The threat of impeachment had been hanging in the air like the Sword of Damocles but Donald Trump gave the impression that whatever was going on in Congress was not worthy of much of his presidential attention.
He gave the appearance of either being busier than ever or of not being bothered by the events that led to his becoming, last week, the third American President to be impeached in 243 years. Before him Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton had gone that route. After six hours of rigorous debate during which the Democrats presented two articles of impeachment the deed was done.
Trump entered the wrong side of America’s history book. Since then he has been driven apoplectic with rage. He has fired several shots at Ms Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, accusing her of hating him. She has responded by saying that as a Catholic she does not hate and that she prays for President Trump regularly.
Other Republicans have accused the tough and iconic Speaker of playing election politics, election politics of 2016 and 2020. She has responded by saying that her interest is not in partisan politics but in the Constitution of the United States. There may be fire in the words spoken by both the Democrats and Republicans but both sides have conducted themselves with an enormous amount of civility.
The first of the two articles of impeachment as outlined by the Democrats was that Trump asked the President of a foreign power, Ukraine, to investigate a Democrat, Joe Bidden, who he thinks might be the candidate of the opposing party in the 2020 elections. He allegedly asked the Ukrainian President to dig for dirt on Bidden in exchange for some favours. The Democrats considered that to be an interference in America’s election.
The second article of impeachment concerned an alleged obstruction of Congress. He allegedly prevented some officials from testifying on the matter and also kept possible incriminating documents from being submitted to the investigating committee of Congress. The Democrats who spoke in favour of impeachment harped on the fact that Trump’s actions were capable of jeopardising the integrity of America’s election. They claimed that he put his personal and political interest above the national interest and that they were ready and willing to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and local.
They kept reminding Americans during the debate that the founding fathers would never have approved what Trump did and that they had made their case for impeachment with considerable conviction. Almost each of them concluded with the view that “no man including the President is above the law.” The Republicans rose in their own presentations, very stoutly in defence of Trump. They said that since the Democrats lost the presidential election in 2016 even though they won the general vote they have been inconsolable, that they have been planning for impeachment of the President from the day of that loss.
They accused the Democrats of refusing to accept the result of that election and that they were scheming for a better election result in 2020. The Republicans also accused the Democrats of seeking to disenfranchise the 63 million persons who voted for Trump. They called the impeachment process “political vendetta” which they considered to be an abuse of political process. They said it was an attempt to prevent Trump who won the 2016 election to the discomfiture of the Democrats from running again in 2020. The debate was orderly and the speakers kept strictly to the two minutes or one and a half minutes allowed. Representative Adam Schiff, Chairman of the Intelligence Committee who led the battle for impeachment was simply eloquent, methodical, cool, calm and eminently collected.
Other speakers made their presentations in concise, pithy formats, diving straight into the heart of the matter. There was no heckling, no booing, no shouting or clapping. There were no rented crowds for or against the impeachment process, no rabble rousing yet an important process was going on, something that was happening only for the third time in 243 years of American history. In Nigeria, the man would have been impeached in secret, in some hotel somewhere, in the middle of the night.
Thugs would have been hired to prevent the issue from even being discussed, the mace would have been stolen in broad daylight; there would have been bullion vans stationed at the Central Bank to cart away dollars and naira in Ghana must go bags or CBN packs. The nation would have been on tenterhooks. There would have been threats of war, of disunity, of secession, accusations of marginalisation, of attempts to impose someone’s religion on the rest of the country. We would have left the ball and kicked the leg to use a familiar football lingo.
In Nigeria, who would have said that the interference by a foreign country in the country’s election is wrong. Before this year’s elections two Governors from Niger Republic actually came into Nigeria, Kano precisely, and campaigned for candidate Muhammadu Buhari against all known and acceptable norms of international relations, against all rules of non-interference in the affairs of other nations. It was a piece of audacious brinksmanship which some political partisans in Nigeria including a serial election contestant called Nuhu Ribadu said there was nothing wrong with their rash interference in Nigeria’s domestic affair.
Another notable lesson from the Trump impeachment is the regular repetition of the refrain by the Democrats that “No man including the President is above the law.” And none of those who spoke against the impeachment ever disagreed on the supremacy of the law over and above everything and everybody else. No one said that the President of the United States was above the law. The Republicans may have unspooled their anger quietly but not one of them ever disagreed on the supremacy of the rule of law and the fact that all humans in America come under, not above, it. In Nigeria the disobedience of court orders by officials of the Buhari Administration has been tried, time and time again, to the amorphous and hardly explicitly defined issue of national security.
Sambo Dasuki and El-Zakzaky have been in detention for years and Omoyele Sowore for months without being released despite the order of several courts for their release. All kinds of nebulous explanations have been offered even by those learned in the law who ought to guide the President appropriately to respect the rule of law and do the needful at all times. Instead, they give the impression that obedience to the rule of law is something discretionary, something to be observed when the President wakes up on the right side of his bed and to be violated when he wakes up on the left side of that bed.
What has happened to Donald Trump and what is happening to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel is very instructive. Both men have been subjected to the crucible of constitutional and legal engagement, evidence that powerful as they are, they serve under, not above the law.
In Nigeria, Governors, Deputy Governors, Presidents and Vice Presidents have been placed above the law because of a so-called immunity. They are free to commit any crime while in office. They can only be investigated, not charged to court. They may not even be impeached because impeachment in our clime is a cash-and-carry affair. If he is ready to use the cash in the government’s treasury wisely he will survive it irrespective of the severity of his crime. Mr. Trump may survive through the strong support he may get from the Senate but the Representatives have made an impactful dent on his career and integrity.
Ray Ekpu is a veteran journalist who was one of the founders of Newswatch, the iconic weekly news magazine. This article was first published in The Guardian.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.