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Impeachment: Open letter to State Chief Judges

By  Fred Oghenesivbe
A country can still do well with bad laws but it cannot do well with bad judges. This is because if the judges are upright, they can mitigate the injustice, inhumanness created by people who made bad laws. But when judges are corrupt, even with good laws, development, justice cannot thrive” (Justice Akinola Aguda 1923-2004)
The impeachment of the former governor of Adamawa state, Murtala Nyako may become a lid to floodgate of impeachment  of state governors and perhaps the President and Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces of Nigeria to come.

ADAMAWA—Acting Chief Judge of Adamawa State, Justice Ambrose Mammadi (L), administering Oath of Office on the  Acting Governor of the state, Alhaji Ahmadu Umaru, at the Government House in Yola after impeachment of Nyako yesterday.
ADAMAWA—Acting Chief Judge of Adamawa State, Justice Ambrose Mammadi (L), administering Oath of Office on the Acting Governor of the state, Alhaji Ahmadu Umaru, at the Government House in Yola after impeachment of Nyako.

At the beginning, it was all through the rumour mills we were hearing that some state governors including Adamawa, Nassarawa, Rivers and now Edo, Oyo and others yet to be named would be impeached. The rumour of President Goodluck Jonathan’s impeachment also struck the airwaves and fizzled out, ostensibly with the manner the move was crushed before it was hatched. But now, it is no longer a rumour, Nyako has been impeached while Governor Al-Makura of Nassarawa state is in the impeachment Golgotha.
Elections are the means by which democracy is practiced or is fired into action. In such exercise, legitimacy is conferred on some people to act as leaders or captain of their ship sailing through the tide or a given period of time.

In contrast, impeachment or the removal of an official elected by the people is an exercise carried out with just a handful. It is either a mark of sunset to crisis or convocation to crisis. Though the banished Duke in Shakespeare’s ‘’As You Like It” opted to say that there is the good side in every bad situation, but impeachment in most cases amounts to sowing a whirl-wind or dragon teeth that hatches into bad omen in the society. That informed General Yakubu Gowon and Alhaji Shehu Shagari at the prompt of General Ibrahim Babangida to move in quickly to counsel former Speaker Ghali Na’aba and the former Senate President Pius Ayim not to pronounce the impeachment of the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, General Olusegun Obasanjo in 2002.

The concern of this opinion writer is the fate of judiciary in this comic dance of absurd in our nation’s democratic practice. Professor Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN) had sounded a note of warning to judges in his book, ‘’Legal System, Corruption And Governance in Nigeria” saying judges must at all material time avoid acts that led General Babangida to make judiciary a scapegoat for the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

In his annulment proclamation, General Babangida held that ‘’the judiciary has been the bastion of the hopes and liberties of our citizens. Therefore when it became clear that the courts become intimidated and subjected to the manipulation of the political process, resulting in contradictory decisions and orders by courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction, then the entire political system was in clear danger. Accordingly, it is in the supreme interest of the laws and order, political stability and peace that the presidential election be annulled”.

In the same vein, General Sanni Abacha blamed the judiciary for sacking Chief Ernest Shonekan’s Interim National Government (ING), following Justice Dolapo Akinsanya of Lagos High Court’s judgement declaring ING illegal and an aberration.

The role of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Chief Judge of a state in the impeachment of  a President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a state governor respectively are well provided for in the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The constitution asked occupants of these positions to constitute panels to investigate allegations of “gross misconduct” properly levelled against the President or the state governor by the National Assembly or the state Assembly as the case may be.

Section 188(5) of the 1999 constitution as (amended) for instance vested the powers on the state Chief Judge to appoint 7-man panel to investigate allegations of Gross Misconduct of the Executive Governor of a State.
While carrying out this function, the chief judges are also to be guided by other sub-sections of Section 188.

The mere failure by some chief judges of states in the past to comply with the letters of the constitution, especially, since the advent of the current democratic dispensation in 1999 has left many chief judges of states and other judges to be untimely confined to judiciary graveyards.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) which is charged by the same 1999 Constitution to appoint and discipline judges takes serious exceptions with any judge that side-step this provisions of the constitution which is even crystal clear or unambiguous.

According to “Access to Justice”, the sacking of four state chief judges at a time in 2006 was announced through NJC’s press statement thus:
“At an emergency meeting held at Abuja on 20th December, 2006, the National Judicial Council, acting with powers vested on it by Paragraph 21(d) of the Third Schedule to the 1999 constitution suspended the Chief Judges of Anambra, Plateau and Ekiti states for the partisan roles played in the impeachment of their respective state governors.

Continued next week


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