From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
Soronnadi Njoku was at different times Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Commissioner for Public Utilities and Public Safety, as well as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Imo State. He was also the Majority Leader of the Imo State House of Assembly in the third Assembly.
In this interview, he spoke on the situation in Imo State, his relationship with Senators Ifeanyi Ararume and Hope Uzodimma, as well as the Supreme Court judgment that declared Uzodimma governor. Excerpt:
Did you go on political sabbatical after the 2015 general elections?
No, it is not true that I have quit politics. But on the contrary, I am now playing politics in a different dimension. It just happens that I am a card-carrying member of the ruling party and have also been involved in a lot of political litigations involving the government of the day and other interested political individuals. I am still a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress (APC). What happened is that my political career in the recent past has been centred on activities. For instance, in the last governorship election, I chose to support Senator Ifeanyi Araraume because I looked at the political realities of that time and that he had the capacity to challenge the then political status quo in Imo State, so, I supported him. And we struggled for him to have upper hand in the political manoeuvres in the APC at that time and it became necessary to become a member of the APC to give him that support. But in the cause of the struggle he now chose to actualize his governorship ambition on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). So, having already pledged my support for his governorship bid, I had to migrate to APGA with him to continue to give him that support. That was how I became a member of APGA briefly, and when we tried and he lost the governorship election on the platform of APGA, I still stuck with him during that interregnum until he chose to go back to APC. If I left the APC because of Senator Ifeanyi Araraume and went into APGA with him and if he saw reason to move back to APC, there would be no justification for me to remain in APGA, so, I returned back to APC with him where I am still a member till now. That was what actually happened.
Meaning you belong to the Araraume faction of the APC?
But unfortunately that will not be absolutely correct. I chose to support him for the governorship because the imperatives that time was that he stood a good chance of picking the APC governorship ticket and becoming the governor. But whatever calculation that made him to leave APC for APGA I wouldn’t sincerely say that I was privy to it. But I have always acted like a postage stamp and anyone who knows me very well will tell you that I have always been consistent in everything I do in my life. The moment you have fixed a postage stamp on a letter it will remain stuck to that envelope till the end of that journey. So, if I commit myself in a course of a journey, I remain with you in the course of that journey and at the end of that journey we will reappraise. I supported Senator Araraume throughout when he was in APC; when he went to APGA, I followed him and when he returned to APC, I came back with him. But thereafter, our journey has ended and my obligations discharged. Now, for instance, throughout his senatorial campaigns for Okigwe zone, I didn’t play a role because I don’t come from Okigwe zone. So, today I am a member of the APC and I am a non-aligned member of the party because I am not pursuing any person’s political agenda. I am yet to unfold my own political agenda and find a person who will help me in pursuing it.
What is your assessment of the performance of Governor Hope Uzodimma one year after?
But first of all, let me say this, when people refer to him derogatorily as a Supreme Court imposed or Supreme Court appointed governor of Imo State, I have always very strongly and vehemently objected to that. I get very offended especially when solicitors and advocates of the Supreme Court of Nigeria try to denigrate his governorship by referring to him as the Supreme Court imposed, Supreme Court anointed governor of Imo State. For God’s sake, every governorship election dispute ends up at the Supreme Court and there is no governor in Nigeria today whose election has passed through the election tribunal and the Appeal Court that did not end up at the Supreme Court. Therefore, I don’t see anything derogatory that the Supreme Court decided as the ultimate court of the land in a properly commenced appeal before them that he was the governor. As far as I am concerned with that pronouncement by the Supreme Court, Senator Hope Uzodimma is the legitimately enthroned and sworn in governor of Imo State. If you check, His Excellency Achike Udenwa also had his election confirmed by the Supreme Court. It was the same for Ikedi Ohakim even Rochas Okorocha had his election confirmed by the Supreme Court, so, I don’t know the difference with that of His Excellency, Senator Hope Uzodimma. Indeed, you will recall that in Rivers State, the current Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi’s election as governor of River State was also confirmed by the Supreme Court. Instances are numerous; remember that it was the Supreme Court that removed Prof Osaretin Osunbor of Edo State and installed Adams Oshiomhole. It is the normal thing for governorship election tribunal matters to end at the Supreme Court and for the Supreme Court to make the ultimate pronouncement and that absolutely legitimises who is the authentic winner of that governorship election. So, I do not understand this issue of Supreme Court-elected governor because it is neither here or there. So, distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma is both the de facto and the de jure governor of Imo State. However, everybody has his style of administration, so I cannot do a critical assessment of his administration.
But many Nigerians have said that a judgment delivered by the Supreme Court that cannot be cited as a precedence as in Uzodimma’s case is worthless.
That is not correct. Do you remember that when the Supreme Court gave its verdict on the 2/3 of 19 states in 1979 that made Shehu Shagari president; it said it was a policy judgment and that it is not going to be part of our jurisprudence and to be cited as a precedence because the peculiar circumstances that gave rise to that judgment may not repeat itself, and that scenario that gave rise to that judgment has not reoccurred. Do you remember the circumstance through which the Supreme Court pronounced that Rotimi Amaechi was the duly elected governor of Rivers State? The Supreme Court held that votes cast in that election were cast for the political parties and votes cast for Celestine Omehia were cast for the People’s Democratic Party and not for Omehia because he was not the duly nominated candidate of the party. But the Supreme Court has subsequently after taking a more holistic approach, said that judgment served for that particular purpose and that indeed votes are actually cast for political parties and not for individuals because that individual to become the governor he must be sponsored by a political party. There are situations where the Supreme Court has also over-ruled itself. However, we must know that in our jurisprudence, the Supreme Court is infallible because they are final. Now, after the Supreme Court there is no appeal not even to God. So, that Supreme Court judgment in favour of Hope Uzodimma and against Emeka Ihedioha is the final and that it what it is.
What do you have to say about the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law by the State Assembly, which purportedly empowered the state governor to detain any person at his pleasure?
Let me tell you something, the whole thing is simply mischief and nothing else. The whole issue is grossly exaggerated and magnified out of all proportions and there is no substance in it at all. Now, this is an area I am competent about. I had administered the criminal justice in Imo State for close to three years as Attorney General and as a legal practitioner for the past 37 years, I have been involved in all kind of criminal litigation. So, this is an area I am very comfortable about. Let’s go behind the administration of criminal justice law; before then, what regulated criminal justice was Criminal Procedure Law, CPL, at the state level or Criminal Procedure Act at the federal level. Both laws were what regulated criminal procedure, what I mean is who can be charged to court? How can he be charged to cwor not? If he is guilty, what happens next? If he is not, what happens next? This is the law that regulates it. Both in the Criminal Procedure Law and the Criminal Procedure Act there is a provision that if a person of unsound mind, then he cannot understand the trial. He will not be able to understand what a criminal proceeding is. So, he cannot take the trial. In that case, the court will make an order for the governor to remand him in some place at the pleasure of the governor. Meaning that when a person of unsound mind and cannot go through the criminal prosecution that the governor should sign that he should be kept away from society. For a mad man, for instance; detain him somewhere. Periodically, there should be a medical report on his case, which will always be made to the governor. He will remain there until the governor is satisfied that he does not pose any danger to the society ever again, then, the governor will now order that he be released. It is in the Criminal Procedure Act at the federal level, it is in the Criminal Procedure Law at the state level. Now, there comes the administration of criminal justice law. Before it was domesticated in Imo State, it had been promulgated at the federal level as the Administration of Criminal Justice Act by the National Assembly. This position to remand the person who cannot take trial because of his infirmity of mind is still there, but the power was now given to the Federal Attorney General and to remand and to keep him there until he is satisfied that the person can no longer do harm to himself or to the society. Upon domesticating that law at the state level, that position was also retained that an old law which has been in existence since 1958. But the only mistake they made in the case of Imo State was instead of putting it below this procedure they put it above the procedure as though it just hangs, but immediately after reading that section and you read further, you will see that the conditions under which somebody can be detained at the governor’s pleasure are as follows: one, he must have been arrested by the police, two, he must have been investigated by the police, three, he must have been charged to the court, the fourth condition, you must have told the court he cannot take the trial, five, the court must order that he be remanded at the governor’s pleasure. So, it is not true that members of the House Assembly passed a law that empowers the governor to catch an Imo State indigene and put him in prison for as long as it pleases him. It is not true because the law regulates that. I am speaking as a legal practitioner who has been Attorney General that has administered the criminal justice system in Imo State and I am telling you what the law has been all this while under the criminal procedure law and under the current law there is no mischief.
As a member of the APC, are you comfortable with the current crisis within the Imo State chapter of the party?
The infighting is bad for the state party, it is bad for the state government and it is bad because it sends the wrong signals to the outside world. It will corrode the unity of the party and it will create bad blood. The party needs discipline, cohesion and unity. But our Igbo word for politics is “Ndorondoro Ochichi” which literally translates to struggle for power. Inherent in this thing you call politics is the unending dynamism, unending undercurrent in it. You cannot have that political scenario where all is quiet. Where everybody is on the same page, where there is absolute harmony, does not happen in any political scenario. This is because what drives the political process is and so almost all the times, is interest. This interest is always in conflict except, of course, in these political parties where one man and three of his friends go and register a party and they are given a certificate issued in their names that they use it to make money whenever there is an election; where aspirants who lose out in the major parties want a platform with which to contest an election and the owners of these political parties take money and give them the tickets. But if you are talking of a dynamic and major political party, you must have that kind of scenario. But I find it objectionable; that the principal actors are trying to destroy the party structures is what I find objectionable. It is not acceptable to me that in the last one year no proper meetings of the party has been called, no proper party programme has been articulated, no proper party activities are on ground simply because of the infighting. If the situation continues this way, it is going to be the detrimental to the fortunes of the party. But again, I would blame the national leaders of the party for allowing the situation in the Imo APC to linger.