On Monday evening, the Imo State House of Assembly impeached the Deputy Governor of the State, Eze Madumere. This was sequel to an earlier order of the state High Court on Monday which restrained the lawmakers and the state Chief Judge, Paschal Nnadi, from taking any further action to impeach the Imo deputy governor until after the determination of the matter before the court.
It is expedient to point out from the onset that the process of impeaching a Deputy Governor is clearly stated under Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2011, as amended). However, our concern here is not about the constitutionality of the process but the gravity of going on with the impeachment despite the clear and unambiguous order of the court restraining the House and others from continuing with it.
By virtue of Section 6(6)(a) of the Constitution, the court has the inherent power to sanction and make orders which are to be obeyed. Like other authorities, members of the Imo State House of Assembly are not above the law and are duty bound to obey court orders. Thus, any action carried out by the House of Assembly in relation to the impeachment of the Imo deputy governor in disobedience of a court order cannot but be illegal.
Seeing that one cannot build something on nothing and expect it to stand, the impeachment by the House, despite the court’s order restraining them is an abuse of legislative power, office and a gross misconduct that can warrant heavy sanctions on the lawmakers.
As Lord Denning succinctly puts it in MACFOY V. UAC LTD 1962 AC 153:
“If an act is void, then it is in law a nullity. It is not only bad, but incurably bad. It is automatically null and void without more ado, though it is sometimes convenient to have the court declare it to be so. And every proceeding which is founded on it is also bad and incurably bad. You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stay there. It will collapse.”
In the celebrated case of GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE V. OJUKWU (1986) 1 NWLR pt. 18, p.621 SC, the Supreme Court dwelt extensively on the need to obey court orders and its judgements. The Court held that no person, body, institution or government should lend itself to frustrate and nullify the judgement and orders of court, for any reason whatsoever.
Similarly, Ubaezonu, JSC stated in NIGERIAN ARMY V. MOWARIN (1992) 4 NWLR Pt 235, p.345 CA that: “an order of court must be obeyed, even if such an order is perverse, until such a time that the order is set aside by a competent court”.
It is our opinion that the impeachment of the Imo deputy governor cannot stand the test of legality because anything done out of illegality is illegal and cannot bear any lawful or acceptable fruit. Disobedience to court orders is unlawful and an illegality cannot bring forth a lawful action.
Any person against whom an order is made is duty bound to obey it whether it favours his sentiments or not. So, for a case like this, any further action arising after the court has restrained the legislators from the impeachment will amount to a total nullity. It cannot stand! See OGUEBEGO V. PDP (2016) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1503) 446.
How can the House move on with the impeachment despite the court’s order restraining them? Where did they get the power from? The impeachment holds no water since the court has already stripped them off the power to carry on with the impeachment. The lawmakers have clearly only embarked on a frolic of their own.
It is an aberration in a democracy for court orders to be flouted just to score cheap political points. Politics should not regulate law. It is the law that should regulate politics and political activities in the country. Obviously, the Imo State House of Assembly has acted ultra vires by flouting the court orders in this instant case. It is equally laughable that some legislators in a country practicing democracy can treat court orders with ignominy and expect that their actions will have the backing of law. I fear our democracy is in danger when lawmakers turn law-breakers.
Even under our laws, it is contempt for the Imo State House of Assembly to carry on with the proceedings despite the court’s order. What lawful action can therefore be carried out while acting in contempt of the court?
From the foregoing, it is safe to conclude that the purported impeachment of the Imo deputy governor is not only illegal and unconstitutional but also unjustifiable. It is further submitted that regardless of the length of time between the period the order was given and the time the arbitrary impeachment was carried out, what matters is whether they have conducted themselves in a lawful manner, which in this case, they have not. Once the order of the court restraining them is still in operation, any impeachment or impeachment proceeding is void in law and will be of no effect whatsoever — on the Deputy Governor.
Festus Ogun is a final year Law student and civil rights activist.
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