Matters arising from the impeachment gale

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 makes provisions for impeachment of key members of the Executive, namely, the President, the Vice President, the Governor and the Deputy Governor. Impeachment of any of the occupants of such offices is to be carried out by the legislature with the collaboration of the judiciary and must be for acts and omissions amounting to gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of the office. It is essentially a power given to the legislature, acting on behalf of the people, to ensure that the leadership of the executive acts within the ambit of constitutionalism, legality and in accordance with the established and accepted norms of social conduct.

The Constitution in Section 188 (11) defines “gross misconduct,” 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 House of Assembly to gross misconduct. Whether it is the first leg of the definition, which talks of grave violation or breach, or the slightly subjective second leg – a misconduct amounting in the opinion of the legislature to gross misconduct, the underlying consideration is that there must be a misconduct which is not petty. According to an online source, uslegal.com, misconduct means dereliction of duty or unlawful or improper behaviour. A conduct is termed gross misconduct if it is so outrageous that it shocks the conscience. Gross misconduct refers to behaviour that can get a person dismissed straight away from work because it is serious enough and possibly criminal. Considering that the leadership of the executive is directly elected by the people, the power to remove them from office is a power that must not be trivialised or exercised capriciously and whimsically, on the basis of subjectivity or against the popular interest. The exercise of this fundamental power must meet with all the parameters of objectivity.

The recent impeachment gale blowing across the nation is introducing new dimension into the exercise of the power of impeachment. The power to impeach seems to be exercised, not necessarily for gross misconduct, but for the settlement of political scores. This will leave our democracy poorer. From the Murtala Nyako impeachment saga in Adamawa State, it is clear that the misconduct of which the governor was accused did not just come to the knowledge of the legislators within the last couple of months. They had been eating, wining and dining with Nyako until they parted ways politically. Suddenly, the impeachment flag was waived. There is no need to pretend that Nyako was an angel without blemish; but when an objective power is exercised capriciously and in a manner suggestive of motives other than the noble, it is clearly an abuse of powers. Just to confirm the political undertone of the impeachment, the acting governor came to his party headquarters to declare that he had retrieved the state for the Peoples Democratic Party. Was he sent on the errand by the party?

Fast forward to the current proceedings in Nasarawa State, a notice of allegations against the governor has moved to the point of the Chief Judge setting up the panel of seven. Again, it is the opposition party governor arraigned against the ruling party legislators who are in the majority. It will not surprise anyone who understands the trajectory of the Nigerian political jungle that the governor, Umar Tanko Al-Makura, may be impeached and removed in the next couple of days. We hope it is not being suggested that only opposition governors commit impeachable offences.

The theatre of the absurd has moved to Enugu State where the Deputy Governor, Sunday Onyebuchi, is accused of gross misconduct. Pray, what are the details? The major accusation is that he was running a poultry in the state Government House. The poultry has since been dismantled by officers of the Enugu State Environmental Sanitation Authority. What issues does this particular impeachment proceeding throw up? It can be rightly asserted that the deputy governor does not belong to the real ruling clique that manages the resources of the state. If he was part of the clique, he would have no need for poultry as a means of income. On the basis of the need to supplement his income, he started this contentious poultry that may likely take away his job as deputy governor. When did running a poultry become an impeachable offence or a grave violation of the constitution?

For Adamawa, the implication of what has happened going by Section 191 of the Constitution is that a new election will be held within three months from the date of impeachment to elect a new governor who will be in office for the unexpired residue of Nyako’s tenure. This means that by February 2015, Adamawa will also go to the polls to elect a new governor. Thus, two governorship elections will be held within a period of six months in Adamawa. The cost of organising a governorship election is in billions and to repeat this exercise twice in six months will be a colossal waste of public resources. Also, students of politics will understand that the elections will impoverish the contestants. It costs a fortune to run a governorship campaign and to run two campaigns in six months has long and short term implications for the contestants and the treasury of the state. Essentially, whoever wins will recoup his expenses from the treasury of Adamawa State. There is no pretence about this and anyone who pretends is living in another world.

It may be reasonable to ask the National Assembly to take a second look at Section 191 of the constitution in the ongoing constitution amendment process. The suggestion is an amendment that if the office of the governor and deputy become vacant within six months to the expiry of the tenure, the Speaker of the state House of Assembly should hold office until the expiry of the tenure or alternatively, the winner of the election to be held within three months should start a new four-year tenure, and not merely serve the unexpired residue of the tenure of the impeached officer. This will save costs and prevent election fatigue and its implications for the treasury.

In all these impeachment proceedings, there have been allegations of money changing hands; that the legislators received financial inducement to set the machinery of impeachment in motion. The expectation was that the anti-corruption agencies would have moved in to investigate this issue. So far, nothing has happened. The worrying aspect of these developments is that the rating of the legislature is by the day being lowered in the estimation of right thinking Nigerians and our democracy is now a democracy of anything is possible.

In the final analysis, Nigerians must begin to take elections into the legislative houses more seriously. The idea of legislators being persons of low integrity, unending allegations of bribery, fighting in the legislative chamber; and the performance of duties in ways and manners not contemplated by the constitution calls for change.

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