Nasarawa’s ‘cash and carry’ politics, By Dele Agekameh
Three weeks ago, this column pointed out the brazen act of illegality which the Nasarawa State House of Assembly, particularly the 20 members from the opposition party, is trying to foist on the people of the state. It is very clear that their satanic plot is to remove Tanko Al-Makura, the legitimate governor of the state, by illegitimate means. Though impeachment is a legitimate weapon enshrined in the Constitution to check executive recklessness in the polity, many right-thinking Nigerians are amazed and dazed by the easy recourse of some lawmakers (or lawbreakers) in some Houses of Assembly to invoke this section of the Constitution at will to settle personal scores or political differences.
Now that the Nasarawa State House of Assembly has been beaten to their game, the 20 opposition legislators are not taking their defeat lightly. They have vowed to continue with the impeachment moves against their governor in spite of the fact that the panel constituted to investigate allegations against him, has returned a not-guilty verdict. There is no other way to describe this desperation than to call it legislative rascality. This is because if, indeed, the legislators were genuinely representing the people who voted them into the House, the whole impeachment brouhaha should have ended at the point the panel dismissed the 16 counts of gross abuse of office levelled against the governor.
It is quite unfortunate that all the legal questions raised by the entire impeachment saga have not been addressed, yet more are being created as the episode continues. The key issues raised by the impeachment drama as stated in the column before this, are, first, whether the Nassarawa State House of Assembly had conformed with the provisions of Section 188 of the Constitution that demands that notice of the impeachment be served on the governor within seven days of its presentation to the Speaker of the House; second, whether the Chief Judge of the state has complied with Section 188 (5) of the Constitution in setting up the panel charged with investigating the allegations against the governor; and third and last, whether the House of Assembly can direct the Chief Judge to disband and reconstitute the panel on its own authority as opposed to calling a court of competent jurisdiction to determine whether the panel was indeed duly constituted or not, and making consequential orders based on its determination.
None of these issues has yet been conclusively addressed by the Nasarawa State House of Assembly or the Chief Judge of the State. Still, the whole episode keeps unfolding in a direction so far removed from legality that one must wonder whether the law or any perceived breach of the law means anything to these institutions that are responsible for its formulation and interpretation. Meanwhile, in one breath, the State House of Assembly stands by its ‘order’ to the Chief Judge to disband the panel amidst vows to continue the impeachment process irrespective of the report of the panel. In another breath, it promises to institute an action in court to determine the legality of the panel. The absurd reality of this legislative double speak in Nasarawa and the seeming lack of any statement by the Chief Judge on the legality of the constituted panel in line with Section 188 (5) of the Constitution, bears a remarkable resemblance to the politics of impunity practised in Nigeria which pervades all arms and levels of government. An otherwise straightforward procedure laid down by the laws of the land has resulted in legal and legislative circus show to the surprise of no one in the country.
If the Nasarawa State House of Assembly does go ahead with its threat of continuing the impeachment process in the light of recent developments without recourse to the law courts, then we may be headed to yet another instance of blatant disregard for our constituted laws in the country. This has disturbingly become more of a trend than otherwise as one would expect of an organized society. From all indications, the circumstances of this present case cannot be left to or resolved in the “court of public opinion” as the APC National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had suggested in earlier comments to the press. The situation calls for a lawful order, one way or another, to put an end to this public show of shame by all parties who are rumoured to be acting on absurd pecuniary motivations, unsurprisingly.
The resolution to this debacle, whatever the motivation, appears to lie more on the issue of the legality of the constituted panel than on any other issue. If we were to be realistic on the issue of service or non-service of impeachment notice on the governor, one may point out that while it is always in the interest of the law to insist on adherence to procedures laid down therein, it is also on record that, sometimes, the courts have taken a tough stance on cases hinged on service or non-service of legally required notices by looking at the essence of such notice to begin with. The essence of a ‘notice’ is to bring to a party’s knowledge the existence of certain facts or circumstances to accord that party the privilege of knowing about them, such as a suit or allegations for instance, and create an opportunity for a reply or defence to those allegations. If even after the omission of this notice by the accusing party (or parties), the indicted party has in one way or the other got wind of the allegations and has, in some cases, even proffered or prepared his defence, then the insistence on the actual service of the notice and any issue arising from it becomes superfluous or a technicality and not a necessity. However, the law is the law and must be followed, especially by elected officials who should know better.
This brings us to the issue of the composition of the panel by the Chief Judge, which is at the centre of the matter. The legality of the panel is not only justiciable but, surprisingly, it can be determined in a competent court at the instance of any of the affected parties. It will be a suit purely calling the court to decide if the panel was validly constituted. If the House of Assembly is not willing to call the court to decide on the legality, any other affected party can equally do so. It can be a matter decided solely based on affidavits as clearly provided for by the Originating Summons procedure of the High Courts and Federal High Courts.
For sure, the Constitution leaves no room for the legislature to determine the composition of the panel, or decide the mode of sitting or the outcome of the deliberation. And just as what constitutes gross misconduct is left entirely to the discretion of the legislators, the composition of the panel is the prerogative of the Chief Judge of the State as well. Therefore, the legislators’ refusal to accept the panel’s verdict amounts to legislative recklessness, and any attempt to force out the governor through extra-constitutional means is an open invitation to chaos and anarchy.
With the knowledge that there are top legal practitioners involved on all sides, one can only wonder why there are so many legal missteps and disregard for legal procedure from the onset of the Al-Makura’s impeachment saga. It calls the integrity of lawyers involved to question and puts the sincerity of their legal advice and ethics in bad light, depending on the level and the time of their involvements. With the foregoing, let me state what we all know clearly. There is all probability that this whole mess has nothing to do with gross misconduct, or the desire of a House of Assembly to act in the interest of the people or even the law at all. This may just be politics as usual, fuelled by cash. No wonder, the players are picking and choosing from laws that suit their interest and playing it all out in the public gallery, like true Nigerian politicians that they all are. God help us all!