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Senators’ Insistence on Buhari’s Removal

todayAugust 21, 2022

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Senators elected on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are hell-bent on invoking Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution against President Muhammadu Buhari should he fail to decisively address the worsening insecurity within six weeks, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes

On September 10, the six-week ultimatum, which the PDP senators gave to President Muhammadu Buhari to address the country’s worsening security situation, will come to an end. After the deadline, Nigerians are wacting to see if senators will go ahead with its plan to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president if he fails to restore public order.

About three weeks to the deadline, the senators’ plan has tensely stoked debate about the capacity of the president and that of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to fulfill their obligations, which Section 14(2) of the 1999 Constitution unambiguously spells out. As the clause stipulates, the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.

Determining whether this constitutional provision has been fulfilled under Buhari was the sole mission of the opposition senators when the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Philip Aduda sought to move a motion on the expanding influence of bandits, terrorists and other criminals on July 27. But the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmed Lawan denied them the platform to discharge their constitutional responsibilities.

With Lawan’s decision to step down their motion without justifiable grounds, the opposition senators staged a walkout from the Red Chamber. They cited Buhari’s breach of the constitutional clause that spelt out the primary purpose of the government. They also resolved to return in six weeks to present their reassessment report about the existential threat to human lives and peaceful co-existence nationwide.

But is the proposal for Buhari’s removal political, especially now that the 2023 elections are just about seven months away? Or is Buhari really in breach of Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, which mandated his government as a matter of priority to ensure the security and welfare of the people?

If there is nothing political about the impeachment threat as the minority senators have argued, why should they wait till the twilight of the Buhari administration before proposing such a motion? These are the core questions that still dominate public discourse since the revolt of the opposition senators on July 27.

First, for the APC senators, this proposal is nothing but a political hoax to gain public attention ahead of the 2023 elections. Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Bashiru, put this claim in legal perspective while responding to media inquiries last week. The Senate, as he succinctly put it, is not aware of any impeachment motion initiated by the opposition senators.

For him, impeaching a president or a governor is a function of implicit compliance with procedures already laid down in the constitution. In the first case, section 143 of the 1999 Constitution clearly spells out the requirements, which according to Bashiru, demands that a motion should be moved before the process can take full course. Like most APC senators, Bashiru claimed that the opposition senators had not fulfilled this extant requirement of the law.

However, Bashiru’s argument is utterly at variance with the claims of the pro-impeachment senators. Their quest to call Buhari’s capacity to questions in the light of Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution did not start at the July 27 plenary. Rather, it actually started at the close-door session, which preceded the plenary.

At the plenary, as they alleged, nearly all senators across all the political divides agreed that the president “is in breach of the constitutional provision. But Lawan deliberately shut down the motion to protect the president from undue exposure to a more incendiary public scrutiny at a time of national instability.”

Second, in the ranks of civil society actors, human rights activists and opposition leaders, the proposal is not only justifiable, but equally justiciable if subjected to constitutional interpretation. It perhaps explains the resolve of Senator Elisha Abbo (APC Adamawa North) and Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa (APC Bauchi North) to openly identify with the pro-impeachment counterparts to pursue Buhari’s impeachment, even when they all belong to the same political party.

Likewise, a retinue of senior lawyers shared the sentiment of the pro-impeachment senators. Among them are Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN). Separately, these lawyers have argued that the senators ought to have initiated impeachment proceedings against the president long before July 27.

For these senior lawyers, there is nothing political about the proposal if subjected to the intractable insecurity that has now engulfed virtually all states of the federation. However, they deplored the opposition senators for coming up too late with the plan to impeach the president from office.

 Consequently, these senior lawyers throw down the gauntlet to the people “to rise up and intensify the campaign to get rid of an incompetent leader because this has failed to fulfill his constitutional obligations to the people of the federation under section 14(2) of the 1999 Constitution.”

These claims attest to the enormity of escalating security crises in Nigeria, which the Council on Foreign Relations claimed, has cost about 63,860 under Buhari’s administration alone.

In the Nigeria Security Tracker the Council initiated at the height of Boko Haram insurgencies in 2011, armed attacks cost at least 12,795 in 2015; 5,763 in 2016; 4,618 in 2017; 6,565 in 2018; 8,340 in 2019; 9,694 in 2020; 10,391 in 2021 and 5,694 up to July 2022. These figures further reinforce the position of the opposition senators that Buhari lacks the capacity to hold forth as the President of Nigeria.

As weighty as evidence is, however, insecurity is not the only ground to gauge whether the president can still remain in office or not. In the last seven years, Buhari has failed the test to guarantee public safety and security as the constitution requires. Also, he failed the test to ensure the economic prosperity and welfare of all Nigerians irrespective of their socio-political strata as section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution specifies.

Under the Buhari government, Nigeria has been struggling economically, a situation that plunged millions of citizens into the cycle of extreme poverty and unemployment. In 2014, the year before Buhari assumed office, the national economy valued about $546.68 billion. By the end of 2021, the economy had crashed to $440.78 billion, amounting to a cumulative decline of about 19.37 per cent. Also, between 2014 and 2017, as the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed, the economy massively shrank by 31.27 per cent to $375.75 billion.

Equally critical is the astronomic rise in the consumer price index (CPI), which measures the rate of inflation and the purchasing of the people. In 2015, as the records of the NBS showed, CPI was just about 9.01 per cent, though it rose to 19.64 per cent at the end of July 2022 after seven years of undulating movements.

Similarly, the unemployment rate has maintained an upward trajectory from 9.7 per cent in 2014 to 23.1 per cent in 2017; 27.1 per cent in 2019 and 33.3 per cent at the end of 2021. By implication, as the Chief Executive, Economic Associates, Dr. Ayo Teriba observed, this trend has destroyed the purchasing powers of many citizens and earned Nigeria the world’s poverty capital.

Just the way he could not effectively guarantee public safety and security for seven years, Buhari has equally not been able to ensure people’s prosperity and welfare within the timeframe. Citing diverse indicators under Buhari, as social crusaders argued, economic headwinds have killed more citizens physically and psychologically than armed violence. Amid all these indisputable facts, can the opposition senators actualise their plan to impeach the president?

Already, discordant voices have begun to undermine the mission of the opposition senators plotting Buhari’s impeachment. While the PDP senators are hell-bent on Buhari’s removal, the House of Representatives did not see it as its priority. As the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Benjamin Kalu put it, the minority in the lower chamber resolved that the time was not sufficient to complete the process of impeaching the president.

Even though they are aware of the concurrent approval of the lower chamber to successfully remove Buhari from office, the pro-impeachment senators are insistent on going ahead with the plan if the state of security nationwide does not improve on or before September 10. Can they garner a two-third majority in the upper chamber to make good their threat?

 To remove the president, a two-thirds majority, which translates to at least 73 senators, is required in the Senate alone. As its membership records currently show, APC controls 61 senators, though two of them have openly embraced Buhari’s impeachment plan.

Currently, in its rank, PDP only controls 38 senators; obviously a half of the number the constitution requires to impeach a sitting president. This is a far cry from the number of senators required to impeach the president. 

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