FELIX NWANERI writes on the ambiguities in the process of the impeachment of a Nigerian president against the backdrop of calls in some political quarters for the impeachment of President Muhammadu Buhari
An impeachment proceeding, the world over is a serious legislative business because of its appreciation as a technique for the function of the Principle of Checks and Balances in a democracy.
As a containment device, the exercise of this constitutional right by the legislative arm of government is to ensure that the executive – a president or governor – functions within the realm of the constitution.
In Nigeria, the 1999 Constitution (as amended), in Section 143, copiously provides for a detailed procedure to be followed before a president can be impeached. This procedure is sequential and must be duly followed. It is a chain of events, which must not be broken at any stage.
The sections states: “The President or Vice President may be removed from office henever a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly is presented to the President of the Senate; stating that the holder of the office of President or Vice President is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office.”
This provision, notwithstanding, no Nigeria president has ever been impeached. Perhaps, the reason is the ambiguity of the provisions of the constitution on the issue. If the president is to be impeached, the process will approximately take five months.
Section 143(1) of the Constitution provides that the process of the impeachment of the president can only commence whenever a notice of any allegation in writing and signed by not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly is presented to the president of the Senate; stating that the holder of the office of president or vice president is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office.
It is after this notice that the President of the Senate, can within seven days cause a copy of the notice to be served on the president and on each member of the National Assembly as well as also cause any statement made in reply to the allegation to be served on the legislators.
The next step is that the National Assembly must within 14 days of the presentation of the notice, resolve by motion without any debate, whether or not the allegation should be investigated.
A motion that the allegation be investigated would not be declared as having been passed, unless it was supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of each chamber of the National Assembly.
After this, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), will at the request of the President of the Senate, appoint a panel of seven persons, who in his opinion are of unquestionable integrity, not being members of the public service, legislative house or political party, to investigate the allegation and within three months of its appointment, report its findings to each House of the National Assembly.
Where the panel reports that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings will be taken in respect of the matter. However, should the report has is that the allegation against the president has been proved, the National Assembly will then within 14 days of its receipt, consider it, and if by a resolution supported by not less than twothirds majority of all its members, the report is adopted, the president stands removed from office as from the date of the adoption of the report.
This cumbersome process prompted a bill to simplifying the procedure of the impeachment of the president, sponsored by a member of 7th House of Representatives in 2013 – Hon Yakubu Dogara.
It was titled: “The Bill seeking to amend Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution to remove the ambiguities in the process of removal of the President and the Vice-President from office on allegations of gross misconduct and to provide for a more transparent and democratic procedure for impeachment.”
Dogara had then proposed adoption of the American model of impeachment by giving the sole powers to remove the President to the National Assembly. He proposed that rather than the CJN constituting a panel of seven persons to investigate any allegations of gross misconduct made against the president, the Senate will sit to convict the president after he would have been impeached by the House.
He, however, added that the CJN should preside over the sitting of the Senate. Dogara claimed that the current provision whittled down the powers of the National Assembly, noting that should the CJN’s panel fail to establish the allegations leveled against the president, the legislature would be ridiculed.
Though the bill passed a second reading and received the support of some members of the lower legislative chamber then, many kicked against it. The bill was described as “unnecessary, undemocratic and a waste of parliamentary time.”
Then Minority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila (now speaker), particularly expressed concern over its “timing,” which he said could send a wrong signal over its real intention.
Other stakeholders, who reasoned along this line at that time, maintained that Nigeria, in her present fragile state of ethnic, political and economic volatility may not survive the rigours of impeachment proceedings against her president. But a political school, which believes there is the need to amend constitutional provisions on impeachment, suggested that the law ought to expressly provided for what amounts to impeachable offences and not the vague term ‘’gross misconduct.”
The definition of “gross misconduct” in sections 143(11) in the case of the president/vice president and 188(11) for the governor/deputy governor, is not explicit enough. Both sections define the term as “a grave violation or breach of the provisions of the constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the National Assembly to gross misconduct.”
Abuse of process
Expectedly, some legislators have leaned on the ambiguity over what constitutes “gross misconduct” to impeach members of the executive at will. The trail was blazed in the Second Republic old Kaduna State, when the state House of Assembly brought the full force of Section 170 of the extant 1979 Constitution to bear on then Governor Balarabe Musa.
In a move that surprised many political observers, Musa, of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) was removed from office in 1981 by a House dominated by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He was barely two years in office at that time. The case of a former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, is another evidence of the rascality.
Other similar cases abound. Governor Ayodele Fayose was removed as Ekiti State governor in 2006 (his first term) without recourse to the law.
This led to the declaration of state of emergency in Ekiti by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. In Oyo State, Rasheed Ladoja was impeached by 18 members of the House of Assembly also in 2006 from a hotel instead of the approved place of sitting of the House.
This was notwithstanding the fact that the legislators were not up to the constitutional mandated two-third of the House. Joshua Dariye, also had his own share of the illegality.
He was removed as governor of Plateau State by eight out of the 24 members of the state House of Assembly in 2006.
The cases of deputy governors, who have suffered similar fate, however make more mockery of the process. A majority of them were ousted over mere disagreements with their principals – the governors.
The move against Buhari
While governors and deputy governors have so far been at the receiving end of impeachment, no Nigerian president has been removed from office through the process.
But the 9th National Assembly seems ready to take a gamble given the recent threats to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari over the state of the nation. The move is being championed the minority caucus of the federal legislature.
A member of the House, Dachung Bagos (Peoples Democratic Party, Plateau), who represents Jos South/ Jos East federal constituency of Plateau State, gave a hint to the move late April, while speaking in a television programme on the security being planned by the Green Chamber between May 24 and 28.
The lawmaker, who described the summit as the last opportunity for the President, said the House of Representatives will call for the resignation of the president or impeach him if the summit fails to yield the needed changes.
His words: “After this last resort with the summit, if nothing is done by the executive after some months, we will call for the resignation of the President. We have the power to impeach the President and the National Assembly will hit the gavel and tell the President that if he cannot protect lives of Nigerians, he should let someone else do it.”
While some analysts dismissed Bagos with a wave of the hand then, a joint press conference last Tuesday the minority caucus of both chambers of the National Assembly under the leadership of the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), gave the impeachment move measure of push.
The caucus threatened to compile alleged breaches of the Constitution by President Buhari and invoke the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution against him in collaboration with other federal lawmakers. The minority lawmakers alleged that the President has not been seen in any way to be addressing the worsening state of insecurity in the land and must either shape up or ship out.
“The caucus has also taken note of the fact that the President is absent from duty. We have not seen our president. We have not heard from our president despite the daily killings that have turned Nigeria into a killing field of unimaginable proportions.
“Therefore, the caucus has taken note and will continue to take note of the breaches of constitution that is happening at this time by the government of the APC and will at the appropriate time utilize all constitutional methods and measures available after consultations with our colleagues to do the needful to safe the country from collapse,” they said.
APC Caucus kicks
In a swift reaction to the move by the minority caucus, the APC Caucus, led by Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North), not only dissociated itself from the threat, but declared it dead on arrival. Senator Abdullahi, who addressed journalists in Abuja alongside his colleagues, accused their PDP counterparts of playing politics with the lives of Nigerian even when it is clear to all that the challenges of insecurity bedevilling the country have no political affiliation or identity.
The APC Senate Caucus did not stop at that. It blamed the PDP-led federal government in the country between 1999 and 2015 for laying the foundation for the problems of insecurity Nigeria is currently facing by not putting in place, required infrastructure across the various sectors, particularly the military and other security agencies.
The caucus declared: “We in the APC Caucus totally reject the many incorrect statements contained in the said press release by the Minority Caucus. Indeed, we are quite aware of the role of the opposition in any democracy. However, the statement by the PDP Caucus has gone too far given the good working relationship in the 9th Assembly and especially with the Minority Caucus.
“In any democracy, the rights to present criticisms and concerns on the state of the nation’s affairs are unassailable. However, while we respect such rights; which come with obligation and responsibility, we are concerned that the statement issued by the Minority Cuscus is capable of over-heating an already charged polity in which men of good conscience and patriotism are expected to act as leaders and statesmen.
“Furthermore, we take exception to the unfortunate charge that our President has not been seen. This is false and cheap politics. Mr. President and service chiefs are meticulously busy every day and every night in deliberations with a view to addressing the security challenges across the entire country.
“Similarly, Mr. President had always made statement to Nigerians on all major security incidences and assuring Nigerians and indeed the international community that he would continue to do his best in making sure that the security challenges are tackled head-on.
“We want to assure Nigerians that Mr. President is in charge of government and is discharging his duties conscientiously and patriotically. “It is a well-known fact that the Federal Government under the PDP refused to invest in the security infrastructure of the country while Mr. President under the APC led Government had massively invested in this regard more than any past governments and we are confident that the nation will surmount its current security challenges.”
Impeachment call reverberates outside legislature
There are also calls outside the National Assembly Buhari’s impeachment.
Catholic priest and spiritual director of Adoration Ministry, Enugu Rev. Father Ejike Mbaka, who was once a supporter of the President, also called for his impeachment over rising insecurity in the country.
Mbaka said it was sad how Buhari could maintain grave silence in the midst of the killings and deaths in the country, insisting that he may have lost touch with realities. He, therefore, called on the National Assembly to swing into action and remove the President should he fail to resign, saying that Nigerians are faced with great difficulty created by poverty and insecurity.
“Nigerians are crying because there’s no security in the country. The National Assembly should impeach the president if he doesn’t want to resign,” he said. The Northern Elders Forum (NEF), which has also joined the impeachment call, said the nation cannot wait two more years for Buhari to address the issues of insecurity.
NEF’s spokesman, Hakeem Baba- Ahmed, who stated the position of the group, maintained that those who have the constitutional responsibility to protect Nigeria must realise that the country is in a dire state and do something other than making promises.
He, however, said the second option is for citizens to get together and decide to do something. “The third option is that those leaders who are failing will recognize the fact that they are the problem and resign because they clearly have nothing to offer in terms of leadership
Or as our democratic system provides, those with the responsibility to get them off should impeach those who are failing. If the president can’t deliver, he should be impeached.” Socio-cultural cum political groups are not left out in the call for the President to throw in the towel.
For instance, the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, have repeatedly insisted that Buhari should either resign or step aside over his alleged inability to address insecurity and the dwindling economic challenges facing the country.
The Acting National Leader of the group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who reiterated the call during the 95th birthday celebration of the leader of the group, Chief Reuben Fasonrati, recently in Iju/Ita Ogbolu in Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State, said that the President has failed the people of the country and there is no better time to leave but now.
Between impeachment move and coup plot
No doubt, there has been a long standing face-off between the executive and minority caucus of the National Assembly, but the impeachment plot, which is coming on the heels of a rumoured plan to overthrow the Buhari government, has prompted some stakeholders to wonder why anyone or group would want the president removed from office.
It would be recalled that the presidency had on May 4, alleged that some unnamed religious and former political leaders are working with unidentified foreign interest to overthrow the President. In a statement by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, the presidency observed that recent agitations by various groups and individuals were actually being orchestrated with the intent to create an atmosphere suiting for passing a vote-of-no-confidence on President Buhari.
The presidency noted that “the caterwauling, in recent times, by these elements, is to prepare the grounds adequately for their ignoble intentions, which are designed to cause further grief for the country” but maintained that “Nigerians have opted for democratic rule, and the only accepted way to change a democratically elected government is through elections, which hold at prescribed times in the country.
Any other way is patently illegal, and even treasonable. Of course, such would attract the necessary consequences.” It added: “These discredited individuals and groups are also in cahoots with external forces to cause maximum damage in their own country. But the Presidency, already vested with mandate and authority by Nigerians till 2023, pledges to keep the country together, even if some unruly feathers would be ruffled in the process.”
In what seemed a coincident, the Nigerian military the same day warned politicians and soldiers against any military coup. The Defence Headquarters in a statement by its spokesperson, Brig. General Onyema Nwachukwu, said it was reacting to a statement by a senior lawyer (Chief Robert Clarke) calling for the handing over of power to the military.
“Let it be stated categorically that the Armed Forces of Nigeria remain fully committed to the present administration and all associated democratic institutions. We shall continue to remain apolitical, subordinate to the civil authority, firmly loyal to the President, Commanderin- Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari and the 1999 Constitution as Amended,” the military said.
While many continue to question the rationale for moves that are likely to destabilise the polity, some analysts are of the view that the impeachment plot may be a ploy by some gladiators to test the political waters ahead of the 2023 general election.
Others, however, opined that it may be a strategy by members of the opposition to feel the perception of Nigerians on the Buhari government as they intensify efforts to wrest power from the ruling party.
No doubt, there is nothing wrong in any group or individual using the impeachment-game as a dummy to feel the peoples’ pulse concerning their ambitions, most Nigerians are of the view the APC controlled Ninth National Assembly is unlikely to rise beyond partisan politics to allow any attempt to unseat President through impeachment.
As the NEF spokesperson (Baba- Ahmed) put it: “Partisanship is so pronounced that the people we elected and sent to Abuja think they serve the President rather than the Nigerian people.”