Assertions by the Presidency that the call for the impeachment of President Goodluck Jonathan amounted to treason were, yesterday, debunked by lawyers and opposition politicians, who claimed that charges of incompetence were currencies for traffic by the opposition in a democracy.
Meanwhile, it emerged that All Progressives Congress, APC, was yet to mobilise its members in the National Assembly to commence the impeachment of President Goodluck Jonathan despite its call on Sunday on the legislators to commence the removal of the President.
On his part, Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State and Chairman of the faction of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, loyal to President Jonathan entered the fray yesterday, to douse the tension with a charge that democracy should be retained as he affirmed that better quality democrats would emerge over time.
Sources in the National Assembly told Vanguard yesterday that the APC national leadership was yet to formally contact the party’s lawmakers in the two houses on what is expected of them in heeding the call to impeach the President.
APC had through a press statement last Sunday urged the members of the National Assembly across party lines to commence impeachment proceedings against the President on the basis of alleged incompetence and misconduct arising from his alleged tolerance of corruption.
Ahead of the weekly strategy meeting of the leaderships of the Senate and the House of Representatives yesterday evening, Senate Leader Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, and the Deputy House Leader, Leo Ogor, dismissed the call from APC as inconsequential.
Noting that the PDP Senate caucus had not met over the issue, he said: “The threat was made yesterday (Sunday). We haven’t met and our party has not told us that he has done anything that would warrant impeachment proceedings.
“It is just a call. It remains what they called it— a call.”
Ogor, on his part, dismissed the call, saying it could destabilise the integrity of the House and the country.
He said: “This is a wishful thinking by the opposition, but it will have a very serious effect on the cohesion and unity that this Assembly has enjoyed since inception.
“It will have a destabilising effect on the body polity of this great country because impeachment process is not a tea party but a very serious issue.
“Impeachment is an impossibility in this case. They should wait and use the ballot box rather than use the National Assembly.”
APC lawmakers react
Members of APC in the House were equally dismissive of the threats of a treason charge from the Presidency as they asserted that impeachment was a part of the democratic process.
The APC Minority Whip, Samson Osagie, flayed the threat describing it as empty.
He said: “It’s an empty threat. Impeachment is a constitutional process by which a parliament removes from office a president, vice president, governor or deputy governor.
“It cannot amount to treason because it’s not an unconstitutional means to change government.
“What the Presidency should do is to respond as honestly as possible to all the issues of constitutional breaches flying everywhere through various letters.”
Faparunsi Bamidele, APC Ekiti, said impeachment is a legislative tool that can be used to checkmate the excesses of any president.
He said: “Calling for the impeachment of the president cannot amount to a treasonable offence, rather it is a legitimate thing to do.
“It is an opportunity for Mr. President to x-ray himself and correct his mistakes.”
Abiodun Falake, APC Lagos, also dismissed the treason charge, saying “it is an empty threat.
“In a democracy, a market woman can call for impeachment if her aspirations are not met.”
Chairman, House Committee on Land Scams in Abuja, Bimbo Daramola, APC Lagos, said: “It’s a window provided by the constitution and if the grounds for that are there in the reasonable consideration of the parliament, it will be an exercise in futility for anybody regardless of position to describe that action as empty threat.”
Eddie Mbadiwe, member representing Ideato North/South, Imo State on his part said: “Those who are saying it’s treasonable will be advised to go and read the statute and know what it is.”
The House members were backed by some lawyers including Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), Professor Fidelis Oditah (SAN), Emeka Ngige (SAN) and Bamidele Aturu.
Oyetibo said: “Impeachment is a term provided for in the constitution, so it cannot be a treasonable offence. But it depends on the circumstances.
“If they go about it in a manner other than what is provided for in the constitution, then it is.”
Oditah said: “Why would it be treason? Is it not what the constitution provides for?
“If APC comes up with the plan to impeach the President it is no treason itself. Why would it be treason if APC has members in the National Assembly who are able to pass the resolution? Why would that be treason?”
Sagay said: “I was rather surprised. In a democratic setting, hard words between rival political parties do not matter. It is like what they eat— like bread and tea— for dinner.
“And what should happen is that the political operators on each side should prepare well, so that they know how to throw feedback at the other side.
“If they say something, you will reply with something sharper and more deadly. That is democracy.
“When you begin to resort to threats by using state power, it shows that you are politically immature.”
Ngige said: “They are trying to be mischievous and childish by such statement. Are impeachable offences for the executives not part of our constitution?
“So, does the call mean that the President is going to be removed?
“Meanwhile, it is unfortunate that an educated fellow like Dr. Reuben Abati can be issuing such statement, when I think he is supposed to be well informed about what democracy is all about.”
Also, human rights activist, Aturu, said: “Calling for the President’s impeachment certainly cannot be a treasonable offence.
“Even though I do not personally agree with it in the sense that I will want the National Assembly to investigate properly and give the President time to respond to the issues that have been raised, but that does not mean that anyone calling for the President’s impeachment has committed a treasonable offence.”“That is one of the most careless responses I have gotten from the Federal government in recent time.”
Members of the PDP in the House of Representatives were, however, defensive of the president yesterday with some of them describing it as a storm in a tea cup.
Chairman, South-South Parliamentary Caucus, Warman Ogoriba, PDP, Bayelsa described the APC’s call statement calling for Jonathan’s impeachment as something that smirks of desperation and wondered whether the party was an activist group.
He said: “The desperation of APC is fast becoming something else. I do not know whether it is a party or an activist body.“
Henry Ofongo, representing Southern Ijaw, Bayelsa State, described the call by the APC as treasonable.
He said: “For me, if people are making allegations to incite the public to go against government; when you make allegations against a sitting President, if those things are unfounded, that means you are trying to incite the public to go against the government to create anarchy in order to overthrow the government. So, that is treasonable.”
Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Toby Okechukwu, PDP, Enugu, said APC should slow down because a government does not operate in a vacuum, rather it operates with laws and a tenure system.
Ogbonna Nwuke, member representing Omumu/Etche Federal Constituency, Rivers State, the call was indicative of the fact that the country is at crossroads.