On Monday, July 30, minority members of the Benue State House of Assembly took a step to remove the state governor, Samuel Ortom.
Eight of the 30 lawmakers in the state assembly purportedly served him an impeachment notice, against the constitutionally required two-thirds majority needed for the impeachment of a democratically elected governor.
Curiously, it was only the eight lawmakers that were allowed into the House of Assembly; the remaining lawmakers, who were clearly the majority, were prevented from gaining access to the Assembly complex by a team of policemen drafted to the premises that morning.
The lawmakers who moved for Ortom’s impeachment accused him of embezzling N22 billion from security votes and N32 billion from local government funds, while neglecting to pay the salaries of workers and pensioners.
They also said that civil servants in Benue State are being owed seven months salaries, while their local government counterparts are owed 11 months and pensioners 14 months.
Interestingly, Ortom’s purported impeachment move was engineered by All Progressives Congress (APC) a few days after he defected from the party to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
But however genuine or otherwise is the motive of the aggrieved lawmakers to move against the Benue, it unconstitutional for eight out of 30 lawmakers to start the process for the removal of a governor.
While this is the first time this brazen disregard for constitutional provisions regarding the sacking of an elected governor would rear its ugly head in this administration, this affront to all known democratic norms was, however, a recurring decimal during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
One of the states to suffer this fate during that administration was Plateau State, when on November 23, 2006, five lawmakers met at 6am and purportedly impeached the then governor, Joshua Dariye.
Another state where this illegality was carried out was in Oyo State when on January 12, 2006, 18 out of 32 members of the state assembly sat and removed Governor Rasheed Ladoja from office.
The same scenario played out in Anambra State on November 2, 2006 when the then Governor Peter Obi was equally impeached at 5am by assembly members who did not meet the two-thirds of the entire assembly as stipulated by the constitution.
The lawmakers had reportedly met with representatives of the president in Asaba, the Delta State capital, and were reportedly escorted to Awka, the Anambra State capital, by policemen who provided them the security cover to conduct the said impeachment. Obi was governor on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) while the assembly was dominated by the ruling party, the PDP.
His offence was that he refused to accede to the lawmakers’ quest to inflate the state’s budget.
The late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was also unseated as Bayelsa State governor on December 9, 2005 over allegations of theft of public funds, abuse of office, and money laundering.
And during Ayodele Fayose’s first tenure as the governor of Ekiti State, he was impeached along with his then deputy governor on October 26, 2006 over allegations of mismanagement of public funds and serial killings. It later emerged that he had fallen out of favour with the then president.
It is noteworthy that in most of these instances, the constitutionally stipulated processes for the removal of a state chief executive were not followed and, unsurprisingly, most of the impeachments were nullified by the courts.
However, the resort to such underhand measures to unseat a governor in a democracy caused Nigeria no small embarrassment and made it a laughing stock in the comity of democratic nations.
This is aside the time and the huge public funds wasted in the process and in the legal battles that followed.
As a newspaper, we are constrained to remind both lawmakers and the security agencies that, along with the judiciary, they are ministers of the law and cannot be part of those who breach the country’s laws they are supposed to defend as a duty in order to achieve a political end.
We also state that in spite of political differences, the interest of the masses should be paramount and due process must be followed in the event of an impeachment.
Politics is a game of numbers and the lawmakers attempting impeachment must have the required numbers. This rule must not be observed in the breach.