The role of legislature in impeachment proceeding under the 1999 constitution of Nigeria

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The role of legislature in impeachment proceeding under the 1999 constitution of Nigeria

Faculty of Law



1.1 Background to the study

The Constitution of Nigeria clearly ensures the separation of powers as an underlining principle of the Nigerian governmental system. Separation of powers allows typical division of branches of government  into a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary. It can be contrasted with the fusion or combination of powers like in the case of a parliamentary system, where the executive and legislature sometimes parts of the judiciary are unified, for the purpose of governance. Separation of powers as underlining principle of governance vests legislative power of the Federal Government in the National Assembly. It provides thus: The legislative power of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representative.1

The National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a bicameral legislature established under section 4 of the Nigerian Constitution. It consists of a Senate and a 360-member House of Representatives. The body, modeled after the federal Congress of the United States, is supposed to guarantee equal representation of the states irrespective of size in the Senate and proportional representation of population in the House. The National Assembly, like many other organs of government has functions such law making, checking  of other organs of government, especially the executive, representation etc. the mechanism in which the legislature uses in sanctioning the executive when there is any misconduct is the impeachment process.

The Impeachment process has become a topical issue on the Constitutional development of Nigeria. The starting point was the impeachment of Alhaji Balarabe Musa former Governor of Kaduna State2. It has been contained that impeachment has been so much abused by the State Assemblies who do it without recourse to laid down Constitutional measures.[1]

No proceeding or determination of the panel or of the House of Assembly or any matter relating to such proceedings or determination shall be            entrained or questioned in any Court. This provision ousted the jurisdiction of the Court in matter relating to impeachment embarked upon by the Legislature.

Impeachment rarely occurs therefore the term is often misunderstood. [2]The word impeachment derives its root from a latin expression to be caught or entrapped. Thus impeachment as a Constitutional process is not designed as a weapon of political oppression, suppression or harassment of a President or Governor whose face the Legislature does not want to behold any longer in the power.

However, impeachment when used appropriately will put the government of the day on its toes, thereby making such government responsible and accountable.

Impeachment was first employed in the Nigerian history during the second republic in the case of Balarabe Musa, former Governor of Kaduna State. Since then impeachment process has become a topical issue in Nigeria’s Constitutional development.

The purpose of impeachment has been abused by the Legislature, who use impeachment as a tool of oppression and intimidation for those in impeachment proceeding is worth nothing. A proper study of these impeachment proceeding has shown the legality or otherwise.

1.2 Statement Of The Problem

In Nigeria Constitutional history, there have been four Constitutions. These are the 1960, 1963, 1979 and the 1999 Constitution respectively. Although there existed and still existing provisions from the removal of executive office holders like the President.

This power vested on the legislature, which is sacred, aimed at checking abuse of office by President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors, was unfortunately turned to an instrument of political vendetta to embarrass, intimidate, and hoodwink the executive (Enyia,2009). This impeachment saga in Nigeria is replete only with the removal of Governors of the Federating States and some Chairmen at the Local Government level in some States.

The process of impeachment of different political office holders is clearly stated in different sections of the constitution depending on the nature of office. Hence, breach of procedures is usually one of the major challenge confronting the role of the legislature in this process.   The discretion in using this tool of impeachment is very much within the discretion of the legislature in this case the state or national of assembly. This exercise of this discretion is implicit in the wording of Section 188 (2) (b) stating, “that the holder of such office is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office”. The term ‘gross misconduct’ is defined in Section 188 (11) as, “a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion in the House of Assembly to gross misconduct”. This in itself is a very subjective test and in the absence of further definition in the constitution reliance is placed on the general dictionary definition of the term and what obtains in Employment law where the term is commonly used in contracts of employment. Gross misconduct can be defined as an unacceptable and wrong act by someone in a position of authority and responsibility. Reliance is once again placed on the three principles established in the U.S.A that gross misconduct can be established. It is respectfully submitted that without these three ingredients, the Impeachment proceedings cannot be effective. Corruption in its sense is a major challenging factor to the legislatures in delivery this responsibility due to personal interest.

1.3. Objective Of Study

The main objective of this study is to determine the roles of Legislature in impeachment proceedings under the 1999 Constitution.. The role of the legislature will be considered on impeachment proceedings, the loopholes of such proceedings and make recommendations to curb the lapses created by these loopholes. This research work will examine the problems arising from the Constitutional provisions dealings on impeachment of elected Officials in Nigeria. This study will also consider the Legislative arm of government as a mechanism to checking  and investigating Officials alleged of partaking on corruption while in office through the principle of checks and balances.

1.4 Methodology

The research work will employ a library based methodology as emphases will be laid on primary sources to include; relevant statues, legislations, Reported Judicial Authorities etc. The Secondary data will be obtain from materials such as  Newspapers, articles by Legal authors, Internet resources, seminar papers, Textbooks. These will in no doubt give an holistic approach to achieving the objectives of the study.

1.5 Significance Of The Study

The findings of this study when concluded will be useful to the following categories of people:

(i)               Executive arm of government: They would be aware of the need of avoiding certain official misconduct both at state and federal level in other to avoid being impeached.

(ii)            State and National Assembly: as members of the law making bodies, it will help them to realize the responsibility they are committed to, by delivering their responsibility with all amount of diligence.

(iii)       prospective public office holders: this study will act as guide to all intending public office to enable them understand the do and don’ts of public offices to enable them apply  caution and avoid impeachment.

1.6 Scope Of The Study

This long essay is limited to the role the legislature performs during impeachment proceedings. This research work would be confirmed to the definition of impeachment historical perspective, the roles of the three arms of Government on impeachment matters. The Constitutional provision and role of Courts of record, i.e. High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court on impeachment matters and cases will be delved into in order to compare and analyze the decision of the Courts.

Nevertheless, it may incidentally refer to some other related areas as deemed

necessary, likewise statutory and judicial authorities will be made reference to, in order to achieve the aim of the study.

[1]  Section 4(1) of the 1999 Constitution Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

2 See Alhaji Balarabe Musa Vs Speaker Kaduna House of Assembly (1982) 3 NCLR 450.

3 Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

4 Section 170 of the 1979 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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