Jonathan, Tambuwal and Obasanjo | credits:
JOHN AMEH in this report x-rays past impeachment threats, and writes that the current one against President Goodluck Jonathan by the House of Representatives might peter off like others
Drama is rarely scarce at the National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives.
From the certificate forgery scandal involving a former Speaker, Mr. Salisu Buhari, in 1999, the N628m renovation contract saga of Mrs. Patricia Etteh; the 2008 power probe, the N2.3bn car scam, the capital market investigation, the 2012 fuel subsidy probe to the series of impeachment threats against presidents, there has always been something to talk about.
On July 19, the House debated a motion on budget implementation. At the end, members gave President Goodluck Jonathan up to September 18 to achieve 100 per cent execution of the 2012 budget or face impeachment.
A prayer by the Minority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, on the issue received unanimous approbation from members, irrespective of their political party affiliations.
He said, “If by September 18, the budget performance has not improved to 100 per cent, we shall begin to invoke and draw up articles of impeachment against Mr. President.”
Members shouted a loud “yes”, “yes”, “yes” and clapped for the minority leader.
The House hinged the impeachment threat on alleged “poor budget performance”, specifically accusing the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, of breaching the 2012 Appropriation Act by withholding capital votes from Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
The angry lawmakers claimed that as at July, five months to the end of the fiscal year, the budget had barely performed at 35 per cent.
Only N404bn of the total N 1.5trn capital vote had been released as of June, according to figures confirmed by the House and the minister, although the former observed that cash-backing was about N200bn.
Budget performance has been a sore point in the relationship between the National Assembly and the Executive since 1999. In the eight years of former President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999 to 2007) for example, both sides constantly disagreed over budget implementation.
The two sides have also quarrelled over whose arm of government wields the power of appropriation. In 2009, the late President Umar Yar’Adua attempted to seek the interpretation of the Supreme Court on the matter but he backed out.
In each budget year, clauses are built into the Appropriation Act to compel the Executive to implement the budget as passed by the legislature, but the execution often does not comply with the provisions of the Act.
Failure to comply with the Act is considered as a “gross misconduct” by the legislature, whose penalty under the 1999 Constitution is impeachment.
The power of the National Assembly in this regard is contained in Section 143 of the constitution thus, “The President or Vice-President may be removed from office in accordance with the provisions of this section. Whenever a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly (b) stating that 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.”
Section 143 (11) adds, “’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…”
However, it is on record that no president has been impeached since 1999, although before Jonathan, his predecessors, Obasanjo and Yar’Adua, had received impeachment threats.
In 2002, the House, which was then under the leadership of Speaker Ghali Na’Abba, passed a resolution in July accusing Obasanjo of “abuse of power”, “misrule” and generally showing little regard for the decisions of the legislature.
It also cited poor performance of the economy as another reason. On these grounds, the lawmakers passed a resolution asking the former President to resign from office within two weeks or be impeached!
Within the two weeks, they actually started compiling signatures and later got the support of the Senate, as the impeachment threat seemed real.
It was a jolted Peoples Democratic Party led by Chief Audu Ogbeh that intervened in the crisis in a bid to save the President’s job. Ogbeh called a series of meetings to resolve the matter.
Obasanjo on his part, also reportedly enlisted the support of some former Heads of State and traditional rulers to appease the legislators. With the nomination for the 2003 general elections coming so close, the PDP was worried that the crisis could rob the party of victory if a solution was not found quickly.
The crisis was later described as a “family affair”, while a smiling Obasanjo eventually told the nation that “I dey kampe” after surviving the impeachment.
In 2009, Yar’ Adua also received an impeachment warning over budget implementation.
The late President had inherited the 2007 budget (already running) from his predecessor when he took over on May 29.
Thus, his first full budget in office was the 2008 budget; the budget was passed by the National Assembly in the first quarter of 2009.
However, not long after the budget was passed, a crisis brewed between him and the House with the latter accusing the president of “selective implementation” of projects.
Indeed, Yar’Adua had earlier written the National Assembly rejecting the budget on the grounds that it was not implementable. He had alleged that lawmakers smuggled some projects into the Appropriation Act without consulting the Executive to know whether the country had enough funds to implement the budget.
But, the July 1, 2009 report of the House Joint Committee on Appropriation/Finance, faulted his position.
The committee, then headed by Mr. Ayo Adeseun and Mr. John Enoh, instead advised the House to insist on the implementation of the budget as passed.
Yar’Adua replied by threatening to approach the Supreme Court to seek an interpretation of the 1999 Constitution on who had the power of appropriation.
Presiding officers of both the Senate (David Mark), the House (Dimeji Bankole) and Yar’Adua quickly tried to nip the crisis in the bud by convening a series of truce meetings between the warring parties.
In the end, it was resolved that Yar’Adua would implement the budget as passed on the condition that he would forward a reviewed proposal to the National Assembly for consideration.
Although the impeachment threat fizzled out, the cold war between Yar’Adua and the House continued unabated.
The late President survived yet another impeachment threat in January 2010 after he had stayed out of the country for 68 days for medical care without informing the National Assembly.
The several weeks of political intrigues that followed led to the passage of the famous “Doctrine of Necessity” by the National Assembly paving the way for then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to be elevated as acting President. But, Yar’Adua was never impeached.
The current impeachment threat against Jonathan is on the same issue of alleged poor budget implementation.
It has taken the familiar trajectory of hype and heating up the polity. What is unclear however, is whether the legislators are really serious this time or if it is the usual hollow threat.
Insiders allege that the legislators are embittered by findings that the executive ignores their constituency projects.
Another grouse is believed to be Jonathan’s unwillingness to comply with the resolutions of the House. One of the resolutions, which hurt the ego of the members the most, was the invitation to appear before the House to explain how his administration is addressing the escalating insecurity in the country in June, which the president turned down.
It is equally evident that the government’s handling of the fuel subsidy probe report so far has not impressed lawmakers.
House spokesman, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, insisted that his colleagues were not joking about the impeachment.
He has dismissed insinuations that members are either pursuing selfish interests or pandering to the whims of a certain opposition party.
According to Mohammed, the decision of the House was born out of “patriotism and national interest.”
He argued that, “People sent us here to represent them; our goal is to improve their lives. We swore to an oath to defend the constitution and the Appropriation Act is a product of our constitutional powers.
“Therefore, when the Act is breached, we are duty bound to correct it.”
Yet, one member, Mr. Ibrahim El-Sudi, does not agree with him.
El-Sudi, chairman of the ad-hoc committee, which recently probed the near-collapse of the Nigerian Capital Market, claimed that impeachment was not a decision of the House but the “opinion” of Gbajabiamila (the minority leader).
This dissenting voice suggests a division in the ranks, which may affect the resolve of members to carry the process through.
As was the case in the past, the leadership of the PDP is reported to have waded into the dispute, while Jonathan is also believed to be reaching out to the leadership of the House for peace talks.
The lawmakers may begin to sing a different tune when they resume on September 18.
New York Times
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