Nigeria's Impeachment Saga


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Nigeria's Impeachment Saga: Democracy On The Legislature's Butcher Block




Osa Iyinbo



November 26, 2006


From all indication, the Nigerian political landscape, like its airline industry currently plagued by rash of deadly crashes, seem headed for disaster. Some political leaders have stripped naked the rules of civil engagement, jettisoned the constitution and have allowed cacophony to hold sway. A weapon code-named ˇ°Impeachmentˇ± has been refurbished and added to their arsenal; now, some state Legislatures (Houses of Assembly) have run amok with it. Perhaps it is time to call them, and others wanting to thread in their step, to order, for the sake of saving this teetering democracy.

While the responsibility of the Legislature include, among others, serving as a check on the Executive branch of government, it however does not entail running their respective State aground and bringing the entire nation to disrepute: five impeachments, most of which were carried out in bizarre and undemocratic circumstances, within a spate of one year does call a lot into question.


Lord Acton (1834-1902) once cautioned: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". In Nigeria, this warning has fallen on deaf ears as some state legislators have decided to use the impeachment tool to the detriment of all. Whatever the origin of the impeachment process, and irrespective of its initial purpose, it needs to be checked before it throws governance and democracy to the dogs. The lack of procedural uniformity (in its implementation) is mind boggling; this confounds the uninitiated, and the constitutional law experts are in a quandary.


It all began with ex-governor Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State who, before his impeachment, disparaged his office and the Nation internationally with his arrest, and subsequently jumping bail, in London on charges of money laundering. Under these circumstances, not many, excluding his attorneys, raised eyebrows as to the process employed during his impeachment. Since then a careful look at the process employed by the state legislators that have impeached their Governors, and or Deputies, have called into question the procedural defects associated therewith.


The 1999 Nigeria Constitution is clear on how a Governor or the Deputy of a state may be removed from office if found "guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office" (s. 188(1)). It provides that "a notice of any allegation in writing" shall be "signed by not less than one-third of the members of the House of Assembly" detailing the specific particulars of such "gross misconduct" with the accused Governor or Deputy giving the opportunity to respond thereto. It states further that: 
the speaker of the House of Assembly shall, within seven days of the receipt of the notice, cause a copy of the notice to be served on the holder of the office and on each member of the House of Assembly, and shall also cause any statement made in reply to the allegation by the holder of the office, to be served on each member of the House of Assembly.

Also, the constitution provides that within 14 days of the presentation of the notice to the speaker of the House of Assembly that the House shall resolve by way of motion whether or not to investigate the said allegations. According to subsection (4) thereof,
A motion of the House of Assembly that the allegation be investigated shall not be declared as having been passed unless it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of the House of Assembly.


So far, none of these procedures seem to have been adhered to by the Legislators. In cases where there appears to be some semblance of compliance, the procedures and processes are feeble and shrouded in controversy. The obvious lack of procedural uniformity, in spite of their reliance on the same constitutional provisions, leaves room for suspicion. This lack of transparency is a source of worry to many and fundamentally challenges our nascent democracy. "Justice delayed is justice denied", so is justice dispensed at the speed of light, at ungodly hours and in controversial circumstances.

There is no doubt that the Legislators actions have been emboldened by sundry Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigations and reports. While the EFCC must be highly commended for its bold moves and effort to bring some sanity to a society often plagued by corruption, maladministration and mismanagement of resources, it must operate within the ambit of its enabling laws and the Nigerian constitution. The legal maxim that "he who seeks equity must do equity" is apposite in this case. Therefore, the Commission must not constitute a law unto itself or become a vessel for prosecuting political opponents and settling personal strife otherwise, it will lose the support and appeal it currently enjoys even in the international community.
It has also become apparent is the fact that the legislators enjoy the support of some members of the judiciary, particularly the judges. In their haste to assert their "independence" and new found authority under a democratic dispensation, they have abandoned their enviable roles as custodians of the people's conscience and defenders of the constitution. Their roles since this debacle started has led many to question their impartiality. Impeachment must be carried out in accordance with constitutional provisions and Chief Judges (or Acting CJs) as the bastion of the judiciary must stand firm, uphold the law and the integrity of the judiciary. So far, this does not appear to be the case. The current impeachment process will not pass constitutional muster; it has not been thorough, and is fraught with grave irregularities.

Several reports have it that most of the impeachment decisions are made under suspicious circumstances, and this should not be. Impeachment decisions should not be made at the "mama-put" joints (popular local eateries) or in the bedroom of some power brokers or influence peddlers but in the "altar of democracy" where elected officials swore to carry out their responsibilities. More so, impeachment decisions should be made by those genuinely interested in governance after serious and painstaking deliberations because of their obvious, local and international, ramifications.


Perhaps at this point, the world will like to know how many bills tailored towards the benefit of the citizens, besides impeaching governors at any whim, these legislators have sponsored and passed into law? Also, what meaningful developments in terms of jobs, infrastructure, economic prosperity, and international recognition, to mention but a few, have they brought to their constituencies? Also, how many within their ranks who are currently under investigation, or have been indicted, by the various EFCC reports have they summarily expelled?  I guess the world will be interested in knowing the answers to these questions.

Another dangerous trend that seem to be gaining, or has gained strong, footing in Nigeria is the situation whereby government officials who swore to uphold the laws have taken to tactical misinterpretation, and selective enforcement, of Court orders. This should be a source of concern to all, and those, irrespective of their status, at the vanguard of this insalubrious conduct must be called to order. The actions of some State legislators, with the tacit connivance of some government officials and powerful civilians, are a rape on, and an attempt to strangle democracy and the rule of law or render it ineffective.


It is time for Nigerian politicians and officials to demonstrate to all, home and abroad, that they are capable of delivering to the people and upholding the laws as they expect of the ordinary citizens.  In addition, they must realize that, based on Nigeria's status in the international community, they (the politicians and different office holders) may be dancing to local tunes but they do so before a mixed crowd, which also includes the international community. Therefore, they must learn to adapt, and perhaps change course if need be, even if that means changing the music. Most people will agree that, the sooner the better. There is need to reassure the international community that they are fully aware of, and are ready to uphold, the rules of democratic engagement.


I wish to state that this article is not an endorsement of any governor, incumbent or impeached, but a call to sanity and respect for the rule of law. It is often said that "two wrongs don't make a right". No matter how repugnant the actions of the Governors and their Deputies, including other elected officials may be, we must, as civilized people allow the law to take its due course. Remember, the mere existence of power does not imply that it must be exercised. In this instance, the impeachment power must be exercised sparingly and judiciously and should not constitute an instrument of oppression or one for settling personal animosities.


As the 2007 election draws near, the electorate must rise up to the occasion and take back their country. They must hold their elected officials accountable for their activities while in office and ensure that credible persons, and not those bereft of constructive ideas, are elected into office. Conversely, those who fail to perform must be promptly voted out. The people deserve the leaders they choose; therefore, the electorates must reevaluate their criteria for electing people into office.


The willingness of the electorate to succumb to intimidation and electoral manipulation is a measure of their inability to understand the consequences of their actions: mortgaging their future and those of generations unborn. One of the consequences that flow from the peoples" inaction is their continued endurance of various social maladies, political malaise, inequities and injustices, economic depravation amidst plenty, and most of all, international scorn. It will amount to an unfortunate leap of fate to allow their votes (which is their voice) to be continually taken for granted. As "impeachment" is a tool for change in the hands of the legislators, so is the ballot the only effective weapon available to the people, unlike the former, they must use it wisely for the future is in their hands.



Osa Iyinbo lives in Albany, NY., USA



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