Saraki and the position of the law on impeachment

By Pelumi Olajengbesi Esq.
(TAKE NOTICE, this is a constitutional position and not the political view of the writer)
Following with keen interest the arguments for and against the rumored attempts to impeach Bukola Saraki the Senate President of Nigeria, I must reiterate at this point that I don’t believe that there is any need for the impeachment of the Senate President save the distinguished Senators think and feel otherwise.
However, it is imperative and apposite to appraise the required legal and constitutional procedure or process in respect to numbers required to impeach the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President.
In the course of this write-up/article, I shall attempt to espouse the fact that 2/3 of only 37 which is the 1/3 of the entire Senate members can legally impeach the Senate President if present only in a Senate meeting and I shall lace-up my position with constitutional provisions and case-law authorities.
By the express provision of Section 54(1) Of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), it provides thus:
“The quorum of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall be one-third of all the members of the Legislative house concerned”
The Black’ s Law Dictionary 9th Edition defines a quorum to mean the minimum number of members(usually a majority of all the members) who must be present for a deliberative assembly to legally transact business.
In the same vein, the Apex Court of our land have in the case of Saraki v. F.R.N (2016) 3 NWLR Pt. 1500 531 at 622 paras A-B posited thus “Quorum means the smallest number of people who must be at a meeting before it can begin or decisions can be taken”.
Furthermore, the Court in the same case interpreted quorum to mean a majority of the entire body, the number of members who must be present in a deliberative body before business may be transacted, or such a number of the members of a body as is competent to transact business in the absence of the other members (Pp. 573-574, paras. H-A).
By deductive reasoning the question before everyone is if the house can seat when constituted by a quorum and transact its official business and make decisions binding itself and in fact the country, can we now say that a decision to impeach the Senate President and the Deputy-Senate President does not qualify to be a decision capable of been taken by a quorum of the Senate? Our humble opinion is that from a painstaking cumulative reading of the constitution there is no provision suggesting so, which therefore implies that a quorum of the Senate can seat and make any decision including but not limited to the impeachment of the President of the Senate and his Deputy.
This is further buttressed by the provision of Section 56(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as it provides that: “Except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, any question proposed for decision, in the Senate or the House of Representatives shall be determined by the required majority of the members present and voting, and the person presiding shall cast a vote whenever necessary to avoid an equality of votes but shall not vote in any other case.”
The salient provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) are unambiguous, clear and explicit as it relates to the election and removal/impeachment of a Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Senate and House of Representatives as the case maybe. Section 50(1) of the 1999 Constitution(as amended) provides thus with respect to election:
“They shall be
A. A President and Deputy President of the Senate , who shall be elected by members of that House from among themselves.” (Underlining ours for emphasis)
While Section (2) (c) Of the same section quoted above provides thus:
“The President or Deputy President of the Senate or the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall vacate his office
C. If he is removed from office by a resolution of the Senate or the House of Representatives as the case maybe, by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of the members of that House”(underlining ours for emphasis).
From the foregoing provisions of Section 50 (1) And (2) (c) of the Constitution it is obvious that the intent of the Constitution is that members present can elect their Senate President and his Deputy in as much as they constitute a quorum by a simple majority (See: Section 56 (1) and (2) of the Constitution) as was well exemplified and applied during the election of Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu as Senate President and Deputy Senate President respectively.
So also can the Senate remove the Senate President and his Deputy by a two-third majority of the members present in as much as they constitute a quorum. This is consequent upon the unassailable fact the constitution did not in any of the provisions mention that the required two-third majority should be of all the members of the house.
It is imperative and trite to state that in interpretation of statutes especially the Constitution which is the grundnorm of the land, words are not allowed to be inserted other than the primary and exact words used by the statute and in this case the constitution. Hence inserting the word ‘all’ by any person in anyway whatsoever would be mischievous to say the least.
The Courts have in a plethora of authorities and cases enunciated the status of provisions of the constitution as it relates to interpretation. In F.R.N v. Nwodo (2016) 17 NWLR Pt. 1541 226 at 294 para D posited thus:
“Indeed the Constitution is our supreme law and where it is clear and unambiguous on an issue, it must be the only provision to resort to…”. See also: Nafiu Rabiu v. Kano State (1980) LPELR-2936(SC).
In the same vein the Supreme Court in Saraki v. F.R.N (supra) held this
“The construction of the constitution should be undertaken as a holistic endeavor”.
The case of Onashile v. Idowu (1961) 2 SCNLR 53 expanciated further thus “by the literal rule or principle of interpretation of statutes, the words used, employed in the Sections of the Constitution and Electoral Act are to be given their ordinary, natural and grammatical meaning unless to do so will result in absurdity with the provisions of the statute as a whole”. See also Lokpobiri v. Ogoala (2016) 3 NWLR Pt. 1499 328 at 363 paras. E-F.
We must reiterate at this juncture that when it relates to the interpretation or meaning of words contained in the Constitution a closer look is usually advised.
From the above appraisal of various constitutional provisions it is abundantly clear that the intention of the draftsmen is that the leadership of either the Senate or House of Representatives can be removed or impeached by a two-third majority of a quorum of members present who must not be less than the required quorum as provided by the Constitution.
This position is further justified by the fact that the provision of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(as amended) particularly Section 143 as it relates to impeachment process against the President and Vice-President provides expressly that the President or the Vice-President can only be impeached by two-third majority of all the members of each House.
It could therefore be deciphered that the fact that a Senate President and Speaker are considered as primus inter pares, that is first amongst equal, may have been the reason for the provision as it relates to their removal. It may have been the intention of the draftsmen to make the removal of the Senate President and Speaker as liberal as practicable in as much as a reasonable majority no longer repose confidence or trust in their leadership. As opposed to the procedure for impeachment of the President and his Vice which requires two-third majority of all members, maybe the fact that the President and his Vice derive their legitimacy to the people prompted the more rigorous procedure.
Consequent upon the above adumbration, it is therefore without doubt that the Senate President can be impeached by a two-third majority of the House constituted in a quorum or more rather than the two-third majority as suggested by some legislators.
The only way for Saraki to forestall any impeachment is to remain vigilant as equity they say aids the vigilant not the indolent, that is by ensuring that at all material times his loyalist are present to ensure that the required two-third majority of members qualified as quorum are composed by loyalist.
Pelumi Olajengbesi Esq., is the Principal Partner at Pelumi Olajengbesi & Co. Law Corridor, Abuja
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