Can a president be impeached in Nigeria?
Using constitutional law and precedents, this article provides a detailed answer to the question, ‘Can a president be impeached in Nigeria?’ and explains the procedure for impeachment of a president in Nigeria.
What is impeachment?
Impeachment is when elected government officials such as the President, Vice-President, Governors, and Deputy Governors are lawfully removed from office before the end of the tenure of office if found guilty of gross misconduct.1
The legislative arm of government in a nation is saddled with the responsibility of impeaching government executives who are found guilty of gross misconduct2. This means that in Nigeria, a sitting President can be removed from office by the National Assembly before the end of his tenure if found guilty of misconduct.3
Misconduct is any action that amounts to a grave violation of the provision of the constitution. Also, it includes any action which in the opinion of the National Assembly amounts to gross misconduct.4
Impeachment is not a new concept in Nigeria. The practice dates back to 1981, when the Governor of Kaduna state, Balarabe Musa, was removed from office.5 Some other members of the executive who have been impeached are Governor Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyesigha of Bayelsa state. He was impeached on 9 December 2005 on charges of corruption.6 Also, Governor Ayodele Peter Fayose of Ekiti State who was impeached on 16 October 2006 for financial misconduct.7
For a sitting President to be removed or impeached lawfully, it must be constitutionally approved. This means that the process for impeachment must be in line with steps provided in the constitution.8
The steps provided in the Nigerian constitution for the removal of a President are listed below:
- A written notice of any allegation signed by not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly is presented to the Senate President.
- Within seven days of receiving the notice, the Senate President will serve a copy to the President and each member of the National Assembly.
- If the President replies to the notice, the reply will also be served on each member of the National Assembly.
- Within 14 days of the Senate President receiving the notice, each House of the National Assembly will decide whether to investigate the allegation.
- The decision to investigate the allegation must be supported by not less than a two-thirds majority of each House of the National Assembly.
- Within seven days of the decision to investigate, the Senate President involves the Chief Justice of Nigeria, who sets up a panel of seven persons to carry out the investigation. These persons must not be members of any public service, legislative house or political party.
In the process of the investigation, the President can choose to defend himself in person and also be represented by lawyers before the panel. The outcome of the investigation must be reported to each house of the National Assembly within three months of the appointment of the panel.
Where the allegation against the President was not proven, the President will not be impeached, and no further action will be taken. Where the allegation was proved, each house of the National Assembly shall consider adopting the report within fourteen days of receiving it. Adoption of the report must not be less than two-thirds majority of each house. Upon adoption, the President ceases to be the President from the date of adoption.
Ordinarily, the decision of the panel or the National Assembly cannot be challenged in court9. However, recent court cases have shown that the impeachment process which led to the removal can be challenged. The governor can then be reinstated if the court rules in his favour.
This was the case of Peter Obi, who was impeached on November 2, 2006, when he was the Governor of Anambra State. He was later reinstated into office as it was declared that the process of his impeachment was unconstitutional.10
In conclusion, while the removal of a sitting president is possible if the impeachment steps are followed, there are arguments that impeachment has been largely used to serve political gains in Nigeria.11 This argument rest on the fact that the constitution failed to state what actions or inactions amount to gross misconduct. Rather, it gave the legislature a large power to determine what amounts to gross misconduct,12 a power that can be abused arbitrarily.13
1 S 143 & S 188 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
2 Offor M A, Eze C O & Nwaeze O, (2016), ‘’Politics of Impeachment in Nigeria; A Discourse on Causes and Implications for Democratic Consolidation’’, Journal of Policy and Development Studies Vol 10, No 1, February
3 S 143 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
4 S 143 (11) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
5 Bernard Balogun, (2017) ‘’History of Impeachment in Nigeria’’, News Express, February 1
6 Kayoed Keteti (2014), ‘’ Impeachment Problematic Issue in Nigeria’s Jurisprudence’’, National Mirror July 21; Bernard Balogun, (2017) ‘’History of Impeachment in Nigeria’’, News Express, February 1
7 Oni Samuel (2013), ‘’Electoral Fraud in the Fourth Republic of Nigeria’s Democratic Governance’’, Journal of Public and Administrative Research Vol. 3 No. 2
8 S 143 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
9 S 143 (10) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
10 Leke Baiyewu, (2014) ‘’Incessant Impeachment a Blot on Nigeria’s Democracy’’ Punch newspaper July 20.
11 Offor M A, Eze C O & Nwaeze O, (2016), ‘’Politics Of Impeachment In Nigeria; A Discourse On Causes And Implications For Democratic Consolidation’’, Journal Of Policy And Development Studies Vol 10, No 1, February
12 S 143 (11) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
13 Udofa Imo, ‘’The Impeachment Power of the Legislature Under the Nigerian And American Constitution Compared’’, International Journal of Law and Legal Jurisprudence Studies, Vol 4, No 4