By Jide Ajani
Sometime in September, 2002, during a breakfast interview inside Aso Rock Presidential Villa with then embattled President Olusegun Obasanjo, at the height of the move to impeach him, the former President made a startling revelation. While responding to a question about the agreement he was alleged to have signed to protect the North and give it special status during his presidency, Obasanjo jumped from his seat and headed straight to his bedroom. In about five minutes, he returned to continue the interview with a document he claimed were the minutes of the meeting between himself and some elders and political leaders from the North.
The former President spoke about how he, the late Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, Alabo Graham-Douglas, Jim Nwobodo, Francis Ella, all presidential aspirants under the umbrella of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, had been grilled at separate sessions at Agura Hotel in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, in February 1999, on the eve of the party’s presidential convention slated for Jos, Plateau State capital. He said he refused to sign the document, insisting that he would be President of all Nigerians and not just a section. According to the minutes sighted that morning, other aspirants were alleged to have signed – although each had to come out forcefully to deny ever doing anything of such.
The publication of the revelation caused some northern elders, who were named in that parley, to first deal with the opprobrium of such an ambush. Many others, including former heads of state, had to prevail on some members and then Speaker Ghali Umar Na’Abba leadership of the House of Representatives to overlook Obasanjo’s serial acts of indiscretion and constitutional breaches which, in the estimation of the House, constituted gross misconduct and, therefore, amounted to impeachable offences.
What came out of that tiff was that then President Obasanjo began to learn how to conduct himself in a more constitutional manner – at least, until 2005 when the bug of sit-tight bite him – leading to the failed Third Term Agenda. That was 2002.
Last week, some senators – mind you, it was not the Senate – rose to seek to institute impeachment proceedings against President Muhammadu Buhari. Whereas the President had suffered a massive loss of goodwill from the senators – in fact, from the National Assembly, NASS – as had never been seen in this 4th Republic, it all came to a head last week when Buhari sent a letter to the NASS, informing it of his approval and payment of $496million to the US government for the purchase of TUCANO fighter jets.
With what some have described as a convincing reason, Mr. President said the need to quickly utilise the window passed by the American legislature to sell the warplanes to Nigeria – after years of embargo – constituted a compelling reason why the approval was made before the request was placed before the NASS. Even before the senators took umbrage, the House of Representatives had gone through a similar motion of voicing out its displeasure and pointing out the possible consequence of the President’s action.
For the now notorious Tucano jets, the hurried payment to the Americans, the shenanigans of voicing an impeachment move and the needless overheating of the polity, some questions would need to be answered:
Can the money that has been spent be retrieved?
Can a spent money be re-appropriated?
Was the timeline a 24/48-hour issue such that the Presidency could not place a request before the NASS before making the extra-budgetary payment?
Was there really no time for the President to make the request before spending the money?
Could Buhari have followed due process?
Can Nigeria today afford the distraction of impeachment proceedings?
Can the NASS truly muster the required constitutional mandate to carry out an impeachment?
Interestingly, Section 143(11) empowers the NASS to determine what an impeachable offence is or what constitutes gross misconduct.
House of Representatives Committee Chairman on Rules, Hon. Emmanuel Orker-Jev, said he’s not an apologist of bad behaviour but resorting to impeachment, which, by its very nature, is cumbersome, would be a distraction as the country approaches next year’s elections. “Nigerians should be able to decide at the polls whether this is the country they want and whether the President is taking them in the right direction”, Orkar-Jev pointed out.
Whereas there are many who believe and, therefore, insist that Buhari may have breached the laws of the land, their position is that pursuing an impeachment now is not the answer. Senator Shehu Sani is of the view that impeachment is not the answer, even though he believes that the money should be returned.
A Senate Under Siege
Perhaps, unlike Obasanjo, who was being told to sign a pact, Buhari is under no such pre-conditions.
However, part of the angst of the legislators, particularly senators, is that some of them have been harassed and targeted by the state in recent times and some believe that not a few more may still be targeted by the executive under whose control are the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; the Department of State Services, DSS; the police and other such instruments of coercion.
Apart from the on-going saga of the garrulous and sometimes reckless Dino Melaye, who is accused of supplying guns to a group of hoodlums after he reported a case of attack on him, Senator Sani, from Kaduna State, is also being insinuated into the commission of a criminal offence by the police. Sani has been invited by the police.
In addition, Senator Isa Misau is facing criminal charges for criticizing the Inspector General of Police, IGP.
In the case of Senator Abdullahi Adamu, he and his son are believed to be facing charges at the EFCC. In fact, his detractors are quick to allege this as a major influencing factor in his support for Buhari.
Sen. Peter Nwaoboshi is being tried in court by the EFCC, and, currently, being remanded in prison.
There are other senators who are suspected of having or are being targets of possible investigations.
They include but are not limited to Senators Danjuma Goje, Aliyu Wamakko, Murtala Nyako and Jonah Jang.
Then there is the on-going investigation into the assets of Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremmadu and Senate President Bukola Abubakar Saraki, whose case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, is yet to be concluded.
Interestingly, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwakanso, who was prevented from entering Kano State by the authorities, is also said to be a possible target of investigation.
Indeed, this sense of siege fuels a natural angst from the Red Chamber of the NASS.
Enter the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The role of a political party – with or without a majority in the legislative chambers – is to serve as a guide for members.
It is also the responsibility of a political party to wield the disparate and separate interests into one with a view to stabilising both the polity and the government of which it is in charge. Unfortunately for the APC, it has not been able to abide by its own constitution. The simple business of conducting its national convention has become a somewhat messy endeavour. Even as at the time of going to press, the convention, that was slated for May 14, 2018, has been postponed.
Then there is the control of both chambers of the legislature. Curiously, it is the party members who have constituted themselves into the opposition.
The issue of the anticipatory approval granted by Buhari could have been better handled by the APC and its members in such a manner that, by the time the matter gets to the NASS, a majority vote would have urged for a doctrinal enterprise based on necessity.
As matters stand now, it would amount to a fools’ errand to continue to collect signatures with a view to setting in motion an impeachment move.
In addition, the perception of the NASS members as being the problem of this republic is yet to abate; therefore, any move seen to be against Buhari – with or without prejudice to some of his missteps – may meet with public opprobrium.
When such comes to shove and the Presidency decides to bare its fangs, it would be difficult to find many of the legislators standing on two feet by the time the ill-wind would have blown. This is not a call to a Gestapo-like approach on the part of the Presidency but the contemporary realities of the day, where court judgements about people in detention are wilfully disobeyed, where media trial of public office holders is the order of the day, the prospects for NASS members is not glowing.
Yet, it must be said that Buhari and his coterie of appointees should endeavour to always act in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and stop treating matters of national importance with levity and disdain. A country not guided by its own laws is beckoning at anarchy, the consequences of which will definitely be grave for all.
The myopic understanding and appreciation of the matter in some quarters, an appreciation supposedly based on Buhari’s good intentions may be regretted when another ruler applies the same unconstitutional acts for devious intentions. That will be the day.