By Ochereome Nnanna
THE impeachment clauses are among the most powerful enactments in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 143 provides the steps that can be taken to remove the president and vice president from office, while Section 188 does the same for governors and deputy governors.
No real test has been made of Section 143, except during the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo, when he sought, in vain, to have his Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, impeached. But section 188 has been tried, tested and successfully used to remove governors, the latest case being the impeachment of former Governor of Adamawa State, Admiral Murtala Nyako, and the stalemated attempt to remove the Governor of Nasarawa State, Alhaji Tanko Al Makura.
Before the Al Makura episode, the impression had been created that whenever the House of Assembly compiles impeachable offences and instructs the Chief Justice of a state to set up a panel to look into them, the governor was a goner. Because of this, the governors have gone to extra lengths to get the members of the legislative houses on their sides, mostly through the stick and carrot approach. Lame-duck governors – those whose political parties have fewer members in the Houses – have always been much more vulnerable, and therefore, sacrifice more in that direction.
The stalemated Al Makura impeachment has exposed the hidden powers of the Judiciary in the impeachment process. It has actually brought out the impeachment clause as a fully rounded democratic legislation excellently suited for the presidential system of governance. It has shown that both the legislative and judicial arms of government have a strong say in whether the head of the executive branch or his deputy is removed from office through impeachment. From now on, the governor’s fear of the legislature will be reduced, knowing that if the head of the judiciary is with him, he can survive the onslaught of a legislative mob.
Suleiman Dikko, the Chief Justice of Nasarawa State, decided to throw his weight behind Al Makura by setting up a panel of known sympathisers of the governor, some of who were card-carrying members of political parties and serving government officials. Dikko knew the only thing the Assembly could do was to go to court to challenge the panel he constituted. By the time the case had gone to the Supreme Court and returned, the four-year tenure of Al Makura and the current legislature would be over. But for Dikko, Al Makura would now be referred to as an ex-governor.
And so, from now on, a governor must put the legislature in one pocket and the judiciary in another. That was obviously what Governor Chibuike Amechi sought to do when he picked a Chief Justice for his state rather than allow the National Judicial Council, NJC, to pick one for him as the constitution prescribes. Amechi knows that some of the legislators still backing him today might jump ship at the last minute and rejoin the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to save their political careers. They may then be used to impeach him.
With his crony as the Chief Justice of Rivers State, he hopes to hang any impending impeachment process in the Judiciary in the manner that the Nasarawa impeachment process has been hung.
The Chief Justice of Nasarawa State, Dikko, has opened a new window that reassures the head of the executive branch that his job is not as endangered as it had seemed. It is victory both to the executive and judiciary branches of government. You can even call it victory for the separation of powers principle of the presidential system of government. But where does it leave us as citizens? The impeachment process is the only way by which presidents and governors can be removed from power for “misconduct”. It is a powerful counterbalance to the immunity clause, which shields holders of such offices from being tried or sanctioned for criminal offences. Only governors who did not (or could not) secure their interests within the legislative and judicial branches can now be impeached.
The impeachment principle is supposed to be used to fight “misconduct” as defined by the legislature. In Nigeria, it has only been used to settle political scores. No governor has been genuinely impeached because he stole public funds or committed murder. It is only when he falls out of political favour with the ruling principalities that the clause is dusted.
For me, the failure (or refusal) of the Nasarawa State House of Assembly (or their counsels) to appear before the impeachment panel (even if under protest) to substantiate their allegations against Governor Al Makura was a lost opportunity in the court of public opinion. It put them out as people who had other motives than bringing the governor to book for those alleged offences.
It would be best if the lawmakers allow the sleeping dogs lie. Al Makura, though an All Progressives Congress, APC, governor, is not one of the rabid opposition figures. That Al Makura is a man of peace was illustrated by Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso (now, that’s a rabid opposition governor) who disclosed that he refused to allow him (Kwankwaso) to deploy “footmen” to tackle those trying to impeach him. Kwankwaso did not tell us how many “footmen” he has deployed to tackle the Boko Haram insurgents using women, children and beggars as suicide bombers in his own Kano State. Certainly, Al Makura is not in the class of former Governor of Adamawa State, Nyako, whose treasonable letter to Northern Governors forced him to bolt into self-exile soon after his impeachment.
The elections are just about six months away. The PDP and other political foes of Al Makura should be patient and wait for him at the polls. As for the impeachment effort, it is now in a cul-de-sac. As long as Chief Justice Dikko remains in office, he will be Al Makura’s dog-in-the manger. He will never let that impeachment go through.