By Ifeanyi Maduako
When Chief Rochas Okorocha became the Governor of Imo State in 2011, he appointed Dr. (Mrs.) Uche Ejiogu as the Executive Chairman of the Imo State Universal Basic Education Board (IMSUBEB). Before the expiration of Okorocha’s first tenure of four years, Dr. Uche Ejiogu was removed as the IMSUBEB chairman. She was replaced with Mrs. Getrude Oduka.
Dr. Uche Ejiogu was made a Commissioner for Education. She had a brief stint as commissioner before resigning to contest election into the Imo State House of Assembly. She succeeded, and represented Ihitte Uboma State Constituency between 2015 and 2019. Mrs. Getrude Oduka, her successor, was also removed after about two years on the seat as chairman of IMSUBEB.
She was replaced with a certain man (I cannot recall the name again now). The man was on the seat for about three months before he was removed and replaced with a certain then serving Magistrate, one Barrister Juliet. She was the last chairman of IMSUBEB during Okorocha’s regime. Therefore, in Okorocha’s regime of eight years, he appointed four chairman of IMSUBEB and their respective board members.
When Chief Emeka Ihedioha became the Governor of Imo State on May 29 2019, he sacked the last board members appointed by Okorocha. I visited IMSUBEB at that period in time and saw a Court Order purportedly served on board from the then immediate past chairman whom I had earlier said was a magistrate as I was told. The Court Order was purportedly a restraining action against the Ihedioha’s government from either probing her tenure or sacking them from office. The Court Order was conspicuously pasted all over the notice board and entrance of the IMSUBEB building. I glanced through it and observed that it was served through a substituted means as ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction. I did not have the patience or time to study the court order thoroughly to get exactly what it was meant for, but I knew that it was a restraining order. What later became of the Court Order is what I do not know till date. Whether Ihedioha’s government ignored or obeyed the Court Order is what I cannot tell with certainty.
However, what I know for sure is that Ihedioha appointed his own IMSUBEB board chairman and members in July, 2019. It was headed by Professor Obioma Iheduru. Ihedioha was removed from office by a powerful pronouncement from the Supreme Court of Nigeria on January14, 2020. Professor Iheduru and his board members, having realized that the governor who appointed them had been sacked by the apex court in the land, voluntarily handed over the mantle of leadership of the board to the most senior director to steer the affairs of the board in acting capacity pending when the governor would appoint a substantive board chairman and members. Even Ihedioha’s board members stopped going to IMSUBEB immediately he was removed by the Supreme Court because by commonsense and logic, they knew that their jobs had come to an end.
It is, therefore, shocking that the same board chairman and his members who voluntarily handed over the mantle of leadership to the most senior director including their brand new vehicles are today agitating to serve out a purported four -year tenure. My questions are; Is IMSUBEB appointment a tenured one just like elective positions? Is IMSUBEB board appointment statutory and autonomous? Does the governor of the state who appoints them lack the power to remove them? IMSUBEB is a state replica of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) which is under the Federal Ministry of Education. Does a Nigerian President lack the powers to sack UBEC chairman and the board? If the President can sack the Minister of Education who supervises UBEC, what ties the hands of the President from sacking UBEC board?
Okorocha had four IMSUBEB chairman in eight years, three female and a male. If these four chairmen had insisted on their purported statutory four years tenure, there was no way Okorocha would have appointed up to four of them in eight years. Professor Iheduru and his board members sued the Imo State Government at the National Industrial Court, Owerri Division.
Recently, the presiding judge of the National Industrial Court, led by Justice Ibrahim Galadinma, in his ruling granted the reliefs sought by the claimants. The Industrial Court reportedly ordered the state government to recall them to office and also pay all their outstanding salaries, allowances and emoluments. It also ordered that their purported tenure subsists till December 2023. I was not in the court during the ruling. I am only relying on newspapers’ reports. Assuming without conceding that they have a tenured office of four years just like elective positions, were they appointed in December 2019 for the Industrial Court to rule that their tenure should end in December 2023? I am not a lawyer. However, what is the jurisdiction of the Industrial Court to entertain a suit that borders on political appointment? I had thought that the Industrial Court only had jurisdiction on industrial, trade union and civil service appointment matters. I never knew that an Industrial Court can dabble into appointment disputes and can order a governor to recall back to office some appointees that he (the governor) appointed in the first place.
Maduako, writes from Owerri (08061562735).