By Afe Babalola
This week I will continue my discussion with a focus on the developments in Imo State. The act of the House of Assembly in proceeding with the said impeachment despite the fact that there was a Court order restraining it from so doing is deplorable and same should be condemned. For starters, it is settled that all persons against whom an order of Court is made are duty bound to respect and obey same until same has been set aside by a Court of competent jurisdiction. It is not within the election of parties to choose whether or not to obey a Court order. Please see the case of NGERE V. OKURUKET (2014) 11 NWLR (PT. 1417) 147 @ PG. 173, PARAS F-G, where it was held that:
‘’The judgment of a Court of competent jurisdiction subsists until upset on appeal. While the judgment subsists every person affected by it or against whom an order is made must obey it even if it appears wrong.”
The order of the High Court of Imo state restraining the lawmakers and the Imo State Chief Judge from continuing with the impeachment process was made before the Imo State House of Assembly sat in session and passed a motion for the impeachment of the Deputy Governor. The said order is still valid and subsisting as same has not been set aside by any Court of competent jurisdiction. The said order remains valid and binding on the lawmakers and the Imo State Chief Judge. It is therefore my opinion that it was wrong, unlawful and contemptuous for the lawmakers to have knowingly acted in gross violation of the said order. Contempt is as any conduct which tends to bring disrespect, scorn or ridicule to judicial authority and the administration of the law. The purported impeachment of the Deputy Governor embarked upon by the Imo State House of Assembly during the pendency of the Deputy Governor’s suit challenging the impeachment process and the order of Court restraining the lawmakers from continuing with the impeachment process is a calculated attempt to foist a situation of helplessness on the trial Court. This is totally unacceptable.The actions of the Imo State House of Assembly has already pre-empted the Deputy Governor’s suit pending before the Imo State High Court almost leaving no issues to be determined by the trial Court between the parties.
Whether or not our law Courts have the jurisdiction to interfere with the IMPEACHMENT of a Governor OR HIS Deputy under the CFRN?
A reading of Section188(10) of the CFRN is likely to give some the false impression that our Courts do not have the jurisdiction to interfere with the impeachment process. For the sake of emphasis Section 188(10) of the CFRN provides that:
‘’No proceedings or determination of the Panel or of the House of Assembly or any matter relating to such proceedings or determination shall be entertained or questioned in any Court.”
In the case of ABARIBE V. SPEAKER, ABIA STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY (2000) FWLR (PT. 9) 1558 the Court of Appeal interpreted the above-quoted section to mean that our law Courts do not have the jurisdiction to interfere with the impeachment proceedings of the Governor or his Deputy. The Court of Appeal’s position was that the reason why the CFRN ousted the interference of the Courts in impeachment proceedings is because impeachment proceedings are political matters which should be left in the hand of the politicians and not the Courts. However, the Court of Appeal’s decision in the ABARIBE’s case has not stood the test of time and same is no longer good law. The Supreme Court in the case of INAKOJU & 17 ORS V. ADELEKE & 3 ORS (SUPRA) while interpreting the provisions of Section 180(10) of the CFRN applied the principle of statutory interpretation which states that a subsection is only a part of a section, hence same cannot be read in isolation but must be read in the context of the other subsections. The Court was of the view that Section 180(10) of the CFRN cannot be considered in isolation to the provisions of Sections 188(1) – 188(9) of the CFRN. All the said sections must be given a holistic reading before the true intention of the lawmakers in Section 188(10) of the CFRN can be deciphered.
The Apex Court took the position that a holistic of Sections 188(1) – 188(10) of the CFRN reveals that the provisions of Sections 188(1) – 188(9)of the CFRN are condition precedents which must be complied with before the jurisdiction of the Court can be ousted pursuant to Section 188(10) of the CFRN. The Court held that:
‘’It must first of all be understood that the entire Section 188 sub-sections 1-11 must be read together. And a proper reading of the whole section will reveal that the ouster clause in sub section (10) can only be properly resorted to and invoked after due compliance with subsections (1)-(9) that preceded it.”
The Supreme Court followed its decision in INAKOJU V. ADELEKE in the subsequent case of DAPIANLONG & 5 ORS V. DARIYE & ANOR (2007) 4 SC and EKPENYONG V. UMANA (2010)
Jurisdiction to interfere
Following the forgoing, it is my humble opinion placing reliance on all the above-cited decisions that our law Courts have the jurisdiction to interfere with and nullify any impeachment done in violation of the provisions of the CFRN. However the jurisdiction of the Courts is limited to investigating whether or not the impeachment was done in compliance with the provisions of the CFRN. Where an impeachment was done in strict compliance with the provisions of the CFRN, particularly the provisions of Section 188(1) – 188(9) of the CFRN the Courts pursuant to Section 188(10) of the CFRN would have no jurisdiction to interfere or disturb the said impeachment.
The salient points articulated in this article could be summarized as follows:
- The procedure of the impeachment of the Governor or his Deputy is listed under Sections 188 of the CFRN.
- The House of Assembly must comply with all the provisions listed under Sections 188(1) – 188(9) of the CFRN before it can lawfully and constitutionally remove a person from the office of Governor or Deputy Governor.
- A breach of any even one of the conditions in Section 188(1) – 188(9) of the CFRN by the House of Assembly of a State is enough to render an impeachment unlawful and unconstitutional.
- A breach of any of the fundamental provisions in the CFRN would also render an impeachment unlawful and unconstitutional.
- The Courts have the jurisdiction to interfere with an unlawful/unconstitutional impeachment.
Strict compliance with the provisions
- The jurisdiction of the Courts is limited to investigating whether or not the impeachment was done in compliance with the provisions of the CFRN, particularly Sections 188 of the CFRN.
- Where an impeachment was done in strict compliance with the provisions of the CFRN, particularly the provisions of Section 188(1) – 188(9) of the CFRN the Courts pursuant to Section 188(10) of the CFRN would have no jurisdiction to interfere or disturb the said impeachment.
Finally, following all the above-said it is my humble opinion that what is happening in Benue and Imo States can best be described as a flagrant abuse and total disregard for the rule of law. The Courts cannot simply fold its arms and allow same to continue. Please see the admonition of his Lordship, Musdapher, JSC (as he then was) in INAKOJU V. ADELEKE (SUPRA) @ PG. 185, LINES 20-30, where his Lordship held that:
‘’Whenever politicians begin to engage in self-destruction, bastardizing the rule of law and the flagrant abuse and disregard of the Constitutional provisions, the Courts have the duty as the guardians of the Constitution to intervene and appropriately pronounce on the legality of the legislative function be it impeachment or otherwise.”