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The return of alarms

By Tony Momoh
WHEN we started this journey on the democracy highway in 1999 and I began to monitor how we were doing, I sang the praises of the new deal, the joy of return to due process, to the orderly and ordered ways of doing things.

Why? Because there was the constitution as the guideline and no one, I believed, would subvert it. So, when some people came up late 1999 and wanted to remove the president through impeachment, I told, in my column of December 19, 1999, of the seven hills to climb, and this is the same thing as telling of the seven rivers to cross.

I will reproduce the steps here, but so sure was I of strict observance of the rules so very clearly defined that I yelled in celebration of the return of predictability.

Hear me, “You see, many of us still think of arbitrariness in running the affairs of this country.  The in-thing should be a deliberate pre-occupation with the slogan due process.

The Constitution is like God.  In our affairs, it gives and it takes under rules and conditions that are strictly defined. We need not think of a government which a military ruler can put together and dictate to; where the ruler appoints the law-makers; appoints the ministers and dismisses them; where he becomes a court of appeal by decree.

No, that era lived with us, and we with it, for the better part of 30 years.  It is difficult to forget those days without due process.

But we are into a new way of doing things and we must learn the rules of the new way”. (See Sacking the President, pages 16-19, Democracy Watch A Monitor’s Diary Vol 1.)  That trumpeting of what had come was in good faith.  See the rivers that had to be crossed to remove a president (the same procedure goes for governors) and then we move on from there.

One: Not less than one third of the members of the National Assembly (that is the Senate and the House of Representatives) must endorse a notice of any allegation of gross misconduct against the president.

Gross misconduct is defined 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.  The notice, which must contain all the details of the alleged misconduct is presented to the President of the Senate.

Two: Within seven days of the receipt of the notice, the Senate must serve the notice on the president and on all members of the National Assembly.  If the president makes a statement in reply, such statement is also served on all the members of the National Assembly.

Three: Within 14 days of service of the notice, each House of the National Assembly must resolve by motion, without any debate, whether or not the allegation shall be investigated.

Four: Within seven days after this motion had been passed, the chief justice of Nigeria must attend to a request by the president of the Senate to investigate the allegation against the president.

Five: The chief justice then appoints the panel which must exclude members of the National Assembly, any other legislative house, any member of the public service or a political party.  They must be persons of “unquestionable integrity.”

Six: The panel has three months to file its report to each House of the National Assembly. During their deliberations, the president must be heard by himself or through a legal practitioner of his choice. The panel can make one of two findings – that the allegation had not been proved or that the allegation had been proved.  In the former case, the matter dies, and the National Assembly has no further action to take.  The next step comes in where the allegation is said to have been proved.

Seven: Within fourteen days of the receipt of the report, each House of the National Assembly must consider it. The report can only be adopted when it is supported by a resolution of not less than two thirds of all the members of the National Assembly.

Almost 10 years after, and looking back to the volume of water that has flowed under the bridge, we cannot sing praises for the procedures we have been adopting to remove governors from office through impeachments.  This piece I am doing today serves notice  on  the National Assembly and State Assemblies that under no circumstances should they undermine the procedures for removing any of those I have described as the 74 monarchs -  the president and vice president; the 36 governors and their 36 deputies.

That  President Yar’Adua anchored his tenure on the return of due process which is the same thing as accepting to observe, to the letter, what the law says and what the constitution provides, is a direct indictment of what we had done with our laws and our constitution since 1999.

In the specific area of removing governors, we broke all the rules in the book.  The journey started in Bayelsa State, in the sense that it was in Bayelsa State that a governor was first removed from office through the route of impeachment, and with all the procedures shamelessly compromised.

The impeachment train moved to Ekiti, Oyo and Plateau states, but Ladoja of Oyo State and Dariye of Plateau State wove their way back to the saddle. Not so Ayo Fayose or  Diepreye Solomon Peters Alamieyeseigha (Alams for short). Alams’ removal from office through the so-called route of impeachment was the most unforgivable abuse of due process we have seen.

The members of the House of Assembly were brought into the state from where EFCC had kept them. They went to work immediately, even when there had been protests from the governor that the panel set up was skewed against him.

The allegations were there, but no one looked at them.  They were preoccupied with his “jumping” bail from Britain when our laws did not even accept that he could be arrested, not to talk of being detained anywhere or arraigned in any court.

The House produced a report in less than three hours, ignoring all the routes settled constitutionally for removing a governor from office.  Up to now, we have heard nothing from the House of Asembly which removed Alameyeseigha from office on the basis of what they referred to as an “interim” report!

The bells are ringing again, in Bayelsa State, and Governor Timipre Sylva is being led to the slaughter house more because he has fallen out favour of those who are supposed to have made him than that he is guilty of corrupt practices.

With more than the 50 allegations I read in a webzig, I hope that the days of Alams (see why I coined the title of the piece) are not returning to Bayelsa State where the battle to remove a governor was first “successfully” executed.


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