•  My hands are clean, says Ekweremadu

ALLEGATION OF FORGERY

By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

The Senate yesterday expressed its strong opposition to the move by the federal government to charge its President Bukola Saraki, his deputy Ike Ekweremadu, the immediate past Clerk of the National Assembly Salisu Maikasuwa and the Deputy Clerk Benedict Efeturi to court on allegations of forgery of the Senate’s Standing Orders in June 2015.

It also raised the alarm over the attempt by the executive arm of government to truncate Nigeria’s democracy by attempting to cripple the legislature in its desperate bid to forcefully change the leadership of the Senate, and warned the federal government not to mistake its maturity and the hand of cooperation that it had extended to the presidency as a sign of weakness.

The Senate Standing Orders 2015 was alleged to have been forged by some principal officers of the Seventh Senate in collusion with the management of the National Assembly ahead of the June 9, 2015 elections of Saraki and Ekweremadu as the Senate President and Deputy Senate President respectively.

The document was allegedly forged with the intention of changing the Senate’s rules for the election of presiding officers of the chamber from the open ballot system to the secret ballot system.

The alleged forgery was said to have been brought to light by some senators who cried out that going by the order on voting, they were unable to vote for their choice of presiding officers because of party leaders who would have monitored the elections to know how they voted.

The forgery was therefore allegedly done to hide the identities of senators during the elections.

Although the Nigeria Police launched an investigation into the allegation of forgery of the Senate rules, nothing was heard of it until last Friday, when Saraki, Ekweremadu, Maikasuwa and Efeturi were charged to court for forgery, after an earlier invitation had been sent to Ekweremadu, former Senate President David Mark, former Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba, former Rules and Business Committee Chairman Ita Enang, Maikasuwa and Efeturi.

The letter of invitation for interrogation by the police had excluded Saraki, but when the matter was charged to court, Mark, Ndoma-Egba and Enang were left out while Saraki who was never invited, was charged.

However, the Senate in its reaction yesterday cried foul, saying Nigeria’s democracy was being endangered by the attempt by the executive to “muzzle the legislature and criminalise legislative processes in order to forcefully change the leadership of the National Assembly”.

A statement by the Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, lamented that Nigeria had returned to the era of impunity and flagrant disrespect for due process “which we all fought to abolish”.

The Senate asked President Muhammadu Buhari to call his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to order, pointing out that Senate voted freely to elect its leadership into office “and continuing attempts to change that leadership through the wanton abuse of judicial processes cannot stand in the eyes of the world”.

It added: “It is clear that the Attorney General and party leaders behind this action either lack the understanding of the underlining principles of constitutional democracy, the concept of separation of powers, checks and balances and parliamentary convention or they just simply do not care if the present democracy in the country survives or collapses in their blinded determination to get Saraki and Ekweremadu by all means necessary, including abuse of office and sacking the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“The Nigerian people have enough economic hardship at this time requiring the full attention and cooperation of the three arms of government, instead of these attempts to distract and politicise governance.

“We are in a state of economic emergency such that what the National Assembly needs at this time are executive bills and proposals aimed at resolving the crises of unemployment, currency depreciation, inflation, crime and insecurity.

“What the National Assembly needs now are executive bills to build and strengthen institutions to earn revenues, fight corruption and eliminate waste.

“Instead, we are getting hostile actions aimed at destabilising the National Assembly, distracting senators from their oversight functions and ensuring good and accountable governance.”

The Senate warned that its patience and maturity in the last few months should not be mistaken as a sign of weakness, saying: “We must make it clear here to the individuals in the executive arm and party leadership behind these plots not to mistake the maturity and hand of cooperation being extended to the presidency by the legislature as a sign of weakness.

“This latest plot is directed at forcing a change of leadership in the Senate or, in the extreme case, grounding the Red Chamber of the National Assembly.

“Or how does one interpret a move in which the two presiding officers are being set up to be remanded in Kuje Prison or incapacitated from sitting at plenary through a day-to-day trial on a matter that is purely an internal affair of the Senate.

“This obviously is a dangerous case of violation of the independence of the legislature, undue and unnecessary interference in the internal affairs of the Senate and the blatant abuse of the judicial process.

“The matter now being criminalised was brought to the plenary of the Senate in session over a year ago. And because it had no support, it was overruled and roundly defeated in chambers.

“To now take a matter that was resolved on the floor of the Senate to the police and then make it form the subject of a criminal prosecution of freely elected legislators beats all imagination of free thinking men all over the world.

“The implication is that any matter that fails on the floor of the National Assembly will now be taken to the police, thereby endangering every Senator and House member.

“This current move clearly runs contrary to the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances which are fundamental to the successful operation of the presidential system of government.

“It runs counter to the principle outlined by the Supreme Court in the Adesanya Vs Senate case where it was held that nobody should seek to use the courts to achieve what he or she has failed to push through on the floor of the National Assembly.”

The Senate described the current attempt to unseat its leadership as a coup against the legislature “with the ignoble aim to undermine its independence and subject the law-making institution to the whims and caprices of the executive”.

“It is a plan to return Nigeria to the dictatorial era which we have, as a nation, voted to reject. It is a dangerous trend with grave implications for the survival of our democracy and the integrity of the component institutions.

“This rule of men as against the rule of law is also the reason why the war against corruption, one of the cardinal objectives of the present administration, is losing credibility because people perceive it to be selective and, in most cases, aimed at settling political or partisan scores,” it stated.

The Senate added: “The rules of the Senate and how the institution elects its leadership are internal affairs. The rules of a new Senate are provided by the National Assembly bureaucracy. It has always been so since 1999.

“After the inauguration of the Senate, if senators have objections to any part of the rules, they can follow the procedure for changing it.

“Senators of the Eighth Senate had no control on the rules applied in the elections of June 9, 2015 because until after their inauguration, they were only Senators-elect, and therefore mere bystanders in the affairs of the Senate.

“We therefore urge all Nigerians and the international community to rise up and condemn this blatant attempt to subject the legislature to the control, whims and caprices of the executive.

“If the legislative branch falls, democracy fails as there will be no other institution empowered by the constitution to check and balance the enormous powers of the executive branch.

“We also call on the judiciary as the last hope to save our constitutional democracy and stand up for the rule of law by doing that which is right in this case.”

In a separate reaction, Ekweremadu also deplored his invitation by the Nigeria Police and his eventual charge on allegations of forgery.

Waxing confident, he told those behind the move that he would adequately meet them in court, describing the move as curious and a deliberate attempt to divert public attention from the problems confronting the nation.

He said he was taken aback by the sudden revival of the allegation one year after the police had given him a clean bill of health on the matter.

A statement from his office signed by his Special Adviser, Media, Uche Anichukwu, said Ekweremadu only read about the invitation by the police and the eventual court charge on the pages of newspapers.

According to him, he had neither received any invitation from the police, not had he been served with any court papers.

Describing the sudden resurgence of the matter as curious, the statement further said Ekweremadu would neither be cowed nor disturbed by the development.

The statement said: “The Office of the Deputy President of the Senate has noted the media reports on the purported invitation of the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the charges reportedly preferred against him before the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Abuja, in connection with the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Orders 2011.

“The office also notes that in July 2015, the police spokesperson told the world (and it is on record) that the NPF did not invite Senator Ekweremadu for questioning and that the NPF did not at any time question him over the so-called forged Senate Standing Orders.

“We are therefore as surprised as other Nigerians at the current twists and turns by the same police one year after and also after they had since submitted to the Attorney General of the Federation their investigation report, which neither indicted nor even made the slightest mention of Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

“Moreso that the petitioners never named Ekweremadu in their petition in the first instance.

“We wish to state that we read the reports of the so-called police invitation and charges allegedly preferred against Senator Ekweremadu; the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki; and others, on the pages of the newspapers like other Nigerians.

“Even as we try to reconcile the reports of the simultaneous police invitation and court processes, nobody has, till date, served the Deputy President of the Senate any letter of invitation by the police or court summons.

“The office or person of the Deputy President of the Senate is not in the moon. The concerned authorities know how and where to reach Senator Ekweremadu if they want to.

“But so far everything remains in the realms of the usual propaganda onslaught to malign, bully, intimidate, and divert attention from the real challenges presently confronting the nation.

“However, when the bird jerks in the air, we can fathom where it would perch.

“In the meantime, we want to assure our teeming supporters, well meaning Nigerians, and youths from across Nigeria and beyond, who have continued to throng Senator Ekweremadu’s residence and inundate him with calls, mails, and text messages to make inquiries, express their displeasure, and show solidarity over this daylight persecution, that there is no cause for alarm.

“The hands of Senator Ike Ekweremadu are clean because he has no business whatsoever with the production of Senate Standing Orders. This latest attempt to try and convict him in the court of public opinion, notwithstanding, we do not want to mount a public defence. We would rather meet them in court if they so wish.

“While we plead with our supporters across the nation to maintain the peace and go about their normal businesses unperturbed by this latest act of harassment and impunity, we want to reassure them that no form of intimidation and onslaught to rubbish him will make the Deputy President of the Senate shy away from diligently carrying out the constitutional duties, which his constituency and Distinguished Senators representing every part of Nigeria, lawfully elected him on June 9, 2015 to perform for the good governance and development of Nigeria.

“Ekweremadu will not legislate in fear, and he will certainly not fear to legislate. If an attempt on his life on November 17, 2015 (which there are no facts or information to show that the police investigated an incident of such magnitude duly reported to them) did not deter him, certainly not even a purported police invitation, lawsuit, propaganda and intimidation would cow him because Nigeria belongs to all of us, irrespective of our different political, ethnic, and religious leanings.”