Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Impeachment: Panel clears Al-Makura

Reprieve came the way of embattled Nasarawa State Governor Umaru Al-Makura yesterday when an investigative committee dismissed allegations of gross misconduct against him for want of evidence.
Committee chairman Yusuf Shehu Usman said at a public hearing in Lafia that they had to dismiss the matter because the State House of Assembly had failed to provide evidence to back up its accusations against the governor.
“The panel has no option than to dismiss the 16 allegations against the governor of Nasarawa State,” said Usman, on the second day of public hearing on the matter.
The 7-member probe committee was set up byChief Judge Suleiman Dikko to probe the accusations in the July 14 impeachment notice signed by 20 state lawmakers who are members of the People’s Democratic Party.
The lawmakers had rejected the committee’s composition and passed a resolution asking the CJ to disband and reconstitute it. Because of that, they refused to appear
before the panel on the first day of its public sitting on Monday.
Al-Makura, a member of the All Progressives Congress, had appeared before the panel, along with his 9-man team of lawyers, where he urged it to dismiss the allegations since the lawmakers had not brought evidence.
The committee adjourned till yesterday, to give the legislators more chance to come over and prove their case.
When the panel reconvened yesterday a six-man legal team for the lawmakers turned up and asked the committee to disperse on the grounds that the State Assembly had asked for it to be disbanded.
The 20 PDP legislators had challenged the composition of the committee on the basis of a petition that alleged it comprises partisan politicians and friends of the governor. The constitution requires for the committee to have people who in the option of the CJ have integrity and are not members of a political party.
Barrister Ocha P. Ulegede, who led the lawmakers’ legal team, said came to lodge a protest and ask the panel to disqualify itself from the matter because some of its members are not suitable.
Committee chairman Usman noted the submissions of the lawmakers’ legal team, but said the panel lacked the powers to consider their request.
At this point, Ulegede announced his team was pulling out of the proceedings, a decision the counsel representing the governor did not object to. The panel granted this leave.
Following this, the governor’s lawyers urged the panel to dismiss the case for want of evidence.
Chief Udechukwu Udechukwu cited, among others, Supreme Court judgments as well as Section 280 of the Criminal Procedure Act which states that when a case is called for hearing and the prosecution fails to make appearance, the court is at liberty to dismiss it.
He also cited Paragraph Seven (c) of the panel’s guidelines which says, “Where the House of Assembly fails or neglects to appear and lead evidence in proof of the allegations, the panel, upon proof of service, may dismiss the allegations.”
The panel, at this point, adjourned for two hours to consider the submissions of the two parties.
When it reconvened, the chairman announced dismissal of the case in accordance with Paragraph 7 (C) of the guidelines.
He said the panel dismissed the case because the State Assembly failed to prove all of the 16 allegations leveled against the governor. He read out the allegations, and declared that the assembly failed to enter any proof of evidence on each of them.
Following this, one of the governor’s lawyers, Olufunke Aboyade (SAN), thanked the panel for what she said “was justice for the good people of Nasarawa State.”
‘Impunity, illegality’
But the State House of Assembly dismissed the panel’s decision as an “illegality”, saying it would reconvene and consider what action to take.
“Everything they did amount to impunity because of illegality. The constitution of the panel is illegal; the CJ was not guided by the constitution in his selection of the membership. The procedures used by the panel were illegal,” House spokesman Mohammed Baba Ibaku told Daily Trust by telephone.
“The panel does not have the capacity to dismiss the case. The panel should have said that since members of the House failed to appear, they will do a report to the assembly, accordingly.
“The provisions of Section 188 are clear. Sub-Section (5), and (7)(a) and (b) have been violated by the panel. They are supposed to channel their report to the assembly for consideration, not for them to sit as a court and dismiss the case.”
Asked whether they will challenge the panel’s decision in court, he said, “We cannot go to court. There is no panel as far as the assembly is concerned.”
Mr. Enoch Ali Maku, the spokesman for Chief Judge Suleiman Dikko, said it was now up the committee to submit its report to the House as required by the constitution and that the assembly is at liberty to take any action they deem fit.
“The CJ has done his part. The panel has done its own. If the assembly feels otherwise, it is their own problem, not the CJ’s,” Maku told Daily Trust.
House Minority Leader Tanko Maikatako, a member of the APC, who showed up at the proceedings, appealed to his PDP colleagues to return to the state. They had fled to Abuja since the start of the impeachment proceedings against Al-Makura.
“My colleagues had no case; that is why they didn’t enter any evidence to prove their allegations… I will only appeal to them to return to the state so we will continue with our other aspects of legislative governance. Impeachment has ended,” Maikatako told Daily Trust.
In his response to the committee’s decision, spokesman for Governor Al-Makura, Abdulhamid Kwarra, said the ruling vindicated the governor who had said the lawmkers had no case.
“We expected the lawmakers to appear with their evidence in proof of their case against the governor. They appeared through their lawyers only to run away again. They have no evidence of gross misconduct against the governor as their action has shown,” Kwarra said.
Meanwhile, when the panel decision was announced at about 1.50pm, there was jubilation in Lafia by people who poured into streets, dancing and singing solidarity songs in support of Al-Makura.

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