*Lawmakers order Omehia to refund N696m benefit
*Rivers withdraws criminal suit against Amaechi, Cole, others
For not sharing Governor Nyesom Wike’s political views and not supporting his crusade to remove the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former governor of Rivers State, Mr. Celestine Omehia has been stripped of his title as a former governor of the state.
This was just as the Rivers State Government yesterday withdrew the criminal suit filed against immediate former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the 2023 elections in the state, Tonye Cole and five others.
The Rivers State House of Assembly apparently working on Wike’s directive, decided to de-recognise Omehia whose victory was handed over to Amaechi by Supreme Court in 2007, barely six months into the tenure.
The court had ruled that the victory belonged to the party and not individual, hence Amaechi who won the primary and denied the ticket assumed governorship position following the ceremonious judgement.
Currently Omehia is one of the allies of PDP presidential candidate, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, who defeated Wike in the party’s presidential primaries.
However, the state Assembly in the approved motion has also ordered Omehia to refund all monies, especially the sum of N600 million as benefits in addition to receipt of N96,520,359.40, as monthly pensions received till September, 2022.
The House Leader, Martin Amaewhule, representing Obio/Akpor Constituency I, presented the motion to, “Rescind the Rivers State House of Assembly Resolution on the Recognition of Sir Celestine Omehia as former governor of Rivers State and the restoration of all benefits and entitlements due to him.”
Presenting the motion addressed to the Speaker and members of the House yesterday, Amaewhule recalled that on June 30, 2015, a motion was moved, seconded and argued upon and a resolution was passed in favour of recognition of Omehia as former governor of the state and the restoration of his privileges and entitlements.
Amaewhule who is a close ally of Wike said based on the resolution of the House, the Rivers State government through an instrument published in the Official Gazette of the state, No. 5, Volume 52, of March, 2016, under Wike, had recognised Omehia as former governor and restored all the privileges and entitlements accruing to the former Rivers governor.
The House Leader stated: “Pursuant to the official recognition, Sir Celestine Omehia received a lot in financial benefits and entitlements from the Rivers State Government including the sum of N600,000,000.00 only as benefits, in addition to receipt of a total sum N96,520,359.40 only, as monthly pensions as September, 2022.”
Amaewhule recalled that the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of Amaechi versus INEC and two others in 2008, had declared that the appellant (Chibuike Amaechi) was the actual or valid governorship candidate of the PDP in Rivers State for the 2007 general election and not Omehia, who contested the election.
He further said the Supreme Court also held that, “in the eyes of the law, Omehia was never a candidate in the election much less a winner.”
Amaewhule stated that being mindful of the position of the apex court on the subject matter and in line with Section 287 (I) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides that, “the decisions of the Supreme Court shall be enforced in any part of the Federation by all authorities and persons, and by, courts and subordinate jurisdiction to that of the Supreme Court.”
He said the continued recognition of Omehia as former governor of the state and the continued granting of privileges and entitlements accruing to all former governors of the state to him (Omehia) was not in tandem with the highlighted pronouncement of the apex court and the provisions of the 1999 constitution.
Amaewhule called on Wike to stop recognising Omehia as former governor of Rivers State and also terminate all privileges, benefits and entitlements accruing to all former governors which were also extended to him (Omehia).
He also urged the House to direct Omehia to stop using the title, “His Excellency” and suffix “Grand Service Star of Rivers State (GSSRS),” which pertains to only governors and former governors of the state.
The leader also urged the House to direct Omehia to refund all the monies paid to him by the state government as benefits and entitlements, to the treasury of the state government within seven days from the date of the resolution of the House.
In an instant debate, all the lawmakers who made contributions, including the representative of Celestine Omehia’s constituency in Ikwerre Local Government Area, Anselm Oguguo agreed to the prayers.
Some of the lawmakers, however, requested that a specific decision be made on what action to be taken if Omehia fails to refund the monitory benefits.
After the debate, all 21 members present at the plenary voted in support of the four prayers by the leader of the House.
The Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani said the house was right in taking the decision, because no law was absolute.
Meanwhile, Wike has agreed to sign the approved motion by the Assembly cancelling the recognition of Omehia as a former governor.
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Kelvin Ebiri, Wike announced that he would assent to the letter on Friday (today) at the Government House, Port Harcourt.
According to Ebiri: “His Excellency Nyesom Wike, the Executive Governor of Rivers State, is to sign the instrument on cancellation of the recognition of Sir Celestine Omehia as a former governor of Rivers State.
“The cancellation of the recognition is sequence to the resolution of the Rivers State House of Assembly adopted on Thursday, 6th October, 2022 to derecognise Sir Celestine Omehia as a former governor of the state.
“The signing will take place in Government House, Port Harcourt on Friday, 7th October, 2022 by 12 noon’, he added.
Rivers Withdraws Criminal Suit against Amaechi, Cole, others
In the meantime, Rivers State Government has withdrawn the criminal suit filed against Amaechi, Cole and five others.
The state government had filed the suit accusing the defendants of selling government assets running into several billions of naira during Amaechi’s tenures as the state governor.
The matter which resumed for ruling could not continue as counsel for the State Government and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zaccheus Adangor informed the court that he was withdrawing the suit.
Reacting, lawyer for APC, Amaechi and Cole argued that withdrawing the suit was an abuse of court process and prayed the court to dismiss the criminal charges if the suit must be withdrawn.
The Presiding Judge, Justice Okogbule Gbasam after hearing the arguments of the parties in the matter, struck out the suit and the charges against the APC and others.
One of the defence lawyers, Achinike Wobodo who spoke with journalists on the development, said they were ready to face the state government whenever there was a fresh charge against their clients.
Wobodo said, “As it stands today, there is no charge against anybody in any court. We do not intend to prevent whether they want to file any other charge or not.
“Taking one thing as a time, if they bring any other charge, we will also challenge them.
“We have said to Rivers people, these are just antics to paint these gentlemen in a bad light,” he said.