Imperfect impeachment

By IAfrica
In Nigeria
Sep 1st, 2014
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•Constitutional provision becomes political tool

One of the least-attractive features of Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in May 1999 is the repeated refusal of politicians to play the game by its established rules. The most egregious manifestation of this tendency is the use to which the constitutional provision of impeachment has been put. Instead of being utilised as a last resort to be employed when all other options have been tried and failed, impeachment has become a crude weapon for the achievement of crassly partisan political ends.

The recent impeachment of the Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, must rank among the most gratuitous examples of this grossly-misused constitutional provision. The speed of the process, its glaring lac k of transparency, and the sheer ludicrousness of the charges against him all combine to show that getting rid of a perceived nuisance was the real aim, rather than serving the interests of due process and fair play.

Onyebuchi was accused of gross misconduct and flagrant disobedience to the directives of Governor Sullivan Chime, but the crimes alleged against him were underwhelming in their pettiness. The deputy governor was said to have failed to represent the governor at ceremonies launching the construction of the Second Niger Bridge, and to have operated a poultry farm in defiance of a resolution of the Enugu State House of Assembly. In a nation where financial impropriety, gross incompetence and the use of violence and intimidation as instruments of state policy are rife, it is truly incomprehensible that these would constitute the “grave violation or breach of the provisions” referred to in Section 188 (11) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

If Onyebuchi’s offences amount to no more than these allegations, then there can be little doubt that his impeachment was more a means to a dishonourable end, as opposed to an end in itself. The fact that the panel appointed by the Enugu State House of Assembly was unable to find truly serious charges to level against him, as well as its refusal to sit in public is a clear demonstration of the fact that the impeachment provision had been abused by politicians whose personal ambitions took precedence over constitutional propriety and natural justice.

When it is recalled that the deputy governor held the fort during Chime’s well-publicised extended absence from the state in 2012, the injustice to which he has been subjected becomes even more apparent.

The main reason why the impeachment weapon can be deployed so recklessly is the loosely-worded nature of the relevant sections. While it is accepted that the provisions dealing with impeachment cannot be defined too narrowly and cannot specify every imaginable offence, it is disturbing that the references to “gross misconduct” are so vague. To make matters worse, the Constitution characterises it as “a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion in the House of Assembly to gross misconduct.” Given the pliancy of so many state houses of assembly in the hands of state governors, it is no surprise that impeachment has been repeatedly misused in Nigeria over the years.

The consequences have not been beneficial to the country: violence, political instability, the entrenchment of money politics and godfatherism have been the most obvious repercussions. The long-term implications are not positive either, as politicians will seek to rely less on competence and service as they increasingly realise that controlling the impeachment weapon is the most profitable strategy to longevity in office.

Onyebuchi has promised to seek redress in court. It is hoped that he makes good his intention, as it will enable the propriety or otherwise of his impeachment to be subject to the due process of law. The removal of governors and their deputies from office is a profoundly serious undertaking; it can no longer be subject to the whims of over-ambitious politicians and craven state houses of assembly.

 

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