The media was awash with the news of the purported removal of the deputy Governor of Kogi State by the Legislative Arm of the State and the subsequent nomination of one Mr. Edward Onoja as a replacement for the deputy governor that was removed, these acts by the combined efforts of the Legislature and the Governor of the state are acts which many and indeed this writer view as amounting to constitutional vandalism and such acts should be considered a nullity without much deliberations because the position of the law is clear.
The impeachment process started by the Kogi House of Assembly should have ended the moment the 7-man panel cleared Mr. Simon Achuba of all the allegations levied against him. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) is clear in this regard. For ease of understanding, the entire provisions of Section 188 of the Constitution are reproduced:
- The Governor or Deputy Governor of a state may Removal of Governor be removed from office in accordance with the provisions or Deputy Governor of this section. from office.
- Whenever a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the House of Assembly. (b) stating that the holder of such office is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, detailed particulars of which shall be specified. The speaker of the House of Assembly shall, within seven days of the receipt of the notice, cause a copy of the notice to be served on the holder of the office and on each member of the House of Assembly, and shall also cause any statement made in reply to the allegation by the holder of the office, to be served on each member of the House of Assembly.
- Within fourteen days of the presentation of the notice to the speaker of the House of Assembly (whether or not any statement was made by the holder of the office in reply to the allegation contained in the notice-, the House of Assembly shall resolve by motion, without any debate whether or not the allegation shall be investigated.
- A motion of the House of Assembly that the allegation be investigated shall not be declared as having been passed unless it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of the House of Assembly.
- Within seven days of the passing of a motion under the foregoing provisions of this section, the Chief judge of the State shall at the request of the speaker of the House of Assembly, appoint a Panel of seven persons who in his opinion are of unquestionable integrity, not being members of any public service, legislative house or political party, to investigate the allegation as provided in this section.
- The holder of an office whose conduct is being investigated under this section shall have the right to defend himself in person or be represented before the panel by a legal practitioner of his own choice.
- A Panel appointed under this section shall – (a) have such powers and exercise its functions in accordance with such procedure as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly; and (b) within three months of its appointment, report its findings to the House of Assembly.
- Where the Panel reports to the House of Assembly that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter.
- Where the report of the Panel is that the allegation against the holder of the office has been proved, then within fourteen days of the receipt of the report, the house of Assembly shall consider the report, and if by a resolution of the House of Assembly supported by not less than two-thirds majority of all its members, the report of the Panel is adopted, then the holder of the office shall stand removed form office as from the date of the adoption of the report.
- No proceedings or determination of the Panel or of the House of Assembly or any matter relating to such proceedings or determination shall be entertained or questioned in any court.
- In this section – “gross misconduct” means a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion in the House of Assembly to gross misconduct.
By the provision of Section 188(8) of the Constitution, it is clear that where the report of the House of Assembly panel set up to investigate the allegation against the Deputy Governor states that no allegation is proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter. The Kogi State House of Assembly Panel stated in the conclusion of its report as follows: “In line with Section 188 (8) of the C.F.R.N, 1999 (as amended) quoted hereinbefore, we hereby report to the Kogi State House of Assembly that the allegations contained in the Notice of Allegations admitted in evidence by this Panel as Exhibit C7 have NOT BEEN PROVED.”
It is trite that where the wordings of a statute are very clear and would not lead to any ambiguity then the words should be interpreted literally without invoking any form of Interpretations to it. Thus in the Sussex Peerage case, Tindal C.J said:
The only rule for the construction of Acts of parliament is that they should be construed according to the intent of the parliaments which passed the Act. If the words of the statute are in themselves precise and unambiguous then no more can be necessary than to expound those words in their natural and ordinary sense.
Similarly in the Nigerian case of DANGANA & ANOR v. USMAN & ORS (2012) LPELR-25012 (SC) The Supreme Court opined thus: “In the literal rule of interpretation, Courts must interpret words in the Constitution in accordance with the intendment and certainly, not in a way opposed to the purpose intended for the enactment. There should be no divergence but strict confinement within the ordinary meaning of the words used in the Constitution unless it is at variance with the intention of the legislature to be gathered from the words used or leads to any manifest absurdity or repugnance.
Flowing from the above Constitutional provisions and Judicial authorities, it is evident that the Kogi House of Assembly is barred by virtue of Section 188(8). of the 1999 C.F.R.N(as amended) to continue any proceedings in respect of the matter.
However were the panel reports to the House of Assembly that the allegations against the office holder has been proved, then the House of Assembly is mandated to carry out the necessary process.
Impeachment is a process and not an event. There can be no accidental impeachment. The process has several stages that is fully laid down in the Constitution and it must be adhered to strictly and religiously. Any procedural infraction renders the entire process a nullity. It must be noted that there is no room for partial compliance as far as impeachment procedure is concerned. Delivering the lead judgement in the case of the impeachment of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, Justice Nri-Ezedi contended that the process that led to the removal of the Governor did not follow constitutional provisions. He contended that the legislators acted in flagrant abuse of Section 188(1-9). of the 1999 Constitution
This was the position of the court in the celebrated case of INAKOJU & ORS v. ADELEKE & ORS where the court nullified and voided the purported removal of the then governor of Oyo State, Mr. Rashidi Lodoja.
In Inakoju’s case, the Supreme Court made it clear that ignorance on the part of the legislature regarding the process of removing a governor or deputy governor is inexcusable. The court enthused thus: “Are we still in the learning process? What type of lessons will the appellants still need in Section 188? About four months to the end of a two-term of four years each making a total of eight years, or even a single term of four years, legislators cannot express ignorance of the provisions of Section 188. They cannot say that they are still learning the provision or they need more tutorials on the section. Unfortunately, no teacher will be available to them. The worst student of history can be a master of the subject after a period of four to eight years. If he still remains a novice of the subject after such a period, then history will not forgive him in its judgment.” (Pp. 130 – 131, paras. E – A).
Without much ado, since the investigation panel constituted to investigate the Deputy Governor cleared him of the allegations levied against him, it is my humble submission that the purported impeachment process carried out by the Kogi House of Assembly is a nullity and it is important to note that the office of the deputy governor is not vacant and the subsequent appointment of Mr. Edward Onoja by the Governor of the State is unconstitutional, null and void. Thus in recent Judicial Pronouncements, the ouster clause preventing the Court from hearing matters with respect to impeachment will not apply if the legislators fail to comply with the conditions set out in Section 188(1-9). of the 1999 Constitution. By virtue of these pronouncements, Mr Simon Achuba can approach the court to challenge the process that led to his removal.
Abdul Haqq Mutairu is a 200L Law Student of Faculty of Law Adekunle Ajasin University and he can be reached via 09068327014/ firstname.lastname@example.org