ANALYSIS: How Nigerian presidents, governors use impeachment as weapon against opponents

Imo State Deputy Governor, Eze Madumere
Imo State Deputy Governor, Eze Madumere. [Photo credit: Daily Post]

Chris Ekpenyong, the then deputy governor of Akwa Ibom state, made history in 2005.

That year, Mr Ekpenyong caused state legislators who impeached him to reverse the impeachment in less than seven days; he was allowed to resign from office, instead, and walked away victoriously.

The then governor, Victor Attah, is believed to have masterminded the impeachment because of political differences, after Mr Ekpenyong voted for the incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s presidential primary in January 2003.

Akwa Ibom delegates had Mr Attah’s instructions to support Mr Obasanjo’s challenger, Alex Ekwueme, a former vice president of Nigeria.

Mr Attah also wanted his deputy removed from office to pave way for his son-in-law, Udoma Ekarika, to succeed him as governor in 2007.

The reversal of Mr Ekpenyong’s impeachment came from Abuja through the intervention of President Obasanjo who sent a powerful delegation led by Tony Anenih, the then chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees (BOT), to fix things for the then deputy governor.

But Mr Ekpenyong’s political career, however, ended abruptly, at that point, as he was unable to fulfill his desire of getting the PDP nomination for the governorship election.

Mr Attah’s son-in-law was also beaten at the PDP primary by the erstwhile commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs, Godswill Akpabio, who later won the governorship election.

Today, a similar impeachment drama is playing out in Imo state, South-east Nigeria, where the court has blocked the state government from replacing the deputy governor of the state, Eze Madumere, who was impeached on July 30 by the state House of Assembly.

Mr Madumere’s sin lies in his ambition to be the next governor of the state, against the wishes of the incumbent governor, Rochas Okorocha, who rather wants his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, to succeed him in May 2019.

“Reckless Display Of Arrogance”

Femi Falana, a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), described Governor Okorocha’s behaviour as “a reckless display of arrogance”.

Mr Falana told PREMIUM TIMES, “In a demonstration of brazen contempt of court the House of Assembly ignored the valid and subsisting court order and hurriedly passed a resolution for the purported impeachment of Prince Madumere as Deputy Governor of Imo State.

“Instead of calling the legislators to order by asking them to purge themselves of contempt of court Governor Okorocha announced Mr. Calistus Ekenze as the new Deputy Governor.

“In a reckless display of arrogance of naked power, Governor Okorocha directed the Chief Judge of Imo State to swear-in the so-called new Deputy Governor. However, the Chief Judge rightly turned down the contemptuous directive of Governor Okorocha to swear in Mr Ekenze as Deputy Governor of the State.

“In a historic solidarity with the Chief Judge, all the other Jjudges in High Court of Imo State have resolved not to lend judicial weight to the subversion of the rule of law by the legislative and executive organs of the Imo State Government.”

Mr Falana commended the judiciary in Imo state for standing up against the governor.

He called on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and other Nigerians to stand up too and ensure that the order of the Imo State chief judge is fully complied with.

“Let the legislators and Governor Okorocha purge themselves of contempt of court by continuing to recognise Prince Madumere as the Deputy Governor of Imo State pending the determination of the pending suit before the State High Court on the validity of the impeachment proceedings adopted by the House of Assembly of Imo State,” he said.

Most people who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on the Imo State impeachment crisis said Mr Madumere remained the state deputy governor, in the eyes of the law.

Lethal Political Weapon

In Nigerian politics, impeachment has remained a dangerous political weapon in the hands of the president, governors, and other powerful politicians.

When Mr Obasanjo was president, five state governors – Ayo Fayose of Ekiti; Chris Ngige, Anambra; Joshua Dariye, Plateau; Rasheed Ladoja, Oyo; and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Bayelsa – were removed from office for various alleged offences, including stealing of public funds.

Besides the general belief that Mr Obasanjo instigated the impeachment of governors for selfish political reasons, the federal government under his administration had declared a state of emergency in Ekiti and replaced the governor, Mr Fayose, with a retired military general, Adetunji Olurin, as sole administrator of the state.

The Obasanjo administration also declared a state of emergency in Plateau State and replaced the governor, Mr Dariye, with a retired military general as the sole administrator of the state in November 2004.

Mr Dariye was eventually impeached and replaced by the deputy governor, Michael Botmang.

But he went to court and upturned the impeachment, and was reinstated as governor in March 2007.

Interestingly, Mr Dariye, now out of office, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption by an Abuja high court, about two months ago.

Murtala Nyako, the governor of Adamawa State, was also impeached in 2014 on allegation of corruption.

In Benue State, eight out of 30 legislators, assisted by the police, took control of the state House of Assembly last month and proceeded to serve impeachment notice on the state governor, Samuel Ortom.

Mr Ortom, with several of the state lawmakers, recently defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the PDP.

Many Nigerians suspect that the APC-controlled federal government is behind the impeachment moves in Benue. PREMIUM TIMES could not verify this.

Several deputy governors like Enyinnaya Abaribe of Abia state; Peremobowei Ebebihave, Bayelsa; Sani Danladi, Taraba; Mohammed Gadi, Bauchi; and Suleiman Argungu, Kebbi have been impeached from office since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999.

Lagos State had two of its deputy governors, Kofo Bucknor-Akerele and Femi Pedro, impeached in the past.

Another deputy governor in Akwa Ibom, Nsima Ekere, was almost impeached during the Akpabio administration. He had to hurriedly resign from office before the House of Assembly began the impeachment proceedings.

Perhaps, the most ludicrous among them was that of Enugu State where the deputy governor, Sunday Onyebuchi, was removed on the accusation that he operated a poultry farm within the government house.

The court in 2015, however, nullified Mr Onyebuchi’s impeachment.

Legal Hurdles

Sections 143 and 188 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria specify how the president, vice president, a governor or deputy governor can be removed from office.

The Constitution goes further (in Sub-section 10 of Section 188) to forbid the court from intervening in an impeachment process against a governor or deputy governor.

“A successful impeachment is a blend of politics and legality,” a Lagos-based lawyer, Chijioke Emeka, wrote in The Nation newspaper.

“The plotters must win the politics and then, if challenged in court (as is almost always the case), also pass through the legal crucibles.”

Mr Emeka said, “As a political process, ‘impeachment’ is intended to constitute a political trial and judgment of the legislature, while the courts are silent.”

He said that was the reason the Nigerian Constitution provides for an ‘ouster clause’ and partly defines gross misconduct as whatever is so “in the opinion” of the legislature.

The lawyer said the court began intervening in the impeachment of governors and deputy governors, despite the ouster clause, when they noticed how the processes where being abused by legislators.

“In Adeleke V Oyo State House of Assembly (2007) 1 NWLR (PART 100) 608, the Court of Appeal courageously ‘redrafted’ the ouster clause using the judicial license of ‘interpretation’.

“Law is dynamic and bad times give rise to revolutionary times. It was held that since Section 188(1) – (9) prescribes procedures, the proper interpretation to be given to the ouster clause is that it could only be activated when such procedures had been complied with,” Mr Emeka said.

Another lawyer, Onyekachi Duru, said based on the Court of Appeal judgement in Adeleke V Oyo State House of Assembly, it would now be difficult for legislators to abuse the constitutional provision which requires that for an impeachment of a governor or deputy governor to be successful, it must be supported by the two-third majority of the members of the House of Assembly.

“It follows that two-thirds of the members for the purposes of impeachment must be two-thirds of all the elected members including those on suspension,” Mr Duru stated in a research work he did recently on how the judiciary handled litigations arising from impeachment cases in Nigeria.

“It is therefore certain that suspending some members in order to have a ‘trumped up’ two-thirds majority for the purposes of impeachment will render the process of impeachment a nullity,” Mr Duru added.

Stringent Process, Checks, Balances

Most politicians, lawyers, journalists, and political analysts, agree that the framers of the Nigerian Constitution saw impeachment as a serious matter, and therefore made the process cumbersome.

But, as noted by a Lagos-based lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, “because of the political undertone that brings about these impeachment proceedings, it has been difficult for the houses of assembly to comply with the due process of law”.

That is the reason, according to Mr Effiong, the Nigerian courts have nullified all the impeachment cases brought before them from 1999 till date.

Mr Effiong also told PREMIUM TIMES, “In all the impeachment cases that I am aware of, I have not seen one where the legislators initiated impeachment proceedings on their own, without some external influences.”

Ben Nwosu, a lecturer in the department of political science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, blamed the frequent cases of impeachments in the country on weak institutions.

“So much power has been invested on political principals, and then the institutions that should control them do not work.

“That is why it’s easy for a governor to mobilise resources to impeach whoever disagrees with him,” Mr Nwosu said. He also blamed the situation on the complete absence of the ‘people’s power’ in the nation’s politics.

“Part of the problem of democracy in Nigeria is the ordinary people in the sense that we lack the power of noble anger. We lack the power to say no, ‘we cannot tolerate this. This is not what our society stands for’.

“It’s beyond making comments; citizens can occupy the streets, occupy parliament and government buildings,” Mr Nwosu explaned.

He suggested an amendment of the constitution to reduce the powers of governors and other “political principals” in the country, to discourage “politically motivated” impeachments.

Mr Effiong said the court should not just be made to set aside “unlawful” impeachment, but that those who sponsored and promoted should also be punished at the end of the exercise.

“The Constitution should be amended to insert a criminal punishment for any violation of the constitution, beyond setting aside their action. If politicians are punished for trying to subvert the Constitution, I think they will be careful,” he said.

“The reckless violations of constitutional provisions and disobedience of court orders are backed by attorneys-general and lawyers who are members of the legislative houses. To stop the dangerous trend it is high time that the Nigerian Bar Association began to sanction its members who engage in the deliberate breach of the Constitution,” Mr Falana said in his summation.

The former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom, Mr Ekpenyong, laughed over it as he recalled how he triumphed against the legislators who wanted to impeach him.

“Political parties in Nigeria should not be under the control of the governor or president,” Mr Ekpenyong told PREMIUM TIMES. “The parties should be independent and capable of getting elected officials to implement the visions and programmes of the parties.”

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