A BROKEN GOVERNMENT: The Threshold of Constitutional Crisis and Abuse of the Impeachment Process in Nigeria - By Roy Chikwem
Since the introduction of democracy in Nigeria, five governors have been impeached in a nationwide attempt to “crack-down” on corruption.As many as two-thirds of the nation's past governors are under investigation by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other law-enforcement agencies. All impeached governors and public officials are said to be opponents of the former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo. And, in all instances, the constitutionally-defined impeachment process was breached, grossly misapplied, misappropriated and abused. The impeachment process in Nigeria is currently being used to settle scores with officials who refuse to deal and to punish political enemies.
Impeachment exists under constitutional law in many nations around the world, including the United States of America, Great Britain, India, Canada, Brazil, Russia, the Philippines, the Republic of Ireland and Kyrgyzstan. In the United States, Congress regards impeachment as a power to be used only in extreme cases; the House has initiated impeachment proceedings only 62 times since 1789 and only 16 federal officers have been impeached. Clinton was impeached on December 19, 1998 by the House of Representatives on grounds of perjury to a grand jury (by a 228–206 vote), obstruction of justice (by a 221–212 vote), count of perjury in the Jones case (by a 205–229 vote) and abuse of power (by a 48–285 vote). President Clinton was acquitted of the obstruction charge by a 5 to 50 vote in the Senate.
The following Presidents had been removed from office following impeachment:
• Abolhassan Banisadr, President of Iran, was impeached in 1981.
• Fernando Collor de Mello, President of Brazil, was impeached in 1992.
• Carlos Andrés Pérez, President of Venezuela, was impeached in 1993.
• Raúl Cubas Grau, President of Paraguay, was impeached in 1999.
• Rolandas Paksas, President of Lithuania, was impeached in 2004.
The first governor to be impeached in the history of Nigeria was Alhaji Balarabe Musa, who was the governor of Kaduna State in the second republic. He was impeached by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) controlled State House of Assembly for his uncompromising socialist principles which his party the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) stood for. In Nigeria, the following elected officials have been impeached since the introduction of democracy in 1999:
• Governor Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo state was impeached on January 12, 2006. Ladoja was impeached by Oyo state legislators and forced to leave office but eventually challenged his impeachment. His deputy, Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala was immediately sworn in as the new governor by the acting chief judge of the State; who himself was purportedly removed from office earlier by Ladoja. The political power play was apparently as a result of Ladoja's fight with late Chief Lamidi Adedibu; often regarded as the strongman of Ibadan politics and he was a chieftain of the PDP. On November 1, 2006, the Appeal Court in Ibadan declared the impeachment null and illegal. According to the Appeal Court, Ladoja still remained the governor of Oyo state. On December 12, 2006, Ladoja officially took office several days after his reinstatement was upheld by the Supreme Court.
• Governor Ayodele Fayose and his deputy Chief Abiodun Olujimi of Ekiti state were impeached for corruption in an impeachment process criticized by the judiciary as unconstitutional and illegal. Political analysts saw this impeachment as further evidence of former President Olusegun Obasanjo tightening his grip over the ruling party, ahead of the massively-rigged 2007 national elections. His administration was embroiled in a corruption scandal involving an agricultural development firm owned by his childhood friend, Gbenga James. He stands accused of mismanaging more than $11.5 million.
• Governor Peter Obi of Anambra was impeached and the Appeal Court upheld a lower court ruling. The Appeal Court claimed that Peter Obi's removal was "illegal and unconstitutional" because the Anambra state House of Assembly did not follow due process. After nearly three years of litigation, Ngige's victory was overturned by the Court of Appeal on March 15, 2006. Obi then took office on March 17, 2006. On November 2, 2006, he was impeached by the state House of Assembly after seven months in office and replaced the next day by Virginia Etiaba, his deputy, making her the first female Governor in Nigeria's history. Obi successfully challenged his impeachment and was re-instated as the governor on February 9, 2007 by the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu; Etiaba handed power back to him after the court ruling. He once again left office on May 29, 2007 following general elections. Obi returned to the courts once more, this time contending that the four-year tenure he had won in the 2003 elections only started to run when he took office in March 2006. On June 14, 2007 the Supreme Court of Nigeria upheld Obi's contention and returned Obi to office. This brought to an abrupt end the tenure of Obi's successor, Governor Andy Uba whose April 14, 2007 election the Supreme Court nullified on the grounds that Obi's four-year tenure should have remained undisturbed till March 2010.
• Governor Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha ("DSP") of Bayelsa state was detained in London on charges of money laundering on September 2005. He jumped bail on December 2005 from the United Kingdom by allegedly disguising himself as a woman and he was impeached by the Bayelsa State House of Assembly. On July, 26, 2007, Alamieyeseigha pleaded guilty before a Nigerian court to six charges and was sentenced to two years in prison on each charge; however, because the sentences were set to run concurrently and the time was counted from the point of his arrest nearly two years before the sentences, his actual sentence was relatively short. On July 27, 2007, just hours after being taken to prison, he was released due to time already served.
• Governor Joshua Chibi Dariye of Plateau state was impeached on November 2006. On October 2006, eight of the twenty-four state assembly members issued an impeachment notice against Dariye. In his defence, he stated that the notice was invalid as the eight did not form a quorum of the assembly. Dariye was impeached on November 13, 2006. His deputy, Michael Botmang, became the new Governor. On March 10, 2007, after a Court of Appeals ordered Dariye reinstated as Governor, the Plateau State Government announced its intention to appeal to the Supreme Court. On April 27, 2007, the Supreme Court refused the appeal of the Plateau State Government and ordered the reinstatement of Dariye with immediate effect. Following his reinstatement, Dariye's term of office as Governor of Plateau State concluded on May 29, 2007.
• Late Dr. Chima Nwafor, Abia State deputy governor was also impeached. It is alleged that Nwafor had told Governor Orji Kalu that he heard of a plan by Tony Anenih, chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP, to kill the governor. The matter snowballed into a big controversy in the country. Angered by the action of Nwafor, the Abia State House of Assembly moved and concluded impeachment process on the deputy governor. Fortunately for Nwafor, however, the execution of the impeachment was stalled following pressure brought to bear on the house to pardon him. One and half years after Nwafor was pardoned, Twenty-three out of the 24 members of the House of Assembly impeached him.
• Lagos state Deputy Governor, Otunba Olufemi Pedro was impeached by the Lagos State House of Assembly, 24 hours after announcing that he had tendered his letter of resignation. The impeachment came via a resolution adopted by the 32 members of the Assembly. Femi Pedro was found guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office.
Across the state government seats of power, governors and their deputies are faced with the possibility of impeachment. The fear of the impeachment is so renowned that the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Vincent Ogbulafor recently warned members of the Imo State Houses of Assembly to drop any plan to impeach Gov. Ohakim of Imo state as he stressed that the era of impeachment was over. There is a great call for Nigerian legislators to discontinue the common practice of holding elected government officials ransoms for financial gains. The Nigerian legislators need to be more responsive and accountable to the people who they claim “elected” them. The constant abuse of the impeachment process is unacceptable, undesirable and unconstitutional. It is apparent that these corrupt and unlawful legislators are more interested in mortgaging our democracy to the high bidder willing to replace an impeached official.