By NBF News

The September 6, 2010 impeachment of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of Ogun State House of Assembly and suspension of 15 members of the House, including the impeached Speaker, by only nine (9) members of the 26-member House constitute are another attempt at disparaging Nigeria`s efforts at enthroning constitutionalism and rule of law.

The actions of the nine-member faction of the House are a brazen illegality, and reminds one of the illegal impeachment of Governor Joshua Dariye on November 6, 2006 by a six-member faction of the 24-member Plateau State House of Assembly, which was later, and fittingly, nullified by both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

See DAPIANLONG V DARIYE (2007) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1036) 289. I shall illustrate the illegality of the Ogun State incident by trying to provide answers to three major questions raised by that show of shame: Was the Speaker validly impeached by one-third (1/3) majority of the House? Can nine (9) out of the 26 members that make up Ogun State House of assembly validly conduct the business of the House in the absence of both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker? Can nine (9) members validly suspend fifteen (15) members in a 26-member democratic Legislative House?

On the first question, section 92 (2) (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, provides that 'The Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly (of a State) shall vacate his office if he is removed from office by a resolution of the House of Assembly supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of the members of the House.' In DAPIANLONG V DARIYE (supra), the Supreme Court of Nigeria (per Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen JSC in the lead judgment) held that the expression 'two-thirds of the members' of the Plateau State House of Assembly refers to 'two-thirds of ALL the members of the Plateau State House of Assembly which is made up of 24 members; that is 16 members.

It is not in doubt that the word 'ALL' means; entire, complete, the whole number of; every one of. See page 47 of Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged Second Edition, 1975.' It therefore follows that the purported impeachment of the Ogun Speaker by only nine members of the House (1/3 majority) is unconstitutional, illegal, void and of no effect whatsoever. So also is the purported election of a replacement for the impeached Speaker by the same nine-member faction.

Second, on the issue of whether the nine (9) members validly conducted the business of the Ogun State House of Assembly on September 6, 2010 without the participation of both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, the Constitution provides that the Quorum of a House of Assembly shall be one-third of all the members of the House (s. 96 (1)). And a House of Assembly may validly act notwithstanding any vacancy in its membership (s. 102).

Also, the Speaker of the House (or in his absence the Deputy Speaker) shall preside at any sitting of the House. But where both the Speaker and his Deputy are absent at any sitting, such member of the House as the House may elect for a purpose shall preside (see s. 95 (1) & (2)). From the above provisions of the Constitution, especially sections 96 and 102, it is clear that members constituting not less than one-third (1/3) majority of the total membership of the House can validly conduct the affairs of the House, with the Speaker (or the Deputy Speaker) presiding.

However, on any particular day where a quorum is formed in the absence of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, the House is permitted under section 95 (2) to elect any member of the House to preside over its proceedings for that day. Accordingly, the nine members of the Ogun State House of Assembly might have validly convened and conducted proceedings of the House on September 6, 2010 by virtue of having formed a quorum under 96(1) of the Constitution. It must however be stressed that this is only for the purpose of conducting ordinary proceedings of the House.

Where the consideration of special or extra ordinary matters requiring two-thirds majority of all members of the House (such as impeachment of the Speaker or his Deputy under section 92 (2) (c) of the Constitution) is in hand, the nine (9) members clearly do not constitute at least two-thirds of all the 26 members of the Ogun State House of Assembly, and so remained incompetent and not qualified to initiate and or conduct valid proceedings in such special or extra ordinary matters in the House. (see the judgment of Mahmud Mohammed, J.S.C in DAPIANLONG V DARIYE (supra); see also Inakoju v. Adeleke (2007) 4 NWLR (pt, 1025) 423. It is my respectful view that the approval of the N100 billion bond for the Governor also falls among special/extra-ordinary matters and as such can only be carried out by at least two-thirds majority of the membership of the House, which the 9 members obviously do not constitute.

If one recalls the various instances in the past in which the rule of law had been unabashedly taken for a ride in this country, in a do-or-die manner, one cannot but conclude that, it seems, some Nigerian politicians and political office holders are yet to come to term with the fact of rule of law being the substratum of an lasting democratic rule, and that any democracy that fails to sympathise with this fact is bound in the long run to crash.

Sylvester C. Udemezue, Lecturer, Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.