By Josef Omorotionmwan
THE more things change, the more they remain the same. Fourteen years into the 21st century, the self-acclaimed largest political party in Africa is still fixated on the crude techniques of dog-eat-dog that are purely reminiscent of the dirty politics of yester-years. How can it be said that during the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections, prominent opposition politicians were picked up and dumped in the gulag, only to be released after voting hours? There is God ooooo!
And suddenly, impeachment has become an attack dog that you unleash on those strong opponents that can’t be beaten at the polls. That is election by elimination!
But for the new development, we had resisted the urge to keep writing on impeachment. We sometimes get bored doing the same thing over and over again, particularly when it appears that nobody is listening. We have spent a good part of our adult life writing on impeachment – between our Second Republic days in the Daily Times of Nigeria, DTN, in our columns “IN AIDE OF LEGISLATURE” and “IN THE LEGISLATURE”, The Nigerian Observer; and between Thisday and Vanguard Newspapers, we have written several essays on impeachment with one central theme running across all of them: Impeachment is a virile instrument in the hands of the legislature for checking executive excesses; but it must not be used for addressing political differences.
Sadly, Nigeria remains the theatre of the absurd. Against our advice, impeachment has been taken to the limits where it became the only instrument for addressing political disagreements. Contrary to the intention of the framers of the Constitution, “Gross misconduct” has been contrived to mean that you must go if you are not a member of the same party with the legislators.
All the offences for which Murtala Nyanko was impeached were committed when he was in the PDP but they did not metamorphose into gross misconduct until he defected to the APC.
The division of labour in the impeachment process has never been as glaring as has been brought to the fore by the impeachment case against Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State.
Enter Hon. Justice Umar Dikko, Chief Judge of Nasarawa State: His constitutionally assigned role was to “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 …”.
We hear that the panel appointed by the Chief Judge was unacceptable to the Governor’s accusers. But rather than head to the court to stop the appointment, they were disbanding the panel. We still wonder where they got the power to do so. By their reckoning, they should play their own part and that of the Chief Judge. This amounts to undue interference. They can now see what happens when lawmakers become lawbreakers! We search but in vain that part of the Constitution that requires the Chief Judge to submit his panel’s list to the House of Assembly for vetting.
Just about when we were beginning to think that the assemblymen abandoned the panel, it was made clear that they were represented by a team of lawyers led by Ocha P. Ulegede.
The committee went swiftly to work and in the end, it returned a no-guilt verdict. Which takes us straight to the provisions of Section 188(8) of the 1999 Constitution: “Where the panel reports to the House of Assembly that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter”.
In their smartness, Nigerian legislators have, perhaps unwittingly, moved the issue of impeachment from the purview of the court of justice into the hard ground of the court of law.
At last, a smarter Chief Judge has found a clever way of puncturing the House of Assembly as he can even neatly appoint the Governor’s wife, the Governor’s son, the Governor’s brother, the Governor’s mother and the Governor’s uncles as members of the investigation panel. And that other person he is appointing could as well have resigned his membership of a political party a day before the appointment. He is not a member of any political party now. Take another look at Section 188(5) of the 1999 Constitution.
The only secret weapon of the Governor against impeachment is to do the needful – maintain a good rapport with his Chief Judge. And so, impeachment has crashed! We knew it would come; but we did not know it would come so soon.
Evidently, political acts are double-edged tools. Like the wind, they sweep for some and deposit the debris in the compound of others. For instance, if you are rigged out, it hurts but where you are the one doing the rigging, it can be sweeter than sugar and honey combined.
The Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, is thoroughly pained but a time like this calls for restraint. A man who is a forerunner for the Governor’s seat in a few months’ time must be a bit discreet in his choice of words. He cannot be heard describing another party as a “party of violence and thuggery”. Such a man must also leave his whistle where he cannot easily reach it in view of his diabolical threat: “If we blow a whistle today, nobody will work in Lafia. If we want to do what the APC is doing and we blow a whistle, our members will enter Lafia and nobody will be able to work”.
Whistle blowing has its spiral effect. You never can predict its exact end. If you blow your whistle and they blow their horn, the Home of Solid Minerals may become homeless, with nothing to govern by 2015.The proverbial mad man remains relevant here – He knows nothing about the conflagration over there. After all, he only started a small fire.
Judicial reviews are made of this type of event. Now that impeachment has crashed, people who seek office must go and work hard instead of seeking the cheap opportunism of election by crude elimination!