(Vanguard of Sunday, December 19, 1999).
A senator of the Senate of the National Assembly had cause to eat his words recently. He alleged that plans had been almost completed to get our own Olusegun Obasanjo out of the Aso Rock. Someone was to tell me, as if I was the brain behind the ‘scheme’ that whoever thought that Obasanjo could be removed like a chick called Buhari and another chick called Enwerem would be singing the death of this republic and telling the joke of the millennium. But I could not agree more, if the removal was not in accordance with due process
And that is the rub. However defective the constitution we are operating is, it is the arbiter of all quarrels. It is there everyone took his power from and it is there everyone must goto in search of his power to do whatever he wants to do or defend whatever he has done. So, can our president be removed just like Enwerem of the Senate or Buhari of the House of Representatives? The short and straight answer is NEVER. Let us separate the sheep from the goats.
Buahri was an elected member of the House of Representatives. Enwerern is an elected member of the Senate. Buhari “was” and Enwerern “is” for reasons you should know. For Buhari to have been qualified to be a member of the House of Representatives, he needed to have satisfied certain conditions: that he is a citizen of Nigeria; that he is not less than 30 years old; that he had a minimum of school certificate or its equivalent; that he is a member of a political party and has been sponsored by that party; that he has not been declared to be a lunatic or of unsound mind; and that he is not under a sentence of death or been convicted of a criminal offence involving dishonesty within ten years preceding the time he sought election. Enwerem had to satisfy the same conditions as Buhari, but he had to be no less than 35 years of age to be in the Senate of the National Assembly.
Of course, there are some other “qualifications” that Buhari and Enwerern had to have – that they were not undischarged bankrupts; that if they had been employed in the public service of the Federal Government or the state, they had quit such employment within thirty days before the date of the election; that they did not belong to any secret society; and that they had not presented forged certificates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (sections 65 and 66 of the Constitution).
For Obasanjo to have been qualified to contest, he had to satisfy the same conditions as members of the National Assembly, only that he had to be no less than 40 years old. So if anyone wants to remove the President, it would not be because he is not a Nigerian or that he is not qualified on the grounds of age; or that he was not elected after he had won the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party in Jos: or that he does not.have a school certificate or its equivalent. No. He satisfied all these conditions, including the fact that his certificates have never been called into question.
But can our President be removed from office just as Buhari and Enwerem? No. Not at all. Buhari was not elected to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives nor was Enwerem elected to be the President of the Senate. They were elected as members of the Houses and can only be removed therefrom through due process of recall or resignation. Buhari had to go because he was discovered to have failed the age qualification. He said he was 36 years old when in fact he was 29! Not so with Enwerem. He is of age, and those who accuse him of being older than he is are wasting their time. There is no proof to-date that the records associated with him, and that could have him thrown out of the Senate, are not the handiwork of those who have never liked the face of my learned senior.
The office of President of the Senate is an INTERNAL affair of the Senate. So also is the office of the Speaker of the House, either in the National Assembly or the State Assemblies. So, if we wake up one morning to discover that all the Speakers of the Houses of Assembly in this vast country have lost their jobs, that is that, and should cause no creasing of the brows. They all can go the way they came through an INTERNAL arrangement to make them speaker.
President Obasanjo is not a Prime Minister, as we had in the First Republic when Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who had been elected from a constituency in Bauchi, became Prime Minster through a SELECTION process in the House of Representatives. If he had to be removed, he would have been removed with as little uproar as was there when he was chosen by the same members of the House. Our President is not a member of the National Assembly. He was elected by his constituency, which is the WHOLE COUNTRY.
He can be removed only through due process. He has four years on the throne and he is entitled to another four years if his party nominates him next time around, and the people vote for him. There are two other ways of removing the President, through due process. There is the easy way and there is the difficult way. The easy way is by the Executive Council he himself picked. That is his ministers. They can pass a resolution that the President or Vice-President “is incapable of discharging the functions of his office”. This claim will be upheld after due process of verification by a medical panel. But Nigerians are not aware of this power of the President’s Ministers nor is it their source of worry. They are afraid of what the National Assembly can do one morning by purporting to remove the President, like they did to Enwerem and like they did to Buhari. But this is the very difficult way because the National Assembly must follow due process; must take ALL the steps as to time and procedure well settled under section 143 of the Constitution.
There are seven hills to climb:
One: not less than one third of the members of the National Assembly (that is the Senate and the House of Representatives) must endorse a notice of any allegation of Gross Misconduct against the President. Gross Misconduct is defined as a grave violation or breach of the provisions of the Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the National Assembly to gross misconduct. The notice, which must contain all the details of the alleged misconduct, is presented to the President of the Senate.
Two: within seven days of the receipt of the notice, the Senate must serve the notice on the President and on all members of the National Assembly. If the President makes a statement in reply, such statement is also served on all the members of the National Assembly.
Three: within 14 days of service of the notice, each House of the National Assembly must resolve by motion, without any debate; whether or not the allegation shall be investigated.
Four: within seven days after this motion had been passed, the Chief Justice of Nigeria must attend to a request by the President of the Senate to investigate the allegation against the President.
Five: the Chief Justice then appoints the panel which must exclude members of the National Assembly, any other legislative house, any member of the public service or a political party. They must be persons of: “unquestionable integrity”.
Six: the panel has three months to file its report to each House of the National Assembly. During their deliberations, the President must be heard by himself or through a legal practitioner of his choice. The panel can make one of two findings – that the allegation had not been proved or that the allegation had been proved. In the former case, the matter dies, and the National Assembly has no further action to take. The next step comes in where the allegation is said to have been proved.
Seven: within fourteen days of the receipt of the report, each House of the National Assembly must consider it. The report can only be adopted when it is supported by a resolution of not less than TWO THIRDS of all the members of the National Assembly.
The President must thereafter quit office and there is no appeal against that decision.
You see, many of us still think of arbitrariness in running the affairs of this country. The in-thing should be a deliberate pre-occupation with the slogan DUE PROCESS. The Constitution is like God. In our affairs, it gives and it takes under rules and conditions that are strictly defined. We need not think of a government which a military ruler can put together and dictate to; where the ruler appoints the law-makers; appoints the ministers and dismisses them; where he becomes a court of appeal by decree. No, that era lived, with us, and we with it, for the better part of 30 years. It is difficult to forget those days without DUE PROCESS. But we are into a new way. of doing things and we must learn the rules of the new way.
(Published in Vol. 1 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 16 -19; Lagos, 2003).