Opinion

Levi Obijiofor: Abuse Of The Power To Impeach

If anyone expected the impeachment of Adamawa State Governor Murtala Nyako by the state House of Assembly to put a break on indiscriminate impeachment of state governors, that expectation must be misplaced. The removal of Nyako appears to have signalled to legislators in other states that they can actually remove their governors and their action will not affect the business of government. That is possibly why we have seen in the past days strong-minded attempts by the Nasarawa State House of Assembly to impeach Governor Umaru Al-Makura.

In Enugu State, there is ongoing investigation of Deputy Governor Sunday Onyebuchi, a move that will most certainly lead to his impeachment. Enugu State Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezulike, has already constituted a seven-man panel of investigation to look into serious allegations levelled against Onyebuchi by members of the House of Assembly and also by Governor Sullivan Chime.

You could say the Enugu State deputy governor’s fate has been sealed as 22 of the 24 members of the state House of Assembly have endorsed Governor Chime’s demand that his deputy should be investigated for improper conduct relating to abuse of office and defying the governor.

When you hear the way the doomed Deputy Governor has been speaking in his claims of innocence, you will conclude that the relationship between the Deputy Governor and Governor Chime must have broken down irretrievably. That is the nature of politics. When a governor and a deputy disagree publicly, one thing has to give way. In most cases, the deputy governor will be dumped. This is the fate that awaits Onyebuchi.

In our political system, it is perhaps easier to knock out a deputy governor than it is to remove a governor. All a governor needs to take power away from his deputy is to assemble a majority of members of the state House of Assembly, convince them one way or the other that his deputy has been disrespectful or corrupt, outline these allegations in writing, and the gullible members of the legislature will take over the job of harassing and demonising the ill-fated deputy.

In our system, a deputy governor who wants to serve out his term has one option – play the humble servant and maintain unalloyed loyalty to the governor. A deputy governor who is pig-headed and does not venerate the governor will be impeached. It is that simple. No court of law can impose a deputy on a governor with whom the deputy does not agree or share similar philosophies.

Impeachment was provided for in our constitution for good reasons, not for flimsy excuses. Impeachment is an important instrument of government that was designed to check against the excesses of governors such as abuse of power and corrupt practices. The clause was included in the constitution to ensure that state legislators perform the oversight responsibility of ensuring that governors, as chief executives, do not overreach themselves or allocate to themselves powers they do not have. So, the impeachment clause, if used properly, should serve the good of society; it should not be used to advance the political ambitions of naive legislators.

As state legislators start to use impeachment arbitrarily and indiscriminately against governors they do not agree with or governors with whom they do not share the same political ideology, it is worthwhile to question the extent to which state lawmakers across the country use the power of impeachment for the good of society or for their own self-serving interests.

When state legislators make preposterous and inexcusable allegations against a governor and use those ludicrous allegations as the basis to press for impeachment of the governor, you wonder whether the lawmakers really understand the concept of impeachment or the limits of the powers they have or whether they understand and value the powers conferred on them by the constitution. State legislators are elected to make laws for the good governance of citizens of the state. The lawmakers were not elected so they can create instability in their state or to engage in a power tussle with the governor.

State lawmakers who use their power to impeach in an irresponsible manner undermine their responsibility as lawmakers. On paper, legislators are obligated to members of their constituencies who voted them into office. In that context, they serve as official representatives of the people. If they abuse their power, they can be recalled by members of their constituencies. Unfortunately, ordinary citizens do not realise the vital power they have to recall worthless lawmakers.

In a society in which ordinary citizens play politics of the stomach first, many voters have no idea that they have the power to recall representatives who continuously perform below public expectations. It is because voters are ignorant of their rights in a democracy that state lawmakers have been behaving as if they are above the law, as if they are beyond censure.

State legislators are taking their power to impeach like a cudgel to knock down governors they do not agree with or governors who belong to the opposition party. The abuse by legislators of the power to impeach cannot continue. Lawmaking is much more than conspiring to remove a governor. When legislators remove state governors without sound reasons, the legislators appear infantile in the estimation of the public. William Shakespeare was right. It is excellent to have a giant’s strength but it is acutely tyrannous to use that strength like a giant, in a sadistic manner. House members cannot continue to make a mockery of impeachment as a tool to be used to discipline erring governors, whether or not there are valid grounds for that.

The message to lawmakers must be clear and unassailable: Impeachment should not be used as a vehicle for vengeance. Consider the drama unfolding in Nasarawa State. Governor Umaru Al-Makura is facing impeachment by obviously angry lawmakers. The House of Assembly pressed on the state Chief Judge to set up an investigation panel to look at the 16 allegations levelled against the governor. The Chief Judge acted as the House members requested.

The investigation panel sat, invited lawyers representing the governor and lawyers representing the House of Assembly. Lawyers representing the House picked holes in the membership of the investigation panel on the basis that some of the members were card carrying members of a political party and that one member in particular was a serving board member.

The constitution is quite clear in regard to the membership of investigation panels set up to investigate governors facing impeachment charges. Section 188 (5) of the Constitution stipulates that: “Within seven days of the passing of a motion under the foregoing provisions of this section, the Chief Judge of the State shall at the request of the Speaker of the House of Assembly, appoint a panel of seven persons who in his opinion are of unquestionable integrity, not being members of any public service, legislative house or political party, to investigate the allegation as provided in this section”.

Lawyers representing the House of Assembly asked that the investigation panel should be disbanded on the ground that the panel was not properly constituted. That did not happen. The investigation panel proceeded to investigate the allegations against the governor. At the end of deliberations, the panel dismissed all 16 allegations against the governor. House members were outraged and swore to press on with the impeachment of Governor Al-Makura.

If Governor Al-Makura intended to celebrate the investigation panel’s declaration that he was innocent of allegations made against him, he might have to think twice. He should put back the champagne glasses on the wine rack because there is still a dispute – the membership of the investigation panel – to be resolved. If the House of Assembly successfully challenged the membership of the panel in the court, it would imply that the allegations against Al-Makura will remain and therefore another panel would have to be reconstituted. If that happens, Al-Makura would have to face a new panel.

So, it’s not game over yet in this high tension drama. This is politics with bitterness. In Nasarawa, the governor is pitched in a bitter struggle with the state legislators. The governor claims he is innocent of the allegations made against him. The legislators do not want to see the face of the governor. They believe the embattled governor is so guilty the only reasonable and honourable option left for him is to vacate office and the Government House.

Quitting has severe consequences. It will imply the loss of authority and, more significant, the loss of easy access to the state’s treasury. The easiest and fastest route through which politicians enrich themselves in Nigeria is to serve as a governor, deputy governor, Speaker of the House of Assembly, a member of the legislature, a commissioner or special adviser.

In Nasarawa State, the ground is set for a legal battle over the status of Governor Al-Makura. In the end, what is at stake is the use of impeachment as a weapon of vengeance to silence a governor who may or may not be guilty as charged by House members.

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Article written by Levi Obijiofor.

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