By Agboola Osabia
The law is generally regarded by its users as intricate and intimidating. Professional users can often find law complex and hard to understand and it is perhaps reasonable to assume that society at large would need help or guidance in understanding the rudimentary of law.
Recent political events in Nigeria with regards to the National Assembly the elected federal legislature, has generated discord concerning the office of the President of the Senate. We heard from various commentators and constant discussions on social media all about a vital issue “the impeachment of the President of the Senate”.
Many pundits and party members alike, talked about 73 senators being two-thirds of all the members of the house of senate that can constitutionally remove the Senate President. Many of these pundits even went as far as importing their own words especially determinant pronouns into the provision of the constitution that deals with impeachment mostly out of ignorance to pursue this course. The purpose of this article is to debunk that myth. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended will be the reference book that explicitly states the minimum required number of members of the senate that can sit, deliberate and vote on any question or issue to make the proceedings of that meeting valid. Also, to show how the drafters’ choice of words or contextual information in the portion of the constitution that deals with impeachment was done consciously and intentionally.
The constitution is a body of fundamental principles or established precedents to which a State or other entity is acknowledged to be governed. As with any other set of laws, rules and guidelines, it is imperative that the wordings as set out in the provisions must not be altered in any form or misconstrued as this might result in the loss of the true meaning. In order for you to understand the section of the constitution that deals with impeachment that is, section 50 (2)(c) this article, will draw your attention to other provisions or sections of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended as these sections are inextricably intertwined.
Every phrase or sentence that is italicized is deliberate. It is the key to unlock Section 50 (2)(c) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. The section that holds the key is where this text will commence.
Section 54 (1)
“The quorum of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall be one-third of all the members of the legislative house concerned.”
A quorum is the minimum number of members of an assembly or entity that must be present at any of its meetings to make the proceedings of that meeting valid. The minimum number will be the threshold on which members can sit, deliberate and vote on any matter on behalf of the whole assembly or entity. This minimum number thus, is the representation of the assembly or entity. The main focus in this provision is the italicized phrase ‘all the members’. The word “all” in this phrase is a determinant pronoun that serves to express its reference in this context. It refers to the whole quantity. Its synonyms are completely, fully, entirely, totally and wholly. In this instance, the figure for ‘all the members’ of the Senate is 109. To get the quorum, you will divide ‘all the members’ by one-third (109/3) as stipulated in section 54(1) and the result is 36.33. As this figure cannot translate in human count the Senate will come up with a figure of either 36 or 37 that may be prescribed in the rules of procedure of the house. For the purpose of this article, 37 will be the assumed figure.
Section 56 (1)
Except as otherwise provided by this constitution, any question proposed for decision in the Senate or the House of Representatives shall be determined by the required majority of the members present and voting; and the person presiding shall cast a vote whenever necessary to avoid an equality of votes but shall not vote in any other case.
The italicized phrase ‘the members present and voting’ was purposely concocted by the drafters because they understood that not ‘all the members’ would always be present and vote on the floor of the house. So, they came up with what would constitute a quorum as provided for in section 54(1) which is a third of ‘all the members’ of the house concerned. It is this minimum requirement that is being referred to in section 56(1) as ‘the members’ present and voting.
SECTION 50 (1)
A President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves; and a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.
This section deals with the election of principal officers of both houses. For the purpose of this article, the President of the Senate will be the focal point. The main focus in this section is the italicized phrase ‘the members’.
Section 50 (2)
The President or Deputy President of the Senate or the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall vacate his office –if he ceases to be a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of the senate or the House of Representatives; or when the House of which he was a member first sits after any dissolution of that House; or if he is removed from office by a resolution of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, by the votes of not less that two-thirds majority of the members of that House.
The main focus here is section 50 (2)(c). This is the provision that is the bone of contention. However, the search light is on the italicized phrase ‘the members’ which resonate with section 50(1)(a). The question that should be on everyone’s lips is, why does the phrase ‘the members’ as shown in section 50(1)(a); section 50(2)(c) and section 56(1) differ from the italicized phrase ‘all the members’ in section 54 (1)? The reason for the difference shows the italicized phrases ‘the members’ and ‘all the members’ are not the same and the drafters of the document (constitution) would not have meant the two different italicized phrases to have the same meaning. This was a deliberate act by the drafters not to include the determinant pronoun ‘all’ which is present in section 54(1) or any other determinant pronouns such as ‘entire’; ‘totally’; or ‘wholly’ with section 50(1)(a); section 50(2)(c) and section 56(1).
The significance of section 54 (1) is to provide a mechanism that will ensure that the way and manner in which legislative business will be conducted from time to time will not face any constraint that will become a clog in the wheel of the legislative houses procedure. It was this section that provided the formula in which a viable representation of ‘all the members’ (109) of the House of Senate can sit, deliberate on matters and vote. A quorum is the mechanism which bears the same impact or weight as ‘all the members’ (109) will have and as such the drafters refer to it (quorum) as ‘the members’ in sections 50(1)(a); 50(2)(c); and 56(1).
In section 56(1), the italicized phrase ‘the members present and voting’ is an indicator that not ‘all the members’ are required to be present and vote as some might be absent due to death, illness or otherwise. But as long as ‘the members present’ (quorum), the business at hand can proceed. So, in effect, ‘the members’ as indicated in section 50(1)(a) and section 50(2)(c) is referring to the constituted number of members (quorum) which in this instance is a minimum of 37. In essence, section 54(1), devolved powers of ‘all the members’ (109) to ‘the members’ (minimum of 37) in order to conduct an uninhibited and valid proceedings.
It was on this premise that the present President of the Senate was elected. According to Premium Times report on June 9 2015, 57 members of the Senate were present and elected the President of the 8th Senate. With the provisions of section 50(1)(a), ‘the members’ present were 57 and not 109 and thus, the President was elected.
In order to invoke section 50(2)(c), ‘the members’ present must be at least 37 to sit, deliberate and vote on impeachment. If ‘the members’ can muster two-thirds of say 37 members present, impeachment is thus effected. In this scenario, 25 members will remove the President.
In law, one of the fundamental principles is that he that comes to the court of equity must come with clean hands. So, in effect, if some members of the Senate and not all can sit, deliberate and vote to elect the President of the Senate so equally, some members of the senate and not all can sit, deliberate and vote to remove the President of the Senate. For what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Agboola Osabia Esq is a Document Review Attorney.