I RISE IN TOTAL AND UNEQUIVOCAL DEFENSE OF SENATOR MATTHEW URHOGHIDE, SENATOR REPRESENTING EDO SOUTH SENATORIAL DISTRICT
- Justice Roland Amaize (Rtd)
This is the third time, in less than two weeks, I’m writing on this issue, although on each of the other two occasions reference to distinguished Senator Urhoghide was made only peripherally; quite unlike this in which I’m making direct reference to him. For the avoidance of any doubt and as a reminder to all, on the first of the two previous occasions, I wrote on the disaster which inevitably awaits any nation whose leaders are given to the unacceptable acts of undermining its laws, especially the constitution. On the second, I had analyzed the divergent arguments advanced by Professor Itse Sagay and Chief Dan Iwuayanwu on the $US496M for Tucano fighter jets and its constitutional implications and at the end of my analysis, it was thumb up for the Chief but thumb down for the Professor of Law. In each of those my two previous write-ups, therefore, my conclusion was and remains clear that given the action of President Buhari on the issue and against the backdrop of the relevant constitutional provisions on the matter, particularly but not limited to Sections 80 and 143, the President’s action is clearly impeachable. There is no running away from such obvious constitutional reality.
Today, while not wanting to join what I’ll best refer to as the motley assembly whose members, at best, had chosen to stand the law on its head and make it a sacrificial lamb at the altar of political expediency, even as some had spoken from both sides of their mouths, I’ve come out in total, clear and absolute defense of the motion moved by distinguished Senator Urhoghide. Whether the motion was an invitation to the Senate to commence investigation on the matter under Section 143 or it was for it to commence impeachment exercise under the same Section, it matters not to my position on the issue.
Let me state very clearly at this juncture that I’m not oblivious of the deluge or spate of criticisms against the motion. I’m not also unaware that for the reason of the motion he was ambushed and molested at the Benin Airport by hired and conscripted thugs masquerading as party supporters. I’m no less aware that even criticisms against him on the issue also came from the highest executive and legislative angles of the State. One thing is very clear and certain. It is that once a matter touches the issue of law as distinct from politics, I’m never known to quibble and otherwise run from the ‘battle front’ as a way of shying away from the issue at stake. Law and NOT politics is my chosen field. So while I owe a duty of care to myself in avoiding making unnecessary foray into political arena, else I slip, not for one moment will I hesitate in jumping into any discourse that is legally rooted as in this case. Clearly, politics is for me an unfamiliar terrain while law being unarguably my profession, is quite a familiar terrain for me. This, I state with consummate modesty.
Now, the issue at stake here is one which is rooted in the nation’s constitution. We must not also lose sight of the fact that the President, upon his inauguration, had sworn to uphold and abide by its provisions with the obvious implications of being called to order, as appropriate, in the event of any act of infraction by him. The germane question is this: by taking money from the nation’s confers, whether huge or small, to execute a project, never mind its nature or kind, without prior approval of the NASS by way of appropriation under Section 80 and/or any other relevant section of the constitution for that matter, did the President commit an act of gross misconduct upon which he stands to be proceeded against under S.143 of the Constitution?
I’ll defer my answer to this all-important question until after I’ve examined some of the reasons advanced by those who thought and perhaps still think that Senator Urhoghide had by his motion committed a sacrilege for which he stands, in their opinion, to be crucified.
Amongst such reasons and from diverse quarters are, that:-
a. the President acted under what they had labeled as “emergency situation” such that there was no time to go before NASS prior to making the payment,
b. oh, we needed to acquire those jets because of the state of insecurity in the country,
c. oh, other Presidents had taken money from the nation’s coffers in the past without prior appropriation without they being impeached (a clear political motive),
d. the President’s action is not unconstitutional and
e. this is perhaps the most ridiculous politically ridden and ladened reason – that moving of a motion for impeachment of the President was not why the Senator was sent to Abuja, that is NASS.
I’ll briefly address those largely contrived reasons seriatim as follows.
a. this issue started about August 2017 and payment in question was made about four months ago. In all of these, there was ample opportunity and time to have sought and received NASS’s nod as necessary and desirable in accordance with constitutional requirements. Consequently, failure to seek and receive prior legislative intervention clearly lays somewhere else and not want of time to do so. Acting under a so-called emergency situation which is at best self induced is one which does not fly and accordingly it is totally unacceptable.
b. the second reason is no less unimpressive. Agreeably, we all need peaceful and well secured atmosphere to operate as a nation; there is no argument about that. However, we are told that those jets will not be delivered until 2020. That, without more, makes complete nonsense of the contention as to emergency situation to justify the President deliberately committing an infraction of our Constitution. The inevitable conclusion therefore is that this reason, like the one before it, is most unsatisfactory and it does not also fly.
c. it may well be that some past Presidents in their times committed similar constitutional infractions. It may also well be that no one raised any eyebrow to such sad state of affair. But who is to be blamed for those alleged previous breaches? The present NASS? I think not. How do those other breaches now excuse the one in question? In any event, the fact that an illegal act was committed by Mr. A and for whatever reason he was not proceeded against is not in law a justifiable ground, without more, to excuse Mr. B who subsequently commits similar infraction. That may appeal to and catch the attention and support of moral rules but not law. It certainly will not lie in the mouth of Mr. B nor should he be heard to seek and take umbrage, as a precedence, on previous similar act of Mr. A for which the latter was not punished. There is no legal premise for any such contention. To that extent, therefore, this reason, like the two before it, is nothing but a hoax.
By far more ridiculous is the contention that the President’s action is not unconstitutional. For those who are not lawyers amongst the exponents of this otherwise vile and jaundiced view, they need sympathy rather than condemnation. However, for those who are lawyers with some of them Professors of Law and Senior Advocates, it is altogether a different ballgame. It is a pity that they had regrettably allowed their views to be guided by considerations other than law at a time as this when the nation needs colorless display by them of their undoubtedly rich legal knowledge in a serious issue of national concern and dimension.
These same persons are undoubtedly familiar with the provision of S.143 of the Constitution and its various subsections and their implications, collectively or otherwise. Or are they pretending not to know of that section of the constitution? While subsection (2) provides that gross misconduct on the part of a President is a ground to proceed against him by impeachment, subsection (11) in defining what amounts to “gross misconduct” simply states it is what in the opinion of NASS is “gross misconduct”. In other words, applying a subjective rather than an objective test, an unconstitutional act of a President becomes a gross misconduct because, in its opinion, NASS says it is so.
Even by far more salutary in the foregoing regard is the fact that under subsection (10) impeachment proceedings and/or their outcome are not subject to judicial intervention/inquisition. The more reason the nation’s Chief Executive must be careful and well guided in the manner he carries on office. It is not after he has arrogantly and willfully committed constitutional infractions deserving of impeachment measure that political jobbers acting as members of a motley assembly will go to town, as rabble rousers, with expression of sentiments of all kinds, ranging from the ridiculous to the most absurd. This country belongs to all of us – politicians and non-politicians alike and we will not allow politicians, for their narrow and misguided interests which are transient, to destroy her for the rest of us.
As an adjunct to the point, those who believe, albeit wrongly, that the President did not foul the constitution are however quick to pull the wool across the faces of the rest of us by their further but hollow contention that the President having subsequently written to NASS for approval (a case of shutting the stable after the horse had bolted), he was home and dry. I’m afraid, such window dressing makes no difference to any constitutional breach or infraction. So, this fourth reason is as nebulous as any of the others before it.
e. each time I turn this reason over in my mind, what grips me is outrage. It simply amounts to carrying politics too far and to the realm of the ridicule for anyone, least of all those who ought to know better, to claim that the distinguished Senator was not sent to Abuja to move a motion for impeachment of the President. If he was not sent to Abuja to move such a motion, if and when circumstances call for it, who therefore are those amongst the Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria specially sent there for that purpose and who are those not sent there for that purpose?
Unarguably, the distinguished Senator, like other distinguished Senators, including the other two of Edo State extraction, were sent to and are in the National Assembly mainly for business of law making and anything necessarily incidental thereto. One of such things incidental to his main business of law making is to check, if and when occasion so demands, the excesses of public officers, including the President, for which adequate provisions are made in our organic law. It is in the discharge of such constitutional function, both qua a Senator and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts that he moved the motion in question. But for the fact that it remains an uncomfortable trademark of our politicians to mar legal issues with political considerations, sometimes to the very ridiculous pedestal, where therefore lies the bogus accusation that he was not sent to Abuja to move such motion? What is even more, this is a matter of national dimension and not one of Edo locality, so what then is the hell we are making in our jaundiced political inclinations? What the above analysis point to is that this reason does not equally fly. It must therefore be discountenanced like all others before it.
More importantly, none of those reasons/points raised against the Senator finds coverage under any provision of our constitution. Apart from their individual weaknesses as I’ve exposed above, that is also a common weak thread which runs through them all like a spider’s web. To that extent, therefore, they remain not only the personal opinions of those who had flaunted them but are clearly otiose. They are accordingly irrelevant.
In my considered opinion, in this matter the distinguished Senator, politics aside, very well acquitted himself in the brief he set for himself and which forms an integral part of his functions as a Federal legislator and in doing so, he demonstrated class and exemplary courage. He stood to be counted in circumstances in which many in his situation would have simply chickened out.
In a matter of this nature in which someone has nobly acquitted himself but same nevertheless fails to pass through the crucible unreasonably set forth by political opponents and their supporters (both guided and unguided) for no reason other than political and partisan appeals, the best and most honourable course open to the opposing side is to simply maintain dignified silence. Such is the option best required to be towed in that situation rather than spewing the ridiculous as reasons to back up otherwise indefensible criticisms. Must we reduce every conceivable thing to politics? Are we helping ourselves and the nation by so doing?
In answering the question which I had posed above and for which I had suspended proffering an answer until examining all the points raised against the Senator, it is simply that the Senator was home and dry when he called for the invocation of S.143 of the Constitution against the President. The President is under the Constitution and NOT above it as the partisan attitude of some of those calling for the Senator’s head seem to suggest. Available facts dictated no less than moving of a motion of the kind.
In the instant case, however, while impeachment may not be resorted to, not because no impeachable breach had been committed but only for the reason of the times we are in as a nation, especially with the 2019 general elections beckoning on us, I nevertheless commend distinguished Senator Matthew Urhoghide for the uncommon and uncanny brilliance, wisdom and exemplary courage demonstrated by him as well as for his quest in siding with need for adherence by all, without exception, to our laws, especially the constitution.
Any nation with penchant for undermining its laws and in particular which looks on while politicians have a field day making of them (the laws) sacrificial lambs at the altar of political expediency, perishes sooner than one can imagine. Politics and political players, especially those who are fortunate to hold political offices that are time bound, are variables but the nation State is constant and therefore a recurring decimal which denotes its permanence like the northern star.
The choice is ours whether to allow the nation’s interests to be our paramount concern or those of the politicians who are self serving and with greater tendencies to see the nation go extinct provided they achieve their ambitions which, for the most part, are vaulting and inordinate. As they say, a man is to lay on his bed the way he has made it and not otherwise.