MEANING OF ‘IMPEACHMENT’: BETWEEN A PROFESSOR OF JOURNALISM AND A LAW TEACHER

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Journalism, law. Sylvester Udemezue, farooq kperogi, Opinion

What does the word ‘impeachment’ mean? Does it mean different things in Nigeria and the US? If so, why so? Which usage is correct? These questions formed the nucleus of the argument between Sylvester Udemezue , a law teacher at the Nigerian Law School and Farook Kperogi, a professor of journalism and emerging media at the Kennesaw State University, Georgia, USA. Enjoy.     

Impeachment Does NOT Mean Removal from Office

By Farooq Kperogi

Impeachment doesn’t mean removal from office, but it’s often a prelude to removing a public official from office. To impeach is to “charge (a public official) with an offense or misdemeanor committed while in office.”

In other words, it means to formally accuse a public official of a crime. In the United States, it is only the House of Representatives that has the power to impeach the president.

The next procedure after impeachment is trial and then removal or acquittal. In the United States, only the Senate has the power to try and remove or acquit a president who has been impeached (by the House of Representatives). 

Only two presidents have been impeached in America’s history, and both were acquitted by the Senate. They are President Andrew Johnson (America’s 17th president who was acquitted by just one vote) and President Bill Clinton (America’s 42nd president). Donald Trump will be the third president to be impeached, but he won’t be removed because his party constitutes the majority in the US Senate. (I wish he would be removed).

Nigerian newspapers interchange “impeach” with “remove from office” because they are copying the drafters of the Nigerian constitution who don’t seem to know what “impeachment” really means.

In the only two passages in the Nigerian constitution that the word “impeachment” appears, it is used as if it meant “removal.” Section 146 (3) (a) of the document says, “where the office of vice president becomes vacant – by reason of death, resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or removal in accordance with section 143 or 144 of this Constitution….”

 Again, in Section 191 (3) (a) of the constitution the following sentence appears: “where the office of deputy governor becomes vacant – by reason of death, resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or removal in accordance with section 188 or 189 of this Constitution….”

Well, an office can’t possibly become “vacant” by reason of “impeachment.” Just like people don’t go to prison simply because they have been accused of an offense, a vice president’s office can’t become vacant simply because he or she has been impeached. That would be a perversion of justice.

Impeachment simply means accusation, and accusation alone is never a basis for conviction. To convict an accused person, you have to try him or her first. Plus, conviction is not the only possible outcome of a trial. An accused (or impeached) person can be acquitted after trial, as was the case for the two US presidents that were impeached.

Curiously, the Nigerian constitution never uses the word “impeachment” in relation to the president and state governors; it instead talks of the procedures for the “removal” of the president and of governors from office.

The people who wrote the 1999 Nigerian constitution are clearly not sufficiently educated about the meanings of the terminologies they deployed in the constitution. And they passed on their ignorance to the Nigerian news media and to the Nigerian populace.

Meaning of Impeachment: How Prof Farooq Kperogi Displayed Double Ignorance in His Condemnatin of the Nigerian Media & Lawmakers

By Sylvester Udemezue

Farooq Kperogi is a Nigerian-born academic, media scholar, public speaker and newspaper columnist. Kperogi served as an Associate Professor of Journalism & Emerging Media at Kennesaw State University, Georgia, USA. He is now an Associate Professor of Communication at the same institution. He is a treasured writer and distinguished scholar whose views are greatly admired especially among Nigerian social media players. In his article titled, “Impeachment Does NOT Mean Removal from Office,” Prof Farooq Kperogi tried to educate the Nigerian public on the actual meaning or legal implications of the word “impeach” or “impeachment” when used in a statute. He explained thus:

“Impeachment doesn’t mean removal from office, but it’s often a prelude to removing a public official from office. To impeach is to “charge (a public official) with an offense or misdemeanor committed while in office…. In the United States, it is only the House of Representatives that has the power to impeach the president. The next procedure after impeachment is trial and then removal or acquittal. In the United States, only the Senate has the power to try and remove or acquit a president who has been impeached (by the House of Representatives).  Impeachment simply means accusation …. An accused (or impeached) person can be acquitted after trial, as was the case for the two US presidents that were impeached.”

I thank Prof. Kperogi for this explanation which has helped those of us in Nigeria to understand what “impeachment” means IN THE USA. However, the present commentary is to critically but briefly examine Prof Kperogi`s description of Nigerian media practitioners and the drafters of the Nigerian Constitution as IGNORANT on grounds only that, according to Prof Kperogi, “Nigerian newspapers interchange “impeach” with “remove from office” because they are copying the drafters of the Nigerian constitution who don’t seem to know what “impeachment” really means.” In support of his accusations and to buttress his claims on Nigeria Media Practitioners’ and lawmakers` “ignorance,” Prof Kperogi made reference to sections 146(3)(a) and 191(3)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, and then concluded thus:

“The people who wrote the 1999 Nigerian constitution are clearly not sufficiently educated about the meanings of the terminologies they deployed in the constitution. And they passed on their ignorance to the Nigerian news media and to the Nigerian populace.”

With the greatest respect, Prof Kperogi got it all wrong this time. Contrary to his claims, I think the People who wrote the Nigerian Constitution were not “ignorant;” they were right. We understand that “impeachment” as used in the United States` Constitution means “accusation” or “indictment,” yet the truth is that, in some other legal systems or jurisdictions, “impeachment” may mean “removal from office” if the drafters of the law wish it to be so. This is because Legislative license affords drafters of laws and statutes the right or discretion to ascribe any meaning, as they may intend, to any word or expression used in the statute. And when the legislation is passed and becomes operative, we (all subjects) are bound by such meanings as given to such words, terms or expression in such statutes. This is why we find the INTERPRETATION or DEFINITION SECTIONS in certain statutes, to help educate us on the special or peculiar meaning ascribed to some words, terms and expressions used in the statutes. The Definition section/clause is a clause in a written document, including legislation, that defines words and phrases used in the document itself. In a Constitution or an Act of Parliament, it is called an interpretation section. This is the case in Nigeria, unfortunately UNKNOWN to Prof Kperogi! For instance, Section 3(3) of Nigeria’s Interpretation Act provides that “words in an enactment descriptive of another enactment shall not be used as an aid to the construction of the other enactment and are intended for convenience of reference only.” This is in consonance with my suggestion that the meaning assigned to “impeachment” in the US Constitution cannot be used to determine what “impeachment” should or does under the Nigerian Constitution. Further, in section 18(2) of the same Act provides that “Where by subsection (1) of this section or any other enactment a meaning is assigned to a word, parts of speech related to the word have corresponding meanings,” whole section 19(1) (which is a replication of section 11 of the Interpretation Act, 1978 (UK) provides that “an expression used in a subsidiary instrument has the same meaning as in the Act conferring power to make the instrument.” Explaining the value of Statutory Text as a crucial tool for statutory interpretation in an article published in 2017 in THE WRITING CENTRE of the Georgetown University Law Centre, and titled, “A GUIDE TO READING, INTERPRETING AND APPLYING STATUTES,” Suraj Kumar and Taylor Beech had this to say:

“Many statutes contain a “definitions” section that sets forth and defines the key terms used in the statute. You might find these definitions either in the section of the statute you are analyzing or in one of the first sections of the entire act. Sometimes these specific terms are codified as definitions for a chapter or title of the relevant statute, meaning that they are intended to apply to the entire chapter or title (unless otherwise specified). These definitions are important because they suggest that legislatures intended for a term to have a specific meaning that might differ in important ways from its common usage.”

From the aforesaid, it appears clear that where an enactment has assigned a particular meaning or connotation to a word, terms or an expression, the word, term or expression shall have the meaning assigned to it in the statute. It is inappropriate to try to determine the meaning of such words by reference to another, different enactment. Section 12(1) of the INTERPRETATION ACT for Jamaica brings out clearly the point I am trying hard to make. It provides that “where expressions are defined in or for the purposes of any Act, such expressions shall have the meanings assigned to them, unless there is anything in the subject or contest repugnant to, or inconsistent with, such meaning.” Subsection (3) of the same section of the Act then provides that “where a word is defined in or for the purposes of any Act, other parts of speech and grammatical variations of that word, and cognate expressions, shall have corresponding meanings in or for the purposes of that Act.” Outside Nigeria, section 15(1) of the INTERPRETATION ACT, 1985 (CANADA) provides, “Definitions or rules of interpretation in an enactment apply to all the provisions of the enactment, including the provisions that contain those definitions or rules of interpretation.”

Beside the aforesaid, which I think has NO DOUBT settled this controversy, and put Prof Kperogi in the know of the correctness of the position of Nigeria lawmakers and drafters of Nigeria’s grund norm, it is important here to also look at the import of application of NOSCITUR A SOCIIS. Sometimes, the meaning to be ascribed to a word may depend on the company it keeps, the context in which it is used or the very meaning INTENDED FOR IT and ascribed to it, by the lawmakers. This is the reason for, and intendment of , the NOSCITUR A SOCIIS rule of statutory interpretation —  a doctrine or rule of construction  which states that the meaning of an unclear or ambiguous word (as used in a statute or contract) should be determined by considering the words with which it is associated in the context. Supporting this, the Niuean Interpretation Act provides on section 6(1) that “The meaning of an enactment must be ascertained from its text, in light of its purpose and in its context.”

If the word “impeach” is used in the Nigerian constitution (by its makers) to mean “remove from office,” it follows from our discussion above that there is nothing wrong in the interpretation/use of “impeach” in Nigeria by Nigerian media practitioners and by the Nigerian populace to mean “removal from office.” Accordingly, it is totally incorrect, and it may even be described as a form of display of acute ignorance, for anyone to say that the makers of the Nigerian Constitution have “passed their ignorance … to the Nigerian populace.”

Respectfully, much as I agree with Prof Kperogi’s suggestion that it is a display of ignorance for Media practitioners to have adopted and used the meaning or implications of “impeachment” as intended and used in the Nigerian Constitution (by the makers of that constitution) to judge or measure the meaning of “impeachment” as intended and used in the US Constitution (by its makers), it is clear beyond question that it is also a display of ignorance for Prof Kperogi himself to have committed the same error of ignorance (of which he accused others) by hastily using and adopting the meaning or implications of “impeachment” as intended and used in the US Constitution (by the makers of that constitution) to judge or measure the meaning of “impeachment” as intended and used in the Nigerian Constitution (by its makers). And the mere fact that Prof Kperogi himself ended up committing the same sin/error of ignorance (of which he accused others) makes his case worse— he is guilty of DOUBLE IGNORANCE.  What’s more? It is also clear that the Professor Kperogi’s reference to sections 146(3)(a) and 191(3)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 was made out of ignorance. Impeachment as used in both sections rightly mean “removal from office,” because such is the meaning ascribed to it by the makers of the Constitution. And the lawmakers were entitled to do what they have done. And we are bound by it because our law says so. Who is ignorant here, please?

The truth is that one has an obligation in each instance, to first make honest and diligent efforts to find out the meaning intended for any term used in a particular statute, anywhere in the world, by makers of the statute. That is the only way to PLAY SAFE in the area of legislative or STATUTORY INTERPRETATION and save oneself from the type of ignorance being displayed by both (1) the Nigerian media (who had adopted the meaning of “impeach” as used in the Nigerian Constitution for measuring the meaning and import of “impeach” as used in the US Constitution) and (2). Mr. Professor Farooq Kperogi (who also ignorantly adopted the meaning of “impeach” as used in the US Constitution in measuring the meaning and import of “impeach” as used in the Nigerian Constitution). In other words, Prof Kperogi, while accusing the Nigerian media and lawmakers of “ignorance,” himself fell far deeper into the same shit by himself displaying the same level of “ignorance” as displayed by Nigeria’s media practitioners. See POT CALLING KETTLE BLACK!  Lol   

At this juncture, may I conclude by calling in assistance the immutable words of THOMAS JEFFERSON, a founding father and the 3rd President of the United States of America. In a letter to Justice William Johnson of the United States, Sir Thomas Jefferson had advised thus: “on every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or intended against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”  Further, by way of advice to all, borrowing from Ernest Agyemang Yeboah, “don’t conclude so fast, you may never know what is behind the fact you know!”

Impeachment: Response to an Ill-informed Law Lecturer called Sylvester Udemezue

By Farooq Kperogi

I usually don’t respond to responses to my public interventions. The only times I do so is if a response not only drips wet with intolerable ignorance but also has the potential to replicate its nescience among unsuspecting learners. The response of one Sylvester Udemezue—whom I was told is a law lecturer at the Nigerian Law School—to my widely shared explanatory piece on the difference between “impeachment” and “removal from office” fits this bill.

The man wrote a tortured, rambling, grammatically awkward, and logically impoverished rant as a riposte to my article that he could have written in just one paragraph.

And that paragraph is this: “If the word ‘impeach’ is used in the Nigerian constitution (by its makers) to mean ‘remove from office,’ it follows from our discussion above that there is nothing wrong in the interpretation/use of ‘impeach’ in Nigeria by Nigerian media practitioners and by the Nigerian populace to mean ‘removal from office.’ Accordingly, it is totally incorrect, and it may even be described as a form of display of acute ignorance, for anyone to say that the makers of the Nigerian Constitution have ‘passed their ignorance … to the Nigerian populace.”

Forget the dreadfully poor grammar and ungainly structural monstrosities of the article, especially for a law professor: this is astonishingly infantile logic. My argument is that the drafters of Nigeria’s 1999 constitution misused the word “impeachment” throughout the document. The misusage can’t be vitiated by the fact of its being in the constitution. It’s like saying a factual error in a newspaper ceases to be an error if the newspaper sanctifies the error as fact.

The use of the term impeachment to mean “charge (a public official) with an offense or misdemeanor committed while in office” isn’t an exclusively American English usage as Udemezue misleads his readers to believe. The term is universally understood as such in the educated anglophone world. The fact that, by his admission, Udemezue didn’t know this until I pointed it out doesn’t change that fact.

As an everyday word, “impeach” simply means to call someone’s honesty or truthfulness into question. In fact, lawyers, including Nigerian lawyers, routinely “impeach the credibility of witnesses” in the court. I am assuming that Udemezue practiced law before teaching it—or perhaps still practices it as he teaches it. When he had cause to impeach the credibility of witnesses in legal disputations, did he always cause the witnesses or their lawyers to be removed from judicial proceedings—or to be automatically declared guilty—without the judge’s judgement?

If impeachment means accusation of impropriety and not a final judgment of impropriety in even demotic speech, why is Udemezue all bent out of shape because I pointed out that the Nigerian constitution erred in equating impeachment with removal from office? What sorts of people are teaching our law students?

If this is any comfort, many Americans also wrongly equate impeachment with removal from office because impeachment rarely happens here. To underscore the prevalence of the misusage of the word—or at least a potential for this— in the US, The Associated Press Stylebook, which we like to call the bible of American journalism, has an entry on the word.

Here’s the notation of the word in the AP Style book: “impeachment: The constitutional process accusing an elected official of a crime in an attempt to remove the official from office. Do not use as a synonym for conviction or removal from office.”

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