- How far can NASS Minority Caucus go on impeachment threat against Buhari?
FELIX NWANERI writes on the ambiguities in the process of the impeachment of a Nigerian president against the backdrop of the threat by the Minority Caucus of the National Assembly to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari over the parlous state of the nation
Impeachment proceeding in every democracy is a serious legislative business because of its appreciation as a technique for the function of the Principle of Checks and Balances. 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 and their deputies as well as principal officers of the legislature – function within the realm of the constitution.
In Nigeria, the trail was blazed in old Kaduna State during the Second Republic, when members of the state House of Assembly brought the full force of Section 170 of the extant 1979 Constitution to bear on the then governor of the state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa.
In a move that shocked many political observers, Musa, of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) was removed from office in 1981 by a House dominated by members of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He was barely two years in office at that time.
Since then, some legislators have leaned on section 143 of 1999 Constitution (as amended) to impeach members of the executive, particularly the governors at will. Among governors to have been unseated through impeachment include Mr. Peter Obi (Anambra State) on November 2, 2006, barely eight months in office, in what many described as legislative rascality. Other similar cases abound.
Governor Ayodele Fayose was removed as Ekiti State governor in 2006 without recourse to the law. This led to the declaration of state of emergency in Ekiti by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Oyo State had its own experience, when Rasheed Ladoja was impeached by 18 members of the House of Assembly in 2006 from a hotel room instead of the approved place of sitting of the lawmakers.
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 from office over mere disagreements with their principals – the governors. While governors, deputy governors and principal officers of the legislative arm of government have so far been at the receiving end of impeachment, no Nigerian president has been removed from office through the process.
However, the 9th National Assembly seems ready to take a gamble at that given its recent threat to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari over the state of the nation.
Senate minority caucus moves against Buhari
No doubt, there has been a long standing face-off between the Buhari-led executive and the minority caucus of the National Assembly, but recent attacks by insurgents and rampaging bandits, which according to stakeholders, portend a grave danger to Nigeria, explains the sixweek ultimatum that members of both chambers of the National Assembly gave to President Buhari to tackle security challenges bedevilling the country or face impeachment.
The impeachment move against President was initiated by the Senate minority caucus last week Wednesday, following the refusal of the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, to allow the matter of insecurity to be raised and discussed on the floor of the Red Chamber.
The President of the Senate had after a closed door session, announced that issues relating to smooth running of the Senate and unity of Nigeria were deliberated upon and thereafter, instructed the Leader of the Senate to proceed with items listed on the Order Paper.
However, the Senate Minority Leader, Philip Aduda, raised a Point of Order.
He drew Lawan’s attention to the resolve of the Senate at its executive session to give Buhari an ultimatum on the state of insecurity in the country or face impeachment. His words: “Mr. President, I raised this point of order to bring to the front burner, issues deliberated upon at the closed door session.
Resolution made by all senators at the closed door session, which lasted for two hours, was to further deliberate on it in plenary and arrive at resolution to give President Buhari ultimatum to stop the worsening security situation or face impeachment,” Aduda said. The President of the Senate quickly interrupted and ruled him out of order, claiming that the matter had been overtaken by events.
He said the issue was not raised when opportunity was given for points of order to be raised at the session. “Your point of order falls flat on its face since you didn’t discuss it with me,” he said. Lawan consequently instructed the Leader of the Senate to proceed on other legislative items on the Order paper.
Responding, members of the Senate Minority Caucus staged a walkout on the plenary session.
The aggrieved lawmakers include those of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Labour Party (LP). Addressing journalists later, the lawmakers expressed concern that in spite of the deteriorating state of insecurity in the country, President Buhari had been adamant towards tackling the menace.
Aduda, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, said: “We went through a closed session to discuss issues as they relate to security in this country, especially the happenings in Abuja and happenings all over the country.
We agreed that the primary responsibility of government is the protection of lives and property of citizens. “For us the Minority Caucus in the Senate, we took into cognisance the fact the Senate had at various levels and at various times, convened various security meetings, where issues were discussed and we did recommend to government various steps and measures aimed at curbing these issues on insecurity.
“We realise that Abuja that we are in is no longer safe. At the closed session, we even agreed that we will give the President an ultimatum, and that if he did not comply with it, we move immediately to give an impeachment notice.
This is what we agreed at the closed session. So, when we came out of the closed door session, we expected that the Senate President would brief the public on the issue that happened. “However, that did not happen. So, we have come here in protest to brief you and to let you know that we are with Nigerians in this struggle.
We are worried that nowhere is safe in Nigeria and as such, we have walked out of the chamber in protest that the security situation is deteriorating and that urgent steps need to be completely taken to ensure that these issues are curbed immediately.”
On how soon they would formalise the impeachment notice, Aduda said: “We have given six weeks’ notice within which this security issue should be resolved and all our resolutions should also be implemented. We had passed so many resolutions and we have given all the support, all the enablement, we have given all the appropriation that they need.”
Reps Minority Caucus joins the fray
The PDP caucus in the House of Representatives joined the impeachment fray on Thursday after its meeting at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja. The meeting was chaired by Senator Aduda (Senate Minority Leader) but the House Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, who briefed journalists on the resolution reached, said members of the House will also present a formal impeachment notice against the President if the general insecurity in the country is not addressed.
Elumelu said the lower chamber will commence the collation of signatures to trigger impeachment proceedings against President Buhari if the security situation is not addressed at the expiration of the six-week ultimatum. He noted that the lawmakers have exhausted all means to address insecurity in the country through resolutions and security summits but Buhari ignored all the recommendations. He said the impeachment move is not a partisan matter but rather a cross-party affair as lawmakers of APC extraction are also in support of the impeachment move but not willing to speak out.
His words: “We have given six to eight weeks for Mr. President to address the insecurity that is affecting this country. I want to join my colleagues that upon expiration, we will prefer ways of ensuring we will gather all the signatures.
“Let me make it clear, for those who are thinking it is an issue of only PDP or minority caucus, no, many of our colleagues, under the ‘bipartisanship’ all of them are affected. All of them are affected—many of them.
So, they may not be speaking but we will be speaking for them. “We are asking Mr. President to address insecurity in the country within six to eight weeks else we will find the constitutional means to ensure that we serve him impeachment notice.”
Reminiscence of 2021
This is not the first time the minority caucus of the 9th National Assembly would threaten to impeach President Buhari. The House Minority Caucus made a similar move in April 2021. A member of the Green Chamber, Hon Dachung Bagos (PDP, Plateau), had while speaking in a television programme ahead of the security summit hosted by the House between May 24 and 28, 2021, said the House will call for the resignation of the president or impeach him if the summit failed to yield the needed changes.
The lawmaker, who described the summit then as the last opportunity for the President, averred: “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 at that time, a joint press conference by the minority caucus of both chambers of the National Assembly under the then leadership of the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, gave the impeachment move some 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 then alleged that the President had not in any way shown readiness to address worsening state of insecurity in the land and must either shape up or ship out. As expected, the APC Caucus then led by Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North), not only dissociated itself from the threat, but declared it dead on arrival. The APC senators accused their PDP counterparts of playing politics with the lives of Nigerian even when it was 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 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.
FG dismisses fresh threat
Reacting to last week’s impeachment threat by the Senate Minority Caucus, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, thanked the lawmakers for their concern on the state of the nation but said government is on top of the security situation.
The minister, who answered questions from journalists after Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Buhari at the State House, Abuja, said: “We thank them for their patriotism and their concern, but we are working round the clock, 24 hours, to ensure that the situation is brought under control. “I want to reassure you that the government is up to the task of ensuring security. Security challenges will come anywhere in the world, the important thing is the fact that you do not lose focus and you continue to work assiduously to overcome it. I want to assure you we are going to overcome.”
Special Adviser to the President on Media, Femi Adesina, on his part, described the senators who threatened to impeach Buhari as the minority of minorities. He added that the lawmakers are just wasting the country’s time. His words: “The truth is that in this kind of scenario, the minority will always have its say while the majority will have its way. You know the configuration of the National Assembly; those who spoke today (Wednesday, July 27) are the minority of minorities.
“They would have their say as it is needful in a democracy, but it won’t go beyond that. I think it was just bravado and very sadly, security is not something you subject to bravado. You don’t begin to issue flippant ultimatums in something that is a matter of life and death.
“They know in their heart of hearts that they cannot achieve what they are saying. They are just wasting the country’s time, wasting the time of the upper chamber of the National Assembly; they know that they cannot achieve it. “Now, the question is: Are those minority lawmakers responding now because the thing is coming near to Abuja, their comfort zone? Is that why they are playing to the gallery? Well, they are Nigerians and they have the right to talk about what is happening in the country.”
Bumpy road to impeachment of president
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 section states: “The President or Vice President may be removed from office whenever 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 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-third majority of all the members of each chamber of the National Assembly – Senate and House of Representatives.
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 both chambers 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 within 14 days of its receipt, consider it, and if by a resolution supported by not less than two-third 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.
Failed attempt to simplify process
This cumbersome process of impeaching a Nigerian president prompted a bill to simplify 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: “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 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 allegation of gross misconduct made against the president, the Senate should 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 allegations 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 the constitutional provision 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.”
A nation under siege
The propriety or otherwise of the impeachment threat by the minority caucus of the National Assembly less about 10 months to the end Buhari’s tenure, notwithstanding, there is no doubt that Nigeria is under siege given heightened attacks by insurgents and bandits across the country and of late, the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
From the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the North-East to banditry and kidnapping in the North-West and North Central; farmers/herders clash in the North Central as well as the entire South; militancy in the South-South, and agitation for self-determination in the South-East as well as the South-West, the story of Nigeria is not only a nation at war with itself but one that its corporate existence is under serious threat.
The Boko Haram insurgency that is driven by Islamic extremists has not only claimed thousands of lives and property, it has turned millions of Nigerians to refugees in their own country. Across most northern states and even neigbouring Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon, are camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The crisis, which has lasted over a decade, has equally brought economic activities in the affected states almost to a halt, while rebuilding efforts by the Federal Government in conjunction with donor agencies have gulped billions of naira.
Sadly, the Federal Government in 2015 pronounced Boko Haram “technically defeated” but most Nigerians believe that the proclamation was mere propaganda as the insurgents have remained an everpresent threat. For the bandits ravaging the North- West, kidnapping as well as cattle rustling have become a lucrative industry.
In the oil-rich but impoverished South-South, extortion through the sabotage of pipelines is legendary. Separatist agitation in the South- East by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has not only grounded economic activities in the geopolitical zone but also led to loss of lives and wanton destruction of infrastructure.
Similarly, the rising ethnic tension over activities of killer herdsmen across the country has not only exposed the heterogeneous nature of the country but the tendency of the various ethnic nationalities towards parochial consciousness at the expense of national consciousness hence gradually driving Nigeria to the edge.
The conflict, which has claimed thousands of lives, is mainly as a result of disputes over land resources between mostly Muslim Fulani herders and mainly Christian farmers. Though the impact of the crisis has been more devastating in the North Central since 1999, the herders have recently advanced towards the southern part of the country, thereby shifting the battleground.
Besides insecurity, Nigeria is also being ravaged by poverty. The country has more poor people defined as those living on less than $1.90 a day, than any other country, including India.
While there is no doubt that Nigeria is facing existential threats, which perhaps, informed the position of the Minority Caucus of the National Assembly, some stakeholders, who spoke on their impeachment threat, said it is not feasible. Founding National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Chekwas Okorie, who shared this view, also told New Telegraph in an interview that the timing is wrong.
His words: “Impeachment of the President at this time is not feasible in all considerations and the timing doesn’t help what the lawmakers intend to achieve. Also, objectivity is lacking because they chose to raise a matter of urgent national importance and immediately proceeded on recess.
“For people, who are going to embark on campaigns for the 2023 general election immediately they return from the recess, when are they going to have the time to commence on the impeachment proceeding against the President? So, the lawmakers are just playing politics, however, I will say that there is no doubt that the security situation in the country leaves no one in doubt that the President has failed.
“Why is the Nigerian military that is well-trained finding it difficult to defeat a ragtag army, whether you call it ISWAP, Boko Haram or bandits? Nigeria is facing existential threats and the President is practically not doing anything. “All we hear are summons of Security Council meetings that amount to nothing. Even after spending billions of Naira to acquire the Tucano jets, he has failed to deploy them against a ragtag army that has no air power.”
President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, who also spoke with New Telegraph, said nothing will come out of the impeachment threat. Yerima, who described the federal legislators as jokers, said: “I have never seen them as serious people. You can quote me; nothing will come out of the impeachment threat because the leadership of the 9th Assembly has not any sign of seriousness when compared to the 8th Assembly.
“The lawmakers should have done what they are trying do now years back but they were blinded by ambition and pecuniary gains. They are just playing to the gallery.
They should realize that Nigerians are now wiser and will not fall for their game.” Similarly, the presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Dumebi Kachikwu, described the impeachment threats against President Buhari by the Minority Caucus of the National Assembly as self-serving. Kachikwu in a statement by his media office, said before Buhari should heed the call of the National Assembly to resign, the leadership of both chambers should first resign.
According to him, the National Assembly is complicit in the failure of government, which has resulted in the deteriorating security situation in the country. “I was very amused to hear some senators and members from the lower house call for the President to be impeached.
This is a self-serving call. The same people who have refused to do their jobs in the last three years have just woken up to realize that the President should be impeached. “What exactly has happened today that is different from what has been happening since President Buhari was sworn-in seven years ago for the first term and three years ago for the second term? Are the attacks today any different?
Are the deaths less or more meaningful? “Is there any life worth more than the other? Are they reacting now because Abuja is threatened? The National Assembly is complicit in the failure of this government so they should ask their leadership to resign before calling on President Buhari to resign,” he said.
The ADC presidential flag bearer lamented that the checks and balances enshrined in the nation’s constitution “never envisaged that Nigerians would be saddled with a spineless and self-serving legislature.”
He added: “Yes, Buhari has failed and should resign or be impeached but he failed because the legislators failed in their duties. The entire leadership of the National Assembly should also resign or be impeached. This is the double-edged sword called doctrine of collective responsibility.”