The 7-man panel constituted by the Chief Judge of Nasarawa state, Justice Suleiman Umaru Dikko, to investigate the 16-count allegations of gross misconduct levelled against Governor Umaru Tanko Al-makura by 20 members of the state House of Assembly has since wound up after clearing the governor of all the charges laid against him. Chairman of the panel, Yusuf Shehu Usman, while clearing Al-makura of all the allegations said the panel did not find any proof of each and every of the 16-count allegations levelled against the governor.
“Having considered and dismissed the misconduct and breach of the 1999 constitution alleged by the Nasarawa state House of Assembly and having found no merit in each allegation the panel finally therefore, dismissed the allegations’’ Usman declared. With this declaration by the 7-man panel, it was to be expected that the impeachment proceedings embarked upon by the Nasarawa lawmakers had ended, having so far exhausted all the constitutional provisions for resolving the matter.
It therefore came as a surprise that the lawmakers rejected the pronouncement of the panel, saying they will ignore its judgment and still go ahead with the impeachment process. According to the House Committee chairman on Information, Mohammed Baba Ibaku, “the panel has breached Sec 188 (5) of the Constitution and is therefore illegal.” Ibaku told journalists in Lafia that the lawmakers did not know whether there was any sitting of the panel on Tuesday, August 5 or not, saying that, “as far as we are concerned, there is no 7-man panel that is investigating Governor Al-makura, because we had earlier asked the state chief judge to disband the panel.
“We sent our legal team to appear before the panel and we instructed them to simply tell the chairman of the panel, Yusuf Usman, that we (the lawmakers) only appeared through our legal team to register our protest against the composition of the panel because the members of the panel are political office holders,. We will go-ahead with our moves to impeach Governor Al-makura and nothing will make us step down on our plans. We are going to file a case before the law court as soon as we finish our deliberation. We will always sit in any part of the state to pass another resolution,” Ibaku boasted.
While the 1999 Constitution guarantees the legislature the rights to carry out oversight functions, with Section 128 mandating the state House of Assembly to direct or cause to direct an inquiry or investigations into the disbursement or administering of funds appropriated by the House among other such functions, from where the 20 lawmakers said they drew the power to commence the impeachment process, it then amounts to an affront on the same Constitution for the same lawmakers to chose to negate the provision of the Constitution when the outcome is not favourable to them. It is clear for all to see that by their failure to appear before the 7-man panel to lead in evidence in order to ascertain all the allegations against Al-makura, the lawmakers merely confirmed the belief among most people of Nasarawa state that there was no substance to their argument, that the 20 lawmakers merely embarked on a misadventure carried away by what earlier transpired in Adamawa state, relying on misguided information of alleged discontent amongst the population over Al-makura’s style of administration.
For the lawmakers to rely on the powers vested on the assembly by the Constitution to seek to impeach the governor only for them to denounce the same constitutional provision after the panel cleared the governor of any complicity, is more like an open invitation to anarchy, which people of the state would doggedly resist. The whole episode smacks of a game plan hatched by desperate politicians seeking to wrestle power from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) administration, with the lawmakers being prodded by their sponsors in Abuja, to the point that they are willing to turn the Constitution upside down just to satisfy their illegal quest. On the alleged breach of Section 188 by the investigative panel constituted by the state Chief Judge, it appears the lawmakers were merely clutching at straws to try to sustain their botched attempt to impeach Governor Al-makura. For Section188 (5) categorically stated that the Chief Judge of the state shall at the request of the Speaker of the House, appoint a panel of seven persons who in his opinion are of unquestionable integrity, not being members of any public service, legislative house or political party, to investigate the allegations as provided.
Even a layman knows that on the character of the membership of the panel, the emphasis is on the opinion of the Chief Judge on who he thinks is fit to be a member and not for the House of Assembly to decide. Besides, legal experts are of the view that after setting up the panel, even the CJ lacks the power to disband the panel as being ignorantly demanded by the lawmakers. Since then, concerned citizens have continued to condemn the actions of the members of the Nasarawa House of assembly on their insistence to go ahead with the impeachment proceedings against Al-makura even after the governor was cleared.
Commenting on the matter, renowned Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), said the leadership of the Nasarawa House of Assembly lacks the power to reject the report of the panel which exonerated Governor Al-makura of alleged criminal offences. According to a statement released to newsmen on Tuesday, 5 August, 2014 in Lagos, Falana noted that the statement credited to the lawmakers in Nasarawa state that they would reject the panel’s report and go ahead with their impeachment move, was borne out of ignorance. “It is a reckless invitation to anarchy. The impunity of the Assembly must be halted without any further delay,” the statement read. Also, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) also commended the Chief Judge for ‘adhering to rule of law in discharging his responsibilities despite the intimidation by the assembly.’
The TMG through its chairman, Comrade Ibrahim Zikirullahi further observed that ‘The Nasarawa State Assembly does not have the legal backing to disband or dismiss the verdict of the probe panel as stipulated in the law of impeachment procedure.’ While stressing that it is only a competent court of law that could disband or dismiss the panel, the TMG noted that the assembly ought to have gone to the panel to prove their allegations against the governor for the whole world to see.
The lawmakers insistence in spite of these glaring deficiencies leaves many to assume that having lost their case, the 20 members of the state assembly are embarking on the dangerous path of inciting anarchy and lawlessness, with the open support of the national secretariat of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In the heat of the impasse, the lawmakers were invited to Abuja by President Goodluck Jonathan, where he reportedly admonished them against further action but with the moves taken by the lawmakers after the panel knocked out their case against Al-makura, many are of the view that the initial rebuke gist was but a smokescreen for the president’s green light for the legislators to go ahead and impeach Al-makura.
Not only that, only a fortnight ago, a serving Minister in the person of Mr. Labaran Maku, a Senator, Solomon Ewuga and a former governor of the state, Aliyu Akwe Doma, led a procession across the city of Lafia, throwing their support behind the lawmakers, ostensibly lending their voices to the blatant affront on the provisions of the Constitution by the legislators. By this singular act, the hidden hand has been exposed because for a sitting minister to lend credence to the gross abuse of the laws of the land, as being demonstrated by the stance of the lawmakers, it is apparent those behind the impeachment plot in Nasarawa are those with enormous power who will try to achieve their goals without minding whose ox are gored.
As those who make laws, the lawmakers should be in the forefront of obeying the law. They have the power to impeach but they must obey the law of impeachment. Their desperation for power should not blind them to the fact that they ought to focus their energies towards doing so via the electoral process rather than through the back door. The lawmakers are advised to put the fear of God in their minds and know that only He grants power to whosoever He wills.