A few years ago, the majority of state Houses of Assembly in the country for the fear of their governors voted against the constitutional amendment granting them autonomy. It is thus puzzling that the state legislative houses have in the last few weeks commenced a series of impeachments directed at governors and deputies. From whence is the boldness?
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
In terms of content and carriage, the Enugu State House of Assembly could certainly not be primed as a very productive legislative house. The present House since it was inaugurated in 2011 has only managed to pass one private member bill.
It was as such a surprise to many when the House last week, in its avowed claim to the pursuit of good governance, served an impeachment notice on the deputy governor of the state, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi. The two-legged motion to impeach the deputy governor was founded on the claim that Mr. Onyebuchi is operating a poultry in his official residence and his alleged refusal to carry out delegated responsibilities from the governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime.
The diligence of the House was reflected in the adoption of the allegation of insubordination of the deputy governor especially in the allegation that Onyebuchi refused to represent the governor at the foundation laying ceremony for the construction of the second Niger Bridge late last year. The thoroughness of the House was brought into question with the publication of pictures of the deputy governor at the ceremony.
The process against Mr. Onyebuchi which has now been dubbed the Chicken Impeachment is not an exception in the unfolding manifestation of the state legislatures.
Adamawa State House of Assembly under the leadership of Ahmadu Fintri on July 15 impeached Murtala Nyako as governor of the state in a conspiracy laced process that equally saw the exit of the deputy governor, Mr. Bala Ngilari even if the later was not found guilty of any misconduct. Ngilari’s apparent problem with the House of Assembly was the local political face off between him and the speaker over local issues.
It is instructive that many of the issues raised against Nyako by the House of Assembly were issues flowing from previous years which the House of Assembly had itself failed to tackle in its supervisory role over the executive branch of government.
The impeachment bug has also taken hold in Oyo and Borno states. However, in the later, the majority of the members of the state House of Assembly were quick to denounce the alleged plan to impeach Governor Kashim Shetima surreptitiously for political reasons.
In Nasarawa State, the House of Assembly which is dominated by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP has for long allegedly held the governor hostage willingly appropriating for itself budgetary provisions the governor is constrained to implement. The impeachment process launched against Governor Umaru Almakura is now entangled in 2015 politics as chieftains of the PDP ponder on how the impeachment could better or batter their 2015 permutations.
Abuse of impeachment power
The impeachment bug has meanwhile drawn the attention of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) which on Sunday upbraided state legislative houses over what it claimed was their reckless use of the power of impeachment of governors and deputy governors.
CISLAC, one of the country’s foremost non-governmental legislative advocacy groups in a statement made available to Vanguard questioned the credibility of some of the impeachment actions recently initiated by some state legislative houses saying that most of them lacked credibility and were conceived to undermine the democratic process.
The statement issued by CISLAC’s executive director, Auwal Ibrahim Musa, while noting that it had in the past urged state legislative houses to be up and doing in their supervision of the executive arm of government, CISLAC, however, said the legislators had in their recent actions proceeded on the wrong path.
“CISLAC had always been and continues to advocate for strong legislatures with capacity to make laws for peace, security and good governance at both federal and state levels and hold the executive accountable through effective oversight and representation, including invoking the power of impeachment where the need arises, in a transparent and responsible manner to serve the interest of justice fairness and the electorate and not vindictively or to score cheap political points.”
“We are however concerned that the ongoing spate of impeachments may not pass the test of credibility, popularity and rationality, if closely examined. Without prejudice to the right, duties and powers of state legislatures to impeach erring executives, we are worried that many of the reasons invoked are either belated or flimsy. Others are indulgent and ridiculous with the procedures flawed and hurried in a manner that casts doubts as to the motives behind the actions.”
“CISLAC wonders why legislators would overlook acts of corruption or having failed to discharge their functions of oversight effectively or worse still, benefitted from such corrupt practices and looked the other way, suddenly awake retroactively to exhume such corrupt practices and use them as allegations for which a governor should be impeached.” “We consider this an indictment of the concerned legislators, an abuse of power and process and a betrayal of the trust reposed in them by the electorate.”
“We wish to note that with the spate of insecurity on some parts of our nation, which is spreading gradually, avoidable impeachment of executive governors few months to the end of their tenure may not be the most progressive actions law makers can take at this point of our national development. We are convinced that precious legislative time can be deployed into more constructive and people-impacting interventions.”
“We call on members of states Houses of Assembly to concentrate on using their positions to promote community development, peace-building and citizens’ welfare through effective oversight and representation rather than engage in issues that could further polarizes the people, heat up the polity, create acrimony and fuel intolerance and conflict.”
A misused weapon
Impeachment should be a sacred weapon to be used as a last resort in checking the excesses and lapses of executive office holders.
Section 188 (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution provides that the process of impeachment shall be initiated when a governor or deputy is alleged to be guilty of “gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, detailed particulars of which shall be specified.”
But in Nigeria, it has almost turned into a weapon of political-cum-financial blackmail and intimidation.