Impeachment: Can lawmakers actualise threat against Buhari?

Since the issuance of an ultimatum by opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly to President Muhammadu Buhari within which to address the lingering insecurity in the country, or face impeachment, it had been a frenzy of debate across the polity. JOSHUA EGBODO writes 

Past unsuccessful moves 

With the return of democratic governance in May 1999, it was seemingly a smooth sail until in August 2002, when the House of Representatives, specifically, on the 13th day of the month, passed a resolution asking the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to within 14 days resign.

He was accused of failing to implement the national budget as passed by the parliament, for three years running. Another sin counted against him was the deployment soldiers in 2001 to Odinin Bayelsa, and Zakibiam in Benue, leading to massacre of hundreds of Nigerians during the separate operations.

He neither resigned as demanded, nor was he impeached at the expiration of the ultimatum. Chief Obasanjo was later to simply dismiss the attempt as “a joke taken too far” by the House of Representatives.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan was also to receive the fire baptism while on the saddle, as in December 2014, reports emerged that not less than 70 Senators and 195 members of the House of Representatives have signed in favour of a move to impeach him. The move according to its pushers was occasioned by his decision to spend beyond the budgeted amount for subsidy on petrol. He was further blamed for his inability to sternly fight against corruption, and the inglorious incursion of the Boko Haram insurgents into unexpected areas within the country.

The agitations subsequently died down, ostensibly from a lot of horse trading championed by political bigwigs within the system.

And then, Buhari

The first open move against President Muhammadu Buhari as far as impeachment threat was concerned was way back in April 2018, when on floor of the Senate, the Public Accounts Committee Chairman then, Senator Mathew Urhoghide brought up a motion, accusing the President of approving the expenditure of $490 million from the Excess Crude Account, without recourse to the National Assembly. 

Buhari escaped same, when he, in a letter to the parliament explained that “the approval was anticipatory in order to meet the US’ deadline for the planned purchase of Super Tucano jet fighters”, and also that he was optimistic that the lawmakers will not oppose the decision in view of the security challenges facing the nation.

Fresh impeachment threat

During the Senate’s plenary of July 27, its minority leader, Senator Philip Aduda immediately after a closed door session asked a chance to present for discussion, the deteriorating security situation in Nigeria, especially with recent attacks witnessed in Abuja, the nation’s capital. The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan however ruled him out of order, sparking off a walk out by members of the opposition political parties from the plenary. The Minority Caucus which later briefed journalists issued a six week ultimatum to President Muhammadu Buhari to address the deteriorating security situation in the country or face impeachment.

“We went into a closed-door session on the state of insecurity in Abuja and took cognisance that Nigeria is no longer safe. We agreed in the closed door session that we will give President Muhammadu Buhari an ultimatum but the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan didn’t want us to raise the issue. 

“However, we have issued six weeks for President Buhari to resolve insecurity or be impeached”, Aduda explained during the media briefing.

Reps back move

Minority Caucus of the House of Representatives, the following day expressed its unalloyed support for its Senate counterpart. The minority leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, speaking at a press briefing, after a joint closed door meeting of the two caucuses, said the opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives were on the same page with their colleagues at the Senate on the ultimatum issued the president.

“We are asking Mr President to address the insecurity in this country within six to eight weeks unless we will find the constitutional means to ensure that we will serve him impeachment notice,” Elumelu said, stressing that it was not just the opposition political parties that are behind the move’ but that since they (members of the riling APC) were afraid to speak out.

Elumelu insisted that “upon expiration, we will proffer ways of ensuring we will gather all the signatures—let me make it clear, for those who are thinking it is an issue of only PDP or Minority caucus, no, many of our colleagues, under the ‘bipartisanship’—all of them are affected. All of them are affected—many of them. So, they may not be speaking but we will be speaking for them.”

Presidency reacts

In swift reaction to the development, the Presidency, in a statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Mr. Garba Shehu, described the walk out staged by the opposition lawmakers as  “performative and babyish antics”, urging them to channel their energy towards addressing the challenges facing the country.

“Rather than making a mockery out of voters by trying to imitate what they see in America, the opposition would be well advised that their time would be better spent tackling the pressing issues Nigerians face, such as the current global cost of living crisis. Their continued failure to do so goes some way to explaining why they remain in opposition”, Garba stated.

How feasible?

In opinion of many analysts, it is almost impossible to impeach a sitting president in Nigeria based on the huddles lined up in the procedures to executing such.  One of such requirements was getting a two-third majority of members to support the motion to that effect. Section 143( 2) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) stipulates that 1/ 3 of the members of the National Assembly can initiate an impeachment proceedings against the President or the Vice President, while Section 143 (4) of the constitution provides that the President or Vice can only be removed from office by two-third majority of the members of the two chambers of the National Assembly.

To succeed therefore, not less than 37 of the 109 Senators, and at least 120 of the 360 members of the House of Representatives are required to endorse the move, and beyond the internal parliamentary huddles, such analysts also pointed out other requirements of having a panel to sit and review the allegations levelled against the president, as well as getting the support of leadership of the two legislative chambers, which is the current circumstances was seen as impossible.

There had thus, been the question of how far the opposition go, and whether they the have the wherewithal, in terms of number, and the political will to go through the entire process.

Several resolutions on insecurity 

Since inauguration of the current assembly, the House of Representatives has passed several resolutions on motions related to insecurity in Nigeria. Followers have comfortably defused that in the last three years, insecurity is the most debated matter in the lower legislative chamber of the National Assembly, but were worried that only a few of such are implemented by the authorities concerned.

Following the killing of 43 rice farmers in Borno by insurgents in December 2020, the House ended up inviting President Buhari to brief it on the security situation in the country. While the Presidency gave assurances that the President would honour the invite, he failed to appear on the expected day, with no official communication on why that happened. Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila tactically blocked all entireties to revisit the matter.

A move to celebrate?

Though a lot has been said since the opposition issued the fresh threat, with many urging them to keep pushing the move, but many pundits have expressed pessimism on the would be outcome. They say it is not unlikely that the same scenario as were in the past will still come to play. The House is expected back in session in late September, and whether the opposition will dare the consequences, and push through the threat is a question only time will answer.

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