Of Impeachment And Removal From Office

Posted by GRANDNEWS | 1 January 1970 | 656 times

* Honesty Eguridu

By Honesty Eguridu

 The English Oxford online dictionary defines impeachment as the action of calling into question the integrity or validity of something. Under the British law impeachment is a charge of treason or another crime against the state. The process evolved from the 14th century as a way for parliament to hold the king’s ministers accountable for their public actions. Impeachment in the United States is the process by which a legislature (usually in the form of the lower house) brings charges against a civil officer of government for crimes alleged to have been committed; this is similar to bringing of an indictment by a grand jury. Impeachment may occur at the federal level or the state level. The federal House of Representatives can impeach federal officials, including the president, and each state's legislature can impeach state officials, including the governor, in accordance with their respective federal or state constitution.

 So impeachment as a word in English language does not mean removal from office. And as stated earlier it means indictment under the British and American laws. But the drafters of the Nigerian constitution have attributed a different meaning to the word ‘impeachment’. In Section 146 (3) (a) and Section 191 (3) (a) of the constitution the word is used as removal from office. It is curious however to note that, the Nigerian constitution never uses the word “impeachment” in relation to the procedures for removal of the president and state governors from office in sections 143 – 145 and sections 188 – 190 of the Constitution. However the average Nigerian is wired to think and believe that the word impeachment means removal from office.  This is largely because of the usage this word has been applied overtime by the elites and the masses.

The print and social media was recently a washed with the  news of impeachment of Donald Trump, the US president and most unfortunately the reports were made in a way to suggest that Donald Trump has been removed from office.

 In the United States, the House brings impeachment charges against federal officials as part of its oversight and investigatory responsibilities. Individual Members of the House can introduce impeachment resolutions like ordinary bills, or the House could initiate proceedings by passing a resolution authorizing an inquiry. The Committee on the Judiciary ordinarily has jurisdiction over impeachments. The House of Representatives is empowered to impeach the president by a simple majority of the votes of members present.

 The next step after impeachment is trial by the Senate which will result in conviction or acquittal. If convicted the president will be removed from office. Only the Senate has the power to try and remove or acquit a president who has been impeached by the House of Representatives. At the trial, House members act as prosecutors, the Senators as jurors and the Chief Justice of the United States presides over the proceedings.

 The House has initiated impeachment proceedings more than 60 times but less than a third have led to full impeachments. Historically, Just eight (all federal judges) have been convicted and removed from office by the Senate. Outside of the 15 federal judges impeached by the House, three Presidents [Andrew Johnson in 1868, William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton in 1998, and Donald J. Trump in 2019], a cabinet secretary (William Belknap in 1876), and a U.S. Senator (William Blount of Tennessee in 1797) have also been impeached.

 The drafters of our laws must learn to use the right word for each circumstance. It is true that Nigeria is a peculiar nation with it’s own sets of terminologies and has ascribed “acceptable” usages and meaning to a couple of English words different from what is known by the original owners of the language, however the intellectual class which include the print and electronic media must strive to live above board and guide the rest of the populace to use words rightly.

* Honesty Eguridu, Esq, Managing Partner, Metrocrest Legal Practitioners

Victoria Island, Lagos


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