Justice Roland Amaize (Rtd)
The ongoing debates/controversies over whether or not President Buhari should be impeached following alleged Constitutional infraction, to the extent that they simply portray what a country ours is, are both interesting and troubling, if not heart quaking. They simply demonstrate that in spite of the huge size of our country (physically speaking) and its huge population, it is one that after more than six decades of attainment of Independence, her people (both the leadership and the led, especially the former) are least interested in seeing it grow, at least not in any foreseeable future. The implications of a country failing, through the deliberate actions and omissions of her citizenry, to grow along side other nations are plural and multi-dimensional and are as destructive as they can be.
Now, some big and vital questions: Why do we not want our country to grow? Or put differently why do we wallow in self deception and delusion that ours is a nation when in our hearts of heart, all we do and therefore what remains our pastime, especially amongst the political class, is seeing her destroyed? Why is it that amongst the political class in particular, the thought of our common denominator, the nigerian-ness, takes the bad seat in all that we do? Why do we live as though the life of the next neighbour does not matter but only ours do? Why does the ephemera nature of everything, including human life itself, not remind us that we should be wary whilst exercising our official powers, not to trample on whoever and whatever, including the laws, rules and regulations, which we have by our own hands put in place to act as guides, regulators and checks on human conducts? Above all, why do we pretentiously say we want to be one nation but both overtly and covertly we do and regale in those things that point to the opposite direction? Questions, questions, questions to no end, yet answers to them are far to seek and have.
We have a Constitution in place to which certain classified public office holders, including the nation’s President, had subscribed with a pledge, voluntarily made, in each case, to uphold and abide by its provision. The taking of such oath before assumption of office is not optional but mandatory. Their importance is such that specimens of the relevant oaths as they concern and touch every of the named public offices, are enshrined in the Constitution under the Seventh Schedule thereto. These, for the avoidance of any doubt, are Oath of Allegiance, Oath of Office and Judicial Oath, depending on the category of officer who is taking the Oath. Needless to state that everyone of the rest of us is also bound by the Constitution and all other extant laws.
Since what is in issue here is the office of the President, that is my focus here. The holder of the office is required to take Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office. With regard to Oath of Allegiance, he swears that he will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that he will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and at the close of it he asks God to help him.
The Oath of Office is a very lengthy one which cannot conveniently be largely but only somewhat summarized here as it bears relevance to this discourse. The officer swears to discharge his duties to the best of his ability, faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution and the law. He further swears to do all of that always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Republic. He again swears that to the best of his ability he will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. There are other obligations to which he swears but those I’ve specifically referred to above, as earlier noted, sufficiently cover the issues to be discussed here.
It is therefore clear beyond argument that the President is under obligation to discharge the functions of his office in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the law, failing which, in some cases, he runs the risk of premature removal from office by process of impeachment. Section 143(1) of the Constitution provides for the long and winding process to be adopted, in an appropriate case, to achieve such objective and these are carefully laced in subsections (2) to (10) thereof. The ground upon which such process can be commenced under subsection (2) is “gross misconduct” in the performance of the functions of his office and what constitutes gross misconduct is whatever the National Assembly considers to be so by virtue of subsection (11). There are similar provisions on the same subject relating to Governor of a State with powers to take similar steps vested in the State House of Assembly.
The accusation against the President which has now moved from the realm of mere allegation to factuality because it has been admitted, is that the sum of $496m was removed from the ECA by him to purchase some military aircrafts without recourse to the NASS, contrary to the provision of Section 80 of the Constitution. That section makes it clear beyond a matter of mere conjecture that no funds should be taken from the Federal purse let alone expended without same being first appropriated by NASS. The section does not provide for such recourse to the NASS to be had subsequent but only prior to taking and spending such money. In the instant case, however, the President spent the amount in question in utter and complete disregard to the said section. However, it was months after he did so that it occurred to him to wrote letters to the two chambers of NASS notifying them that he had spent the money in anticipation of their approval. The letters were read in the two chambers of NASS respectively on Wednesday, April 25.
Subsequent to the reading of the letter by the Senate President, Pharm. Matthew Urhoghide, FPSN, the Senator representing Edo South Senatorial District, moved a motion on the floor of the Senate for commencement of impeachment process against the President, describing his action in the above stated regard as an impeachable one. Close to the same scenario also played out in the House of Representatives. They are to further consider the matter at later dates.
I won’t be surprised to hear some gullible Nigerians, fueled by every consideration but altruistic, soon calling for his head for no reason other than he has done one of the things for which his constituents had elected him and amply guided by law. This will be such that he will look round himself and wonder if he had committed, without knowing, some harakiri. He did not but that is the way of our nation, Nigeria.
The point here is not whether or not Mr. President is eventually impeached nor do I care how the whole thing eventually pan out. If he is impeached ooh hoo and if he is not impeached ooh hoo as we say in my local community. I couldn’t be bothered whither way it goes.
The reason for this write-up is not therefore to yell that the President be impeached but rather the reason for it lays somewhere else. It is for what I’ve perceived, sadly and painfully so, as our lack of seriousness as a people in wanting to run a nation as it ought to be. I’m quite worried and troubled about that and I believe others who truly wish the nation well should equally be troubled by such phenomenon.
This point is clearly underscored and captured by the various reasons, albeit unacceptable, that are now being canvassed by those who believe that the President should not be impeached. Their (that is the reasons’) unacceptability should not be seen as a drive towards impeachment as an option but simply that such reasons do not only regrettably take flight from legal realities but they clearly stand the law on its head.
I shall now proceed to make recap of some of those reasons as follows, that:-
a. the spending relates to issue of security which is considered a serious matter b. the US Govt, the vendor of the aircrafts, had given us, the vendee, a timeline within which we were to pay for them, failing which we could as well forget the deal c. moneys were similarly taken from the said Account by previous administrations without recourse being first had to NASS and those Presidents were not impeached and wondered why members of the DPP, as they say, are now clamoring for impeachment of President Buhari and d. since the President has now written to NASS asking for approval, he had thereby done the needful under the law. There are several other nonsensical reasons which for the need for brevity, I’m refraining from setting out here.
I’ll now subject these various reasons to further brief consideration but before doing so, I must express disgust that even lawyers, including some Senior Advocates, are part of those canvassing such hollow arguments perhaps in pursuit and sustenance of their latent political inclinations. Such development is a shame, to say the least because we are here talking of non compliance, not just with the provision of a mere principal law, but with that of our organic law and therefore grossly and abysmally wanting in due process. Lawyers, in the interest of furtherance of our democracy, should take the driver seat in the drive towards ensuring strict adherence to the provisions of our laws, especially our Constitution, rather than encouraging, for whatever considerations, perpetuation of assaults on them under any guise.
Now to the reasons being canvassed some of which I referred to above. It is very convenient to address all in one fell swoop because one common ugly thread runs through them all like a spider web. The common thread is that none of them has any place within the spirit and letters of the said Section 80 of the Constitution, regardless of their having rented the air and are still doing so. If anything therefore, all the reasons being canvassed without any exception and from whatever quarter, high or low, official or unofficial simply appeal to sentiments and not to the law.
I accordingly, in addressing those reasons, challenge all their canvassers and purveyors to point to anywhere in Section 80 of the Constitution in which either by way of a proviso or whatever, it accommodates any of the arguments being canvassed in favor of the President and therefore against any impeachment move. That is I’m requesting them to point out any where in the section which excepts or exempts the President from liability on the basis of presence of any of the factors now being canvassed. There is nothing of the sort in that section or any other section of the Constitution for that matter. In the absence of anything of the sort in the section, one cannot but state that in canvassing the points, those doing so are doing so for everything but altruistic. It is not for the need for our laws to grow and by extension for us to grow as a nation but simply to destroy her.
The whole matter of lack of due process becomes all the more troubling when one hears even persons who ought to know better speak and in some instances they talk tongue-in-cheeks in support of what the President had done which is a clear Constitutional breach, QED. For instance, the Vice President, a Professor of Law and a Senior Advocate and therefore a legal guru, is the Chairman of the National Economic Council or even if he is not it’s statutory Chairman, at least he regularly presides over its meetings. The body met on Thursday, April 25 and at the end of the meeting, one of the Governors (I think it was the Governor of Jigawa State) briefed the press in which he announced their support for the President on this matter. His reason was the old narrative of security situation. As I watched him on one of the national televisions singing that same old tune like a broken record and speaking incoherently in a manner depicting someone who was speaking from unsure premise, I could not but shake my head in pity for my dear country.
Even if one is to set the reason of emergency security situation apart from the others, the question still remains whether an emergency that was clearly self induced is not after all an afterthought and therefore a complete ruse. This matter started sometime last year and from information available payment was made about four months ago (I stand to be corrected) and until I’m so corrected, the live question is what emergency are we therefore talking about? One that is self induced? Common on, who is fooling who? Has it ever occurred to our leaders in contemporary Nigeria that the awareness of the people is now more than ever before on the ascendancy?
As I said, it is not my business whether or not there is impeachment. This I say not pretentiously but seriously. As a matter of fact, I make bold to state that regardless of the constitutional infraction, in nature, content and degree, there will NEVER be any impeachment for obvious reason that this is Nigeria. Why therefore could I be bothered about what will not be no matter how much I may want it to be? For those who believe otherwise, I cannot but pity them even as I liken their position to that of a man who is waiting to receive the dead man’s shoes. The former waits albeit oblivious of the fact that such wait is not only one that will be ad infinitum but a hopeless one for the simple but obvious reason that the shoes had been buried with the dead man, unknown to him.
Those who did what has now given rise to this brouhaha knew and still know too well that come what may, nothing will happen. There will be no impeachment not because no ground exists for it but simply because primordial considerations like ethnicity, religiosity and political sentiments which have continued unabated to constitute hinderance to the nation’s growth and developments, are not on sabbatical. The obvious and damning implications of their not being on sabbatical therefore is that they are around and firmly rooted with us. They will accordingly operate, drawing from sad countless precedents, as bulwarks in defense of our dear President, with democracy being the immediate loser and the Nigerian nation and her people the ultimate losers and all regrettably so. In such a situation, to the uninformed,NASS may be seen as a loser but rather it is democracy and the Nigerian nation that are truly the losers.
So the result is that while the ugly beats go on towards the wrong direction to a destination unknown, the country continues on its SLOW match, if there be any match at all, to greatness and we will all in unison chorus “Alleluia, praise God or Allah”, as the case may be.
What a country therefore is ours!