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Grounds for Impeachment in Nigeria

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Grounds for Impeachment in Nigeria

The framers of the 1999 Constitutions of Nigeria provided for the grounds and procedure for carrying out any impeachment proceedings by the National Assembly and the State House of Assembly of every State. Nigerian legislators in their bids to take a pound of flesh from their targets have thrown caution to the wind and ignored all these clear cut provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.

Apart from the constitutional grounds for carrying out the impeachment process, the Nigerian legislators appear to have more often than not created their own grounds for impeaching a Chief Executive or his Deputy. This is herein summarized as a political ground for carrying out an impeachment proceeding. This article, therefore, takes a look at the constitutional and political grounds for impeachment process as well as the procedure for impeachment proceedings in Nigeria.

Constitutional Ground

The ground for removal of the President or the Vice President of Nigeria is clearly enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)[1] . The said section of the Constitution provides as follows:

143(1) The President or Vice President may be removed from office in accordance with the provision of this section. (2) Whenever a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly. (a) Is presented to the President of the Senate (b) Stating that the holder of the office of President or Vice President is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, detailed particulars of which shall be specified….

Similar provision is enshrined in sections 188(1) & (2) (a) & (b) and section 188(11)[2] respectively with respect to the removal of Governor or Deputy Governor of a State.

From the above provisions of the Constitution, it goes without saying that the main constitutional ground for removal of the President, Vice President, Governor or Deputy Governor by way of impeachment proceedings is commission of gross misconduct by the Chief Executive or his Deputy. In other words, committing a grave violation or breach of the provisions of the Constitution is the only constitutional ground that can be relied upon to invoke impeachment proceedings by lawmakers.

Comparatively, the United States Constitution provides inter alia that the President, Vice President and all civil officers “shall be removed by impeachment for conviction of treason, bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanors”[3] It is quite apparent that the two grounds as contained in both the United State Constitution and that of Nigeria Constitution are similar particularly in their respective applications.

In the words of Mowoe:[4]

…although gross misconduct in the performance of his office is the only constitutionally permitted ground for the impeachment of a Governor (or the President), whether an act or omission amounted to gross misconduct was left largely in the discretion of the Assembly. This follows from the definition of gross misconduct as a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the House of Assembly to gross misconduct.

 

Political Ground

As noted earlier under constitutional ground, gross misconduct is the only constitutionally permitted ground for the impeachment of the President, Governor and their Deputies. In practice however, the legislators, have no doubt created their own ground of impeachment different from the constitutionally recognized ground. This researcher calls it “Political Ground”.

Judging from all the impeachment proceedings (including the attempted or unsuccessful ones), that occurred between 1979 and 2020, it will not be wrong to say that majority of them were politically motivated rather than being constitutionally activated.

Under this political ground anything goes. What constitutes a political ground is best known to the legislators. The impeachment of Balarabe Musa, the First Executive Governor of Kaduna State was seen by many as politically motivated because the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) that was in control of the Kaduna State Legislature could not stomach the idea of working with a Governor from another party the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) which was in minority, although it won the governorship election in the State. The only way to take a pound of flesh from the Governor was to impeach him by hook or crook.

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According to Nwabueze[5]

Once it was embarked upon, removal was pre-determined, whether the Governor was guilty of gross misconduct or not Legality or constitutionality had to be subordinated to political interest in the impeachment process. The proceeding was political from beginning to end, though the façade of indictment, trial and conviction had to be put up just to satisfy the Constitution. In so far as a verdict of guilty was already pre-determined regardless of the merits, the impeachment may be said to have been a sham.

This gave credence to Larry Diamond’s conclusion that in Kaduna State, impeachment was used merely as “a weapon of political conflict”.[6]

The same scenario almost played out in Nasarawa State in 2014 where Governor Al Makura escaped impeachment plot by the Nasarawa State House of Assembly members who were mainly from the opposition party People’s Democratic Party (PDP), whereas the Governor was then in Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

The impeachment plot did not see the light of the day as the electorate realised the political nature of the process and protested, coupled with the fact that the panel of seven assigned to investigate the Governor returned a verdict of not guilty.

In Enugu State for instance, where the then Governor, Chime had a running political battle with his Deputy, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, the impeachment process was unleashed on the Deputy Governor and one of the grounds for raising an impeachment notice against him was that he kept a poultry farm in the Government House. Needless to say that, the House of Assembly apparently incited by the Governor, successfully impeached and removed the Deputy Governor accordingly.

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Conclusion

The ground for impeachment in Nigeria is, basically on constitutional grounds. The political ground, as practiced by the legislatures has always been declared a sham by the court and it is an affront to our democracy.

[1] Section 143(1)&(2) (9)&(b) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (as amended)

[2] Ibid

[3] Article 2(4) of the United States Constitution

[4]K.  Mowoe, Constitutional Law In Nigeria, (Lagos: Malthouse Press Ltd, 2008) p. 109

[5] B.O Nwabueze , Constitutional Democracy In Africa (Ibadan: Spectrum Books Ltd, 2004) at pp. 121 – 122

[6] A. Umaru, Politics and Law Making In Nigeria, (Zaria: ABU Press, 1994) at p. 150 wherein the author cited Larry Diamonds Book, “The Political Economy of Nigeria” edited by William Zartman at pp. 24-56

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