The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, have condemned the plot to impeach the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom.
The lawmakers, not more than 10 of the 30-member Assembly, were provided cover by the police to meet at the state’s parliament building on Monday morning. The majority lawmakers, who are of the People’s Democratic Party, were blocked from accessing the complex.
The APC lawmakers later served impeachment notice on Governor Ortom after accusing him of corruption.
The duo in a joint statement, signed by their aides in charge of media, Yusuph Olaniyonu and Turaki Hassan respectively, described the current situation in Benue as a desecration of legislative sanctity. They urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call the police to order and stop them from being used to achieve political purposes.
They said the situation is an act of illegality and does not conform to parliamentary procedure on impeachment.
They also expressed surprise at the role of the police in the “undemocratic event in which the minority is seeking to impeach a Governor against the position of the majority”.
“We believe it is the sacred institution of the legislature that is being desecrated and rubbished in all these negative developments. The situation in Benue State House of Assembly has grave implication for the nation’s democracy and it represents a throw-back to the period of dictatorship in our country.
“It also represents how the Nigeria Police are being misused to achieve political end. In a statement recently, the Presidency derisively referred to an era in the past where a minority number of legislators was used to impeach Governors who were unfriendly with the Federal Government. What we are seeing in Benue now is a return to that inglorious era,” part of the statement read.
The lawmakers said the unlawful and unconstitutional move to impeach Mr Ortom by a minority should be condemned by all lovers of democracy, at home and abroad.
They also called on friends of Nigeria in the international community to lend their voice in condemning “the perpetration of illegalities and actions that can subvert our democracy”.
“There is already a tense atmosphere in Benue State following the recent killings. Nobody should encourage any action or move which may exacerbate the security situation in the North-central State. As leaders of the Federal legislature, we are ready to work with our colleagues in both chambers of the National Assembly to prevent any attempt to destroy any state legislature or use it to derail democracy,” they said.
In his reaction, Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer, condemned the act, describing it as illegal and unconstitutional.
In a telephone interview, Mr Effiong accused the federal government of conniving with the police to carry out the act.
He also said the move to impeach the governor clearly is connected to Mr Ortom’s decision to leave the party.
“Constitutional procedure is clearly enshrined in the constitution. For a governor to be impeached, such a letter has to be signed by at least one-third of the members of the house and presented by the members to the speaker – and that speaker has to be one elected in line with the constitutional provisions, not an impostor, like what happened today.
“What they have done is an act of illegality. They don’t even have the quorum or the number to impeach the governor. They don’t even have a speaker properly elected. Whether they were eight or 12, it is not enough. And even if they were 12, who convened the sitting of the house? Constitutionally, only the speaker or his deputy can convene the sitting of the house.
“Do not forget also that there was a restraining order against the impeached speaker from parading himself as the speaker. So if the said individual is the one championing the removal of the governor, that is an act of impunity. What they have done is unconstitutional
“The federal government is apparently responsible in connivance with the police in staging the culture of impunity in Benue State and this may not be unconnected with the decision of the governor to leave the APC. It is clearly partisan. It is not about fighting corruption in the state. Why didn’t they notice all this before now?,” he said.
Mr Effiong, who said he was more concerned about the constitutional argument of the matter than the “partisan argument” queried the impeached speaker of the house for acting against the law.
“He is clearly acting against the law. Even if he is still a speaker, it doesn’t justify what he has done,” he said.
Nelson Ekujumi, a pro-democracy activist, also condemned the act. He also described the impeachment plot as mere drama.
“The fact that eight lawmakers out of 30 are trying to impeach the governor, is not right and it stands condemned. The process of impeachment must be followed. The principal officers have to be available and it has to be by two-third majority of the house.
“If that constitutional provision has not been followed, that is totally null and void and has no effect. We expect the legislature to follow the path of constitutionalism,” he said.
Reacting to allegations against the governor, Mr Ekujumi said there is a legal procedure for tackling offences like misappropriation of funds which must be followed.
“The legislature cannot be the judiciary. The only authority under the law that can convict you or find you guilty of misappropriating is the judiciary. That they (lawmakers) have made an allegation does not mean they will now sit on that allegation and confirm it. That is not justice.
“If he (the impeached speaker) has been impeached legally, according to the constitution and has now taken another route against the said constitution, there are procedures for disciplining such a member.
“It is not right that because he or she has been impeached, he now wants to take his own pound of flesh. There’s nothing stopping him from going to court to challenge his impeachment and the court will rule on it.”