Chief Ajibola Aribisala, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and the founding partner of A.O.S. Practice, speaks with ONOZURE DANIA about his views on the Ekiti House of Assembly speaker’s impeachment saga
What do you make of the way the speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly was removed?
I am not in Ekiti, and I am not involved in any of their positions. I read the publication made by the seven senior advocates of Nigeria who are Ekiti indigenes in the paper, and if you are following the trend, the legislators made a rejoinder saying that the senior advocates were misinformed or that they were biased in their opinion about how the former speaker was removed, and they are throwing tantrums at each other.
We all heard the news about the way the speaker was removed from office without due process. It was alleged that due process was not followed, and the people involved now say that the information published by the seven SANs was not the correct information or that the seven SANs that complained about the way the speaker was removed were biased in their opinion.
Seven senior lawyers from the state, including Afe Babalola and Wole Olanipekun, have condemned the issue in very strong terms, and they described it as an exercise in utter futility. Do you think there are grounds for the court to reverse that impeachment, given that the lawmakers had a two-thirds majority?
Nobody knows what really happened. If the SANs were correct in their position, which has been refuted by members of the house who said that their position was not correct and that the information they received was incorrect, but assuming they were correct in their position, then what they did will not stand the test of time, but as I previously stated, nobody knows what really happened.
Maybe when they now approach the courts, we’ll be able to know the true information available to the public because, like what the seven SANs are trying to make out of the story, you can’t just wake up and decide that the speaker should be removed.
As the speaker, what are the infractions that were brought against him, and when was the speaker given the opportunity to defend himself? Those were the allegations that they were making, saying that the exercise was made in futility or that it was not properly done and was done without following due process. Because the thing happened all of a sudden, the speaker came out to the public on Sunday night and said that this is what these people were planning to do: either kill him or impeach him. And that’s what happened on Monday. He was impeached, so what time was given to him? As a speaker, there are provisions for the removal of a speaker. So, he needs to be given enough time to respond to those allegations before the impeachment process starts.
The panel will be set up then, before the house is informed and a report is taken as to whether the speaker is to be removed. They needed two-thirds of the members of the house to have him removed, but the thing happened the same day. How can you remove a person on the same day without an allegation being levelled against him and without giving him time to respond as provided under the constitution?
So, because everything happened so suddenly, that is why people had this feeling that proper procedures or the rule of law were not followed. It’s clear from the manner in which the impeachment process was carried out that the House will have a difficult time coming up with a credible or legitimate reason or demonstrating that they followed due process, because if they followed due process, everything could not happen on the same day.
The allegation must be made first, and it must be given to him, and he must be given time. I think it will take about seven days for him to respond before you take any further steps. He cannot be done on the same day. So, there is something sinister about the procedure, but until we get the entire story in the public domain, we may not be able to know exactly what happened.
For me, I smell some indecent or improper behaviour on the part of the members of the house. And again, the governor is being accused of remaining silent since the incident happened. They were thinking that maybe he might be part of the plot to have the former speaker removed. Though it’s just speculation, as nobody can say it, and he has just been sworn in as a new governor.
There is ground for the court to reverse that impeachment. I have never heard of a situation where a speaker is removed like that without giving him notice to defend himself. Because there was no time to serve him with notice, I believe there is a strong case to declare the entire exercise null and void.
Do you think the clerk of the house was culpable in any way?
Yes, that is another issue. The chief executive of the house is the clerk, and that is the constitutional position. Nobody knew how everything happened because, according to the seven SANs, their own pronouncement was that the clerk could not be part of that process. Because the clerk will obviously know what to do, if the clerk was involved, things could not have been done the way they were allegedly done and said to have been incorrectly done. Nobody was there; nobody knew what happened.
So, they were of the view that the clerk, who knows what is right, could not have been drawn or allowed to have been used to provide and preside over such illegality since the clerk knows exactly what would happen. If you want to impeach a speaker, you can’t just impeach a speaker because you don’t like him.
The speaker must have committed an infraction, and the infraction has to be reduced to writing and served on him for him to defend himself, and the infraction must be an impeachable infraction. So, they are of the view that if the clerk of the house was involved, things could not have been done in that manner.
So, they were of the view that he could not be part of the process. But if he is now found to be part of the process, then, like I said, it’s all about speculation and information because the information is still a mystery because nobody knows the correct information. But if he is found to be part of the process, then obviously it makes it even easier for the process to be set aside.
This is not the first time lawmakers have impeached their leaders under questionable circumstances. Do you think Nigeria’s democracy has been hijacked by undemocratic elements?
In Nigeria, we have politicians who never seem to be doing the right things. Our politicians—have they been doing anything great in this country? They have been involved in all kinds of illegality, so there is nothing you expect from them that we have not gotten. We have gotten the worst of them—the ugly and most unexpected. So, they have not been helpful; they always misbehave, and the court always sets it aside anyway. The court is there as the watchdog to make sure that things are done and redress is made when it becomes necessary. We are all human beings, and all of them are working and fighting to make sure that they have a piece of the cake.
They are all fighting for their selfish interests. I learnt that there was an election because the former speaker of Ekiti, Mr. Afuye, died not too long ago. So they had another election in which the speaker that was just impeached won the election over the one that had just been appointed.
So, whatever happened there, I think it was all about the normal way of fighting each other to have the upper hand. At the end of the day, I think justice will prevail. We always get that done if something is wrongly done. We have enough precedent and enough justification to make sure that such illegality is not allowed to go unchallenged.
With the initial explanation by the police that it shut down the assembly complex to prevent thugs from attacking the premises, looking at the role they played in preventing journalists and staff of the assembly from gaining access when the impeachment went on, do you think the police were complicit in that drama?
It’s very clear now that there is no way those members could have sat without the protection of the police, and they knew what they were coming to do. That’s why some people were suspecting that maybe the governor had a hand in it. So, if you won’t even allow the staff to gain access on a regular day, and then on the day of the impeachment, you now allow them to go in, and, provided with security, everything is orchestrated, one cannot rule out the possibility that the governor is involved. That’s my opinion.
If lawmakers, who should know better, violate the Constitution and the matter gets to court, do you think they should be sanctioned by the court to serve as a deterrent to others?
There have always been sanctions from time to time. Look at the Benin Assembly; how long has it been since they resolved it?
So, definitely, cases are decided by the evidence, and the evidence is shrouded in mystery. We don’t know what has happened. But I’m confident that if the wrong thing was done, as has been claimed, the court must overturn it. I can assure you that the court will reverse it if what we’re hearing is correct, and the improper way the speaker was removed should not be allowed to stand.
How best do you think the assembly should proceed from here? This is because the seven senior lawyers of Ekiti origin have said the house cannot carry out any legitimate business under the contrived leadership of Honourable Adelugba?
If the concerned speaker has been removed illegally, then what we’re saying is that it cannot stand. You can’t put something on nothing and expect it to stand. If the removal is illegal, then that has to be addressed first, and the only thing the seven SANs can do, as they’re not members of the assembly, is to head straight to court. Anything they are saying can only be backed up by the court to reverse what has happened because, from the report I read, it was not only that the man was removed; he was also suspended, and five other members were suspended too. So, what were the offences committed by those who were suspended? Everything has to be looked into to see whether it meets the requirements of the Constitution.
How best can we rid the Houses of Assembly of such questionable exercises in Nigeria?
Well, the best way we can get rid of them is to keep doing what we’re doing now. This is simply by ensuring that the wrong things were reversed. If they’re not allowed to get away with it that means that next time they won’t try it because they know it will not sail through. Little by little and step by step, we will get there. We’re getting better than what we used to be now, at least.