The latest corresponding political and legal basics of Nigerian governance calls for a holistic review of the position of law as regarding the impeachment of principal members of the National Assembly.
The nascent ‘duels’ between the National Assembly members currently playing the game of number by series of defections from one political party to the other aans series of other events consequentially leading to what could at best be described as threat and continuous calls by teaming numbers of the National Assembly members and a teaming members of the public to impeach the Senate leader, Bukola Saraki cannot be possible except by lawful means.
Having said that, we need to go critical by the review of the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 as Amended, particularly on issues touching on impeachment of the Senate President or any other principal members of the National Assembly.
By the provision of Section Section 50(2)(a-c) of the Constitution, the law provides the grounds upon which the National Assembly leaders can be removed from office which for avoidance of all doubts is hereunder reproduce:
The President or Deputy President of the Senate or the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall vacate his office –
(a) if he ceases to be a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of the Senate or the House of Representatives; or
(b) when the House of which he was a member first sits after any dissolution of that House; or
(c) if he is removed from office by a resolution of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of the members of that House.
For the purpose of this write up, I take interest in the provision of section 50(2)(c) of the above provision. Before a critical review is made of same, vis-à-vis the applicable case laws and the applicable cannons of interpretation of law, I would quickly state here that, as seeming straightforward as that provision looks, the law forbids that it operates in isolation, particularly when there are other laws or provisions relating thereto.
The law is trite, that the provisions and/or contents of statutes, judgements and/or any legal documents cannot be read in isolation or in part, but must be read as a whole. This position was given a judicial imprimatur in the apex court decision as Per MUHAMMAD ,J.S.C in the case of AKPAMGBO-OKADIGBO & ORS V. CHIDI & ORS (2015) LPELR-24564(SC) ( P. 28, paras. D-F ) where the apex court held as follows:
“Lest we forget, it is a cardinal principle of interpretation that provisions of a statute should not be read in isolation. To avoid violence, the provisions must be read together. Thus in ascertaining the true meaning of the provisions of a statute the statute must be read as a whole. See Obayuwana v. Governor Bendel State and Anor (1982) 12 SC 147 and Action Congress (AC) and Anor v. INEC (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt 1048) 222 at 259.”
In same vein, by the decision of 1963 of Per BAIRAMIAN ,J.S.C particularly at P. 5, paragraphs A-B of the case of BALOGUN V. SALAMI & ORS (1963) LPELR-25407(SC), the Supreme court also held by the follows:
“…but it is trite that the ambit of a provision cannot he determined in isolation: it can only be determined in the light of other provisions in the Act.”
Having established the basic principle of law upon which other relevant provisions of the constitution and/or other statutes can be hinged upon in relation to the topic under discuss, I make reference to and hereby set out the provisions of section 56(1-2) of the constitution as follows:
56. (1) 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.
(2) Except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, the required majority for the purpose of determining any question shall be a simple majority.
By the provision of section 50(1), it must be observed that only ‘the required majourity of the members present and that would be voting” are required to determine any issue except it is otherwise provided.
By the above provision, it is to be observed that the required majourity by the provision of section 50 of the constitution is Two-Third majourity.
It is also to be noted that the proviso ‘except as otherwise provided by the constitution’ used in section 56(2) are in situations as section 50(3) of the constitution, which requires Two-Third of members.
Before I make a community reading and analysis of the entire provisions, it is important to state here that the word ‘majourity number of members present’. As used in section 56(2) cannot operate in isolation and/or in part. Having said that, it leads to the third question on what constitutes the quorum or present members of the National Assembly?
The flood of water quenching the rusty thirst to the question above as to what constitutes a quorum is not farfetched. By the provisions of section 54 of the constitution, the Quorum required for all members to sit for the business of the house is fixed at One-Third of the entire members
For avoidance of doubts, section 54 of the constitution provides as follows:
54. (1) The quorum of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall be one third of all the members on of the Legislative House concerned.
By the above provisions, if we have the total number of Senators as 109, invariably, one-third of same would be 36.3 by mathematical calculation. By the 1979 decision in Awolowo v. Shagari, it was held by the apex court that any decimated number of the total number required would be rounded up to the nearest whole number; and in this instance, the Quorum for any legislative sitting of the Senate for any business shall be 37 Senators. See the case of AWOLOWO v. SHAGARI & ORS (1979) LPELR-653(SC) where Per ANDREWS OTUTU OBASEKI ,J.S.C at Pp. 67-73, paras. F-A held as follows:
“…and the fraction “two thirds”. Two-thirds of nineteen, to avoid any disharmony, gives thirteen.”
On the meaning of Quorum, the Encarta Encyclopaedia Dictionary (2016) defines the word ‘Quorum’ as:
“minimum number required for valid meeting: a fixed minimum percentage or number of members of a legislative assembly, committee, or other Organization who must be present before the members can conduct valid business”
The above definition has a similar definition of the Apex court in the case of SARAKI v. FRN (2016) LPELR- 40013(SC) ( P. 111, paras. C-E ) where Per KEKERE-EKUN ,J.S.C held on the definition of Quorum as follows:
“…Quorum: the smallest number of people who must be at a meeting before it can begin or decisions can be made.”
Based on the above provisions of law, it is important to emphasize that section 5(2)(c) of the constitution cannot operate in isolation, hence, it is not the two third of the entire members of the Senate that is required by law to impeach the Senate leader, but the two third of members present for business of the day; which the constitution recognizes its quorum to be one third of the total member of the Senators that constitutes the Assembly and/ or Senate.
Before I finally draw the curtain on this exposition, it is important to mention here that the law is trite by the decision of the Apex court in INAKOJU & ORS. V. ADELEKE & ORS. (2007) 4 NWLR Pt. 1025 page 423, that all legislative businesses must be carried out at the hallowed chambers of the legislatures and/or the Legislative parliamentary building and at the holy parliamentary hours. This is one of the caveats to a lawful impeachment proceeding.
On whether 37 Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can legally and successfully impeach Saraki based on the above analysis, my guess is as good as yours and it is lawful.
Richarmond O. Natha-Alade
Principal Partner, Sun NAtha-Alade & Partners (SNATHAP)
Solicitor, Advocate & ADR Practitioner
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