Treason, what treason? - The Nation

By The Citizen

•Call for presidential impeachment cannot amount to treason, since impeachment ais a constitutional provision

On December 15, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the All Progressives Congress (APC) interim national publicity secretary, called on the National Assembly to commence immediate impeachment proceedings against President Goodluck Jonathan, for sundry constitutional infractions. He claimed he spoke with a 'high sense of responsibility'.

Alhaji Mohammed accused the Jonathan Presidency, and the smarting Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), of plotting to plunge the country into chaos, by courting the courts to declare vacant the seats of its five former governors that just defected to the APC, despite the precedence of a Supreme Court judgment that rejected a similar prayer, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo attempted to remove estranged Vice President Atiku Abubakar, for defecting into the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

Hinting at a possible judicial collusion bordering on high corruption, Alhaji Mohammed warned of 'widespread repercussions as the APC has resolved that henceforth, every act of impunity of the PDP and the Presidency would be met with stiff resistance in the form of a vociferous telegraphing of people power, the likes of which have not been witnessed in these parts'. He added that since impeachment is 'stipulated in the 1999 Constitution', and the Jonathan government is at sea on security, corruption, massive unemployment and mass hunger, not to mention impunity, impeachment was a legitimate means to remove the president.

But Dr. Reuben Abati, chief presidential spokesperson, dismissed 'the reckless and irresponsible call by the APC' for Jonathan's impeachment; and warned that 'the APC and any persons who make themselves its willing tools for the breach of public order and safety will be made to face the full sanctions of the law. Those who are threatening fire and brimstone,' he declared, 'should be ready for consequences of treasonable action', adding that the APC could not browbeat the courts in pending political cases before them.

Beyond legitimate attack and response, emotion and counter-emotion and partisan bile and counter-bile, the two issues here are impeachment and treason.

Does an urge to impeach the president amount to treason? Certainly not, for a provision of the Constitution cannot be said to subvert the same constitution. That would be a contradiction in terms.

But could a call for impeachment be reckless? Yes, if it is just to settle political scores; and thus slaughter the Constitution on the altar of crass partisanship. But is that the case here? Political exchanges are never clear-cut, for emotions mix with stark facts to produce a strange mixture.

Still, the Jonathan Presidency would appear legitimately charged with flat-footedness in anti-corruption (witness the Stella Oduah case, for instance, in which the president appears helpless even with the House of Representatives asking him to dismiss the minister); and with dire constitutional breaches (the partisan abuse of the police in Rivers State; and the reprehensible conduct of the police commissioner, Mbu Joseph Mbu, in virtually levying war against the state government; and against real or perceived presidential opponents in that state).

The Rivers State case is especially serious, for it taints the Presidency, and somewhat projects it as recklessly contemptible of the law that created that high office. That is a recipe for disaster, except the presidency changes tack and calls the constitutional bandits at the 'front' to order; or faces possible sanction itself, if the opposition could muster the required number in parliament.

Still, the impeachment option should be the very last, for it signals a point of no return for a republic grilling in illegality perpetrated by a president, its supposed guarantor-in-chief of law and legitimacy.

So, let neither side go for broke. But let the Jonathan Presidency do the needful, after a frank soul-searching for, if the bitter truth must be told, its relentless impunity has turned PDP into a boiling cauldron; and pushed the country to this sorry pass.

But as the opposition should be cautious in its utterances, let no one criminalise a justified call for impeachment. It's no use issuing threats and flexing muscles, when the administration could quietly lower the political temperature by doing the right thing by law. It is the manifest folly of projecting power instead of projecting reason.