Impeachment As A Political Weapon


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Impeachment As A Political Weapon Against Opposition



Robert Obioha



culled from THE SUN, October 26, 2006


Those who drafted the 1999 Nigerian Constitution and put in it the impeachment clause did not envisage to what extent such a clause can be used to truncate the democratic process. In their thinking, the impeachment clause was a constitutional provision meant to check the excesses of the executive by the legislature. But this very instrument aimed at curbing dictatorship and abuse of office has in itself become open to abuse and political manipulations.

It is now being used as a veritable weapon against the opposition. Its dangerous application, some analysts hold, portends danger to our nascent democracy. Some are afraid that the invocation of the powers of the impeachment clause and the subsequent imposition of state of emergency as a rule has more sinster motives than meets the eye.

What had started with a move to remove the “corrupt” former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha and the entronement of is Deputy, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, as the governor has led to various attempts (still ongoing) to remove the governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, the removal of former Oyo State governor, Alhaji Rashid Ladoja and recently the impeachment of both the governor and deputy governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose and Mrs Abiodun Olujimi.

While some members of the Plateau State House of Assembly are still intent in impeaching Governor Dariye, other members of the House who are in the majority and stakeholders in the state are vehemently opposed to the move. The impeachment train moved to Anambra State where the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) dominated House of Assembly is being manipulated to remove the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) Governor Peter Obi from office.

The Anambra impeachment is coming a day after President Obasanjo in a state visit to the state told Obi to forget re-election in 2007 if he did not join the PDP because he (the president) would not support somebody outside the PDP. This may sound as a joke but the fact that the legislators commenced Obi’s impeachment to a day after the visit is suggestive that the PDP’s controlled fedeal government cannot easily extricate itself from the dubious plot to remove Obi whose tenure has earlier been hugely appropriated by the PDP when Dr Chris Ngige was hoisted on the people as the governor.

Obi later won his case at the election tribunal mainly because Ngige has fallen out of favour with his erstwhile political godfather, Chief Chris Uba, as well as the hierarchy of the party at Aso Rock because of the Ubas’ connection. The rest of the story is very much known that there is no need for its recounting in this piece. And from the grapevine comes the more damning revelation that more state chief executives would be impeached before the end of the year. Nobody knows if such impeachments would be followed by a declaration of state of emergency.

And if such emergency is imposed in six or more states, it might give the impression that the Nigerian state is in a state of emergency. It will mean that more retired miliatry men will be drafted as administrators to serve in the states where they are not from as witnessed by the appointment of retired Gen. Tunji Olurin, from Ogun State to oversee the affairs of Ekiti State for six months in the first instance. With this appointment, both Ekiti State executive and the legislature have ceized to exist. The only semblance of a democratic institution remaining in that state is the council government.

Why must the State House of Assembly be suspended in a state of emergency when their tenure has not expired? Why must the administrator of a state come outside that state? Must a state administrator to be so appointed be a retired military officer? What is wrong with appointing a civilian from that state as the administrator?

And when is the invocation of a state of emergency the final option? Although not justifying the lawlessness that has characterised the impeachment of Fayose and his deputy, is there no way to save the situation before the declaration of state of emergency? Prior to the emergence of three parallel governments in Ekiti State, there were ample time to nip the problem in the bud. Aso Rock would have acted immediately it noticed that the removal of a state Chief Judge by the Speaker of the State House of Assembly was illegal. It would have acted when the speaker appointed his own state Chief Judge in utter disregard of constitutional provisions.

Waiting until the scenario degenerated to having three persons laying legimate claim to the rungs of executive power in the state before declaring a state of emergency is not tidy enough. It appears the ruling PDP very much anticipated the situation and waited till it played out in its favour. But such picture being painted in Ekiti now is never healthy to our fledging democracy. It may even truncate it if allowed to extend to the planned five or more states of the federation. It may even blossom to a state of anarchy which the authors of the present impeachment moves might not have envisaged. It did not really occur to them that a speaker might rise to become the ultimate beneficiary on the impeachment of the governor and his deputy.

Now, that both the executive and the legislature in Ekiti State have become the ultimate losers in the Ekiti crisis, will the remaining other states House of Assembly learn from the folly of Ekiti State legislators? Can those warming up to impeach their governor with only few months to the 2007 general elections learn from Ekiti’s misadventure?

The current programmed impeachment moves whether in Anambra, Enugu, Ogun, Plateau or whatever state is dangerous and ominuous. It does not serve the interest of those behind the move, the electorates and the nation at large. In the long run, it is the nation and its development that has been arrested. Using impeachment and state of emergency as a decoy to whip opposition into submission is self-defeatist, totalitarian and an abuse of due process.

When the gestapo style of impeachment started with Bayelsa State and the coercion of the members of the State House of Assembly by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), people thought the entire exercise was targetted at getting a corrupt governor out of the way. Renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof Ben Nwabueze raised constitutional breaches on the impeachment of Alamieyeseigha govt as he did in that of Dariye at that time. In fact, the situation has not changed because more state legislators are now being blackmailed and even forced to commence impeachment moves against targetted governors in some states of the federation.

Some interprete this ugly development as an extention of the dead third term dream, through an orchestrated creation of a state of anomie that will translate to the imposition of a general state of emergency on the entire country. If that happens, they reasoned, there will be no general election in 2007. It will then mean a continuation of the status quo by the other means. But this option will not work because it will kill the current democratic culture. It will even suspend development and continuation of the present regimes’ reforms.

Those wishing this nation well should stand against the pervading gale of impeachments whose only purpose is to create confusion and a semblance of anarchy. Nigerians are tired of developing fever at every election year. Let the 2007 experience be hitch-free and fever-free. The electorates deserve the best from the Nigerian politicians whom they have over the years given their best. Nigerians need better education, roads, hospitals, economy, housing and other things that make life worth lving and not man-made chaos or disaster aimed at truncating our democratic march and development.

Nigerian democracy: All is not lost
By Robert Obioha (
Thursday, October 26, 2006
While it remains clear that neither the culture of opposition nor the habit of fair contest have been given a fresh lease of life as yet in the Nigerian democratic space one thing is certain and that is that Nigerians are determined to keep on trying to build a viable democratic order. The arrogance displayed by some elements of the ruling party over the issue of electoral probity in the party’s internal affairs does not reflect either popular opinion or the real ambitions of the average politician.

This is obvious whenever crises of competitive decision arise within the party in certain states or at the national level. At such times it becomes obvious that the depth of adherence to the trappings of democratic contest is profound even though the actual practice of electoral honesty is easily undermined. There are some states for example where major challengers emerge to contest gubernatorial seats based on genuinely popular feeling but in most such cases if the incumbent is also eligible to contest the battle becomes one-sided in a very short time.

The use of state power and security privilege to harass and intimidate the challenger’s machinery is considered fair game in most such circumstances and this is even portrayed at times as being in the best interest of the party and the democratic order. It is in this light that when police, SSS, and army personnel were used to clear some party members who were regarded as being disloyal to the Governor of a certain state from the party headquarters recently a soldier asked a female member whom he was flogging with ‘koboko’, “Abi, you go fit to fight government?”

That this incident has been barely reported and, even more frighteningly, not been treated with seriousness by the state government in question shows that the principle of democratic tolerance has yet to be consolidated within the current dispensation. Harassment of the opposition is the most intransigent legacy that has survived from the locust years of military autocracy, and those who are deeply concerned about the survival of democracy might be tempted to believe that this legacy could abort the survival of democratic values in the nation.

To be fair it must be recognised that in some instances both the challenger and the incumbent bear equal measure of blame for the improvident use of party privilege as the basis for contesting power. When challengers are given the go-ahead from the central base of the party to seek to overturn the regional leadership of state governors they often do not take into consideration the fact that regional interests tend to coalesce around the ability of the governor to dispense state largesse. At times the party’s central hierarchy appears to be convinced that it can hand down directives by fiat from above and enforce its will by sheer intimidation.

However such strategic domination of the dispensation of power can only be cosmetic at best when the incumbent is also a product of the same manipulation of the processes of privilege and power. The consequence of such machinations is the division of the party hierarchy into factions. One faction will support the challenge, but only to the extent that it forces the incumbent structure to increase its use of state privilege to empower the central machinery in order to protect its hold on power. Another faction will work effectively to protect the incumbent’s privilege in all its manifestations as a representative of the conservative traditional base of the existing power equation.

Sometimes, but not very often, a faction will also emerge that promotes the genuine installation of the challenger’s structure as the basis for popular consolidation of the party’s fortunes in the state in question. When this latter scenario emerges something near to, but not exactly like, democratic empowerment can be achieved. Whether a genuine contest for the privileges and opportunities of power can emerge from this set of circumstances will only be known when fair and neutral elections for party offices and the nomination of ticket-bearers can be conducted. We find it difficult to accept that any such condition exists within the ruling party in Nigeria today.

In spite of this pessimistic and distressing assessment of the contemporary political circumstances facing Nigerian political aspirants the record of the last seven years is not without hopeful signs and premonitions. Although it is obvious that many of the strategies being shaped for the conduct of the next set of elections are not based on the generation of popular sentiment but rather on the manipulation of collective deception there is also a high degree of dialogue and debate over the objectives and abilities of the contestants.

The culture of probity has been strengthened by the intervention of agencies of scrutiny and investigation like the ICPC and EFCC because the issue of proving that programmes and policies which are accountable to the people can be installed by those in office has become a central aspect of the political contest. This element of the present circumstance has proven to be the most difficult test for incumbent officials to overcome.

It is easy to query, and in some cases to indict, them over mismanagement of state resources, and incompetence in the handling of the affairs of the public trust. However mismanagement of governance is not always the outcome of a deliberate set of actions by those in power but rather it can also stem from directives and strategies imposed by the party on its elected officers. For example it is becoming quite clear that a lot of the accusations of financial profligacy being laid against some governors and other senior figures in the PDP can be traced back to actions they took in order to help the party achieve its overwhelming victories at the polls in 2003 and to offset debts incurred in the 1999 polls. While this is not an excusable motive for the impulsive expenditure of public funds it is understandable because this process is based on a precedent established by the practice and political custom that enabled them to register their own success.

The saying that nothing succeeds like success is a truism that explains away many of the anomalies of present day Nigerian politics, but it should also be remembered that no failure is as spectacular as the reversal of a successful fraud. When a person has achieved privilege and power by means that are less than honest and the nemesis of time and fair play catches up with that achievement the reversal of fortunes can be devastating.

When this becomes the basis for a series of events in the general and constant order of political affairs in a nation it also creates a set of precedents that can serve to install a gradual change of concerns and objectives in the society. To some extent this appears to be happening in Nigeria. Even while it is a lamentable fact that some of those who are already in power have openly signaled their intention to continue to build their careers on the promotion of dysfunctional political strategies it is worthy of note that a few of those who have come to the fore within the system are challenging this process from within.

The existence of such challenges indicate that all is not yet lost since their presence and the strength of their efforts indicate that the spirit of democratic contest is alive even though battered. If such challengers fail to win the battles they have instituted they might still succeed in creating a foundation for the more accountable and honest practice of the art of government by their antagonists in the future. It is often said that the installation of an effective system of government is a tedious and long process.

An important part of this process is the exhibition of a truly competitive spirit by rivals even if they only desire to capture the support of the same machinery rather than to influence the popular sentiments of the people at large.



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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.