The rate at which assembly speakers are impeached is worrying
The recent impeachment of the Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Mr. Isah Kawu after his election to replace the former Speaker Mohammed Gammunu, makes Kawu’s term the shortest in the history of the present civilian dispensation. He was in office for just one week. The drama also gives Niger State the dubious distinction of the state with the highest turnover of House of Assembly Speakers in Nigeria’s contemporary political history with about five impeached speakers since 2008.
Although the frequency of impeachment of speakers by the Niger State House of Assembly may seem like a circus by some unserious political jesters, it must be noted that the impeachment threat has become a cynical tool in the hands of Assemblymen across the country, even at local council level. With very little excuse and sometimes for pecuniary reasons, legislators have no qualms about impeaching their speakers.
On December 22 last year, Ebonyi State recorded its first casualty with the impeachment of Ikechukwu Nwankwo in a drama-filled session while in February this year alone, House Speakers were removed in Borno, Adamawa, Kano and Gombe states. The turn-over of speaker has been so high that there have been changes at different times within the last five years in no fewer than 20 States Houses of Assembly--even in states where majority of the members belong to one political party.
Just about three weeks ago, the Speaker of the Bayelsa Assembly, Kombowei Friday Benson, was impeached after spending less than a hundred days in office. His impeachment however, sparked serious controversy as the House did not form a quorum. It reportedly took the personal intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan to resolve the crisis and for Benson to regain his seat. Many of his colleagues have not been as lucky.
Yet behind most of the impeachments is the overbearing disposition of the executive in these States where the Governors lord themselves over the legislative arm of government which they seek to emasculate. We have also seen that at the federal level. During President Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight-year tenure, the National Assembly recorded a high turnover of Senate Presidents as the third most powerful office in the land became a revolving door, producing in its wake a total of five.
It is noteworthy that Speakers do not have absolute power of their own. They remain “executive heads” of the legislative branch by virtue of being elected by their peers; in other words, they are first among equals. But the moment some of them are elevated to the office, they begin to hobnob with the executive branch, sometimes turning themselves into errand boys of their governors at the expense of the Legislature. That has led to the undoing of many speakers. But the manner in which many have lost their jobs raises questions about the seriousness with which the lawmakers perceive their assignment.
Although there are constitutional provisions for removing speakers and other erring public officers, assembly members most often invoke flimsy excuses for seeking the ouster of the incumbent office holder. Unfortunately, more often than not, at the bottom of the impeachments saga is the trust deficit between a Speaker and his colleagues who often suspect that their leader may have been collecting financial inducements from the executive and failing to bring it to the table for fair sharing.
Unfortunately, the immediate consequence of this interminable bickering in the legislative houses is its toll on the quality of debate and legislation for good governance in our country today. Yet the ultimate victims of this state of affairs are people of their states who are denied quality and effective representation.