BY TONNIE IREDIA
It is no longer news that Mahdi Aliyu Gusau, is no longer the deputy governor of Zamfara state. He was impeached a few days ago by state legislators who claimed that allegations of abuse of office, criminal self-enrichment and failure to discharge his constitutional duties had been confirmed by an investigation panel.
However, the impeachment did not surprise analysts who had followed events in the state in which the only real offence of the embattled deputy governor was his failure to defect along with the governor from the Peoples Democratic Party PDP to the All Progressive Congress APC.
Interestingly, Gusau is not the only deputy governor who ever left his principal. Nkem Okeke, deputy governor of Anambra state abandoned his principal in the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in October 2021 to defected to the APC. A year earlier, Agboola Ajayi, Ondo’s former deputy governor had single handedly defected from the APC to the PDP.
Although strong reasons are usually articulated for presentation to the public at the point of announcing an impeachment, Nigerians are yet to see any that has been done in line with both the letter and the spirit of the constitution. Instead, political differences are usually the real causes of the frictions. The charges presented are usually in most cases false allegations compiled to work to the answer. In 2012, for instance, the deputy governor of Taraba State, Sani Abubakar Danladi was impeached by the State House of Assembly for allegedly using his office to attract development to his community. In 2013, the then deputy governor, of Imo state, Sir Jude Agbaso was impeached on charges of corruption later found to be fake. Two charges for which Sunday Onyebuchi was impeached as deputy governor of Enugu state in 2014 were most laughable. One was the accusation of “gross misconduct” of running a poultry farm in his compound while the second, was absence from an assigned function. When video evidence showed he was at the event, the exact location he sat was declared inappropriate.
Another unique trend in the impeachment of deputy governors is the precipitous speed of execution. The tendency to reflate social media stories notwithstanding, a message which went viral there as soon the impeachment of Zamfara’s deputy governor was announced underscored the unending frivolities in Nigeria’s political landscape. The message stated that on receipt of the panel’s report that investigated Mahdi Gusau; the legislators redrafted the day’s Order Paper to deliberate, consider, adopt and vote for the impeachment/removal of the deputy governor. That same day the governor sent a letter nominating a new deputy governor, Senator Hassan Nasiha making the House to redraft the Order Paper to reflect invitation to the deputy governor-nominee for screening. Thereafter, the Clerk of the House transmitted the resolutions to the governor who then invited the state chief judge, Kulu Aliyu, to swear-in the new deputy governor. This enabled the latter to within hours assume office as the fifth deputy governor of Zamfara State.
READ ALSO: PDP to challenge impeachment of Zamfara deputy governor in court
To better illuminate the process, we need to explain that the impeachment of deputy governors in Nigeria has 3 main actors. The first and major beneficiary of the project is always a governor who serves as the sponsor/financier of the contrived scheme. In fact, there have been allegations that governors even sponsor the impeachment of some Assembly Speakers they are unable to manipulate. In Niger state for example, no one believed the absurd reason given by the legislators for the removal of their Speaker for non-performance when he had been in office for less than one week. When was he to perform? The second actor in the impeachment process is made up of legislators who are reportedly always lavishly procured to do the hatchet job. The third actor is the judiciary made up in some cases of malleable chief judges who position themselves strategically on the side of governors. In fairness, there have been a number of cases where the judiciary stood strongly on the side of the law.
Of the 3 actors listed, the legislators are usually the most active. Once they get the green light, it becomes a task that must be done even where the charges are transparently irrational. If the governor mobilizes the required majority to approve the impeachment, only very little needs to be done. But if only a few are involved, then, security and logistics have to be provided so that if a fight ensues, it can be effectively prosecuted. The legislators would also not be interested in the due process of law, hence as in the case of Mahdi Gusau, they ignored an order issued by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on February 14, 2022 warning them against the impeachment. Similarly, although an Owerri High Court had in July 2014 specifically halted the process of impeaching Eze Madumere, the then deputy governor of Imo state, the House of Assembly disobeyed the court order and purportedly impeached the deputy governor.
The immediate result of the disposition of our lawless legislators is that no deputy governor has ever been validly impeached in Nigeria. In 2015, Justice Reuben Odugu of the Enugu High Court nullified the purported impeachment of former deputy governor of the State, Sunday Onyebuchi and ordered the restoration of all his rights and benefits. The former governor was to later disclose that some of those who perpetuated injustice against him had “come to confess and plead for forgiveness saying they were used.” In the case of Sir Jude Agbaso, his impeachment was quashed 8 years after and all his rights similarly restored. In 2017, an Appeal Court sitting in Akure nullified the impeachment of Ali Olanusi as deputy governor to the then governor Segun Mimiko of Ondo state. In February 2020, a Lokoja High Court rejected the purported removal of Simon Achuba as Kogi’s deputy governor. The Court held that “failure to serve the Notice of hearing and charges on the appellant is a breach on his right to fair hearing.” The Court also declared that the subsequent nomination and inauguration of a new deputy governor as replacement for Mr. Achuba, did not follow due process.
But why will law makers be unrepentant law breakers? It appears that the breaches are deliberate because it is inconceivable that legislators repeat same breaches by the day. For example, why would legislators continue to suspend their colleagues when each suspension is quashed by the judiciary on the ground that legislators have no powers to suspend one another? In the case of impeachment, it is irritating that the immediate past deputy governor of Kogi state was still impeached when the panel set up to investigate him did not find him guilty. We need to state that, fake impeachments in Nigeria are, first a waste of human and material resources. In all the cases reviewed, all those wrongly removed from office had to be paid millions of naira of salaries for no work done in addition to the fact that some impostors who earlier received those salaries were not required to return them. In Achuba’s case, the National Industrial Court ordered the state government to pay him N180 million within 30 days adding that failure to comply would incur a 30 per cent monthly interest.
Today, we salute judges who stood firmly on the side of the law while politicians displayed undue recklessness. In July 2020, when Ondo state legislators sought to impeach deputy governor Agboola Ajayi, the State Chief Judge, Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, faulted the process and declined to set up an investigation panel. She also gave due recognition to the existence of a restraining court order on the subject. In Imo state in 2018, Justice Ben Iheka had displayed similar courage when he restrained the panel set up by his Chief Judge from taking further action in the illegal impeachment process of deputy governor Eze Madumere. Painfully, no one seems to know why some Chief Judges in states like Kogi and Zamfara etc. could not show similar commendable courage and help to strengthen Nigeria’s democracy.
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.