Some federal lawmakers are angling for President Muhammadu Buhari’s head over the approval of $496 million for the purchase of fighter jets without consulting the National Assembly. In this report, JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH weighs the substance of the impeachment plot against the backdrop of constitutional provisions.
Members of the National Assembly are blowing hot at the moment. Their grouse: President Muhammadu Buhari’s unilateral withdrawal of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) without their approval, particularly the release of $496 million for the purchase of some fighter jets. The disgruntled lawmakers see the action of the president as an affront on the legislature which has the power of appropriation.
Buhari had in the letter to the National Assembly said he granted anticipatory approval for the said amount to be wired to the US government. However, the letter dated April 13, 2018 which was received at the National Assembly on April 17 this year was not read until Tuesday and Wednesday at the House and Senate, respectively.
“I wish to draw the attention of the Senate to the ongoing security emergencies in the nation. These challenges were discussed with the state governors and subsequently at the meeting ot the National Economic Council on the 14th of December 2017 where a resolution was passed with the council approving that up to $1 billion may be released and utilised from the Excess Crude Account to address the situation”, the president told the lawmakers in the letter.
Moving a motion on the issue on Thursday, Senator Matthew Uroghide (Edo State), said President Buhari’s action is a violation of the constitution and, therefore, he should face the consequences. He prayed the Senate to invoke Section 143 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) to start the impeachment process of the president. Seconding the motion, Senator Chukwuka Utazi said “This is an impeachable offence” .
It is instructive to note here that no president has ever been impeached in the history of Nigeria. During his tenure, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was threatened with impeachment but it failed to see the light of the day. Even former President Goodluck Jonathan was not spared either. The House of Representatives had threatened to commence impeachment move against him over what it described as poor implementation of the 2012 budget.
In the 215 years of American democracy, only two United States presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives. The first was Andrew Johnson in 1868. He was impeached for dismissing Edwin M. Stanton as secretary of war. The second was Bill Clinton in 1998 for lying under oath in respect of sexual relations with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Both presidents were however acquitted in trials held by the Senate because the two-third majority votes needed to convict them were not reached. This meant both presidents remained in office and served the remainder of their terms.
Political observers view withdrawals from the ECA as an issue that has always been contentious. Former Presidents Obasanjo, Umaru Yardua and Goodluck Jonathan all withdrew from the ECA account without seeking for approval from the National Assembly. The thinking of some analysts is that a bad precedence had already been set. They contend that the impeachment threat by the National Assembly will not see the light of day. According to them, the lawmakers are just grandstanding and know quite well that they are on a mission impossible.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had earlier charged the National Assembly to commence constitutional processes against President Buhari for allegedly withdrawing and spending $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) without the constitutionally required legislative appropriation.
PDP in a statement in Abuja through its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan said President Buhari is aware that his unilateral spending of $496 million (N151.374 billion) from ECA without recourse to legislative approval of the National Assembly was a gross violation of the laws and constitution of Nigeria.
The party said, “By this action, President Buhari has technically suspended the 1999 Constitution (as amended), plundered the inherent powers of the National Assembly as the principal institution of democratic rule, while re-enacting a sole administratorship in governance as if our nation is operating a military regime.
“More disturbing is the revelation that President Buhari paid the $496 million for the purchase of military aircraft from the United States, ignoring allegations of overprice and issues concerning due process, just to achieve a political expediency of currying President Donald Trump’s support for his 2019 re-election bid.
“The PDP states that President Buhari’s action amounts to a gross misconduct and betrayal of public trust because in the bid to push a personal agenda, he deliberately side-stepped statutory legislative scrutiny and acted in clear breach of section 80 (3) (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
It also added, “The resort to falsehood, deception and secrecy in the withdrawal from the ECA and the reported $469 million payment for the military aircraft raises very serious issues regarding the integrity of the Buhari Presidency”.
But the National Economic Council (NEC), the highest economic decision making body in the country, three its weight behind the move by President Buhari to approve the release of $496 million for the purchase of fighter jets without consulting the National Assembly.
Speaking to State House correspondents after NEC meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the presidential villa last Thursday, Jigawa State Governor, Abubakar Badaru, maintained that the president acted in time to meet the deadline before the US would change its mind on the deal, having declined previously to sell to the country.
The governors had last year given the federal government the go ahead to spend one billion dollars from the Excess Crude Account for arms purchase in respect of the war against Boko Haram insurgency and sundry security matters in the country.
Badaru said, “We forget easily. If you recall, we have been battling with approval from America to buy these equipment in 2014. We have been begging America to sell these equipment to us. We tried Dubai, they could not allow us, we tried a factory in Brazil, the FG tried, we couldn’t get it. America still could not sell to Nigeria. Then luckily, President Trump said it was okay to buy. So, we had to quickly buy before they change their minds.
“Because there is also deadline and this is a state to state transaction- no middleman- and we are all here concerned about security and they are raising questions on the way and manner you protect people. This is an emergency situation.”
On his part, Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, while noting that the governors don’t have the power of appropriation, said the National Assembly should not just look at the law but the interest of Nigerians.
History Of Impeachment In Nigeria
The word impeachment entered the Nigerian political lexicon in 1981 when Alhaji Balarabe Musa, the first executive governor of Kaduna State, was impeached. Also, Ayo Fayose was impeached as the governor of Ekiti State on 16 October 2006 over alleged mismanagement of public funds and serial killing.
Peter Obi was impeached as the executive governor of Anambra State on November 2, 2006 over alleged gross misconduct. Joshua Dariye was also impeached as the executive governor of Plateau State on November 2006 over alleged siphon of public funds and money laundering in London.
Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja was impeached as the executive governor of Oyo State on January 12, 2006 by 18 legislators. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was impeached as the executive governor of Bayelsa State on December 9, 2005 over alleged corruption which includes theft of public funds, abuse of office and money laundering. Murtala Nyako was impeached as the executive governor of Adamawa State Nigeria on July 2014 on alleged corruption which includes theft of public funds, abuse of office and money laundering.
What The Law Says About Impeachment
Section 143 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) deals with the removal of the president and vice-president from office. It is a very long process, taking at least three months to complete. Section 143 states: “ (1) The President or Vice-President may be removed from office in accordance with the provisions of this section. (2) Whenever a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly:- (a) is presented to the President of the Senate; (b) stating that the holder of the office of President or Vice-President is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, detailed particulars of which shall be specified, the President of the Senate shall within seven days of the receipt of the notice cause a copy thereof to be served on the holder of the office and on each member of the National Assembly, and shall also cause any statement made in reply to the allegation by the holder of the office to be served on each member of the National Assembly.
“(3) Within fourteen days of the presentation of the notice to the President of the Senate (whether or not any statement was made by the holder of the office in reply to the allegation contained in the notice) each House of the National Assembly shall resolve by motion without any debate whether or not the allegation shall be investigated.
“(4) A motion of the National Assembly that the allegation be investigated shall not be declared as having been passed, unless it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of each House of the National Assembly.
“(5) Within seven days of the passing of a motion under the foregoing provisions, the Chief Justice of Nigeria shall at the request of the President of the Senate 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 allegation as provide in this section.
“(6) The holder of an office whose conduct is being investigated under this section shall have the right to defend himself in person and be represented before the Panel by legal practitioners of his own choice.
“(7) A Panel appointed under this section shall – (a) have such powers and exercise its functions in accordance with such procedure as may be prescribed by the National Assembly; and (b) within three months of its appointment report its findings to each House of the National Assembly.
“(8) Where the Panel reports to each House of the National Assembly that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter.
“(9) Where the report of the Panel is that the allegation against the holder of the office has been proved, then within fourteen days of the receipt of the report at the House the National Assembly shall consider the report, and if by a resolution of each House of the National Assembly supported by not less than two-thirds majority of all its members, the report of the Panel is adopted, then the holder of the office shall stand removed from office as from the date of the adoption of the report.
“(10) No proceedings or determination of the Panel or of the National Assembly or any matter relating thereto shall be entertained or questioned in any court.
“(11) In this section – gross misconduct means a grave 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”.
But does a mere approval of funds by a president, who also has the power of appropriation, amounts to ipeachable offence? This is the question yawning for answer in the mouth of keen obervers of the polity.
The thinking is that impeachment efforts that are completely shrouded in politics without even pretending that an actual crime was committed by the person who is to be impeached haven’t gotten very far, historically. In some cases, allegation of criminal behavior against the president was all that is required for the impeachment process to get going, even if the true motive behind the action of most of the principal actors really is political.
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