As an upcoming youth, one of my past time habits was reading. And any of the numerous James Hardly Chase thrillers can quench my taste. The suspense-filled action-packed novels appear to be my favourite. There is hardly any title I have not read. It was in the course of this exercise that I stumbled into “How the Cookie Crumbles”, a movie-like literary work he authored in 1965.
Considering what the lawmaker who until a week ago represented Ideato South Constituency in the Imo State House of Assembly, Ikechukwu Amuka, went through last week Wednesday, a kind of de javu reminiscent of what I read years ago in James Hardly Chase, “How the Cookie Crumbles” occurred.
Perhaps, the English born vitriolic writer of American thriller works, may have had the likes of Amuka in mind while mobilising concepts to arrange the literary work. I don’t need an elaborate recap to highlight the book. But a summary of Chase’s “How the Cookie Crumbles” states that “in the millionaire’s playground of Paradise City, the sinister Ticky Edris is planning a perfect heist. It is taken him years to set up a bank robbery in broad daylight and with only two accomplices needed: a smooth con man and a smart beautiful blonde. As Ticky’s plan gets put into action, luck is one on his side, but as people start dying and disappearing, detective Tom Lepski picks up the trail. Suddenly, Ticky’s plan is in danger, and if there’s one thing he didn’t count on, it was the personalities of the very people who are most vital to his plan”
This brief exposure heralds the story of Amuka who the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Owerri, the Imo State capital, has made a mincemeat of. In a decision of the judges in charge of the special court handling cases arising from the 2015 Election, Amuka, a two-time lawmaker and the Chief Whip of the House was not only sacked, but also, his main challenger, a woman of the PDP stock, Nkechinyere Ugwu, was asked to be sworn in immediately by the Speaker after INEC would have issued him with Certificate of Return.
The brief record I have about Amuka showed that before venturing into full time politics, the Ideato South born politician was a business man involved in mobile telephone recharge cards transactions in Orlu area of the state. Amuka was lucky in 2011 when he was elected and represented the state Constituency of the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, in the state legislature under the umbrella of APGA.
In response to the academic qualifications required for one running for an election into the state Assembly, Amuka while submitting his INEC form claimed he obtained the West African School Leaving Certificate, of the West African Examination Council, WAEC, to be okayed for the post However, C.O.C Ezeriobo, a lawyer and his kinsman from the same Umuchima community in Ideato South, opened the floodgate of challenge to his academic qualifications. The contest has appeared to be his greatest albatross till date. Moments after Amuka began legislative duties in 2011, Ezeriobo went to a High Court in Owerri to ask that he be removed from the House based on the allegations that the WAEC result was forged. Amuka was accused by the petitioner of perjury and falsification based on the fact that while the result he deposed had his name, the picture bearing the name is different and alleged to be that of his brother who was also accused of taking the examination on his behalf. The opposition posed by Ezeriobo was innocuous as Amuka survived the legal cross fire when he came out unscathed. As the member representing the number one citizen of the state, the lawmaker became a power broker in the state assembly and was said to have wielded power beyond that controlled by the principal officers of the House in the last dispensation
Amuka, popularly known as Osimiri, became a match maker in the last House. He was among the members of the powerful committee of the last dispensation that handled the multi million naira rural and state roads projects. His Emirates Hotel abode on Owerri/Port Harcourt Road, Owerri appeared to be a busy point for activities of the House where major decisions were took before the scripts were displayed on the chamber.
When the bells for 2015 elections started ringing, Amuka was back on track on a familiar terrain by seeking a second missionary mandate from the people of Ideato South. Considering the rosy relationship he had with Okorocha, his brother and in view of his sagacity in taming suspects who wanted to fan the embers of discord between the executive and the legislative arms from 2011 to 2015, it was an easy ride for him to grab APC ticket for another taste of legislative duties in Imo House. Against the backdrop of the Ebemmanu and Ebenese political divide sharing formula which stakeholders in the area claim did not favour him to run the election, Amuka again emerged victorious.
Even the intra-party obstacle from another millionaire business man, Victor Nwanoforo who wanted the seat, was not enough to stop his return to the Chamber of the House. The APC identity of his kinsman, Okorocha, who was also running a second time race for governor made his victory in the polls a fait accompli.
Oblivious of the fact that what he filled in INEC form in 2011 would attract an apocalypse for him in 2015, Amuka for the umpteenth time claimed he has WAEC certificate as endorsed in the document submitted to the national body entitled to conduct the election.
Nkechinyere Ugwu, a housewife and PDP House of Assembly candidate who ran the race with Amuka thought otherwise and decided to challenge the competence of the person INEC declared winner. Ugwu, this time chose the Tribunal than the High Court where she asked the panel members to declare her winner based on the premise that the person declared winner (Amuka) does not posses the required academic qualifications to be nominated by his APC to run for the election. According to her submission, the WAEC certificate the winner paraded was forged and does not belong to him. Therefore, she should be declared winner having come second.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the once powerful Osimiri as Amuka is fondly called, who used his ranking status to merit a Chief Whip of the House principal position when the new House was inaugurated in June this year, will not be in a hurry to remember Wednesday, October 14th 2015, the day he tasted a bitter pill of the Election Petition ruling which disgraced him out of the House.
My editorial correspondent covering affairs of the Tribunal in Owerri however revealed that the panel of judges did a thorough job before arriving at the judgement that sent Amuka packing out of the House. According to him, WAEC officials were subpoena to testify before the Tribunal as witnesses where they also submitted the Certified True Copy of the said certificate. The three-man panel led by Justice P.I. Idiong noted that the WAEC certificate of one Kevin Amuka who attended St Peter Claver Seminary,Okpala is at variance with the physical appearance of the ousted Amuka of the Imo Assembly. The judges in the three-hour judgement said “after studying the picture and physical appearance of Amuka, it was clear that the picture in the certificate does not belong to him”
Grapevine sources as reported by this medium gave further insight into what may have transpired and why Amuka is where he is for now. A report by the newspaper indicated that unlike in 2011 when Amuka enjoyed the support of the powers that be in Government House, Owerri, to overcome the first pernicious tackle, the same powers were not available to render same services in the present dispensation. Trumpeta newspaper was informed that a high profile appointee in Government House, Owerri and his kinsman, ( names withheld) may have pulled the strings that disconnected him with the would-be saviours in the state. Reason was that the future interest of the said powerful government personality may be caged should Amuka’s political progress sails to 2019 when the said official, suspected to be warming up to run for the Ideato Federal Constituency, would have shown interest in partisan polities. To cut the influence of Amuka and reduce his chances of future electoral gains for the Ideato Federal Constituency seat, which is at his reach after two tenures in the House of Assembly, allowing him experience a humiliating climb down in the present case became an option for his political rivals in the APC family.
I am also privileged to be informed that in order to give Amuka chance for judicial redress via appeal, the members of the State Assembly have embarked on forced recess. Alarmed that Ugwu, the PDP candidate who was declared winner and issued with INEC Certificate of Return, the House Committee Chairman on Information, Oguwuike at a recent press briefing stated that they have adjourned to November due to a trip to South Africa. It is expected that Amuka will seek an escape route to avoid the backlash that would trail his fall from grace to grass.
In the interim, the outcome of the Tribunal judgement in the case of Amuka, has raised pertinent issues that border on integrity of public office holders and the sanctity of the offices they occupy in trust for the people. Certificate forgery and perjury concerning credentials is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria’s political hemisphere. It has become a recurring decimal in pre and post election cases. In a flipside, Nigerians are yet to forget in a hurry the case of a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, of the fake Toronto University, Canada fame.
Observers are of the view that the revelation has opened another chapter in the character of office holders and their quest to hold on to power through fraudulent means. The case of Amuka may just be one out of many cases of certificate related forgery ravaging Nigeria’s political system.
The question on the lips of many is whether Amuka will face further investigation and possible police prosecution over the crime? Further to this, is also the debate whether relevant security and anti corruption agencies would move in to cause him to either face criminal charges for using the fake certificate to gain elected position where he raked allowances running into millions, or be made to pay back into the coffers of the state, the earned monies from 2011 till the day he was axed. This was the case of a certain House of Representatives member elect who did not have the opportunity to be inaugurated on June 9, 2015 after he was elected on March 28. The PDP candidate who won a Federal Constituency in Benue state was dragged to a High Court by the person he defeated during the December 6, 2014 PDP primaries, for forging a Higher National Diploma (HND) Certificate of a Polytechnic. The court in the ruling not only ordered that the accused be denied the chance to be in the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly and his INEC Certificate of Return be handed over to the petitioner, but also requested the police to commence criminal prosecution of the politician.
Imolites are keenly interested in what would be the outcome especially as the sacked parliamentarian has taken the job of refuse collection and environmental cleaning job courtesy of his chairmanship of the Imo State Government Task Force Committee on the project.