Im­peach­ment: Law­mak­ers and the cul­ture of brazen im­punity


The move by five ag­grieved law­mak­ers in the 26-mem­ber Akwa Ibom State House of As­sem­bly to re­move the Speaker and the state gover­nor, as al­leged, has again put politi­cians’ pen­chant for dis­re­gard­ing due process and Nige­ria’s trou­bled democ­racy un­der the spot­light, TUNDE AJAJA writes

All man­ner of un­demo­cratic prac­tices have con­tin­ued to char­ac­terise Nige­ria’s po­lit­i­cal space es­pe­cially as the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions draw closer. Two weeks ago, the brew­ing po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in the Akwa Ibom State House of As­sem­bly as­sumed a wor­ri­some di­men­sion when five law­mak­ers, whose seats had been de­clared va­cant by the Speaker, al­legedly sought to im­peach the speaker of the 26-mem­ber As­sem­bly and the state gover­nor.

The speaker, Onofiok Luke, had de­clared their seats va­cant when the five law­mak­ers de­fected from the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party to the All Pro­gres­sives Congress. The speaker had said his ac­tion was in line with Sec­tion 109 sub­sec­tion 1(g) of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion as amended.

The in­ci­dent brings to the fore a pop­u­lar state­ment in a let­ter writ­ten on Au­gust 10, 1794 by a for­mer Pres­i­dent of the United States, Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, to Charles Mynn Thrus­ton, the leader of a reg­i­ment in the Con­ti­nen­tal Army dur­ing the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War.

Wash­ing­ton said, “But if the laws are to be so tram­pled upon—with im­punity—and a mi­nor­ity (a small one too) is to dic­tate to the ma­jor­ity, noth­ing but an­ar­chy and con­fu­sion is to be ex­pected there­after.”

The state­ment above aptly cap­tures the sce­nario that played out at the As­sem­bly com­plex in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State cap­i­tal, penul­ti­mate Tues­day.

But it is equally wor­thy of note that the drama at the As­sem­bly is not the first of its kind in Nige­ria’s po­lit­i­cal space.

Just a few weeks ago, nine mem­bers of the 26-mem­ber Ondo State House of As­sem­bly, in­clud­ing the for­mer speaker, Mr. Bamidele Oloyeloo­gun, and his deputy, Mr. Ogun­deji Iroju, both of whom had been im­peached by the House, sat at a ple­nary and said they had sus­pended the 15 mem­bers that im­peached Oloyeloo­gun and Iroju.

The law­mak­ers, who are said to be loyal to the state gover­nor, Ro­timi Ak­eredolu, at the ple­nary and amid tight se­cu­rity also said they had dis­solved all stand­ing com­mit­tees, ap­pointed three new prin­ci­pal of­fi­cers and amended the 2018 bud­get.

While all these were hap­pen­ing, the 15 mem­bers al­leged threat to their lives and claimed they had been forced to leave the state.

The need­less po­lit­i­cal dra­mas have also hap­pened in the fed­eral leg­isla­tive cham­bers in the past and in re­cent times.

Dur­ing the Good­luck Jonathan ad­min­is­tra­tion, some law­mak­ers had scaled the fence to pre­vent the im­peach­ment of Aminu Tam­buwal, the Speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives af­ter his de­fec­tion from the PDP to the APC.

A few months ago, se­cu­rity agen­cies al­legedly con­nived with some po­lit­i­cal stake­hold­ers to in­vade the Na­tional As­sem­bly as part of ru­moured plot to im­peach Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Bukola Saraki and Deputy Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Ike Ek­w­ere­madu.

Sadly, un­demo­cratic moves of this na­ture date back to the era when for­mer Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo ruled the coun­try be­tween 1999 and 2007.

In 2006, for ex­am­ple, the then gover­nor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, was im­peached by five out of the 24 mem­bers, even though among other con­di­tions stip­u­lated in Sec­tion 188 of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion (as amended), the mo­tion for the im­peach­ment of a gover­nor or his deputy shall be sup­ported by not less than two-thirds ma­jor­ity of all its mem­bers.

Also, on Jan­uary 12, 2006, a for­mer gover­nor of Oyo State, Rashidi Ladoja, was im­peached by 18 out of the 32 mem­bers of the As­sem­bly, in­stead of the two-thirds (22) stip­u­lated by the con­sti­tu­tion.

The Court of Ap­peal sit­ting in Ibadan, which later over­turned the re­moval, de­scribed the im­peach­ment process as il­le­gal, un­con­sti­tu­tional, null and void.

The Pre­sid­ing Judge, J. O. Jegede iden­ti­fied the faulty pro­cesses to in­clude the sit­ting of the leg­is­la­tors in an ho­tel rather than the State House of As­sem­bly to de­lib­er­ate on the im­peach­ment; send­ing the no­tice of im­peach­ment through the news­pa­pers; im­peach­ment car­ried out by 18 rather than 22 leg­is­la­tors.

Sim­i­larly, the im­peach­ment of a for­mer gover­nor of Anam­bra State, Mr Peter Obi, in 2006 by the House of As­sem­bly was later set aside by the Court of Ap­peal in Enugu and the Supreme Court suc­ces­sively. The two courts de­scribed the im­peach­ment process as il­le­gal and null and void.

The Ap­peal Court said Obi was not duly served the mo­tion for im­peach­ment and that the no­tice pub­lished in a na­tional news­pa­per was ad­dressed to the Sec­re­tary to the State Gov­ern­ment and not Obi him­self.

Mean­while, lawyers and an­a­lysts who spoke to our cor­re­spon­dent pointed out that there had been re­cur­rences of such un­demo­cratic prac­tices be­cause politi­cians were not made to face the con­se­quences of vi­o­lat­ing due pro­cesses.

A se­nior lawyer, Chief Robert Clarke, SAN, said the lat­est drama in Akwa Ibom State showed that law­mak­ers in the coun­try had not learnt their les­sons, given the past rul­ings by the courts on such mat­ters.

He pointed out that even though the law­mak­ers knew their ac­tion was wrong, they would con­tinue to take such “il­le­gal” steps be­cause they felt there would not be any con­se­quence for vi­o­lat­ing the due process.

Clarke ex­plained that if the trend was not checked, it could plunge the coun­try into cri­sis.

He said, “If in­deed the five mem­bers planned to im­peach the speaker and the gover­nor, my hon­est opin­ion is that our law­mak­ers in Nige­ria have never learnt a les­son. They are driv­ing this coun­try into dan­ger and it may take us time to get out from it.

“The law­mak­ers know what they are do­ing is wrong, but they would do it to cre­ate dis­or­der and damn the con­se­quence; they know that noth­ing would come out of it. That is the im­punity we have in Nige­ria to­day; im­punity to steal money, di­vert na­tional wealth and do many il­le­gal things. That im­punity has been given to them by this con­sti­tu­tion.

“I have al­ways said that the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion is the prob­lem we have in Nige­ria to­day. It is a con­sti­tu­tion that is so rot­ten and peo­ple and the politi­cians are tak­ing ad­van­tage of it. Un­til we jet­ti­son that con­sti­tu­tion, we can never make progress in Nige­ria and to jet­ti­son it, we need God’s pres­ence to send a su­per force to drive all these crooks away.”

Clarke added, “The Supreme Court has in Inakoju’s case laid down a solid foun­da­tion for any House of As­sem­bly to im­peach a sit­ting gover­nor or a speaker. If you do not have the re­quired con­sti­tu­tional ma­jor­ity, you do not start a process of that na­ture. But you see, in Nige­ria, the rule of law has been tram­pled upon so much, un­for­tu­nately, not only by the politi­cians but even the ju­di­ciary it­self.

“The United States Am­bas­sador to Nige­ria (Wil­liam Syming­ton) said a few weeks ago that the prob­lem of cor­rup­tion in Nige­ria is not just fi­nan­cial but the dis­re­gard for jus­tice and rule of law. So, if these politi­cians are not taught a les­son, they will get this coun­try into ru­ins.”

The lawyer to Ladoja when the Supreme Court re­in­stated him as the gover­nor, Mr Yusuf Ali (SAN), while re­spond­ing to ques­tions posed by our cor­re­spon­dent, ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment that some politi­cians had not learnt their les­sons from past events.

He said, “Af­ter Ladoja’s case, in which I was priv­i­leged to have been his lawyer when he was re­stored as the gover­nor, one would have thought that les­sons would have been learnt but our leg­is­la­tors some­times be­have like ado­les­cents. I think the ma­tu­rity that is nec­es­sary for peo­ple to re­flect prop­erly be­fore tak­ing ac­tions is lack­ing in most of these leg­is­la­tors. And I think it doesn’t speak well of the sys­tem.

“Many of our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers be­have like tod­dlers and it is un­for­tu­nate. I think many of them don’t re­ally un­der­stand the ethos of democ­racy and rule of law and it’s a carry-over from our days un­der mil­i­tary rule, and that is why many of them who have some lit­tle au­thor­ity be­lieve that they can do any­thing and un­for­tu­nately be­cause in our sys­tem there are no con­se­quences, im­punity is vir­tu­ally pro­moted.

“There should be sanc­tions im­posed on peo­ple who try such things. For po­lit­i­cal of­fice hold­ers, the pun­ish­ment in other places is for them to be re­jected at the poll, but in our own sys­tem, it’s very in­ter­est­ing that votes hardly count when it mat­ters most and that is why in our elec­toral sys­tem the more you look the less you see, and it’s a real prob­lem.”

Asked if con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment might be a way out, he said, “Even if you say we need to amend the con­sti­tu­tion, who would do that? These same peo­ple? The so­lu­tion is when we have very acute elec­torate and the elec­toral sys­tem is sane, then you can be very sure that when peo­ple mis­be­have as elected of­fi­cials, the elec­torate would vote them out of of­fice.”

A pop­u­lar La­gos-based lawyer and pub­lic af­fairs an­a­lyst, Mr Jiti Ogunye, said he would first doubt the ve­rac­ity of the claim that the five law­mak­ers sat to im­peach the speaker and the gover­nor, given politi­cians’ pen­chant for mak­ing false claims.

He said, “My im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion is to say how would five per­sons even dare, imag­ine or con­tem­plate to im­peach the gover­nor. So, is that the truth or the gover­nor just said that to jus­tify the in­va­sion, be­cause the gover­nor or­di­nar­ily is not ex­pected to lead a large crowd of peo­ple to dis­rupt leg­isla­tive house pro­ceed­ings, even if those pro­ceed­ings were il­le­git­i­mate and of course in this case that it was il­le­git­i­mate. So, I doubted it.

“But, as­sum­ing that those five er­rant mem­bers re­ally wanted to start an im­peach­ment pro­ce­dure and they weren’t just en­gaged in a game of leg­isla­tive show­man­ship and brag­gado­cio to demon­strate that no­body could ex­pel them from the House, of course there is no ra­tio­nal hu­man be­ing that will not de­cry it and then you won­der how those five would do it.

“If they gen­er­ate the no­tice to the Chief Judge of the state, how would the Chief Judge re­ceive it and there are spe­cific time­lines in im­peach­ment pro­ce­dure that should be fol­lowed. That is why I’m say­ing that the claim had to be taken with a pinch of salt.

“So, the point I’m mak­ing is that if those five leg­is­la­tors wanted to do that, it would mean that our politi­cians, in par­tic­u­lar leg­is­la­tors, have not learnt any les­son. Five mem­bers in a 26-mem­ber House can­not orig­i­nate an im­peach­ment process. They are not even up to one-third. As I have al­ways main­tained, I shud­der to call these politi­cians demo­cratic ac­tors be­cause they are re­ally not act­ing demo­crat­i­cally.”

Ogunye pointed out that politi­cians were the ones at­tempt­ing to de­stroy the na­tion’s democ­racy by their con­duct and ac­tions, which ac­cord­ing to him, makes peo­ple to ask them­selves if they made the right choice or if the “rogue politi­cians with ras­cal­ity and ir­re­spon­si­ble be­hav­iour” can en­trench democ­racy.

He added, “The more these peo­ple mis­be­have, the more they de­rive val­i­da­tion for that kind of no­tion that this civil rule we are prac­tis­ing, which is go­ing to be 20 years in 2019, is a high­way to nowhere and that it’s a mis­sion im­pos­si­ble.

“We are talk­ing about Akwa Ibom, what of the one in Edo, Ondo and Anam­bra states’ Houses of As­sem­bly? What of the Na­tional As­sem­bly? So, it’s all over and it’s very trou­bling.”

He there­fore called on the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to take keen in­ter­est in what was hap­pen­ing in the state, adding that even though fed­er­al­ism was in place, the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment, which con­trols the po­lice could not fold its arms, given the al­le­ga­tions that the lead­ers of the high com­mand of the force were par­ti­san and were sup­port­ing the mi­nor­ity to tra­duce the ma­jor­ity.

“The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment should in­ves­ti­gate and en­sure that jus­tice is done, just as in the case of what hap­pened in Ondo State where me­dia per­sons were beaten up by thugs in the pres­ence of po­lice­men, who are fed­eral agents paid by tax­pay­ers money,” he added.

The sea­soned le­gal prac­ti­tioner, how­ever, cau­tioned that the more peo­ple lost faith in the democ­racy, the more the chance that op­por­tunists could take ad­van­tage of it.

He re­called that past usurpa­tions in Nige­ria had al­ways been on the back­drop that the civil­ians were mis­be­hav­ing.

He said the coun­try had been lucky to have 20 years of un­in­ter­rupted democ­racy and that if not that peo­ple were tired of the mil­i­tary and would not make any ex­cuse for mil­i­tary in­cur­sion into pol­i­tics, the civil­ians, es­pe­cially politi­cians, had done enough to dis­credit democ­racy and to give it a bad name in or­der for it to be de­stroyed.

He said, “Ev­ery­where you go, you see im­punity and it’s giv­ing democ­racy a bad name in or­der to de­stroy it. It’s a de­val­u­a­tion of demo­cratic ethos such that when the peo­ple see these things, they be­gin to won­der that this is not democ­racy and when those doubts be­gin to gain root, op­por­tunists and sub­vert­ers of civil rule may take ad­van­tage of that.”

On the way for­ward, Ogunye ad­vised, “I think peo­ple should take a step back and in­sist that they, not politi­cians, own this coun­try and that they would not al­low politi­cians to de­stroy civil gov­er­nance or what­ever re­sem­blance of it that we have.”

•Chief Jus­tice of Nige­ria, Wal­ter Onnoghen

•Sen­ate Pres­i­dent, Dr Bukola Saraki

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