By Ikeddy ISIGUZO

GOVERNOR Hope Odidika Uzodinma of Imo State in just two months of ruling the State quietly turned himself into the law, all laws are beneath him. Whatever pleases him is the law.

People are only finding out that the Imo State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, No. 2 of 2020 of 11 March 2020 gives him powers that abolish the Constitution in Imo State. His decisions became law two months after he was sworn in following the decision of the Supreme Court.

Section 484 of the law which provides that, “Where any person is ordered to be detained during the Governor’s pleasure he shall notwithstanding anything in this Law or in any other written law contained be liable to be detained in such place and under such conditions as the Governor may direct and whilst so detained shall be deemed to be in legal custody”, is one of the contentious parts. It is clearly unconstitutional.

Not even the President of Nigeria has powers to determine how long to detain anyone without recourse to the law. Uzodinma expunge the Constitution or any written law that could stand on his way. He has become an Emperor.

The law that Imo State House of Assembly clobbered into being for the benefit of the Governor places the Governor above the Constitution of Nigeria. It is supposedly for the good governance of Imo State.

Governor Uzodinma was awarded more obnoxious powers under “Section 485 (1) A person detained during the Governor’s pleasure may at any time be discharged by the Governor on licence (2) A licence under subsection (1) of this section may be in such form and may contain such conditions as the Governor may direct. (3) A licence under this section may at anytime be revoked or varied by the Governor and where license has been revoked the person to whom the license relates shall proceed to such place as the Governor may direct and if he fails to do so, may be arrested without warrant and taken to such place”.

Barrister Frank Ugboma, Deputy Minority Leader Imo State House of Assembly, the sponsor of the bill has expressed his shock. “Some Sections in the recently gazetted ACJL came to me with rude shock. This particular provision is a nullity ab initio in view of the unambiguous provisions of sections 1(1), (3),4,5,6 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as Amended),” he said.

“This is very appalling. As the Chief Sponsor of the Bill, I have had cause to search through all the documents that cumulated into the Bill. I must say that I have done this repeatedly and have equally taken further pains in reaching out to my colleagues in the House. I must admit that they have each expressed shock over the sudden obnoxious sections of the Law more particularly Section 484 of the said ACJL of Imo State,” Ugboma said.

The bill he presented had about 372 Sections. He wondered when it grew to over 484 Sections that were not in the bill that the House deliberated on and passed. “It smacks of an evil manipulation to throw Imo people into the dungeon.” According to Ugboma, “All of us are already available victims of this obnoxious sections. Not even those who practised this calculated affront on the Constitution are exempted.”

Professor Nnamdi Obiaraeri, former Dean of the Faculty of Law, Imo State University, said of the provisions, “No doubt these provisions of Section 484 of ISACJL, 2020 are not only draconian but scandalous as they vest too much farcical and absolute powers on the Governor contrary to the express provisions of the International Bill of Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended”. His early alarm drew attention to the law.

He is not the only one who is concerned about the strange sections. “I commend Prof. Obiaraeri who demonstrated sincerity and courage in pointing out that S.484 is obnoxious. That provision was smuggled into the law. It is not in the 0riginal draft,” Professor Reginald Onuoha of the Faculty of Law, Imo State University, said.

“It will amount to culpable negligence for me as a Lawyer of over 16 years post call and also a Member of Imo State House of Assembly, a Ranking Member at that, to keep silent at the face of this whole brouhaha over certain provisions of the Administration of Criminal justice Law which is currently applicable and enforceable in Imo State,” Barrister Kennedy Chidozie Ibeh representing Obowo State Constituency, Imo State House of Assembly, said.

“The crux of the matter seem to be that certain sections of the said law, particularly Secs 484 and 485 harbour provisions that are inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria especially as they affect certain guaranteed rights as enshrined in our Constitution.

I make bold and quick to concede to the incorrectness and unconstitutionality of the offensive provisions if truly those provisions as highlighted under the said Secs 484 and 485 indeed exist in that law as passed. If indeed such is contained in a law made in this age of huge legal awareness, I bow in apology to Imo public and Nigeria as a whole on behalf of the Imo State House of Assembly for such grave negligence while promising that we shall do the immediate needful to bring this most important law to speed with modernity and democratic essence,” he said.

Imo State House of Assembly Deputy Speaker Amara Chyna Iwuanyanwu said the same law was applicable in other parts of the country. He said the provisions were in the bill that Ugboma sponsored.

Let nobody be deceived about the new powers of Governor Uzodinma. They have placed him above the Constitution. He is the one to decide his pleasure. Imo State has turned the curve in the administration of justice.

With the new powers of the Governor justice is whatever he says it is.

How did a former Senator sign such a law? His aides claim he signed what was presented to him. Is that not an indictment? Would he have signed his resignation if it was presented to him?

Anyone the Governor dislikes, subject to the interpretation of the law, has incurred his displeasure. He could be taken in for whatever duration it takes to please the Governor. Wherever the Governor decides constitutes adequate detention facility for the suspect. It could be the Governor’s chicken pen, a farm, just anywhere. Section 486 gives him the powers to so act.

Soon there could be giant billboards all over the State with this simple message blazoned on them – Silence Governor Hope Odidika Uzodinma at work. It would be a warning. Though His Excellency generously left out explicit provisions that would have made it a criminal offence to say the Governor was not working, such an allegation could be enough to haul one into Uzodinma’s lawful detention, so long as it displeasures His Excellency.

A quick amendment of this law is necessary before Imo State runs out of detention spaces for anyone who has said an unkind word against the Governor, particularly those who criticise his victory at the Supreme Court, and they are many, have been running foul of the law since March 2020.

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