The House of Representatives penultimate week rejected a bill seeking to amend section 11(4) of the 1999 constitution (as amended), so as to grant the National Assembly powers to impeach governors and deputy governors, ADEBIYI ADEDAPO reports
The House of Representatives has averted another controversial discourse in the political space, when it recently kicked against a bill seeking to give the National Assembly the power to remove governors and deputy governors from office.
The bill which was co-sponsored by the member representing Jos South / Jos East federal constituency of Plateau State, Hon. Edward Pwajok and the member representing Balanga / Billiri federal constituency, Hon. Ali Isa JC, seeks to amend section 11(4) of the constitution.
If the bill was passed into an Act, the House and Senate would be empowered to remove a state governor and/ or his deputy.
Section 11 (4) of the 1999 constitution as amended, empowers the National Assembly to take over functions of a state’s House of Assembly, in the event of a breakdown of public order or insecurity to such an extent that the House of Assembly cannot sit.
The power is however restricted, as it does not include impeachment of a governor or deputy governor in such states.
The section provides that;”At any time when any House of Assembly of a State is unable to perform its functions by reason of the situation prevailing in that State, the National Assembly may make such laws for the peace, order and good government of that State with respect to matters on which a House of Assembly may make laws as may appear to the National Assembly to be necessary or expedient until such time as the House of Assembly is able to resume its functions; and any such laws enacted by the National Assembly pursuant to this section shall have effect as if they were laws enacted by the House of Assembly of the State:Provided that nothing in this section shall be construed as conferring on the National Assembly power to remove the Governor or the Deputy Governor of the State from office.”
However, Pwajok who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former Attorney-General of Plateau state, argued that the clause in section 11(4) is mischievous, as he said National Assembly should reserve the absolute power to
legislative for state and such legislation should include impeachment of governor or deputy governor where the action is appropriate.
He observed that the provision of the 1999 constitution and the 1979 constitution are verbatim, except for the proviso of sub-section 4, which features in the 1999 constitution.
“It is instructive to note that the 1979 Constitution in Section 11 is word for word similar to section 11 of the 1999 with the notable exception that the proviso to sub section 4 in the 1999 Constitution is not in the 1979 Constitution,” Pwajok said.
According to him, another mischief may arise which the proviso to section 11 (4) has compounded, and that is, if the governor is the source of or part of the problem constituting the threat to public order and public security and is in cohorts with the House of Assembly such that it is necessary to remove him, it would not practicable for the National Assembly to remove such governor or deputy governor.
“This is the mischief this bill is seeking to cure. May I also humbly submit that the drafter of the 1979 constitution who did not include that May I also humbly submit that the drafter of the 1979 Constitution who did not include that proviso anticipated such scenarios and left all legislative powers to the National Assembly in such a situation,” he stated.
He however said such impeachment would not be based on frivolous reasons.
Co-sponsor of the bill, Ali Isa said the Constitution had already empowered the House of Representatives to take over a state House of Assembly in times of crisis. And that in such circumstance, the House would also take over the duties of the house of assembly, which included impeaching the state governor.
The bill was however greeted with intense opposition and criticisms from a cross section of his colleagues who faulted the introduction of the Bill.
Members expressed a common view about amendment, on the ground that the bill would grant the National Assembly too much power, which could result in chaos in the country.
The member representing Ayedaade/Irewole/Isokan federal constituency of the state of Osun, Hon. Ayo Omidiran sopined that the bill was aimed at settling ‘political scores’ with state governors, said debating it was a waste of legislative time as it only seeks to make the National Assembly members more powerful.
“We should not waste our time on this bill. Anybody that has problem with his governor should go home and settle it,” she said.
Also, Hon. Nkeriuka Onyejocha who represents Umunneochi/Isuikwuato federal constituency of Abia state, noted that the National Assembly had no business removing state governors, deputies.
She also opined that the provisions of section 11 (4) of the constitution which gives the National Assembly powers to take over state Houses of Assembly in times of crisis has not worked well enough.
“I say it without mincing words that we don’t have business with the states. We had the issue of Kogi State Assembly, we were handling their matter and they went ahead to be doing their own,” she said.
In the same vein, the member representing Kachia/Kagarko federal constituency of Kaduna state, Hon. Jagaba Adams Jagaba said the bill, if passed would create serious image issues for the National Assembly and it’s members.
“If we pass this bill, we will be sending dangerous signals to the public, so I appeal to the sponsors to withdraw it,” he said.
Also, the member representing Akoko-Edo federal constituency, Comrade Peter Akpatason, stated that in a situation where the National Assembly would start thinking on how to remove a state governor, it would one day try to remove elected local government chairmen.
In his own contribution, the member representing Baruten/ Kaiama federal constituency of Kwara state, Hon. Zakari Mohammad emphasised that Nigeria practices a federal system and not a unitary system of government.
“What we are practising is federalism. Edward Pwajok should bring in a bill to amend the constitution,” Mohammed said.
Chairman of the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai who corroborated Mohammes’s position stated passing the bill would amount to the collapse of federalism.
He argued that section 305 has provided a solution when a state is in crisis, thereby said the House cannot impose any other thing that would undermine our federalism.
Ossai added that even in times when a state of emergency was declared in a state, the democratic structures were retained.
Hon. Yakub Abiodun Balogun who represents Lagos Island constituency II of Lagos state, cautioned the House to act within its constitutional power.
“I believe we should limit ourselves to the provisions that has empowered us to perform legislative functions on behalf of states and not seek to go further; because even at that we are having problems,” he said.
While lending his voice to the debate, House Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila stated that the bill was ‘ineffective’ as it lacked ‘legislative moral and legal sense.’
He berated the House committee on rules and business for allowing such a bill to be listed for debate.
Gbajabiamila argued that “section 2 (2) of constitution clearly provides that Nigeria shall be a federal state and therefore passing the bill will reverse that to unitary state.”
Succinctly, the lawmakers were uanimous again the bill which seeks to grant absolute powers to the National Assembly, to legislate for states of and tacticallyaimed at tilting the country’s federal system of democracy to a unitary-federalism.
Pwajok’s argument which suggested that the bill seeks to ‘cure the mischief’ inherent in section 11 (4) to help in the maintenance of democratic structures even where the National Assembly intervenes and takes over legislative functions of a state did not hold water.
Pwajok consequently stepped down the motion, and the Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Lasun, who presided over the session announced withdrawal of the motion.