Bayelsa: Impeachment and Legislative Oversight

By: Idumange John

The primary constitutional function of the Legislature is to make laws for the good governance of the State. Basically, The functions of the Legislature under the 1999 Constitution include the following: law making and policy formulation functions; oversight functions; investigative functions; the role of the watchdog of public funds, derived from the legislatures powers and duties with regard to public finance; and its representative or constituency responsibilities role.

With specific reference to State Legislatures, the Constitution states as follows:

The legislature plays an indispensable role in the development process of any nation. This is most crucial in emerging democracies in the transitional societies The State Assemblies are also empowered by the constitution. Section 6 provides inter alia:  that the legislative powers of a state of the federation shall be vested in the house of assembly of the state.

Part 11 Chapters 4. (7) States:

The House of Assembly of a state shall have power to make laws for peace, order and good government of the State or any part there of with respect to following matters, that is to say-

a)    Any matter not included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the second schedule to this constitution.

b)    Any matter included in the Concurrent Legislative List set out in the first column of Part 11 of the second schedule to this constitution to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite there of; and

c)      Any other matter with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this constitution.

In the discharge of these functions, the legislature is bound to interact with the other arms of government, especially the executive because of the inextricable web of relationship between them By virtue of Sections 80 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution it is the National Assembly that gives authorization to the President and the executive for all expenditures from the consolidated Revenue Fund. Similarly, sections 120 and 121 vest power and control over public funds of the States in the House of Assembly of a State.  There are also a huge range of functions called oversight functions, which the legislature in pursuance of the principle of checks and balances.

The term oversight functions, is not expressly employed nor defined in the defined in the 1999 Constitution.  However, it is a concept or principle that is sufficiently employed by the Constitution in furtherance of the practice of constitutionalism within the Nigerian State. Oversight functions implies the exercise of constitutional powers by the legislature to check or control the exercise of constitutional powers of the other arms of government, and more specifically to check or control the exercise of executive powers or to make the executive accountable and responsible to the electorate through their representatives in the legislature, in between elections.   This is very critical in a Presidential democracy where the executive are elected for a fixed term of 4 years tenure, and are not subject to a vote of “no-confidence.

The justification for oversight or surveillance of the executive is predicated on the grounds that the legislature enact the laws that can create administrative agencies, and these in turn are assigned functions and responsibilities by such enabling laws.  The legislature may decide to change statutory or administrative policy because, among other things, legislators may have learnt of hardships that have been imposed on the public.  It is supposed to be the primary concern of the legislature to see whether the  executive and its agencies are complying with the legislative intent or not.

One of the most critical oversight functions of the legislature is to be a watchdog of public finance, and other investigative functions and even constituency responsibilities. The Legislature must consider the budget drawn up by the  executive  and pass the appropriation bill before any money can be withdrawn from the constitutionally established funds and accounts to run government. 

Basically, the exercise of the primary function of law-making and policy formulation often overlaps into the oversight function of the Legislature. Consequently, it can be observed that the legislative oversight functions for a sustainable and virile democracy is inherently also subsumed in the discharge of its law-making and policy formulation functions, especially where such legislations are initiated by the Executive organ of government.

Legislative powers and procedure of the House of Assembly under the Constitution are contained in Section 100, and these powers can be used to control the administration and its units; especially the fiscal regime of government through the Appropriation Bill. The non-observance of the substantive and procedural provisions of the Constitution will render the exercise of legislative law-making power null and void in consonance with the supreme nature of the Constitution.

The legislature’s ultimate powers of removal of the President, Vice President, Governor or Deputy Governor, through impeachment are scarcely meant to be employed as an instrument for discharging its oversight functions.  However, the National Assembly called it in aid in order to check the powers of the Executive. The flagrant use of impeachment powers by the State legislatures to settle political scores against the Chief Executive of the State, the Governor, has been severally subjected to judicial review by the courts.

The power of the Legislature to impeach or remove can only be done on the ground of gross misconduct. A situation whereby section 143 (11) defines “gross misconduct” to mean “a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the Legislature to gross misconduct”, The Impeachment clause is a major weapon and a practical demonstration of the principles of checks and balances in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. The practical intent of Section 308 is meant to protect the aforementioned office holders from frivolous litigations that could otherwise distract them from the business of governance.

The provisions of Sections 188 (11) and 143 (11) state further that what constitutes a gross misconduct warranting impeachment is a violation of the provisions of the constitution or whatever so amount to gross misconduct in the opinion of the legislature. It is clear that the impeachment process is not meant to be subject to any judicial veracity of the alleged constitutional breaches and or gross misconduct. 

Recently, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly (BSHA) has moved for the impeachment of the Deputy Governor Peremobowei Ebebi from office as it has emerged that the State House of Assembly levelled 10 impeachable offences against him. Precisely, the lawmakers had on Tuesday June 1, 2010, slammed Ebebi with an impeachment notice signed by 17 of the 24-member Assembly.

Some of the impeachable offences listed against Ebebi was that he allegedly refusing to account for N29.6m overseas medical treatment allowance approved for him by Sylva in February, 2009; “willfully deserting his official duties by refusing to attend, without reasonable cause the weekly Executive Council meeting of Bayelsa State in January.”, Refusal to attend state functions without lawful excuse since February. Abandonment of his office and official residence since February without official leave, and openly fighting with the then Caretaker Committee Chairman of Ekeremor Local Government Council Chief Ben Robert Eyororokumoh including shooting him with a gun and causing him grievous bodily harm on the 28th of November, 2009.

Others are the openly and publicly sponsoring demonstrations against Governor Timipre Sylva on 30th November 2009 in Abuja and on the 20th of April 2010, which portrayed the Bayelsa State government in bad light and subjected it to public contempt and disrepute; deliberately embarking on a press propaganda against the government of Bayelsa State including the granting of press interviews interviews wherein he made false and distorted statements which were disparaging of the office and personality of the governor by calling Governor Timipre Sylva “a rascally Governor”.
In one of such interviews, the Deputy Governor publicly declared that he could no longer work with his Excellency Chief Timipre Sylva and that this statement is a clear expression of insubordination and unwillingness on the part of the deputy governor to harmoniously work with the governor.

The House also alleged that  in violation of his oath of office, sponsored acts of terrorism with a view to making Bayelsa State ungovernable by recruiting gunmen who acquired and stored large quantities of explosives, together with arms and ammunitions, in Latik hotel owned by him located along State INEC Road, Yenagoa. The mercenaries employed by the deputy governor recklessly detonated the said explosives along State INEC Road , resulting in wide spread panic and tension in the state capital and its environs. It is on record that prominent Ijaw elders have  called on Ebebi to resign as a means of “soft landing” and to save him from humiliation. Without recourse of legislative niceties and crude politicking, I wish to make the following remarks.

Firstly, most Bayelsans have no sympathy for the Deputy Governor because, more than any other politician in Bayelsa State, he has enjoyed the perquisites of office uninterruptedly for 11 years. There are msny people in his constituency who have not come close to the balcony of power. In Nigeria, there exists a correlation between political office and primitive accumulation, and it is germane to assume that the D/Governor has become a “Naira Goliath”, through the instrumentality of the patronage network he has set up both in the BSHA and his exalted office as D/Governor.

Secondly, the D/Governor, Peremobowei Ebebi has reaped enormous benefits from three major impeachments – which he superintended. He presided over the removal of Senator Heineken Lokpobiri and Hon Ayebaesin Edoghotu ( Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively). He also presided over the impeachment of another Speaker Rt. Hon. Debekeme and then took over as Speaker of the House. Then as Speaker, he used his office to facilitate the removal of the Governor-General Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha and then for doing that yeoman’s job was compensated with the plum position of D/Governor under the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration. As a student of creative philosophy, I strongly believe in the law of retribution, and any pleading to the contrary may evoke cosmic anger that would result from metaphysical disequilibrium. However, the D/Governor should be given ample opportunity to defend the allegations against him.

Thirdly, the BSHA should also do some sort of self-appraisal against the background of the public outcry that most of the law makers are corrupt. There are reported cases of mindless looting spree in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly is an indication that the Due Process Bureau is not working. How can the BSHA make the Public Procurement Law and the Fiscal Responsibility Law work when the same people breach the laws with impunity. Members of the BSHA should also declare their assets to enable Bayelsan know how much they have stolen. This will enable the Public to know who to return and who not to return in the next dispensation.

Fourthly, the BSHA has not done well in performing its oversight functions. One case that readily comes to mind is the Due Process Bureau headed by the Director General Mr. Von Kemedy. The House failed in its duty to screen the Directors of the Bureau as required by law. The result is that the biometric exercise conducted by the Bureau manufactured so many “ghost names” because of inexperience. Now, rather than follow due process, Governor Timipre Sylva has kept the same person in Acting capacity, as if a change in nomenclature would bleach out the sins of the inept outfit. The Honourable House is watching. Even this writer who is one of the pioneer staff of the Niger Delta University is  ghost worker in the statute books of the Kemedy – led Due Process Bureau. Why has the BSHA not moved for restructuring the Bureau when it serves as a conduit-pipe of fraud?

Finally, the Public demands administrative and financial accountability from members of the BSHA especially the monies given them under the Constituency Development Funds. If the BSHA is truly representative of the people, members should purge themselves of corruption and seriously address their primary responsibilities including their oversight functions. The general perception is that the HOUSE is not a mere rubber stamp but a chimney that emits suffocating corruption. Some people are stealing public money under the protection of the mace and the gavel.

On behalf of the marginalized citizens of Bayelsa State, I state without any fear of contradiction that if the impeachment of the D/Governor comes true, its good bye to mediocrity, corruption and good riddance to bad rubbish. All men have  a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are “just” because the law makes them so. What happens in Bayelsa State cannot be the antithesis of this established fact. Bayelsans need development projects and uninterrupted, efficient and effective delivery of essential social services. The State cannot be bogged down by criminals wearing the toga of politics or public office. 

Idumange John, is Fellow, Association of Certified Commercial Diplomats, London

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