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

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi I usually don’t respond to responses to my public interventions. The only times I do...

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

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 Stylebook: “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” [emphasis original].

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  1. I am not suprise that people like Sylvester are still putting up a defense against obvious fact such as this.
    Please keep up the good work!

  2. It's not new to me that people like Sylvester want to score some cheap points or gain unnecessary popularity by misleading the polulance. Thanks for coming to our aid prof.

  3. To be clear, Prof. Kperogi was right that the terminology impeachment means different thing from removal and one cannot be used in substitution for another. This is a matter of English language which is the tool of the legal profession. The grounds of legislative licence (whatever that means) relied upon by Mr Udemezue cannot hold water in my humble view, unless we can find in the constitution where the drafters clearly define the term impeachment to deviate from the ordinary grammatical meaning. So, while the principle is correct that law makers can make something different in Nigeria from what is obtainable in the US, it does not apply in this instance where there is no definition ascribed to the term by the drafters of our constitution and the ordinary grammatical meaning is clear.

    Without much ado, Lord NikiTobi JSC (as he then was) already did justice to the nuances between impeachment and removal in *Inakoju v Adeleke* in respect of Nigerian constitution, on removal of a governor. My Lord still came to the conclusion that the terminologies are different. I provide excerpt below for your reading pleasure:

    "What is the meaning of impeachment? .Black's Law Dictionary defines the word as follows: .... .”

    "A criminal proceeding against a public officer, before a quasi-political court, instituted by a written accusation called articles of impeachment; for example a written accusation of the House of Representatives of the United States to the Senate of the United States against the President, Vice President, or an officer of the United States, including federal judges."

    This definition, with a slant for the United States Constitution, does not totally reflect the content of section 188 of the Constitution, as it conveys so much element of criminality. Section 188 is not so worded. The section covers both civil and criminal conduct. I am not saying that the definition vindicates the totality of the impeachment provision of the United States Constitution. It is my view that the word should not be used as a substitute to the removal provisions of section 188. We should call spade its correct name of spade and not a machete because it is not one. The analogy here is that we should call the section 188 procedure one for the removal of Governor or Deputy Governor, not of impeachment."

  4. It's not new to me that people like Sylvester want to score some cheap points or gain unnecessary popularity by misleading the polulance. Thanks for coming to our aid prof.

  5. It's not new to me that people like Sylvester want to score some cheap points or gain unnecessary popularity by misleading the polulance. Thanks for coming to our aid prof.

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  8. Interesting!
    🔹My problem with Ass. Prof Farooq Kperogi is that I am arguing principles of law with a non-lawyer.🔹But, in this instance, I will, even if only to put things right because Prof Kperogi’s writings are greatly sought after especially among his Nigerian fans some of whom might be misled by his grossly uninformed postulations in this area — relating to a subject about which he appears to be unwilling to learn. It’s an advertisement of crass ignorance for Prof Kperogi to have tagged Nigerian Lawmakers “IGNORANT” on account only that the lawmakers had, in exercise of their legislative discretion and license, chosen to ascribe to the term “impeach” a meaning completely different from what it means either in the English Dictionary or in the American Constitution. Unfortunately, it appears Prof Kperogi’s over-bloated ego, unbridled pride and crude arrogance wouldn’t permit him to humble himself to learn from lawyers (since he is not one). Benjamin Franklin’s words come to mind: "being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” 🔹Yet, when you hold yourself out to talk on a subject that’s clearly outside your area of expertise or specialization, you have thereby incurred an obligation to say it right; else, someone might rise to put you right. 🔹Finally, Prof Kperogi’s personality attacks against me only remind me of the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: *”Insults are the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong.”* Yes, when the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser (Socrates). I would however heed Thomas Hill’s prescription on how best to respond to an angry vituperative remark: *”let the angry word be answered only with a kiss.”* Besides, insults only help to strengthen my resolve as the associate prof of journalism would learn shortly, although *my response would be focused on the issues* so that or readers do not get distracted from an important discourse by irrelevant personality exchanges.
    🔹I shall answer Prof Kperogi, shortly. I am Sylvester Udemezue (UDEMS)

  9. Law Lessons For Farooq Kperogi
    (Part One)

    Role Of Internal & External Aids In Statutory Interpretation: A Disquisition On Legitimateness Of “Jurisdictive Discretion” [1]
    By a Nigerian Law Teacher, Sylvester Udemezue


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