Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

“The Supreme Court in dismissing the appeal however pronounced that the function of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry was mere investigative, that nobody, neither Amaechi nor anyone else, was on trial before the panel.

“The Supreme Court ruling clearly vindicates the former Governor of Rivers State. The apex court was categorical and clear that Amaechi was not on trial. The implication of this is that any indictment from the Commission is null and void and cannot stand.

“With this judgment, Amaechi has been vindicated and cleared him of all purported or alleged indictment by the Governor Wike’s Commission.

“It has been further settled that the decisions/recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and subsequent White Paper issued by the State Government is not a conviction or indictment and cannot stand.

“From the onset, it was obvious to any discerning mind that the Commission was set up to embarrass, denigrate and humiliate Amaechi.

“The apex court’s judgment today, further buttressed this stance. A commission purportedly set up to investigate past financial transactions was actually a commission to personally witch-hunt Amaechi.”

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Wike had, shortly after assuming office in 2015 constituted the Justice George Omeregi-led judicial commission of inquiry to probe the alleged sale of state assets by the immediate past administration led by Amaechi.

Amaechi challenged the decision of the governor at High Court of Rivers State in a suit marked: PHC/187/15.

Delivering a judgment on August 20, 2015, Justice Simeon Amadi held among others that that the judicial commission of inquiry was not established to investigate the personal activities of the former governor, but set up to investigate the previous actions of the government as they affect the people of Rivers State.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal also expressed similar view, which was also reflected in the judgment of the Supreme Court on Friday.

On the part of the Rivers State’s governor   he feels that the decision of the court to dismiss the appeal filed by Amaechi was a victory and so he then said he will prosecute the immediate past minister of Transportation if the elders of Rivers State so decide.

Few hours after saying this and without holding any publicly known meeting with the elders, the Rivers State’s governor filed a suit within his State’s court system to attempt to legally indict the former Transportation minister for purely political reasons.

Aside the fact that it is unjust to rely on the nebulous ground that the former minister did not succeed in his appeal at the Supreme Court to quash the determination reached by the panel set up by the government of Rivers State on Chibuike Amaechi, the Rivers State’s governor is currently frustrating the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from arresting about three of his aides for alleged heist of billions of Naira.

So where is the justice if on one hand you are seeking to use foul means to charge Rotimi Amaechi to court but on the other hand you are stopping the EFCC from carrying out their mandates. This much was pointed out by the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA recently.

The civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, (HURIWA) on Sunday, described as an absurdity, the obsession of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, to probe his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, over an alleged N96 billion fraud.

HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, in a statement, stressed that Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party is on a mission to witch-hunt and embarrass Amaechi because he is a member of the opposition in the state, the All Progressives Congress.

The group also said it was an irony how that Wike has been hell-bent to humiliate Amaechi through a phantom probe of Amaechi’s eight-year term as Rivers governor but the same Wike has allegedly been shielding the 2023 PDP governorship candidate in Rivers, Siminialayi Fubara, from being arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission despite that Fubara, the immediate past Accountant General of Rivers, and three other top state government officials, had been declared wanted by the anti-graft agency for alleged N117 billion fraud.

HURIWA frowns upon this double standards by Wike and called the governor to act in the interest of justice, fairness and equity and not to be moved by political animosity and hatred.

Recall that the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal filed by Amaechi, an ex-Minister of Transportation, seeking to stop his probe over an alleged N96 billion fraud but the nation’s Apex court categorically ruled that the Commission of Inquiry set up by the Rivers State’s governor Mr. Nyesom Wike has no power in law to make indictment because it has no prosecutorial powers.

The Commission of Inquiry hurriedly set up by Wike has an agenda to look into the lawfulness or otherwise of the alleged sale of Rivers State’s valuable assets, such as Omoku Gas Turbine, Afam Gas Turbine, Trans Amadi Gas Turbine, Eleme Gas Turbine, Olympia Hotel and the award of contract for the execution of the Mono Rail project.

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Reacting, HURIWA’s Onwubiko said, “Whilst we do not support any form of unaccountability and transparency just as we believe that the probe of any serving or past government officials is sacrosanct, HURIWA frowns upon double standards by Governor Nyesom Wike.

“It is an eyesore that the governor is pursuing a witch-hunt agenda against his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, for obvious reasons and he (Wike) failed to reckon that he has been allegedly shielding the 2023 PDP governorship candidate, Siminialayi Fubara, from being picked by the EFCC.

“Wike has not also deemed it fit to advise Fubara to surrender himself to the anti-graft agency but continue to watch on as the governorship candidate evade arrests brazenly.

“Fighting corruption must be entire and not selective. Wike should stop his clandestine agenda and ensure what is good for the goose is good for the gander.”

HURIWA said the decision to drag Mr.Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi to the Rivers State High Court few hours after the Supreme Court’s verdict that stated that the board of Inquiry by Governor Nyesom Wike has no power to indict anybody and then Nyesom Wike said that Rivers State’s elders will decide if his Administration will sue Mr Rotimi Amaechi the immediate past Rivers State Governor,  shows that the reason for this sham prosecution of the former Transportation Minister is just a show of shame and a misapplication of the judicial powers to achieve predetermined politically tainted end. “When did the Rivers State’s elders voted to compel Nyesom Wike to go to court? Who were the elders that voted and why subject the court system in Rivers to ridiculous manipulation? If the Rivers State’s governor has convincing evidence of committal of any crime by the immediate past administration in Rivers State, is it for the elders to decide whether going to court was right or wrong? What all the dramas show is that the ongoing legal action against Rotimi Amaechi is spurious, politically motivated,  unnecessary and is a product of hate politics and politics of animosity. We are asking Governor Nyesom Wike to stop stoking up tension in his own State and follow due process of the law by surrendering his officials wanted by EFCC for alleged heist of humonguous amount of public fund right under his nose.”

  • Mr. Onwubiko is head of the Himan Righys Writers Association of Nigeria and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.

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