The call for the impeachment of President Muhammadu Buhari by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Caucus leader in the House of Representatives, Kingsley Chinda, and the House’s nervous reaction to the call is threatening to ignite a dangerous political crisis in Nigeria if not properly handled by all sides to the emerging conflict.
Already, the House is threatening to take disciplinary measures against Chinda, for calling for the impeachment of President Buhari. But, PDP is cautioning the leadership of the House against such a nasty parochial politics on its Caucus leader for making what it described as ‘’a legitimate, valid and patriotic’’ call for the Impeachment of President Buhari over his alleged failure to secure the country.
Chinda is the leader of PDP Caucus in the House and is representing Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency in Rivers State.
House Majority Leader, Ado Doguwa, during plenary on Monday, said Chinda was not representing the position of the PDP caucus of the House as he claims and is acting alone.
In a statement on December 7, Chinda called on Nigerians to compel their representatives to commence impeachment process against the president. The call is however, not unconnected with the rising cases of insecurity nationwide.
House spokesman, Benjamin Kalu, had described Chinda’s call as the “opinion of a single member of the opposition party in the house.” He had said the impeachment calls were not logical as the president was yet to appear before the House to explain what his administration is doing to address the security issue.
Doguwa is also blaming Chinda’s advocacy for the president’s decision not to honour the House’s invitation to brief lawmakers on what his administration is doing to address the security challenges in the country was due to the utterances of the lawmaker and concerns that the president would be embarrassed if he had honoured the invitation.
While faulting the bid to sanction him, Chinda who said the threat is a call for sanctioning all Nigerians also queried if his call for the impeachment was unconstitutional.
According to him, Doguwa is not the mouthpiece of PDP neither is he the spokesman of the executive, adding that the majority leader should explain what he has done or said, after the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, queried the House’s power to invite the president.
”I will ask again, whether the call for the impeachment of Mr. President is unpopular with the people of Nigeria today and if truly we are not supposed to speak for the people, regardless of what our personal position is? I will also ask whether it is unconstitutional for a member to call for the president’s impeachment?
”I will also ask if the Majority Leader of the House, Ado Doguwa, is a PDP member or the mouthpiece of PDP as to say that’s not the position of PDP. Is the Leader of the House, Ado Doguwa, the spokesperson of the executive or the mouthpiece for him to give reasons why the president reneged on his promise to brief the House?”
Continuing, he said contrary to Doguwa’s claim, Malami gave a different reason why the president should not honour the invitation. ”His (Doguwa) call for a disciplinary measure is a call to discipline all Nigerians who believe that President Buhari is no longer fit for purpose. So, these questions if they are answered I will give a response. These are the questions troubling me and I need answers to it.”
At this juncture, it seems, the federal legislators may have forgotten that among the factors that led to the crash of the First Republic was the collapse of the Action Group’s (AG) political power between 1962 and 1963 which produced far-reaching effects. The crisis that engulfed the party stemmed from its “staggering defeat” in 1959. It had been ‘relegated’ to the opposition. The defunct NCNC made impressive inroads into its regional heartland, securing for itself 21 seats in the AG’s political turf by exploiting minority discontent within the defunct Western Region. Most damagingly for the legendary Obafemi Awolowo’s leadership of the party, leading Yoruba personalities interpreted the AG’s opposition role as a defeat for the entire ethnic group.
Analysts say under the crushing weight of disappointment, it didn’t take long for the party to fracture. Throughout 1960 and 1961, a simmering tension developed between Awolowo and his deputy, Akintola, who was also the Premier of the Western Region. Like Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC), PDP cannot boast of a united front today. The seeming disappointing leadership of President Buhari is fuelling discontent across the political parties.
Like during the Awo AG, one of the sources of tension in APC and PDP is their ideological orientation. Disputes over party strategy further placed Awolowo and Akintola at loggerheads. Awolowo and his faction argued that only a twin strategy of confronting the NPC in parliament, and of luring the NCNC into a “progressive coalition”, could act as a brake on Northern power and therefore secure for Yoruba elite a place at the federal table. Akintola and his faction, on the other hand, countered that moderation toward the NPC – being the dominant party in government – was the best strategy for Yorubas to gain access to the “privileges and benefits in the federation”.
Oiling the emerging party split was the clash over regional and party control between Awolowo who kept a firm hand in the Western Region to keep his deputy from “wrestling control of the party”, and Akintola who wished to strike out on his own and emerge from under the shadow of his party boss. Akintola was said to have bitterly complained about Awolowo’s “insatiable desire to run the government of which I am head from outside”.
In February 1962, the festering tension finally erupted at the party congress as Awolowo moved to reassert his dominance in the AG. He orchestrated a series of motions which led to “critical changes” in the running of the party. For example, the party constitution was amended to weaken the Regional Premier’s (Akintola) role, and strengthen the party President’s (Awolowo) role in the “Federal Executive Committee” (FEC) – the party’s key decision-making body. In addition, Awolowo’s allies “scored a clean sweep of the elections for major party offices”.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the disintegrating AG and the deepening split in Yoruba elite cohesion was clearly becoming a “threat to peace and order in the West”. Violent riots erupted throughout the region as the power struggle between the two men and their factions spilt out into the streets. NPC and NCNC watched the deepening fragmentation of their Western rival with cautious optimism. They believed that the intra-party conflict will open up the West, allowing them to extend their influence into the region. Ahmadu Bello, the NPC party chairman and Premier of the North went as far as issuing a public statement of support for the embattled Akintola.
The struggle between the two factions reached its climax on May 25 when the Awolowo faction attempted to vote in a new Regional Premier, Alhaji Adegbenro, in the regional parliament. The parliamentary procedure descended into physical violence. Calculating that in any vote they will lose as they were in the minority, parliamentarians from the Akintola faction, supported by NCNC members of the Western regional assembly, resorted to violent disruption to block Adegbenro from being sworn in.
John Mackintosh, a British political scientist, then lecturing at the University of Ibadan, described the scene in parliament: The House of Assembly met at 9 a.m. and after prayers, as Chief Odebiyi rose to move the first motion, Mr E. O. Oke, a supporter of Chief Akintola, jumped on the table shouting ‘There is fire on the mountain’. He proceeded to fling chairs about the chamber. Mr E. Ebubedike, also a supporter of Chief Akintola, seized the mace, attempted to club the speaker with it but missed and broke the mace on the table. The supporters of Alhaji Adegbenro sat quiet as they had been instructed to do, with the exception of one member who was hit with a chair and retaliated. Mr Akinyemi (NCNC) and Messrs Adigun and Adeniya (pro-Akintola) continued to throw chairs, the opposition joined in and there was such disorder that the Nigerian police released tear gas and cleared the House.
Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, gave an even more graphic account of events: The whole House was shattered, every bit of furniture there was broken … some persons were stabbed
As the AG reeled from this assault, the two governing parties stepped-up the offensive by instituting a commission of inquiry in June – “the Coker Commission” – to investigate allegations of misuse of public funds in the Western Region. The Commission found Awolowo guilty of embezzling millions in cash and over-draft from government companies and parastatals, and of “trying to build a financial empire through abuse of his official position”. Such was the drain on regional funds by Awolowo and AG party stalwarts that by 1962 the Western Region Marketing Board – the wealthiest of the three regional marketing boards – “had to borrow to perform its own routine operations”.
While there was “little surprise or shock among AG supporters” at the extent of the fraud uncovered, and while few doubted Awolowo’s pivotal role in the scandal, many however felt that the findings of the Commission were selective and driven by a political agenda. For a start, its complete exoneration of Akintola from any of the financial misdemeanours struck many as absurd as he was the party deputy and Regional Premier while the region’s funds were being siphoned off to fund party activities. Also, most observers felt that had a similar investigation been done over the finances in the other two regions, the same level of abuse of public funds would have been uncovered.
With Coker Commission’s revelations inflicting damaging blows on Awolowo and the AG’s prestige, the Emergency Administrator’s restrictions on AG members were gradually relaxed for Akintola’s supporters and that for Awolowo’s tightened. This allowed Akintola to regroup his supporters; setting the stage for his eventual return as Premier.
Under the unrelenting pressure, many Awolowo supporters defected to Akintola’s side in a bid to save their political careers. As indications multiplied that Akintola, backed by federal might, would be reinstalled as Regional Premier without a re-election after the Emergency period expired, some Awolowo supporters began secretly plotting the government’s overthrow. The plot, however, was uncovered by a police informant.
In September 1962, the Prime Minister “revealed to a stunned nation” the uncovered plot. In November, Awolowo and the decimated leadership of the AG, now languishing in prison, were charged with “treasonable felony” and “conspiracy to stage a coup d’état”. In December, the NPC-NCNC federal government announced that it would no longer recognise the party as the official opposition.
1963 brought no respite for the rapidly collapsing AG. On the 1st of January, to the surprise of few, Akintola was re-installed as Regional Premier without an election. An election would have revived the flagging fortunes of the AG as Alhaji Adgbenro, the party candidate, would almost certainly have won. Akintola’s return was only made possible by his alliance with one of the governing duo – the NCNC. In return, Akintola rewarded his Eastern ally with a “generous share of power in the West”, resulting in the NCNC scooping up numerous regional ministerial portfolios. More seriously for the Yorubas, particularly in view of the ethno-regional balance-of-power, Akintola was forced, as part of the bargain, to accept the partition of the West. This would eventually lead to the creation in August of a new region – the Mid-West – for the minorities in the West.
All the regions had their minority troubles. In the East, for example, the Ibibios, Efiks and Ijaws, to name but a few, all harboured separatist sentiments against their domineering Igbo overlords. And in the North “escalating political repression” twice plunged the region’s Tiv areas into open rebellion, in 1960 and 1964.
After the partition, and with its destruction nearing completion, two events finally finished off the AG as a credible force on the national scene.
The formal publication of the Coker Commission report in January 1963 gave the NPC-NCNC-led federal government and the Akintola-led Western Regional government the legal cover they needed to confiscate the assets of the AG, and break up its “commercial and financial” networks – steps which did “real damage” to the party. And on September 11, Awolowo and his co-conspirators were finally found guilty of the treasonable felony charge and sentenced to 10 years in prison. This effectively wiped out the top echelons of the AG.
The eminent Stanford political scientist, Larry Diamond, in his Class, Ethnicity and Democracy in Nigeria, described the collapse of the AG thus: The breadth and magnitude of the defeat inflicted upon Chief Awolowo and his AG supporters by the NPC and the NCNC was simply staggering. Not only did the Awolowo Action Group lose the power struggle in the West, it was also…destroyed…as an effective opposition force
The collapse of the AG immediately led to realignments in the political constellation. With his regional rival in jail and his grip over the West consolidated, Akintola shook off his alliance with the NCNC, dismissed their members from the regional cabinet, formed a new party – the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) – and realigned it with the NPC. This was arguably where he had always wanted to be, as close as possible to federal power. He probably calculated that under the nourishing embrace of the dominant party in government, he could rebuild the shattered position of the West and restore the Yorubas to parity in the ethno-regional balance. More fundamentally, the collapse of one pole (the AG) transformed the contest from a tripolar struggle to a bipolar one. With the disappearance of the AG as a national political force, the two governing parties now faced each other in direct and increasingly acrimonious confrontations. Like the breaking of the ground after an earthquake, deep fissures opened between the NPC and the NCNC.
As the dust settled from the crisis, it became manifestly clear that NPC had reaped the biggest windfall. With a dependent ally in Akintola’s NNDP now in control of the Western Region, the southern dream of an east-west ‘progressive alliance’ against Northern hegemony was shattered. And with 16 independent parliamentarians having earlier in 1961 joined the NPC, their party now had a slim working majority in parliament. These developments meant the NCNC effectively lost its leverage over the federal government, and therefore its “extractive capacity” – denting its power and confidence.
The Northern Region now stood poised to bring Nigeria under its sole captaincy. John Stuart Mill, in his 1861 Considerations on Representative Government, set out several conditions for a stable federation, one of which was that “there should not be anyone State [or Region] so much more powerful than the rest as to be capable of vying in strength with many of them combined. If there be such a one … it will insist on being master of the joint deliberations”.
Eastern Regional Premier, Michael Okpara, belatedly recognizing that the emerging political balance would be unfavourable to the East, tried to “drawback” from the “total extinction” of the AG. Maitama Sule, then an NPC Federal Minister, however, observing the changes taking place, remarked with breath-taking confidence: “In a very short time, the NPC will rule the whole of Nigeria”.
It was against this background that the First Republic’s next crisis played out.
For now, PDP, Chinda’s party is insisting that the its Caucus leader in the House of Representatives for the impeachment of President Buhari is not only ‘’constitutional but also aptly represents the opinion of our caucus, our party, the PDP, as well as the generality of Nigerians, including those who have fallen victim of President Buhari’s ineptitude to secure our nation’’.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement says ‘’the threat to Chinda is therefore a direct signal that the current leadership of the House is not on the side of the people but has been cowed to relinquish its statutory legislative powers for selfish reasons.
‘’It is indeed shameful that the leadership of the House of Representative has reduced itself to the mouthpiece of the Buhari Presidency whose duty it is to make wishful allegations against Hon. Chinda.
‘’It is disgraceful for the House of Representatives to blame its own members for the blunt refusal of Mr. President’s to honor a statutory invitation by Nigerians through their elected representatives to address them on the heightened insecurity across our nation under his watch.
‘’If the claims by the House leadership that President Buhari failed to honour the invitation because Hon. Chinda called for his impeachment is really the case, then the nation indeed lacks a leader worth his billing.
‘’This is because instead of stopping President Buhari, the Chinda’s call ought to have spurred him to appear before the House and explain to Nigerians why killings, kidnapping and other acts of terrorism and banditry had escalated under his watch.
‘’If indeed, Mr. President could be scared from the National Assembly just because Hon. Chinda called for his impeachment, how then would he muster the courage to combat terrorists, bandits and kidnappers.
‘’Our party holds that the claim by the House leadership thus vindicates Hon. Chinda and validates the call for Mr. President’s impeachment. PDP therefore charges the leadership of House to retrace its steps and redeem its image by rescheduling Mr. President to appear before the House instead of this lame excuse’’, the opposition party says.