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THERE ought not to be misgivings about the impeachment of Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha. But the process leading to that action gives cause for grave concern.
THERE ought not to be misgivings about the impeachment of Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha. But the process leading to that action gives cause for grave concern. Immediately he was removed, Alamieyeseigha was handcuffed, detained temporarily at the Police Headquarters, in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, and later flown to Abuja, for further detention and, possibly, extradition to the United Kingdom. Prior to his impeachment on Friday, December 9, 2005, Alamieyeseigha was the elected Governor of Bayelsa State.
He was arrested by the Metropolitan Police in London, on September 15, 2005, for money-laundering offences, detained and subsequently charged to court. He was later released on bail on conditions requiring him to stay back in London sine dine. Quite unaccountably, he jumped bail, and miraculously found his way to Yenagoa, his state capital, on November 21, 2005, becoming a fugitive from justice.
We had, in the recent past, done an editorial on the subject of Alamieyeseigha's unseemly escape from justice and the avoidable odium and ridicule he had incurred on his person and office. The thrust of this editorial, therefore, is on the style, legality and constitutionality of his impeachment. Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution, delineates the procedure (trial process) for the removal of an elected governor or deputy governor from office. The trial process as provided in the said section 188 has built-in mechanics for ensuring fair hearing and the principles of natural justice, including the doctrine of audi alteram parten (hear the other side). Natural justice, the Supreme Court once ruled in the case of Ariori v AG (Oyo State), "demands that a party must be heard before the case against him is determined. Even God gave Adam an oral hearing despite the evidence supplied by his act of covering his nakedness..."
To ensure fair hearing and natural justice, the Constitution provides that, in the trial of a governor , a panel appointed by the Chief Judge of the State shall have three months (90 days) within which to make its findings and to report same to the House of Assembly. In the Alamieyeseigha case, the seven-man Panel, headed by Barrister David Serena Dokubo Spiff, was appointed on Tuesday, December 6, 2005.
It came up with a report, dated December 8, 2005, and tagged "Allegations without Evidence of Proof" which, according to its author (the seven-man panel), "are those allegations the facts supporting which are so self-evident that they do not require any proof (read 'defence'), and those allegations proof of which must require varying degrees of fact finding".
In the opinion of the seven-man panel, the two allegations against Governor Alamieyeseigha - the charge of money laundering levelled against him by the London Metropolitan Police and his escape from justice - were too self-evident to require his defence. But the Constitution provides that "the holder of an office whose conduct is being investigated under this section shall have the right to defend himself in person or be represented before the panel by a legal practitioner of his own choice". Quite clearly, to hold that some allegations were too self-evident to require proof, evidence or defence, represents a serious infraction of that constitutional provision, which contemplates the provisions of section 36 of the Constitution, requiring that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be "given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence", and to "defend himself in person or by legal practitioners of his own choice".
The David Serena Dokubo-Spiff-led panel further stated that "owing to non-availability of funds (the Federal Government had illegally and unconstitutionally frozen the Bayelsa State Federal Account), commonsense, therefore, dictates that we commence with those allegations in category 1, before addressing allegations in category II, stating allegations for which proof is unnecessary". The seven-man panel had hardly finished the first part of the report conveying its opinion on allegations which required no proof, evidence or defence, when , in less than 72 hours of its appointment, the House of Assembly, in circumstances that were less than honorable, pronounced Governor Alamieyeseigha impeached.
To facilitate Alamieyeseigha's impeachment, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had played a role that can hardly be reconciled to the powers bestowed on it by the instrument establishing it. It was widely reported that there was unwholesome arm-twisting, torture and inducement by the EFCC to the Bayelsa State lawmakers. On its own part, the Federal Government evidently and literally browbeat the Bayelsa lawmakers into doing what they should have done properly and with facility, under law, without prompting.
The Bayelsa State radio and television stations were closed down, contrary to sections 22 and 39 of the constitution, guaranteeing freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference; the State's Federation Account was frozen, contrary to section 165 of the Constitution; hundreds of armed soldiers and police were deployed to everywhere in the State; armoured tanks and sub-machine guns were positioned at the State House of Assembly and at the State High Court.
Two armoured tanks were placed directly opposite the Government House, where Governor Alamieyeseigha's office was located; armed soldiers positioned armoured tanks along the road leading to Amassoma, the Governor's hometown, etc. The question arises as to whether Nigeria is still a federation, or is now a unitary state and an autocracy.
The deployment by the President of the armed forces to Bayelsa State was clearly a contravention of the provisions of section 217 of the Constitution, which make such deployment subject to an act of the National Assembly. And consider that the deployment of the armed forces and police was made at a time when there was no insurrection to suppress!
The overt and covert assistance proffered by the Federal Government and its agencies to anti-Alamieyeseigha lawmakers of Bayelsa State was patently redolent of illegality and evil, being subversive of the letter and spirit of the 1999 Constitution.
There is hardly any doubt that the allegations levelled against Alamieyeseigha were weighty enough and would have earned him an impeachment, anyway, but the reckless and vulgar haste with which the impeachment trial was conducted leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Quite clearly, the casualties of that horrid impeachment exercise include due process, the rule of law and the concept of federalism.
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