Appeal Court voids Ladoja’s impeachment
After over 10 months of legal battle, victory eventually came the way of the erstwhile Governor of Oyo, Senator Rasidi Ladoja, as the Court of Appeal, Ibadan Division, voided his impeachment, describing it “as unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.” The court ruled that all the processes leading to the impeachment of Ladoja were contraventions of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
In a unanimous judgment delivered by the five-member constitutional panel led by Justice James Ogenyi Ogebe, the court also vacated the 23 December, 2005 ruling of Justice John Olagoke Ige, which declined jurisdiction in entertaining the case instituted by the then Speaker and Deputy-Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hons. Adeolu Adeleke and Dauda Titilola, which challenged the processes of Ladoja’s impeachment, pointing out that the judge erred in refusing to ensure that the House complied with provisions of the constitution.
But in a swift reaction, Special Adviser to Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, on Communication and Strategy, Mr. Diran Odeyemi, said that the ruling has nothing to do with his boss as there was nowhere his name was mentioned in the ruling. He also pointed out that there was room for appeal in the judgment.
But at Ladoja’s residence located at Ondo Street, Bodija Estate, it was jubilation galore as his supporters engaged in dancing and singing, while traders at the popular Ogunpa market also went wild jubilating as the ruling of the court swept through the city.
Amidst tight security, the lead judge, Ogebe, accompanied by Justices Kumai Akaahs, Christopher Chukwuma-Eneh, Clara Ogunbiyi and Ja'afaru Mikailu, pointed out that the trial court had “serious questions to consider before hastily throwing out the suit” brought by the two lawmakers to challenge the controversial impeachment, as they constituted the leadership of the House as at the time of the impeachment.
Acting under Section 16 of the Appeal Court Act, the court assumed the jurisdiction of the lower court based on the prayer of the appellants and faulted the sitting of the 18 pro-impeachment lawmakers outside the chambers of the House, to deliberate on a sensitive issue like the impeachment of a sitting governor.
While delivering his ruling, Ogebe pointed out that the court has “a duty to inquire whether a factional meeting of 18 members constituted the required two-third majority of all members.”
“The court also had to consider whether impeachment proceedings in which the Speaker of the House of Assembly is excluded from his leading role as provided for in the Section 188 of the Constitution can amount to proper proceedings of impeachment”, he added.
On whether the plaintiffs/appellants have locus standi to institute a legal action against the impeachment, Ogebe ruled that the constitution itself “gave prominent role to the Speaker of the House in the matter of the impeachment of a governor or a deputy governor”, adding that there was evidence before the court that either the Speaker or his deputy was suspended or vacated their office before or during the impeachment.
“It is my view that no factional meeting of any members of a state House of Assembly can amount to a constitutional meeting of the whole House of Assembly as envisaged and provided for in the constitution. There was no counter-affidavit before the lower court to prove that any member of the House of Assembly of Oyo State was suspended or that the
plaintiffs/appellants were removed as Speaker and Deputy Speaker in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
“It follows therefore, that all the steps taken by the faction of the defendants/respondents purporting to initiate impeachment of Senator Ladoja as Governor of Oyo State were not actions of the Oyo State House of Assembly under Section 188 of the 1999 constitution.
“Consequently, I allow the appeals of the plaintiffs/appellants and the interested/party appellant and set aside the ruling of the trial court declining jurisdiction”, Ogebe ruled, while declaring Ladoja’s impeachment through the activities of the 18 lawmakers as a contravention of Section 188 of the constitution and “null, void and of no effect whatsoever”.
The remaining four judges unanimously aligned themselves with the lead ruling, pointing out that the nation’s nascent democracy could only survive on “the rule of law and not rule of the jungle”.
Reacting to the judgment, counsel representing the plaintiffs/appellants, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, who stood for Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and others described the judgment as “liberation not only to the people of Oyo State but to people in all states of the Federation where such illegalities are taking place”.
But lawyers to the plaintiffs/respondents stated that law itself was dynamic and would therefore employ the dynamism of the law to fight their cause. Minutes later, they circulated copies of notice of appeal to newsmen within the court premises.
In the notice of appeal, they argued that the Court of Appeal “erred in law, acted without jurisdiction and committed a serious constitutional breach of the appellants’ rights to fair hearing when it pronounced on the merit of the plaintiffs’ suit and granted the reliefs”.