OPINION: Legal insight, truth about impeachment of erstwhile Ebonyi State House of Assembly Deputy Speaker

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I have followed with keen interest the happenstance at the Ebonyi State House of Assembly this week with respect to vacation of office by the Deputy Speaker and the subsequent election of the erstwhile Deputy Leader of the House as the new Deputy Speaker of the House.

I have equally seen some commentaries or opinions on the proprietariness or otherwise of same. I would however, only wish to clarify some insinuations, which I believe are misconceived either intentionally or merely on the basis of political affiliation and sentiments.

It is important to reiterate that the position of Speaker and Deputy stands merely as “primus inter pares”, which implies “first among equals”. It is a privileged position, not a right. Hence, its occupation by any of the members ought, for all intent and purpose, be treated as such.

Firstly, it’s imperative to state emphatically at this juncture that, contrary to the general notion that the deputy speaker was impeached, in actual sense, his office was declared vacant by virtue of a letter of resignation sent to the Speaker of the House.

Although there are issues as to the fact that the signature was forged, the fact remains that there is a signed letter of resignation before the Speaker and which the Speaker is duty bound to act on. However, the issue of forgery is a criminal matter that the concerned individual is at liberty to pursue before a court of competent jurisdiction. Thus, the main issue that must be first addressed here is whether the speaker was legally right to have declared the seat vacant in the circumstance.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no specific provision of law with respect to resignation of a member of House of Assembly. As a result, the issue shall be addressed in view of judicial authorities with respect to effect of a signed document on the party who is signatory to it.

See the cases of NWARIE V. ADAKWA (2016) LPELR-41600 (CA) and INYANG & ORS. MAURICE A. EBONG (2001) LPELR-9913 (CA)

In view of the above, it goes without saying that, having willfully resigned his membership of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, the then deputy Speaker ceased to be a member of the House since the effective date of the resignation and he is no longer entitled to participate in any official business.

He did not only cease to be a member of the House, but must equally be stripped of all privileges and position he held while being a member. Consequently, the Speaker of the House was legally right to have declared his seat vacant. This is simply because you can not put something on nothing and expect it to stand, “Ex nihilo nihil fit“.

Having settled that, assuming without conceding that he was impeached at the said legislative proceeding, wherein the erstwhile Deputy Speaker was impeached by two third votes of those who were at the plenary sitting, it will equally be justifiable within the extant Constitution.

To this end, I am well aware that the Ebonyi State House of Assembly is a 24 member Assembly. I have equally looked through the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), particularly Section 96 (1), which provides for one-third as the requisite quorum for a legitimate sitting of the House of Assembly, Ebonyi State, which invariably implies that a minimum of 8 members can legally sit and transact a business of the House and anything above that would be surplus and an erring on the side of caution.

Secondly, the provisions of Section 98(1) and (2) are equally to the effect that voting is of members present and voting except otherwise provided by the Constitution.

By the provisions of Section 92 (1) (c) of the same Constitution, a Speaker or Deputy, as in this present case, can be removed by two-third of members of the House.

At this juncture, it is apposite to state that it is now elementary and trite that no one is permitted to input words into statutory, talk more of Constitutional provisions.

Flowing from the above position, it would, therefore, be right to submit that were it the case that 15 members of the House impeached the Deputy Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, I would say that same would have been fortified in law and therefore legitimate.

My position is consequent upon the subsequent provisions of the Constitution, particularly Section 188 (1) (2) and (4), where the Constitution expressly mentioned the words “House of Assembly” and “All members of the House of Assembly” as it relates to impeachment of a holder of the office of Governor and Deputy Governor, opposed to Section 92 earlier cited with respect to Speaker and Deputy Speaker.

The system is simply one which acknowledges majority rule over minority complaint.

The APC is in control of the majority in the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, hence can pull through this removal inasmuch as it does not violate any law of our land, particularly after the open declaration or confirmation by the erstwhile Deputy Speaker of the House, on his continuous membership of the PDP, which is presently in the minority in the House of Assembly.

I hereby congratulate the newly elected Deputy Speaker as well as Deputy Leader of the House on their new offices.

Henry Kelechukwu Eni-Otu, Esq.
Senior Partner, Law Corridor,
Abuja

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