Law News
Rage of impeachment hawkers

The impeachment clauses in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) are some of the powerful instruments granted the Legislature under the presidential system of government to hold the Executive Branch to account or actually remove them in extreme cases of serious misconduct. Sections 143 and 188 spell out the process in detail. The implications of this will be addressed shortly.

This impeachment clause has regularly been used, usually in intra-legislative power struggles in the Senate or House of Representatives and the State Houses of Assembly, to change the presiding officers. The all-powerful state governors, who have managed to convert the legislators in their states to mere rubberstamps, often nudge the lawmakers to use it against their Speakers or to remove their Deputy Governors who have fallen from favour. In the past three and half years, we have seen such measures in Taraba, Adamawa, Enugu, Imo, and other states. We have also seen what I call quasi-impeachments, whereby minority groups backed by executive power either in Abuja or the state government house, undemocratically removed speakers supported by rival majority groups. This happened in Rivers and recently Ekiti.

Impeachment is rarely aimed at governors. The state Chief Executives have found ways to immunise themselves from it.

At the federal level, the only time an impeachment move was made against the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was in 2002, when Senator Pius Anyim was the President of the Senate. The move was eventually squelched, and the ringleaders of the attempt systematically flushed out of the ruling party by President Olusegun Obasanjo, who, of course, was the leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from which ranks the “rebellion” in the Senate started.

At the time of writing this piece, the impeachment article was being dusted once again, this time to threaten President Goodluck Jonathan. It started among angry All Progressives Congress, APC, House of Representatives members after they smashed their way through the gates of the National Assembly, brushing aside the policemen on duty, to escort their newfound member, Aminu Tambuwal, the embattled Speaker of the House of Reps, into the green Chamber. To register their anger against the police release of teargas on them, they immediately opened a register of signatories for the impeachment of the President whom they believed sent the police to stop them from doing their work.

While the action of the APC federal MP’s was understandable for obvious reasons, Nigerians opened the media to be hit with stories of a similar move in the Senate, this time masterminded by some aggrieved PDP senators. According to them, the President committed an act of “impunity” (our political dictionary’s most abused term) and also “condones corruption”. The rumour had it that the enraged PDP senators were joining forces with their APC counterparts against President Jonathan, their party leader.

We can also understand where the disgruntled PDP senators are coming from. Their party is reluctant to grant them their undemocratic demand of automatic tickets for re-election in 2015. PDP senators have been threatening they would impeach the President unless they are handed these automatic tickets. The anger in APC camp over the Tambuwal issue strengthens their capacity to force the President and the party to concede automatic tickets to them. You can be sure that once this is granted, they will abandon the impeachment threat.

This is the problem with our politicians. The impeachment clause has always been used as an instrument of power-play, blackmail, to vent frustration or wheedle usually unmerited favours. Once they get what they are looking for they drop the threat. It has never been used for the original intended purpose, which is to check the excesses of the executive, assert the principle of separation of powers, hold the executive to account or remove the President/Vice President, or Governor/Deputy Governor for proven serious misconducts.

If Tambuwal had defected to APC and no move was made to get him to vacate his seat as the Constitution stipulates, nobody would remember if Jonathan’s government is condoning corruption or perpetrating impunity. Nobody would be hawking impeachment threats like groundnuts all over the place.

Our politicians, especially those elected, should remember that the democratic system of government was not created for them. It was created for the people. And the laws guiding it were made with the highest regard for due process. Yes, the legislature has powers to impeach the listed executive officers. But it is not as simple as that. The legislature is not the only arm of government involved in the impeachment process.

The recent case of the attempted removal of Governor Tanko Al Makura of Nasarawa State proved that the Judiciary and even the Executive have a say in it. If the Chief Justice of the Federation or of a state is determined to frustrate an impeachment of the President/Vice or Governor/Deputy, it will not go through.

If the Executive branch decides to abuse its own powers as the federal legislators are threatening to do, the National Assembly will be shut down and the lawmakers will be on the run for dear lives.There will be shouts of “impunity”.

That is why we must prevail on politicians to follow the law and due process, and ensure that the constitutional powers are always used for advancement of the welfare of the people and not for self-service alone. By frequently dangling the impeachment threat, the legislators are becoming guilty of the same impunity they accuse the executive of. When they get it in kind it should be remembered who started it first.

The general elections are just a couple of months away. Those who are displeased with the way President Jonathan has run this country in the last three and half years have an opportunity to vote him out in February 2015. Those who want him to continue for another four years also have their chance to keep him on the job.

Let the people decide. The mandate is theirs. Away with impeachment hawkers!

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