THE Bayelsa State Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Emmanuel Igoniwari, yesterday formally inaugurated the seven-member panel as requested by the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, to investigate the allegations levelled against the state governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
An impeachment notice was served on the governor about a fortnight ago. The panel's inuaguration took place with only 24 hours to the expiratory of the mandatory 14 days notice.
The panel comprising four men and three women is chaired by Serena Dokubo-Spiff, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Other members are Mr. Benson Agadaga, the immediate past Commissioner for Information in the present administration; Mrs. Mercy Alagoa, Barrister Collins Boleigha, the chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Bayelsa branch; Wing Commander Gladys Brisbe (rtd) Dr. (Mrs.) Bolere Ketebu Nwafor and Col. Rufus Apula (rtd).
The chief judge, at the inauguration of the panel, sounded a note of caution to the members and reminded them that the assignment was historic at both the national and international level.
"You should not allow yourselves to be kicked or tossed about because you will not only incur my displeasure but you will incur the displeasure of Bayelsans, Nigerians and the Almighty God whose judgment awaits you in the future," he said.
According to him, he was under an immense pressure from all corners: "It was like a Tsunami, even after knowing that my duty was only to set up a panel and drop out, it did not stop. Request turned into threats and this was compounded by wicked and evil rumours. Some of the rumours and requests were even to the effect that a list of members would be drawn up for me to sign and the list would be taken away from me. Further that I might be whisked away and forced to sign a list if I continue to say no to offers or request. I am happy to state that these rumours and pressures have not manifested or materialised," he stated.
Igonowari advised the members of the panel that they must turn deaf ears to such requests whether accompanied with offers of gratification or not, noting that their assignment was a sacred one and they must trust in God.
The chief judge citing constitutional references said his power of setting up the panel is derived from section 188 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
"I hereunder restate the said section of the constitution, section 188(1): 'The governor or deputy governor of a state may be removed from office in accordance with the provision of this section.
'2. Whenever a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one third of the members of the House of Assembly-
'(A) is presented to the Speaker of the House of Assembly of the state;
'(B) stating that the holder of such office is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the function of his office, detailed particulars of which will be specified the Speaker of the House of Assembly shall within seven days of the receipt of the notice cause a copy of the notice to be served on the holder of the office and each member of the House of Assembly, and shall also cause any statement made in reply to the allegation by the holder of the office to be served on each member of the House of Assembly
"(3) within fourteen days of the presentation of the notice to the Speaker of the House of Assembly (whether or not any statement was made by the holder of the office in reply to the allegation contained in the notice) the House of Assembly shall resolve by motion ,without any debate whether or not the allegation shall be investigated.
'(4) A motion of the House of Assembly that the allegation be investigated shall not be declared as having been passed unless it is supported by the votes of not less than two thirds majority of all the members of the House of Assembly
'(5) within seven days of the passing of a motion under the foregoing provision of this section, the chief judge of the state at the request of the Speaker of the House of Assembly shall appoint a panel of seven persons who, in his opinion, are of unquestionable integrity not being members of any public service, legislative house or political party to investigate the allegation as provided in this section.
'(6) The holder of an office whose conduct is being investigated under this section shall have the right to defend himself in person or be represented before the panel by a legal practitioner of his own choice.
'(7)A panel appointed under this section shall-
(a) Have such powers and exercise its full function in accordance with such procedures as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly; and (b) within three months of its appointment report its finding to the House of Assembly.'
The inauguration which was originally billed for 12 p.m. started at about 1:13 p.m. Before the beginning of the ceremony, heavily armed military personnel had cordoned the all routes linking the chief judge's court, venue of the inauguration.
There was also bomb disposal unit of the Nigeria police led by a chief superintendent of police.
The chief judge arrived the court premises at about 11:13 a.m., but he had to wait for the chairman-elect of the panel who had to rush back to Port Harcourt after appearing at the venue of the ceremony.
As soon as Barrister Serena Dokubo-Spiff arrived at about 1:09 p.m. the chief judge entered the court at about 1:13 p.m. and began the business of the day after apologizing for the delay.
The entire inauguration lasted till 1: 50 p.m.
The chairman of the panel while responding on behalf of the other members thanked the chief judge for giving them the opportunity to serve.
He said they are aware of the enormous responsibility entrusted on them by the constitution and therefore take this as a sacred duty to the people of the state and the entire Federal Republic of Nigeria.
"In undertaking the task of investigating the governor we shall proceed with no pre-conceived notions. In the same vein, in undertaking the task, we shall not allow anything to be swept under the carpet," he said.
He added: "Conventional wisdom dictates that we accord due regard to the rules of evidence. Regardless, we advice ourselves not to feel shackled by procedural rules, including the rules of evidence, but to employ the precepts of common sense and practicality in the order to achieve expeditious determination of the issue in question."
According to him, the ship of Bayelsa is drifting very badly and all hands must be on deck to keep it afloat.