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Illegal Attempt to Impeach Ortom

The illegal attempt by eight members of the Benue State House of Assembly [BNHA] to impeach Governor Samuel Ortom on Monday last week, July 30, was a very ugly development and a throwback to the dark era in this country when minority state legislators, backed by federal might, removed state governors who had fallen out of favour with the powers that be in Abuja.

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The eight MPs, led by former BNHA speaker Terkimibi Ikyange, at first held a press conference in Makurdi, the state capital, where they threatened to issue a notice of impeachment on Ortom within seven days. The eight MPs were known loyalists of former state governor Gabriel Suswam, leader of a faction of the state’s ruling All Progressives Congress [APC] party. Ortom had defected to the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] the week before, and just before that Ikyange was impeached by his colleagues. Those events together set the stage for retaliatory political action, an illegal one at that.

Due to the crisis between the pro and anti-Ortom Benue MPs, the police sealed the assembly complex and prevented the 22 pro-Ortom MPs from holding a session inside it. On Monday last week, pro-Ortom youths stormed the assembly complex and occupied it but were soon chased away by the police, which fired tear gas at them. Soon afterwards, the police allowed the 8 minority members to stage a “session” in the complex where they served Ortom with an “impeachment notice.”

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Governor Samuel Ortom may or may not be guilty of the charges levelled against him but as things stand, he is under no obligation to begin to answer them because the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended with respect to impeaching a governor were flagrantly violated. The most important one is that an impeachment notice must be signed by two thirds of all MPS. In the case of Benue, that is 20 MPs out of 30. The question then is, why did the police and the Department of State Services [DSS] provided cover to these minority MPs to hold an illegal session and issue such a serious notice when they had no power to do so?

This country witnessed such gross abuses of the constitution with respect to impeachments under the Obasanjo regime. The governors of Bayelsa, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; Plateau, Joshua Chibi Dariye; Oyo, Rashidi Ladoja and Ekiti, Peter Ayo Fayose were all impeached when they fell out politically with Obasanjo. In all cases the security agencies and the then Attorney General of the Federation played an ignoble role either by providing security cover to the dissenters, by EFCC agents rounding up MPs and imprisoning them until they agreed to impeach their governors, or in the Attorney General’s case, by flagrantly ignoring court orders that quashed the impeachments on the pretext that it was subject to appeal.

We must not tread that path again. President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman said last week that any attempt to link the president with events in Benue will fail. The country needs more than denials in this matter. The president should move firmly and decisively and punish security officials who give cover to blatantly illegal actions of the kind that can plunge this country into turmoil. We have in previous editorials expressed reservations about Governor Ortom’s style of rule but if he must be removed from office, it must be done fully according to the letter and spirit of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Anything else is an invitation to anarchy. 

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