By Niran Adedokun
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended) in its S.143 gives the National Assembly sweeping powers and lays the procedure for the removal of a president from office. To not bore you with details, let’s isolate S.143(11) to illustrate the latitude the NASS has on this matter.
It goes: “in this section- “gross misconduct” a grace violation or breach of the provisions of this constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the national assembly to gross misconduct.” This provision means that the national assembly is at liberty to remove the president for whatever reason as long as it musters the required number!
It gets even more interesting when the constitution ousted the powers of the courts to intervene in this process in the preceding subsection. It read, “No proceedings or determination of the panel or the National Assembly or any matter relating thereto shall be entertained or questioned in any court.” The NASS is, therefore, an authority unto itself whenever it determines to remove a president.
The questions, however, are whether this barking NASS is ready to bite and to what effect is this attempt to impeach the president? And then, is this the best way to achieve whatever the legislature intends to achieve with this impeachment or threat of it?
What we hear from some of the legislators, who have ventilated on this matter, is that the ultimatum given to the president to shape up or ship out borders on the growing level of insecurity in the country. However, why did the legislators wait until this moment, when the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has spent more than 75% of its tenure but has yet to bare its fangs?
This question becomes more pertinent considering the essence of a legislature in a presidential democracy. Founders of this system of government designed the president to be powerful and capable of taking swift and far-reaching decisions. But understanding that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” as British historian, Sir John Dalberg-Acton, once said, they instituted equally powerful democratic structures to keep the executive in check and forestall the unwitting installation of dictators in democratic garbs. There enters the legislature.
This, to my mind, is why the 1999 Constitution makes the legislature the most important arm of government in Nigeria. It is like the anchor, which holds the vessel from drifting. With the powers to make “laws for the peace, order and good governance of the federation or any part thereof…” and the powers to conduct investigation, otherwise known as oversight, granted by Section 88, the NASS stands in the best position to ensure the fulfilment of Chapter Two (Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy) of the 1999 Constitution. They make the laws, which enable the executive and judiciary function, monitor the effectiveness of these laws, query their implementation in the case of the executive and review the laws when the desired impact is not achieved. So, what has happened to the national assembly since 1999; why is it just waking up now?
Some legislators claim that the NASS has done all it could by promptly appropriating monies for the purchase of military hardware. Fair enough, but this brings up two questions: Firstly, does the responsibility of the legislature end with the appropriation of monies? Doesn’t the law also allow it to ensure the judicious use and the verify the result that funds produce? Secondly, do members of NASS reckon that the kind of insecurity Nigeria has progressively witnessed since 1999 can be defeated by just military fire. We have at least recently continued to hear about kinetic and non-kinetic measures. How much has the national assembly and the executive ruminated together on these?
Nigerians must indeed be ashamed of this legislature. I reached that point of embarrassment when Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, visited the violated Kuje Prisons on July 7, 2022. On arrival at the site, he muttered something about the attack indicating that the country’s security architecture had collapsed. I thought it was shameful that Lawan just realised that when several months earlier, terrorists attacked Nigeria’s elite military training institution, the Nigerian Defence Academy, killing two officers and abducting one, who was held until ransom was reportedly paid. It was appalling that Nigeria’s number three man just woke up to the reality that things had fallen apart about 100 days after terrorists attacked a Kaduna-bound train, killed many and abducted over 100 people with most of the abductees still in the custody of the captors and their families in grief. Amongst these abductees was a pregnant woman (who was scheduled for a caesarean section but had to bring forth in unimaginable conditions), children and aged people. Yet, the Senate President felt this was normal until Kuje Prison was attacked!
But that isn’t all the blow from that visit. Lawan was also surprised that the prison had no Closed Circuit Television. Now, it is scandalous and disrespectful to Nigerians for a Senate President to express this when there are one or two committees with oversight functions in this area under his purview.
This is not the only area the NASS could have saved Nigeria some trouble were it more responsible. From the mismanagement of the economy to the incredible levels and volume of corruption, from the issue of oil theft to the quantum of lopsided appointments, which has drawn endless criticism from Nigerians, to the mishandling of the country’s diversity, which is unfortunately one of the reasons for the level of insecurity in the polity, this NASS could have done much more to save Nigeria some of its current travails. But it is clear that a legislature, whose proceedings are witnessed by (maybe) just a quarter or less of its membership save during the election of their leaders, budget presentations, confirmation of ministers or some other ceremonies, cannot recommend itself to much seriousness. That is in spite of the enormous resources that the nation commits to this institution.
All said though, it is doubtful that this national assembly, where no ideological or political differences matter, surprised anyone with this hypocritical and call it made last week. Did anyone really expect much difference?
In a December 2019 piece entitled, Why Nigeria does not need a rubber stamp legislature, published on this page, I had written: “The 9th National Assembly has indicated on more than one occasion that it would do the bidding of the current administration. Senate President Ahmed Lawan, in fact, once went as far as promising that any request from Buhari was sure to make Nigeria a better place and would as a result, be treated expeditiously. This assumption suggests that there may be no rigorous examinations of executive proposals, it overlooks the fallibility of all men, surrenders the rights of the people for expediency and generally exposes Nigeria’s nascent democracy to grave danger. Is this how to deepen a democracy?” Three years on, we have seen through them.
If anything, the national assembly is complicit in the disappointment that this government is. If it is serious about an impeachment at all, it could only have been motivated by personal interests as is all attempted and actual impeachments in Nigeria’s history. If it is for the love of country, these people should sit with the executive and find how to make the best use of the next couple of months to avoid the looming submergence of Nigeria.