The Impunity Of Suspending A Lawmaker

The suspension of Ali Ndume by his colleagues for six months is an assault on our democracy as such action is unfounded both in law and principle.

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The Constitution clearly reposed the privilege of electing or recalling a lawmaker squarely on the citizens. The only exception where a lawmaker is constitutionally mandated to vacate his seat is stipulated in section 68 of the Constitution vis a vis becoming members of another legislative house, not being qualified to contest election, ceases to be a citizen of Nigeria, becomes a member of the executive arm or body, becomes unduly absent or becomes a member of another party when there is no division within the party.

Except for the above mentioned, one wonders how lawmakers that do not have powers to elect themselves could muster the powers to suspend themselves. How could one take what he cannot give? If this trend continues, a day will come that a section of lawmakers will suspend their colleagues based on political expediency.

The gale of lawmakers suspending fellow lawmakers started after the advent of our democratic journey. It is mostly schemed for gaining political advantage and hardly for any altruistic purpose. The first well publicised suspension of a lawmaker happened in 2002 when the then Senate President Anyim Pius Amyim, in a pre-emptive move against his impeachment, being spearheaded by the maverick Senator Arthur Nzeribe, rallied the senators to slam an indefinite suspension on Nzeribe over an alleged N22m fraud.

Another well publicised suspension of lawmakers was in 2010 when Dino Melaye and 11 other members of the House of Representative were suspended for involving in a brawl after accusing Speaker Bankole of graft. An Abuja Federal High court presided over by Justice Adamu Bello later squashed the suspension. Unfortunately, the same Dino Melaye who should know better is among the allow heads that supervised and spearheaded the illegal suspension of Ali Ndume.

Just last year, Abdul Jibrin was suspended for 180 legislative days by the House of Representative for daring to accuse the House Speaker, Yakubu Dogara and other principal members of budget fraud. The matter is currently in court.

The impunity also thrives in some State Houses of Assembly where constitutional necessity is daily sacrificed for political necessity. Suspension could be employed to gag a vociferous member, ostracised a particular constituency or intimidate a dissident member. A classical example occurred in 2012 when the only female member of Bauchi State House of Assembly RIfkatu Samson Danna was suspended for having the temerity to challenge the relocation of the headquarters of Tafawa Balewa Local Government to Bununu.

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Dannah’s road to suspension started in 2012 when Governor Isa sent an executive bill for the amendment of the Local Government Law to empower him to relocate the headquarters of any local government to any place suitable in his view. Dannah became suspicious because the major backers of the bill in the House were Fulanis with whom her Sayawa kinsmen have been battling for ages over the ownership of Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area. However, when the House took a unanimous decision on the issue she became suspicious that her colleagues may have taken a decision without her. When she sounded her fears that her colleagues took a decision concerning the issue without informing her, her colleagues took offence and asked her to apologise. Her verbal apology was not satisfactory to her colleagues and she was asked to make a written apology and this she refused to do and her colleagues promptly referred the matter to the House committee on Anti-Corruption, Ethics and Privileges for thorough investigation of the matter. The committee promptly submitted its report on June 7, 2012 recommending the INDEFINITE suspension of Dannah. The recommendation of the committee was quickly upheld by the House.

By suspending Dannah, the rights of representation of her Bogoro Constituency, which is predominantly a Christian population, was jeopardised as their interest was not represented in the State House of Assembly, hence they lacked state government interventions in terms of executions of laudable projects.

Dannah sued Bauchi House of Assembly in suite BA/45m/23. The Bauchi High Court ruled that the suspension was illegal and unconstitutional and ordered for the reinstatement of the lawmaker in line with sections 109 and 110 of the Constitution on the ground that a lawmaker has the right to support or kick against any matter on the floor of the House.

Suspending a lawmaker is tantamount to suspending the whole constituency he represents. Their voices will not be heard, their interests not protected and their welfare jeopardised all in an effort to ‘discipline’ a colleague. Its same like throwing the baby with the bath water. Such an action amounts to impunity and legislative recklessness. The best that can be done is to remove the lawmaker from committees, cut his allowances or stop other privilege perks he enjoys.

In conclusion, the powers to suspend is unknown to our Constitution and any act towards that is completely null and void. Senator Ali Ndume should be reinstated immediately to adequately represent his constituency.

Barrister Obioma Ezenwobodo is an Abuja Based Legal Practitioner

 

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Whistler NG

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