The presidential system of government is simply a democratic system of government where the supreme power of a state is held by the people to be exercised by an elected representative called the President.This system of government upholds the principle of separation of power in which the power of governance is held by different arms of government.
However, due to the independent nature of the three branches of government, it was therefore essential for the doctrine of checks and balances to be rooted in the system. This serves as a means of curbing abuse of power by the government officials as the doctrine provides impeachment for the executive, recall for the legislature and dismissal for the judiciary.
According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, the term “impeachment can be defined as the act (by the legislature) of calling for the removal from office of a public official, accomplished by presenting a written charge of the official’s alleged misconduct”. It thus means the process by which charges are brought against a government official, which can lead to the removal of such official from office.
The Procedure of Impeachment under the 1999 Constitution
The impeachment came to be in Nigeria as a result of the immunity enjoyed by the public officers. Hence, impeachment serving as an ultimate weapon against the president to curb the abuse of power by proper use of the law in the hands of the legislature.
In the exercise of this power however, the legislature must ensure that the proper procedure is followed to the core in order to avoid such impeachment procedure being declared null and void by the judiciary. The procedure for impeaching a president in Nigeria is contained in S143 of the Constitution and the steps involved are as follows;
Whenever a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly is presented to the President of the Senate, stating that the holder of the office of President or Vice-President is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, detailed particulars of which shall be specified, the President of the Senate shall within seven days of the receipt of the notice cause a copy thereof to be served on the holder of the office and on each member of the National Assembly, and shall also cause any statement made in reply to the allegation by the holder of the office to be served on each member of the National Assembly.
However, the term “gross misconduct” means a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the National Assembly to gross misconduct.
Within fourteen days of the presentation of the notice to the President of the Senate (whether or not any statement was made by the holder of the office in reply to the allegation contained in the notice) each House of the National Assembly shall resolve by motion without any debate whether or not the allegation shall be investigate.
A motion of the National Assembly that the allegation be investigated shall not be declared as having been passed, unless it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of each House of the National Assembly.
Within seven days of the passing of a motion under the foregoing provisions, the Chief Justice of Nigeria shall at the request of the President of the Senate appoint a Panel of seven persons who in his opinion are of unquestionable integrity, not being members of any public service, legislative house or political party, to investigate the allegation as provide in this section.
The holder of an office whose conduct is being investigated under this section shall have the right to defend himself in person and be represented before the Panel by legal practitioners of his own choice.
A Panel appointed under this section shall have such powers and exercise its functions in accordance with such procedure as may be prescribed by the National Assembly; and within three months of its appointment report its findings to each House of the National Assembly.
Where the Panel reports to each House of the National Assembly that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter.
Where the report of the Panel is that the allegation against the holder of the office has been proved, then within fourteen days of the receipt of the report at the House the National Assembly shall consider the report, and if by a resolution of each House of the National Assembly supported by not less than two-thirds majority of all its members, the report of the Panel is adopted, then the holder of the office shall stand removed from office as from the date of the adoption of the report.
No proceedings or determination of the Panel or of the National Assembly or any matter relating thereto shall be entertained or questioned in any court.
Fundamentally, S146 of the Constitution then provides that the Vice-President shall hold the office of President if the office of President becomes vacant by reason of , impeachment or the removal of the President from office for any other reason in accordance with section 143 of this Constitution. Also, where these occurs during a period when the office of Vice-President is also vacant, the President of the Senate shall hold the office of President for a period of not more than three months, during which there shall be an election of a new President, who shall hold office for the unexpired term of office of the last holder of the office.
It is suffice to say that the term “impeachment” is quite different from”removal from office”, though these two are mostly used interchangeably. Impeachment is simply the referring to charges against a public officer but does not mean that person would leave office until found guilty of the offences.