By Collins Ughalaa
The 9th Imo State House of Assembly led by Rt. Hon Chiji Collins, representing Isiala Mbano State Constituency, was inaugurated in June 2019 by former Governor Emeka Ihedioha. Chiji Collins emerged the Speaker after he defected from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). He decamped from the PDP to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in January 2020 after the removal of former Governor Emeka Ihedioha on Tuesday, January 14, 2020. He has since retained his position as the Speaker of the House. Few months into office as the Speaker of the House, Imo people woke up to the worrisome headlines that the Speaker’s university and NYSC certificates were forged. The House set up an adhoc committee in November 2019 to investigate the matter.
Sadly, the allegation resurfaced few weeks again with greater momentum. This time it was raised by a former member of the House, Hon. Lawman Duruji, from Ehime Mbano State Constituency. The fresh accuser said the Speaker was inducing the House Committee to bury the matter. He said: “Quote me, Chiji parades fake credentials, his PhD is fake and he also forged NYSC exemption certificate. Why has he refused to publish his certificate for public scrutiny? No amount of delay tactics and intimidation can save him this time.”
The Speaker had denied the allegations, insisting that all his credentials were verifiable. He said that the NYSC had cleared him on the said allegations and challenged his traducers to take him to court if they knew otherwise. “My educational certificate has been in the public domain since 1992 when I ran for the Senate. They are verifiable and the whole world has gone to pick it up. The university I attended, Nigerians are still there till tomorrow. So, the school I went to is not a hidden school”, he said. The Speaker had also in December 2019 offered $100,000 to anyone who was willing to travel to Italy with him to verify his university certificate.
Both the Speaker and Duruji are now in court on this matter. The Speaker is in the suit filed on his behalf by his lawyer, KC Nwufo (SAN) praying the High Court of Imo State to award him N1bn damages against Duruji over alleged libel and criminal defamation of his character. He said in his suit: “To say that the claimant forged his certificates and bribed Appeal Court judges knowing the same to be untrue and without any foundation is not only dishonest and reckless but is calculated and politically designed to malign and blackmail the Speaker for political and monetary gains” (sic).
We cannot say who is right or wrong on this matter because it is now before the court and it is left for the court to determine the issues canvassed before it. However, we are worried about the twists and turns the matter has gained in the media, with particular reference to the opinion canvassed by Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, where he made certain points we consider untoward. In the piece captioned: SPEAKER COLLINS & THE CERTIFICATES FORGERY ALLEGATION: WHAT GOV. UZODIMMA URGENTLY NEEDS TO DO, Onwuemeodo made five major points. He said that in the instant case the onus of proof lies on the Speaker. He also said that the Speaker should put an end to the matter by presenting his certificate to the public and resign as the Speaker of the House. Not done, he urged Governor Hope Uzodinma to prevail on the Speaker to resign.
Unbiased analysts would see that the Speaker had done enough to prove his innocence on the matter. We think the Speaker’s traducers are making conjectures. This makes the burden of proof lie with the accusers, especially because the accusation is of a criminal nature. In that case the accuser must prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. To seek to transfer the burden of proof to the accused is to play to the gallery and to reinforce the thinking in some quarters that the accusers are only interested in the ouster of the Speaker, and nothing more.
The nature of the accusation against the Speaker and the effrontery of the accusers do not warrant the Speaker to show his certificates as a solution to the problem. We say this because the issue on the table is not that the Speaker does not have a certificate. If that was the case he could have waved one, saying as it were: “This is my certificate”. But that is not the case. The problem is that the accusers said he forged his certificates. By this they mean that he has the certificates but they are forged, fake. On this premise, we do not think that the Speaker presenting his certificates would make any sense to his accusers. Rather, his accusers would quickly dismiss it as those forged certificates.
The Speaker’s accusers have unwittingly rendered him helpless. It appears the accusers know more than the Speaker knows about his certificates. The solution, therefore, is heading to the court of law. That is what the Speaker has done. No one plays hide-and-seek game before the court. You do so at your own peril. That is why the Speaker’s decision to head to the court is highly commendable. Let his accusers come forward with what they know.
It would be unfair in the circumstance to ask the Speaker to resign when no crime has been established against him. Asking him to resign would mean that we have already convicted him on hearsay. That is not what our laws provide. You cannot convict a man without granting him fair hearing. And it is even criminal to convict a man in our minds and go ahead to execute the conviction.
For purposes of comparison, we recall that a former governor of Imo State was vilified on the claim that he did not have classmates. Consequently, some people challenged him to show his classmates. In my community when it is said that someone does not have classmates or did not break a chalk, it means that the person did not go to school. No one in the government then knew that the accused should showcase his classmates, or course mates to resolve the matter. On the contrary, after some years we learnt that the accused had bagged a doctorate degree. We do not dabble into matters we do not understand all the sides, or have all the facts. We do not have the authority to question certificates we cannot authenticate. So we watched as the accusation lasted, especially since the matter dwelt largely on hearsay.
There is hardly a government that is devoid of embarrassing moments. Governments do not wield the big stick because they want to avoid embarrassment. We recall also that the unresolved JPROSS contract scandal remains one of the embarrassing moments in the history of Imo State. Under the Okorocha administration, the Deputy Governor, Sir Jude Agbaso, was removed from office in circumstances that brought embarrassment to the state. The second Deputy Governor who was Okorocha’s buddy for decades, Prince Eze Madumere, was equally removed from office in circumstances that brought shame to the state. It is on record that throughout the country, Okorocha remains the only Governor that had the office of Deputy Governor Designate. These were embarrassing moments at the time. We applaud Governor Hope Uzodinma on his stance in this matter. As a Distinguished Senator, he understands the meaning of the Theory of Separation of Power. Not intervening in the matters concerning the Legislature is a display of his rich democratic credentials. We urge him to disregard the argument that he should resolve the matter by prevailing on the Speaker to resign. It has no basis in morality and the law. It has no precedence either. The matter is before the court of law. Let the accusers mean what they say and prove their case against the Speaker.