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Legal perspectives to NASS push for Buhari’s impeachment

By Ngozi Egenuka
16 August 2022   |   4:03 am
The Nigerian Senate recently threatened to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari, over failure to address the growing insecurity in the country.

Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari

The Nigerian Senate recently threatened to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari, over failure to address the growing insecurity in the country.

This development arose after terrorists successfully launched separate attacks on troops and the Kuje Medium Security Custodial Centre in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

The militants, who attacked the Presidential Guards Brigade at Bwari-Kubwa road, Abuja, killed a captain, lieutenant and six soldiers, while others sustained injuries.

They also attacked a checkpoint at Zuma rock, which is few kilometres from the nation’s seat of power.

An attack by the Islamic State West Africa Province terrorists at the Custodial Centre, Abuja, resulted in the release of 69 Boko Haram commanders and hundreds of felons on July 5. This happened 24 hours after suspected terrorists also attacked the president’s advance team in Katsina.

The leadership of the National Assembly had repeatedly expressed concerns over the worsening insecurity in the country, but did nothing substantial. 

Following these developments, some of the lawmakers threatened to impeach the President for his inability to rein in the criminals as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, who swore to uphold the provisions of the Constitution.

The lawmakers, as a result, reiterated their resolve to impeach the President, if he failed to address the insecurity challenges within six weeks, countering a recent report that they had backed down.

These incidents led the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, to call the security chiefs to a marathon meeting where he described the security situation as frightening. House Committees on Security similarly met with security chiefs on the matter.

However, the Senate spokesperson, Ajibola Bashiru, said the senate was not aware of any impeachment threat, as no official correspondence had been given on it.

He said: “Honestly, I don’t know anything about that, I am not aware that they have even filed any motion. Before you talk about an impeachment procedure, there must be a motion. He noted that a media walkout by the senators did not constitute an impeachment move.

Speaking on if Buhari’s conduct qualify for impeachment, Henry Ugwu, a lawyer, explained that Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria shows that the steps necessary to impeach or remove the President are stringent. However, this is not surprising because the implications of removing a sitting President are extremely serious, especially in a country like Nigeria where the powers of the President are enormous.

“Section 143 of the Constitution details step by step, all that is expected of the National Assembly to successfully impeach a President and an impeachment process can only be consummated where there is overwhelming support by members of the National Assembly. This is evident by the necessity of a two-thirds majority concurrence by members of the National Assembly in at least two critical stages of the impeachment process.

“It is also important to note that the President can only be impeached for gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office. Section 143(11) defines ‘gross misconduct’ as “a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this Constitution or a misconduct of such a nature as amounts in the opinion of the National Assembly to gross misconduct”.

He noted that thousands of lives have been lost since President Buhari assumed office in 2015 and the past few months have seen insecurity skyrocket in Nigeria. He added that the Constitution states that the security and welfare of citizens should constitute the primary purpose of government, but noted that this aspect has seen a huge decline in President Buhari’s government amid promises that security would be a priority.

“Going by Section 14 of the Constitution, the security and welfare of Nigerians shall constitute the primary purpose of government. The insecurity situation in the country is sufficient proof of the manifest and grave violation of the Nigerian Constitution by the Federal Government led by Muhammadu Buhari. This violation is even more profound when you recall that Buhari’s government promised at various times preceding the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections that it would prioritise security, the economy, and fight corruption,” Ugwu said.

Lawan. Photo/.facebook/TheSenatePresident

According to him, terrorists have been so emboldened that they have successfully launched a series of attacks in the Federal Capital Territory in recent times. When you think about the economy, at once you recall Nigeria’s huge indebtedness, which was exacerbated by the current government’s proclivity to borrow money, it probably sees borrowing as a hobby.

“Despite plunging Nigeria into huge debts, the economy has not improved and the Naira has fallen dramatically. It now trades for about N700 to $1 at the black market. This is disastrous! You avert your mind to the President’s promise of revamping education and you immediately remember that ASUU has been on strike for more than four months and schools have been compulsorily shut down in many parts of Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory due to insecurity.

The President has failed in his primary Constitutional duties and does not deserve to be President for one more hour,” he declared.

He stated however, that since the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) controls the National Assembly, it will be very difficult for an impeachment process to succeed against the President, especially given the history of the current leadership of the National Assembly that has been referred to by many social and political commentators as a rubber stamp.

Ugwu noted that another practical limitation to successfully engaging the impeachment provisions in Nigeria would be the influence of ethnicity and religion in Nigerian politics.

“A move to remove the President from office by impeachment would be interpreted in many quarters as a move against the North or Muslims. Sadly, this is what politics in Nigeria has degenerated to, and that is why despite the unprecedented carnage caused by terrorists in the North, a large number of National Assembly members of Northern extraction remain silent and would rather see the President exhaust his term of office,” he added.

He explained that as far back as 2018, some members of the National Assembly had called for the impeachment of Mr. President because he withdrew funds from the Excess Crude Account without the approval of the National Assembly in an apparent disregard for the Constitution. None of those moves succeeded.

Ugwu stressed that the way Buhari has handled the functions of his office in recent times has birthed a plethora of violations of the Constitution that should ordinarily qualify as “gross misconduct”, unfortunately, the interplay between tribe, religion and other parochial interests in Nigeria’s politics make it extremely unlikely that the required majority of members of the National Assembly will rise in defence of the Constitution to remove the President for his misconduct.

A lawyer, who preferred to stay anonymous, said: “Section143 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides for the impeachment of a president for “gross misconduct” which is defined in that section as a grave violation of the constitution.

She, however, noted that since the Constitution does not provide for the president to ensure zero incidents in terms of security, then there is no ground for impeachment.

“The section provides for the steps to be followed in the process, one of which includes the setting up of a panel to investigate the allegation. The question then is whether the President’s conduct amounts to grave misconduct. The fact that the President through the security forces has not been able to resolve the security challenges in the country is concerning to every Nigerian.

“However, the Constitution does not provide for example that the duty of the president is to ensure zero incident of insecurity in the country. In that scenario, failure to achieve that would then constitute a breach of the Constitution. There is evidence that something is being done, whether that is sufficient or not is up for debate. However, by the provision of the Constitution, there is no ground for impeachment,” she argued.

Kano State-based constitutional lawyer, Abubakar Sani disagrees with that view. He reiterated that President Buhari is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and so, the responsibility of security rests on him and in a case where insecurity is prevalent, it could lead to an impeachable offence.
“He is responsible for any security lapses in the country. Given that welfare and security are the primary responsibility and obligation of the government, the rising tide of insecurity can logically and legally constitute an impeachable offence under the Constitution. 


“There is no gainsaying that Nigerians have been so insecure within their own country. The daily tales of woes by the victims of bandits, insurgents and kidnappers tell of a country reeling from the increasingly brazen and audacious onslaught of non-state actors,” he said. 

According to him, the government is apparently helpless and clueless about how to stem the tide. This is why the public have become disenchanted and disillusioned with the change mantra, which President Buhari brandished to seek re-election.

“He has failed woefully. He should go. Ordinarily, he ought to resign. He should have done that long ago. But, since he is holding on to office, he should be eased out by the National Assembly, screaming and kicking, if necessary,” Sani stressed.

Principal partner, Uhuegbu Chineme & Co. (Justice Chambers), Chineme Uhuegbu, said the act of impeaching Buhari is long overdue, as he has committed a lot of offences that can warrant such.

He noted, however, that the attempt is coming late and would most likely have no effect on the President.

“In as much as the National Assembly is hammering on the issue of insecurity, it did not start today. Since this administration took over, insecurity in Nigeria doubled to a stage beyond management.

“There was a time Nigerians were calling for the change of security chiefs and apparatus but the President gave a deaf ear to it. So, I think this impeachment move is a political one where the Senate is trying to appear like they are doing something or showing concern,” he said

Uhuegbu also called on the National Assembly not to hesitate in its actions to impeach the President, but added that the certainty of will or capacity to push through with the plan is doubtful.