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Thursday, 16 August 2018

Conundrum in Nigeria's Constitutional Provisions


The law and the bible share some similarities. These exist in their interpretation. Interpreting the bible requires one to take a holistic approach. This means that one cannot interpret one verse in the bible in isolation. While one verse may support your action, another verse may contradict it. The same logic applies to the law. While one section of the law may support your action, another section may contradict it. This means that one cannot interpret a section of the law in isolation of other sections relevant to that section. 

The interpretation of section 50(2c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) has posed a serious challenge. It may require the interpretation of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to put the conflicting views that have emerged to rest. This section talks about removing the Senate President (SP), Deputy Senate President (DSP), Speaker of the House of Representatives (SoH) and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives (DSoH). This section stipulates that 2/3 majority of the members of the Legislative House is required to remove these principal officers of the National Assembly (NASS). However, the confusion that has emerged over this constitutional provision lies in the wording of this section in relation to other relevant sections of the constitution. For example, the sections that talk about removing the President and Vice President of Nigeria, removing a Governor and Deputy Governor of a State, forming a quorum at both the National and State Legislative House, a candidate winning election in Nigeria, and so on. 

Let’s take a look at these relevant sections. While section 50(2c) stipulates 2/3 majority of the members of the Legislative House, section 54(1), which talks about forming a quorum in the Legislative Houses stipulates 1/3 of all members of the Legislative House. Also, section 58(5), which talks about overriding the President’s refusal to assent a bill, stipulates 2/3 majority of the members of the Legislative House. These provisions are similar to the provisions about removing a Speaker and Deputy Speaker of a State Assembly. For instance, while section 92(1c) stipulates that 2/3 majority of the members of a State Assembly is needed to impeach a Speaker or Deputy of a State Assembly, section 96(1) stipulates that 1/3 of all the members of a State Legislative House is required to form a quorum. In addition, section 100(5) stipulates that 2/3 majority of the members of a State Assembly is required to override a Governor’s refusal to assent a bill.

Moreover, in relation to the provisions about removing the President or Vice President, while section 143(2) stipulates that at least 1/3 of the members of the NASS must sign a written notice of allegation against the President or Vice President, section 143(9) stipulates that 2/3 majority of all the members of the NASS must support the resolution to adopt the Report submitted by the Panel appointed to investigate the allegations. Also, regarding removing the President or Vice President through a resolution initiated by the Federal Executive Council, section 144(1a) stipulates that 2/3 of all the members of the Federal Executive Council must pass the resolution. In addition, similar provisions apply to removing a State Governor or Deputy Governor. For instance, while section 188(2) stipulates that 1/3 of the members of the State Assembly must sign a written notice of allegation against a Governor or Deputy Governor, section 188(9) stipulates that 2/3 majority of all the members of a State Assembly must support the resolution to adopt the Report submitted by the Panel appointed to investigate the allegations against a Governor or Deputy Governor. Also, to remove a Governor or Deputy Governor through a resolution passed by State Executive Council, section 189(1a) stipulates that 2/3 of all the members of the State Executive Council must pass the resolution. In relation to winning election, while section 133(1b) stipulates that a presidential candidate must win in at least 2/3 of all the States in Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory, section 179(1b) stipulates that a gubernatorial candidate must win in at least 2/3 of all the Local Governments in the State.

Furthermore, a close look at these constitutional provisions reveals the differences in the wording. One will notice that in some provisions the word all is used, while in some provisions it is absent. To some people, the interpretation of the sections where it is used is the same as in the sections where it is absent. For instance, the provision of 2/3 of the members of the Senate House is the same as the provision of 2/3 of all the members of the Senate House. This argument may be valid if interpretation of the section is done in part, where other relevant sections are neglected. In this case, the interpretation will be that 73 members of Senators are required to impeach the Senate President or Deputy Senate President. This interpretation may be narrowly construed. But, if this section is holistically interpreted in a way that accounts for other relevant sections of the Constitution, then we will begin to see how different these provisions are, in terms of interpretation. Also, we will begin to see the hidden issues that require serious constitutional interpretation unveil their faces. In this case, the interpretation of the section where the word all is present will mean that 73 senators are required to impeach the Senate President or Deputy Senate President, and the interpretation of the section where the word all is absent will mean that only the members present in a session where a quorum has been duly constituted.

To conclude, I think there must be strong reason(s) why the word all is used in some of the provisions and not used in other provisions. One reason may be for emphasis purposes. Another reason may be to allow for further interpretation by a court of law. Often times we undermine the importance of some English words. One of the lessons that I have learnt from the conflicting views about the quest to remove Dr Bukola Saraki - and Dr Ike Ekweremadu - is that every English word matters, particularly in legal provisions. Perhaps you won’t understand this until you have problems with the law. To some people, the provision of section 50(2c) of the Constitution of the FRN is clear, perhaps that’s why they beat their chest that Dr Saraki cannot be impeached because that process will require 73 senators, which would appear to be a feat that APC cannot pull. However, when you interpret this section in relation to other relevant provisions, as I have highlighted above, you will see that removing Dr Saraki is not a mirage as it has been portrayed. That’s if the interpretation holds true, perhaps at the Supreme Court.
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