There are indications that the Peoples Democratic Party has begun moves to lobby the Nasarawa State Chief Judge, Justice Sulaiman Dikko, with a view to influencing and persuading him to disband the seven-man impeachment panel set up to probe Governor Tanko Al-Makura for alleged gross misconduct and abuse of office.
A source, who did not want his name mentioned, told Saturday PUNCH that the PDP during the week dispatched a two-man lobby team to influence the Chief Judge to set up a new panel to probe the governor with promises that he would be elevated to the Appeal Court among other juicy offers.
But the source said the Chief Judge rejected the offer, quoting him as saying that his actions were in tandem with the provisions of the nation’s constitution.
The source said, “Justice Suleiman Dikko has told the PDP’s emissary that he could not set up another panel because he instituted the initial panel according to the spirit and letters of the 1999 Constitution as stipulated in Section 188.
“The CJ said that if there was any help he could render to anybody or group in Nasarawa State, he had done it by adhering to the provisions of the constitution via setting up a seven-man panel of Nasarawa State indigenes of impeccable character who are also non-partisan.”
This came on the heels of the call by the Nasarawa State House of Assembly on Dikko to dissolve the panel on the grounds that it was made of loyalists of the All Progressives Congress of which Al-Makura is the leader in the state.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Information and Security, Baba Ibaku, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Lafia, during the week, had explained that the lawmakers resolved to demand for the dissolution of the panel during their emergency sitting at the Assembly complex at 10am on Monday.
He claimed that the fact that the panel members held political positions in the state was against the provision of Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The lawmaker said, “We had an emergency sitting to deliberate on the seven-man panel that was set up by the Chief Judge on Friday last week. We asked him to dissolve the seven-man panel because the members of the panel are APC members that hold various political positions.”
But with Dikko insisting on maintaining the seven-man panel, a serious showdown is expected between the CJ and the anti-Al-Makura lawmakers.
Saturday PUNCH also learnt that APC chieftains, including Al-Makura met in Abuja on Thursday to further strategise on how to ensure that the impeachment plot does not consume the embattled governor like it did to the former Adamawa Governor Murtala Nyako.
One of the APC chieftains, who asked not to be named, in a text message to Saturday PUNCH, said, “I am in a meeting with Governor Tanko Al-Makura; trying to save his job!”
The Nasarawa State House of Assembly had levelled 16 charges bordering on official misconduct against Al-Makura. The lawmakers had ordered that the governor should be served an impeachment notice signed by 20 of its 24 members.
One of the charges raised against Al-Makura was the missing Local Government Joint Account Funds between June 2011 and April 2012 and from January to July 2013.
The lawmakers also alleged that the governor misappropriated and misapplied funds in the joint account and Local Government Sure-P Fund. He was also accused of transferring local government SURE-P fund to a fixed deposit account.
According to the lawmakers, the offences violated Section 162 (7 and 8) of the 1999 Constitution.
The APC, however, slammed the PDP members of the Nasarawa House of Assembly for demanding the dissolution of the panel set up by the state CJ to probe the impeachment charges against Al-Makura, describing the call as unreasonable and unconstitutional.
In a statement issued in Abuja on Thursday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the demand by the lawmakers showed they either had a very poor understanding of the Constitution or they were blinded by their desperation to impeach Al-Makura.
He said, “Either way, they have boxed themselves into a tight corner. Holding an illegal sitting in Abuja with a fake mace is as ridiculous as the demand by the lawmakers for the dissolution of the panel set up by the Chief Judge.
“Section 188 (5) of the Constitution is clear: ‘Within seven days of the passing of a motion under the foregoing provisions of this section, the Chief Judge of the state shall, at the request of the Speaker of the House of Assembly, 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 provided in this section’.
“It is important to point out to the desperate lawmakers that the key words in that section is that the Chief Judge must appoint persons who in his opinion are of unquestionable integrity. At this juncture, it is neither the opinion of the Speaker nor that of the legislators that counts, it is the opinion of the Chief Judge.
‘’Therefore, neither the Speaker, the lawmakers nor the Chief Judge can dissolve the panel at this stage, and none of them can stop the impeachment process. Once the Chief Judge has appointed the panel under section 188 (5), he becomes ‘functus officio’, that is, he has no further powers on the matter. This is the situation of things at present and the lawmakers can only await the report of the panel.’’
But the national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party had denied its involvement in the plan by the lawmakers to impeach the governor.
It insisted that the party had never interfered in the impeachment plot.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, who stated this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, said it would be wrong to link the party at the national level with the crisis rocking the state.
He said, “The party at the national level is oblivious of what is happening in Nasarawa State. What is happening in Nasarawa State is not known to us and we are not part of it.
“It is therefore wrong to say we are inducing anyone to impeach the governor. We have no hand in it. However, we want to tell our members to thread with caution.
“The party at the national level remains focused in projecting our party and making it the joy of all Nigerians.”
Metuh asked the PDP supporters to remain calm and not to be distracted by any “propaganda that maybe thrown at them by the opposition.”
A lawyer and social commentator, Jiti Ogunye, said the House of Assembly could sue the Chief Judge of Nassarawa State if it was not satisfied with his composition of the panel set up to probe the governor.
Ogunye said, “The impeachment plot in Nassarawa State has become very interesting and everyone is aware at this point that the Chief Judge has exercised his power under Section 180 of the Constitution to set up a seven-man panel to investigate the allegations bothering on gross misconduct levelled against the governor.
“We are also aware that the House of Assembly has kicked against the composition of the panel, alleging that the panel comprises of people who could be biased. Now what we think should be done at this point is that the CJ should, in the absence of cogent and verifiable reasons, stand his ground and should ensure that the panel he constituted do their job.
“Now if the House of Assembly has a disagreement with the decision of the CJ, they cannot resolve that by mounting up pressure on the CJ by virtue of being a PDP-dominated House of Assembly.
Ogunye said if it were true that the PDP was enticing the CJ with favours, it was an unacceptable action in a democratic era.
He added, “This report of the PDP inducing, if it is true, is not acceptable, it is condemnable and we urge the CJ of the state to stand firm. Before exercising his power, he must have weighed the implication. If he is now pressurised to reconstitute the panel, he would not only be destroying his own integrity, but the integrity of the judiciary.
Another lawyer and political commentator, Fred Agbaje, said the interference of the PDP in the decision of the Chief Judge would lead to a corrupt judicial system.
Agbaje said, “The implication of this, if it is true, is that it would amount to an alteration of justice. In other words, it would lead to a frustration of justice by the manipulative powers that be, and that would lead to a fundamental deviation from the set objective provided by Section 33 of the 1999 constitution which demands fair hearing.
“Justice must be rooted in confidence and that confidence is destroyed when the ordinary man on the street feels that those who are being called upon to carry out justice have been morally and financially polluted.
“If it is true, it is a bad omen for our judicial system, which has come a long way. It is one of the best in Africa, and no one should be allowed to corrupt it.”