The last fortnight has witnessed a gale of political realignments in the form of political party defections, resignation from political parties, resignation from political positions, dismissals from state cabinets and the impeachment and attempted impeachment of some high state officials.
The war of words among the major political parties has tended to raise tension within the polity over these events. The attempted illegalities have raised the spectre of the old era of disregard for constitutional prescriptions. The activities of security agencies, especially the police and the Department of State Services (DSS), have been scary to say the least.
Yet, it must be admitted that the political season is upon us and it would be a surprise if such realignments did not happen less than seven months to the general election. The most sensational incident was the attempt to impeach the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, who changed his party affiliation by resigning from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and joining the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The movement of 14 Senators and 35 members of the House of Representatives from the ruling party to the opposition was also remarkable, not least the defection of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, the No. 3 man in the government, from the ruling party to the opposition. The governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, and his Kwara State counterpart, Abdulfatah Ahmed, both changed their political party memberships from the ruling APC to the main opposition PDP. The Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prince Eze Madumere, was impeached, but the courts halted the swearing-in ceremony of his successor; the Deputy Governor of Kano State, Prof. Hafiz Abubakar, abruptly resigned when the Kano State House of Assembly seemed intent on beginning the process for his impeachment. In many parts of the country, political movement, lis ongoing in readiness for the general election which begins in a few months.
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When seven members of the Benue State House of Assembly led by a speaker who had earlier been impeached were shepherded into the House to issue a notice of impeachment to Governor Ortom, Nigerians had good reasons to be greatly alarmed. It was not merely that it was unconstitutional, illegal and against due process in every detail, it was a sad reminder of the early years of the Fourth Republic when politicians ganged up, ignored strict constitutional dictates, and removed governors with the active complicity of the then President.
The constitutional procedure for the impeachment of governors and deputy governors is well spelled out in Section 188 (1-12) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended). It is specific and unambiguous and had been further clarified by decisions of the Supreme Court. Such a governor must be accused of acts of gross misconduct by not less than one-third of members of the House of Assembly. Benue has a 30-member house; seven members are not close to the required number. Two-thirds of the members must vote for the accused to be investigated. A resolution of the House supported by not less than two-thirds majority of all members is required for the removal of the governor after the governor had been adjudged guilty of acts of gross misconduct.
Constitutional atrocities like the impeachment of Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State in November 2006 by a clique of five House members were reversed by the Supreme Court. The impeachment of Rashidi Ladoja by 18 as opposed to 20 members required by the Constitution was equally reversed by the Supreme Court.
The misuse of the security organisations is troubling. We urge the leaders of those organisations to realise they are expected to exercise utmost impartiality in political matters. Nigerians should not be worried about party defections, the Constitution provides freedom of association, and should not be troubled by attempts at impeachment.
The Constitution has taken care of these issues. The only missing link is the absence of sanctions against those who deliberately attempt to misuse those powers. That is the next assignment for the National Assembly.