Everywhere across the political landscape, the impeachment stuff has become a sort of epidemic or another version of Ebola virus that has so far defied any known cure. One of the governors now in the throes of impeachment is Umar Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State. But a theatre of the absurd is now playing out there.
The 20 PDP members in the state House of Assembly, who are the brains behind the impeachment drive, are not comfortable with the composition of the seven-man panel set-up by the Chief Judge of the state to investigate the governor. They are, therefore, calling for a recomposition of the panel. In the alternative, they have warned that the report of the panel as presently constituted will only be good for the dustbin. If that happens, a new dimension would have been introduced into the roiling impeachment saga now blowing across the country.
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria has laid down procedures for appointment and removal of governors of every state in the country. These provisions of the Constitution are sacrosanct and must be followed strictly. Sections 188 and 189 of the 1999 Constitution provide the only acceptable procedures for removal, or more commonly termed “impeachment”, of a sitting Governor.
Section 188 lays down procedure for possible removal of a governor on grounds of “Gross Misconduct” while Section 189 gives the procedure for possible removal where a governor is alleged to be permanently incapable of holding office on health grounds – mental or physical health. However, the case in issue here is bordered on Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution.
Now, the Nasarawa State House of Assembly recently set in motion the procedure in Section 188. So far, the procedure has been caught up in legal and political controversy. In a strictly legal sense, there are genuine points for debate which may have no easy answers as the matter stands. First, there are allegations that the State House of Assembly did not serve the notice of impeachment on the governor as provided in Sub-section 2 of Section 188. The legal implication of this is difficult to ascertain as Sub-section 10 of Section 188 seems to preclude contesting any matter relating to impeachment proceedings of the House of Assembly before any court, even though non service of the impeachment notice would be a violation of the constitutional provisions of section 188, if indeed no notice was served on the Governor.
Secondly, there is the question of whether the State House of Assembly can direct the Chief Judge of the state to disband the panel constituted to investigate the allegations. That only the Chief Judge has the power to set up the panel is without doubt. The immediate question here is, did the Chief Judge adhere to the provisions of sub-section (5) of Section 188 in appointing members of the panel, particularly the requirement that they must not be “members of any public service, legislative house or political party”?
If any of them indeed falls in any of these categories, then the panel is illegally constituted; but can the House of Assembly direct the Chief Judge to disband the panel? Certainly not. This particular point, of the legality or otherwise of the constituted panel is justiciable and can only be determined in a court of law and not by the decision of the State House of Assembly. Added to this, the holding of a session out of the chambers and out of the state by the lawmakers is an absurdity unknown to Nigerian laws. Although the Constitution contains no express provisions for venue of a state House of Assembly session, it is ludicrous to assume that such can be held in the private house of a member, outside the state or even in a beer parlour as some of these reckless assemblymen might want to do.
In the midst of the brewing accusations and counter-accusations, we should not forget what the intention of the draftsmen of the 1999 Constitution was in apportioning a critical role for the Chief Judge of the state in the middle of an otherwise fully legislative procedure. That particular provision was inserted purely following the principle of checks and balances, a practice that ensures that no arm of government has a free reign or monopoly of power in performing its functions. This is why certain executive decisions are subject to the confirmation of the Senate for instance (and vice-versa) and why the Judicial Review and the likes of the writ of Mandamus and Habeas Corpus, amongst others, are available to the judiciary to curb excesses by officials in other arms of government.
The principle of checks and balances is a complement to the principle of separation of powers which ensures that division of powers is no licence for one arm to use its powers arbitrarily. The Chief Judge whose role in the impeachment process is to check and balance the powers of the legislature must, in turn, ensure that his function is performed judicially and judiciously in line with constitutional procedures. It is no surprise that the Nigerian Government in successive administrations has rubbished these sacred principles expounded by renowned scholar, Baron De Montesquieu, in the Eighteenth Century.
It is obvious from the surrounding circumstances that the constitutional procedure laid down in Section 188 and sacred constitutional principles are being overshadowed by cheap politicking and selfish interests from all quarters. If, indeed, the impeachment notice was not served, despite coming after the Nyako saga, then the proceedings have been tainted from the very beginning by disregard for legal procedure. That means that something dangerous is pervading the entire gamut of our polity as the rule of law is continually shoved aside to make way for political agendas. And everybody is a victim of the disrespect for the law, including the probably “unsuspecting perpetrators” themselves. The spine of the law is not just in sanctions but in people’s adherence to it and the impulse of everyone at all levels to obey. A lawless state is a throwback to the dark days of the human race, and selective application of the law is a worse evil to an organised society. The House of Assembly and the Chief Judge cannot feign ignorance of laws that are so directly applicable to their normal course of duties. Their non-adherence, if true, can only be considered an affront to the law and against the people.
The drama that is currently playing out in Nasarawa State is a pointer to the fact that most of this impeachment nonsense all over the place is designed to get rid of political opponents at all costs. In the past, we had witnessed a situation where a handful of legislators who are not even up to one-third of the House of Assembly have ganged up to remove their governors. In many cases, this is done for pecuniary gains. And now it is as if history is repeating itself. I am sure a lot of right-thinking Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic, tribal or political differences, are amazed by this sad development in the polity. The truth is that this thing is predominant in opposition-controlled houses of assembly all over the place.
What this current gale of impeachment signposts is that our dubious politicians, ever so cunning and diabolical in political permutations, have discovered new tricks to wrestle political power from their opponents without necessarily going through the ballot box. As it is, impeachment is now a shortcut to power. It is in this vein that our politicians, especially at the legislative arm of government, have introduced new dimensions into the exercise of the power of impeachment. This power is being grossly abused as it is now being exercised, not necessarily as a panacea for gross misconduct, but simply to settle political scores. The opposition of the House members to the composition of the investigative panel and their threat to dump the report has exposed the shenanigan and hitherto hidden agenda of the legislators and their paymasters. That agenda is to nail Al-Makura at all costs. If this unwholesome practice is allowed to fester, it is our democracy that will suffer, albeit, irreparable damage.
Mr. Agekameh, a veteran journalist, was former Senior Associate Editor at TELL magazine. He currently directs the Media and Public Affairs Think-Tank, a policy advocacy group. He writes a syndicated column for Premium Times every Wednesday.