Barrister Emeh Glory Emeh held many political positions under former Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili ranging from Commissioner of Transport and to Chief of Staff. The highly cerebral politician spoke recently with some select Journalists in his Port Harcourt home. In this interview, he delved on wide range issues as they affect his state and the south-south region.
Sir, as a vocal political leader in Rivers State, you have been silent for quite some time now, what has been responsible for this?
To assume so means you have not been following events in the state. I have not actually been quiet. I’m often not also a noisy person. I took a break to seek additional qualification from a university in the United Kingdom, and I am now back. Maybe, being quiet means not discussing politics all the time. I am very much involved in political activities, both in the state and in the country, and often times, I have made political commentaries regarding national issues, under the auspices of ‘The Popular Views Support Team’.
There has been this clamour for the south-south zone to produce the next Secretary to the Government of the Federation. What is your take on this?
I have always advocated that one of the best things you can find in life that will not bring trouble in any society is equity. When you apply it, whatever decision you are making from the point of equity, fairness, fair play will work out fine. The south-south region has always looked forward to when the Nigerian nation will begin to appreciate that the region is a very important component of the country. Every region is as important as the other, but it will not be out of place to say that the south-south region can be adequately described without mincing words, as the most important region in the country, being the region that produces the wealth which other regions
are feeding on at the moment.
So we deserve a special treatment. Even when our young men went ahead to demand this special treatment, though in their own form through what they called militancy, most people did not understand that they were doing so, as a way of driving home their point, that the region deserves attention.
In the present dispensation, I have no difficulty in believing that President Buhari will pay special attention to the region and more importantly, the fact that every region has picked one important position or the other except the south-south region, we are very expectant.
What it means is that the only next important position left untouched at the moment is the office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation. I don’t need a soothsayer to tell me that the decision is deliberate, it is designed and set aside for the people of south-south since other regions have been settled. We believe that the next SGF should come from the south-south region, and we don’t need much debate on it.
Two former governors from the region, the current APC National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun; and the former Governor of Rivers State, the Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi are being touted for the position. What kind of SGF will they make?
It is quite interesting to note that the two of such persons are being considered. I have read about this in the national dailies, and I am also aware that Chief Oyegun has opted out of the race, what it means therefore is that Rt. Hon. Amaechi is a candidate that has no competitor anymore. So far there is no other name that we know to have shown interest, or been penciled down to occupy that position.
I would have said that both ex-Governors have sufficient pedigree for the position, but now that Chief Oyegun has opted out, let us
concentrate on the fact that Amaechi having been a two- term Speaker in a complex state as Rivers, and thereafter Governor for eight years, also in such a peculiar state as ours, we have no doubt that he has acquired sufficient knowledge, sufficient experience and sufficient information and therefore adequately ready to occupy and perform any administrative function of any type, irrespective of what name that office or position is called.
I don’t see a person who has managed a place as Rivers state as a governor for eight years and would not be able to creditably perform in the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which is just one component of government. I believe that, if it is the wish of the Federal Government to narrow the appointment of the SGF, to the south-south which in any case deserves the position and Amaechi is from the south-south, there should be no difficulty in situating him to the office, if that is what the president would wish to do. In any case every person in APC appreciate the enormous contribution of Hon. Rotimi Amaechi in the formation and nurturing of APC culminating in his directing the election that threw up General Mohammadu Buhari as the winner.
Both as south-southerner and as a person, I think, it is like the proverb which says that, “you put a palm fruit into drum of palm oil”.
I have no difficulty to believe that in view of Amaechi’s experience, just like any other person who has had high level of experience
shouldn’t have difficulty in performing very well in the office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
But you had a President from the south south for six years, why are you people still crying for development?
You are quite right, we certainly ought not . But don’t we deserve pity if we were not able to help ourselves?. President Buhari will
make a point if he focuses on the region. Most of the times favour or salvation does not always come from within. I believe we deserve pity.
Confusion has trailed the recent local government elections in Rivers State with two courts giving two different judgments. As a lawyer, what are your views on these?
First of all, I would not have liked to delve into this, for such is a matter that is currently being canvassed in the court of law, to avoid committing the offence of sub-judice. As a Rivers State politician, I understand the genesis of the crises, was that, the government of Rivers State under Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, had conducted local government elections, before it left office.
Then the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which was the opposition party then went to court, seeking that the election should not be conducted. The PDP went to the Federal High Court, where it demanded that the election should not hold, but the state government raised preliminary issues on jurisdiction, arguing that the Federal High Court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the matter. The FHC insisted it had the jurisdiction to entertain the matter. The Rivers state government under Amaechi went to Court of Appeal to stop the FHC of assuming jurisdiction on the matter.
The elementary part of that in law is that, when an appeal has been filed in that manner, it implies that the subject matter of the appeal would stay; you have to hold on to it. If it is a thing that has to do with execution, it will amount to stay of execution. If it has to do with proceedings, it will have to stay of proceeding. I believe that the government of Rotimi Amaechi believed that having filed appeal, it meant that the issue of assumption of jurisdiction by the court is stayed.
So it went ahead to conduct the election. So having conducted the election, the Court of Appeal adjourned sine die (indefinitely). The
Federal High Court in recognition of the position of the Court of Appeal on the matter I understand had also adjourned indefinitely. What it means is that, not until the Appeal Court takes a stand on the matter, the Federal High Court would not also continue with the matter. I imagined that what it means is that, the Federal High Court would have waited until the Court of Appeal took a decision on the matter, whether or not the decision to. assume jurisdiction was correct or not.
Then the chairmen and councilors who had been duly elected and sworn in, in their own view, felt like they smelled a rat, due to
the fact that there was rumour of an impending dissolution of the council executives by the new Governor and new House of Assembly.
So they therefore ran to the National Industrial Court, south-south zone, in Yenagoa Bayelsa state, and obtained an injunction restraining the new state Governor and House of Assembly from dissolving them.
Both the Federal High Court Port Harcourt and the National Industrial Court in Bayelsa State, are what the lawyers call courts of
co-ordinate jurisdiction. They are two courts of superior records and they are also of co-ordinate jurisdiction, i.e they are at par. By
implication therefore, the natural presumption would be that, the decision taken by one court would have been respected by the other brother court. Even in equity, where two equities are equal, the first in time prevails.
For example, if the Judge of a Federal High Court takes a decision on an issue, another Judge of the Federal High Court elsewhere in the country should respect such a decision i.e, should not take opposite decision on the same subject matter, unless he finds a ratio disendehi. None of the two courts is appellate to each other, they are all the same, I believe.
So my simple humble view is that the court processes should have been obeyed. It is only when you obey court processes, and recognize same, that you will be said to be obeying the rule of law and democracy is premised on the rule of law. If you defy court processes in any form, you are not obeying the rule of law, and when you are not obeying the rule of law, you are merely inviting anarchy. At the point the party had appealed to a higher court, and the higher court had not taken a decision on the subject matter, it behooved on the lower court to stay action, (hold action) and to hear from the superior colleague on why he should or not hold his ground on the area he had already done so.
At a time the court of co-ordinate jurisdiction has taken a decision on a subject matter, if I were a judge or a brother -judge or a sister court, I would like to hold on, until both parties involved were able to sort it out at the other court. Sorting it out in that court would mean, to appeal the judgment of that court. If I were a judge, having understood the ethics and procedures of the bench and bar, I would not be compelled to break the chain of rule of law.
It is not advisory for the judiciary to experience breaking of the chain of rule of law, because the judiciary is the bed rock of the practice of the rule of law, and once the judiciary is no longer recognizing the tenets of the profession and dictums, the society is in trouble, because the court is seen as the last hope for the ‘common man’.
If that hope of the common man is in disarray, perhaps because personal interest and inducement must have compelled somebody to jettison what is known in law as ‘procedural approach’ to handling matters in court, then we are in trouble. My take is that, we should obey the rule of law; we should always be procedural, and once we do it in the right way, it will look like what is referred to as network analysis in financial accounting, where one does not jump to avoid derailment of the branch.
What do you think the south-south region really needs from this new political dispensation?
We have discussed a little bit in that regard, but for the sake of emphasis. If you build a house, chances are that you would not want to be kept at the corridors of the house. You will need a room. You cannot finish building a house, and you give the room and parlour to the visitor, and remain at the balcony of the house. The south-south being the producers of the wealth of this country, deserve to be taken of by the Government at the centre and I know President Buhari is disposed to carrying us along.
Nigeria at the moment do not have any other source of revenue except the oil, we do not want to continue to emphasize on it, it will look as if we are being arrogant of what God has given to us free of charge. We are merely reminding the Nigerian nation to develop the region that produces the wealth on which others feed on. For example, if you should go to the United States of America, you will notice the different between the state of California and most other cities in United State. If you go to Houston Texas, you can see the distinction between Dallas and others. Even Sugarland which used to be a slum has developed tremendously, not many people can still remember how it was. I have no difficulty to believe that, if the Nigerian nation wants to recognize and compensate us for the sufferings we have been exposed to, due to oil exploration and exploitation, they are likely to redesign the south-south region.
By redesigning, I mean the Federal Government can re-design Port Harcourt and make it a new city, re-design Calabar and make it a new city. It can leverage on what ex-Governor Akpabio has done in Uyo and make it a better city. You can change the entire city of Yenagoa and expand it up to Odi and southern Sagbama and make it a new city, etc.
These are south-south states where the mineral oil is found and where the wealth is produced. In Yenagoa, I was told that one of the reasons the Niger Delta youths took to militancy, was when the late military head of state General Sani Abacha invited them to Abuja, for the two million -man march, to support his transition to a civilian President. Before then, most of them had not travelled beyond Benin. So on reaching Abuja; they saw the level of development therein, it occurred to them that the money with which the former desert area was developed, came from their area and they naturally began to ask questions as to why the money coming from their area could not be used to develop their area.
I understand that, that was the genesis of militancy, and so far so good we would like to thank the Federal Government for reacting positively to such agitations.
There are more to do than what has so far been done. I do not believe that the agitation is intended to give a few people just monthly stipend. If you know the population of our region, as against the number of people who benefits from the amnesty, you will agree with me that, such is not the original intention of those who reacted to the non -development of the Niger Delta region. We should go beyond the level of giving some people stipends.
Giving people stipend means you have to identify yourself as a militant, before you can receive anything. I understand that not all those who receive the stipend today are militants. If we re-design the amnesty programme, if we redesign the approach to the development of the south-south, we will be talking of infrastructural development, we will be talking about establishment of hospitals, better schools, better roads, provision of unlimited power supply, making it look like an area people will look at and say, “thank you God for making us come from a place like this. God gave us oil and this is the benefit of it”. That is the type of benefit we are looking for here. I am not writing off the programme of amnesty which provides some sort of temporary compensation.
While we carry that along, we should also develop the second phase of the amnesty programme. The amnesty programme I understand has two phases, one of them is payment of the stipends to quieten the so called militants, and the other one is actual development programme of the area. It will really be a thing of joy for somebody coming to Nigeria for the first time to say that, “I want to go to Bayelsa state; “I want to go to the area called the Niger Delta as a tourist destination and to the Glory of God, and the benefit of our people.”