“This was not the Bill I presented” – Imo Lawmaker who sponsored controversial bill raises alarm

Imolites in particular and Nigerians in general have expressed outrage over the Imo State Administration Of Criminal Justice Law No 2 of 2020 (ISACJL, 2020) which was recently assented to by Governor Hope Uzodinma.

The outrageous law empowers whoever is the state governor to arrest and detain any resident of the state at his pleasure. And, any person detained on the orders of the Governor, can only be released when the governor grants a license to the said individual.

Section 484 of the Law provides: “Where any person is ordered to be detained during the Governor’s pleasure he shall notwithstanding anything in this Law or in any other written law contained be liable to be detained in such place and under such conditions as the Governor may direct and whilst so detained shall be deemed to be in legal custody”.

Controversies have trailed the legality or otherwise of the provisions relating to “pleasure”, permitting the State Governor to detain suspects at his pleasure.

In addition, the Law abolished all forms of preliminary inquiry or preliminary investigation into a criminal charge by a magistrate or any court in the state and replaced them with preparation of proof of evidence.

Section 485 of the ISACJL, 2020 provides:

(1) A person detained during the Governor’s pleasure may at any time be discharged by the Governor on license which said license may be in such form and in such conditions as the governor may direct under section 485(2).

(2) A license under subsection (1) of this section may be in such form and may contain such conditions as the Governor may direct.

(3) A license under this section may at anytime be revoked or varied by the Governor and where license has been revoked the person to whom the license relates shall proceed to such place as the Governor may direct and if he fails to do so, may be arrested without warrant and taken to such place.

Policy analysts have condemned the law, stating that it sets a bad precedence and contradicts the constitution of the Federal Republic.

While reacting to the outrage arising from the law, Hon Frank Ogboma, the Deputy Minority Leader Imo State House of Assembly who sponsored the bill said:

“Some Sections in the recently gazetted ACJL came to me with rude shock.

“As the Chief Sponsor of the Bill, I have had cause to search through all the documents that cumulated into the Bill. I must say that I have done this repeatedly and have equally taken further pains in reaching out to my colleagues in the House. I must admit that they have each expressed shock over the sudden obnoxious sections of the Law more particularly Section 484 of the said ACJL of Imo State.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the Bill I presented had about a total of 372 Sections. How and where it was amended, recreated and reshaped into Section 484 and beyond remains a mystery and a legislative wonder of our time as what I presented and circulated to my colleagues during plenary, both in the First and Second readings did not contain such obnoxious and embarrassing Section 484. Neither was it deliberated in the House Committee of the whole. It indeed never existed in the House.

“No one has been able to explain to the members of the 9th House how and at what stage the said Section 484 was inserted into the Bill. It smacks of an evil manipulation to throw Imo people into the dungeon.

As a Lawyer, I have had cause to fight against such obnoxious laws and as an activist there is no way this section would have scaled through plenary in the 9th House which I am part of.

This was not the Bill I presented and sponsored.

“This has informed my view and I have today forwarded a Bill for the immediate amendment of those offensive and draconian sections.”

Similarly, the lawmaker Representing Obowo State Constituency in the State Assembly, Hon. Kennedy Chidozie Ibeh fingered the executive arm of smuggling in the outrageous provisions.

Hon Ibeh wrote:

“It will amount to culpable negligence for me as a Lawyer of over 16 years post call and also a Member of Imo State House of Assembly, a Ranking Member at that, to keep silent at the face of this whole brouhaha over certain provisions of the Administration of Criminal justice Law which is currently applicable and enforceable in Imo State.

“The crux of the matter seem to be that certain sections of the said Law, particularly Secs 484 and 485 harbours provisions that are inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria especially as it affects certain guaranteed rights as enshrined in our Constitution. It also seem to me that the basis of foul cry is that whoever is the Governor of Imo State at any time be it now or in future, by virtue of this Law, has some seemingly excessive latitude of powers to trample on the rights of the citizens, particularly, as it affects citizens rights to life, right to dignity of human person, right to fair hearing, right to freedom of expression etc etc.

“I am aware that my colleague both at the Bar and the House of Assembly, Hon. Barr. Frank Ugboma presented and championed the domestication of the Criminal Justice Administration Law in the House and this was eventually passed sometime early this year. It is also VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE that this Bill for the domestication of this Law was FIRST PRESENTED IN 2019 so soon after this 9th House was inaugurated.

“The processing however lingered till its eventual passage into Law at the end of the first quarter of the year 2020.

“I am not sure that I saw, read or heard about these obviously offensive, undemocratic and unconstitutional provisions of this Law as is currently being highlighted by concerned public.

“I am also certain that this was not detected at the public hearing of the Bill if there was.

“However, I make bold and quick to concede to the incorrectness and unconstitutionality of the offensive provisions if truly those provisions as highlighted under the said Secs 484 and 485 indeed exists in that Law as passed other than existing only in the minds of common detractor of Imo State Government.

“If indeed such is contained in a Law made in this age of huge legal awareness, I bow in apology to Imo public and Nigeria as a whole on behalf of the Imo State House of Assembly for such grave negligence while promising that we shall do the immediate needful to bring this most important Law to speed with modernity and Democratic essence.”