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How Supreme Court judgment on Rivers’ assets’ commission clarified findings

The recent judgment of the Supreme Court on the findings of the Rivers State Judicial Commission of Inquiry has clarified views about the outcomes and…

The recent judgment of the Supreme Court on the findings of the Rivers State Judicial Commission of Inquiry has clarified views about the outcomes and impact of government panels.

Before the judgement of the apex court, the perception was that the Governor Nyesom Wike’s panel had indicted former governor Rotimi Amaechi, who was the immediate past Minister of Transportation, over alleged corruption.

The recommendation of the report of the commission of inquiry headed by Justice George Omereji, which was submitted in October 2015 that the government should act expeditiously on the alleged diversion of N53 billion worth of assets under the Amaechi administration after attending to 27 memos and 142 exhibits, and 25 witnesses, further fueled this thinking.

 “We hope that the government should act fast and by the time the government looks into this report and acts fast, it will be able to recover billions that are still stashed where they kept them.

“That money belongs to Rivers people and I hope that the government should act fast and recover the funds so that we can use it for the people of Rivers State,” Justice Omereji said.

Although Amaechi dismissed the report of the panel as a last-ditch attempt by the Wike administration to discredit him, he however decided to challenge the procedure adopted by the panel in the court of law.

He had explained then that the funds referred to are funds from the Rivers State Reserve Fund and duly approved by the Rivers State House of Assembly with the expenditure well accounted for.

The commission was to ascertain the circumstances of the sale of the Omoku 150 megawatts gas turbine, Afam 360 megawatts gas turbine, Trans-Amadi 136 megawatts gas turbine, Eleme 75 megawatts gas turbine, mono rail project, and the disbursement of Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme.

Amaechi alleged that the panel was set up as a desperate bid to stop his nomination as a minster and to stop his political stature in Nigeria.

In court, he contended that the 30 days’ time limit given the commission by the governor to conclude its work implicated a denial of fair hearing within a reasonable time as guaranteed under Section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999.

But the seven-member Supreme Court panel comprising Justices Olukayode Ariwoola, Amina Augie, Uwani Abba Aji, Mohammed Garba Lawal, Abdu Aboki and Adamu Jauro held that nobody was on trial as the commission of inquiry was merely a fact finding one and as such the issue of fair hearing did not arise.

 “The purpose of the investigation is to find out the facts or gather facts on the subject matter of inquiry. In doing so, it is not trying any person for the commission of any misconduct or crime. It does not engage in the trial of any person for anything. It merely gathers facts on the subject of inquiry.

“Even if it makes findings of facts that are averse to a person, such adverse findings do not amount to a conviction for an offence or determination of his right and obligation.”

On the powers of the judicial panel, the apex court said “The designation of the commission of inquiry set up as a judicial commission of inquiry and the fact that it was headed by a serving or retired judicial officer cannot invest it with judicial powers or character and did not change its nature as a fact-finding or information seeking body with no power to adjudicate or in any manner determine any rights or obligations or try any person for the commission of a crime.” 

Reacting to the judgement on Friday, Amaechi said the judgement has vindicated him that the report of the inquiry was aimed at witch-hunting him, embarrassing him, humiliating him, and to as well disgrace him in view of his political differences with his successor.

Also reacting, Governor Wike said the elders of the state will decide the action to be taken with the panel’s report.

 “If leaders of the state say we must prosecute the former governor and those indicted by the commission of inquiry, I will have no problem with that,” he said.


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