Impeachments: The Judiciary And Its Integrity


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Impeachments: The Judiciary And Its Integrity




Dolapo Okunniga





culled from TRIBUNE, October 16, 2006


The constitution is the supreme law of the land. Its importance cannot be overemphasized as it supercedes all other laws. By its preamble, all citizens have sworn an oath to defend and uphold its provisions. It is the main guard of the conduct of both the governing and the governed. A departure from this spells anarchy and tyranny for the society.

By virtue of its provisions, three arms of government are in existence for effectively separation of powers and to provide checks and balances. Of these three arms, the judiciary stands out as the most silent but yet the one which holds the destinies of the other two. Its effigy symbolizes an impartial arbiter, who is saddled with the responsibility of interpreting the law in addition to checking the excesses of the other two arms and settling disputes. Its independence stands out because of a large depedence by the citizens on its integrity and impartiality in dispensing justice to parties as and at when due.
Unfortunately, the judiciary, despite all efforts in sanitizing itself has become part of controversies where it should be non-partisan. The interpretation of the constitution is gradually getting to a point that if Nigerians are not careful, democracy may give way to anarchy.
For the part few weeks, news of Governor Ayo Fayose’s impeachment rocked the polity. Anti- and Pro-Fayose people held meetings to either unseat or rally their support for the embattled governor. When lawmakers in Ekiti decided it was time their governor was booted out of office, the impeachment process started. Though, it was obvious that a bigger fraction of the House wanted him gone yet they could not unanimously impeach him without following the process provided for by the constitution.
While all this where going on, the governor filed a motion in court to challenge his impeachment. Interestingly, the three judges assigned to sit on the matter failed to turn up. The governor’s grouse then was for the court to halt the impeachment proceedings instituted against him by the Ekiti lawmakers. As part of the impeahment process, the Chief Judge had a duty to investigate allegations raised against the governor byinaugurating a seven-man panel of people with unquestionable character.
But the tale took another twist when the Speaker of the Ekiti House of Assembly, Chief Friday Aderemi, ordered the Chief Judge, Justice Kayode Bamisile, to dissolve the panel constituted by him. His reason being that the composition of the panel was filled with people of ‘questionable character’. But the chief judge went ahead to inaugurate the panel. To show their displeasure, the lawmakers refused to forward guidelines expected to be used by the panel and complaints made against the governor and his deputy which forced the panel to shift the probe till the next day.
But the swinging axe fell on the chief judge when members of the House of Assembly ordered his suspension from office with immediate effect and asked him to vacate his office because of their reservation about the panel. Swiftly, they appointed Justice Jide Aladejana as acting Chief Judge. He was directed to inaugurate another seven-man panel. The question that have been rocking the nation is “ who has the power to remove the chief judge of a state?’’ Another concern of the people is what happens when custodians of the law are subjected to ridicule.Another source of worry is the decision of the lawmakers to interprete the provisions of the constitution to suit their purposes.
However, lawyers have continued to react to the sudden suspension of the chief judge of Ekiti State and the appointment of an acting chief judge. Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Salihu Belgore, has condemned the appointment of an acting chief judge without recourse to the provisions of the constitution. A letter written by the National judicial Council (NJC) and signed by Justice Belgoresaid Aladejana’s appointment was unconstitutional.
This echoes the minds of the people on why those who have sworn to protect the law turn round to violate it. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba also described the chief judge’s suspension as terrible. According to him, “it is the beginning of catastrophe for Nigeria.For us lawyers,we expect due process to be followed.
The question is, can a chief judge be suspended by the House? the answer is no. Whatever he has done.’’ Lagos-based lawyer and human rights ativist, Festus Keyamo, during a phone interview with TribuneLaw said the power to remove a chief judge belonged to the governor of a state. “That is the straight forward answer. Although, the government can appoint with the approval of the judicial council, based on the confirmation of the House of Assembly. It follows, therefore, that the appointing authority should be the removing authority even if the constitution is silent on who can remove the chief judge.’’
When asked the implications of this on democracy,. Keyamo said “crisis, bloodshed and a rape on democracy. The House of Assembly has absolutely no right to appoint an acting chief judge. And no judge has the right to pick up the office.” President of the West Africa Bar Association, Mr. Femi Falana, however, had a dissenting view. He said “the chief judge of Ekiti State has not been removed. He has only been suspended from office to allow for investigation by virtue of Section 128 of the constitution.
“But the governor has a right to remove the chief judge of a state based on recommendation of the judicial council supported by an address of two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly. Section 128 of the constitution allows for investigation of the chief judge by the House of Assembly. He can, therefore, be asked to stay away pending the time investigation are on going and concluded.
“This is not the first time this has happened. You will recall that the Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, sent the former chief judge, Justice Omoleye, to the House for investigation. She was subjected to cross examination by the House and prosecuted by the Attorney General of the state.’’ “When they found nothing against her, Fayose instigated the House to pass a resolution to remove Justice Omoleye.’’
Going down history, he noted that “In Oyo State, the House of Assembly removed the chief judge, Justice Isaac Lakanmi. Lakanmi went to court to challenge his removal and that is why they have not yet sworn in the incumbent acting Chief Judge, Justice Afolabi Adeniran, as the chief judge of Oyo state. “In Kwara State, a similar thing occurred when the National Judicial Council (NJC) sent a recommendation for removal of the Kwara State chief judge but the state House of Assembly refused to confirm the resolution and he remained in office. The acting Chief Judge has sworn in a new panel of eminent people unlike the old questionable panel.’’
In an interview with Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN),he said to remove a chief judge, a complaint must be made to the National Judicial Council (NJC), which would recommend after considering the complaints made against the judge. But the recommendation must pass through the House. According to him, “the House can, by two-thrids majority of its member, address a letter to the governor that a chief judge be removed after deliberating and confirming allegations stated in the recommendation made against him.” Drawing reference to the Kwara State saga, he said “the NJC found him guilty that he altered his date of birth, it recommended his removal, but the House of Assembly refused to confirm the recommendation of the NJC. The matter lies in the hand of the legislators at the end of the day.”
Commenting on the Ekiti crisis, Akeredolu said “the action of the lawmakers is funny. They cannot remove the chief judge unanimously, it is most unconstitutional.” He, however, based the lawmakers’ action as one that was may be necesitated out of frustration on their part. “But we must not, however, sit down and allow the constitution to be assaulted,” he added. Speaking further, Akeredolu said that the chief judge might not have helped the situation. “If the allegations made against the panel is anything to go by, if they are true, then the chief judge has also betrayed the trust reposed on him by the constitution. as he is supposed to put in men of unquestionable character in the panel.
“Much as the lawmakers have their own blame, the judiciary should bury its heads in shame, because it is in such sensitive position without doing what is expected of it.’’ On Justice Aladejana accepting the office of the acting chief judge, Akeredolu said,“It is unconstitutional. Before you can act as chief judge, you must follow the process provided in the constitution. By what process was he appointed?’’ He identified a problem with the interpretation and application of the rules of the constitution.
“Let the people decide whether they want the governor because there may be a breakdown of law and order eventually. Let the masses muster themselves and let them decide whether they want Fayose as their governor or not. It is time the people take their destinies into their own hands,” he said. To him, the people’s power supercedes process of the law or any cover of immunity provided by the law. “The people have the power to remove him, because all processes have been fouled. The impeachment process has been truncated with the aid of the judiciary. The trust of the people has been betrayed.”
Like the other lawyers,Akeredolu said there might be anarchy, bloodshed and doom for the nation’s future when the judiciary, as the arbiter, goes partisan or where it disregards the law. With the recent declaration on the unconstitutionality of the new panel by Justice Belgore, and the ignoring of the petition by Justice Aladejana by going ahead to inaugurate the panel,another unfolding scenario awaits both local and international spectators of the Ekiti impeachment saga.


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