- Senate leadership yet to receive court papers
- Revealed: AGF was counsel to Senate Unity Forum
- Oyegun: APC to probe forgery saga
Tobi Soniyi, Omololu Ogunmade and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Ministry of Justice is insisting that the arraignment of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, before Justice Yusuf Halilu of the High Court sitting in Utako, Abuja, for alleged forgery would take place tuesday.
A lawyer in the justice ministry, who was not authorised to speak on the case, told THISDAY that the trial would go ahead.
The duo of Saraki and Ekweremadu are alleged to have been involved in forging the Senate’s Standing Order, 2015, prompting the federal government to file a criminal suit against them.
The Senate rules were allegedly 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.
But the Senate leadership has cried foul, describing it as a ploy by the executive arm of government to destabilise the Eighth Senate.
The Senate also expressed concern over what it described as an attempt by the executive arm to truncate Nigeria’s democracy by attempting to cripple the legislature in its desperate bid to forcefully change the leadership of the Senate. It 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.
Charged along with the two presiding officers of the Senate are the immediate former Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, and his deputy, Mr. Bennedict Efeturi.
They were charged with criminal conspiracy and forgery of the Senate Standing Rules, 2015.
The charge was filed one year after the police concluded its investigation into the allegation that the Senate rules were forged to pave the way for Saraki and others to emerge as principal officers of the Senate.
The investigative report had since been submitted to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) who has now chosen to act on it.
In the affidavit filed on June 10, 2016, the investigative police officer (IPO) swore that the investigation into the case had been concluded.
The charges read: “That you, Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, Benedict Efeturi, Dr. Olubukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, on or about the 9th of June, 2015, at the National Assembly complex, Three Arms Zone, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this court, conspired amongst yourselves to forge the Senate Standing Order, 2011 (as amended) and you thereby committed the offence of conspiracy, punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Law.
“That you, Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, Benedict Efeturi, Dr. Olubukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, on or about the 9th of June, 2015, at the National Assembly complex, Three Arms Zone, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this court, with fraudulent intent, forged the Senate Standing Order 2011 (as amended), causing it to be believed as the genuine Standing Order, 2015 and circulated same for use during the inauguration of the 8th Senate of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria when you knew that the said Order was not made in compliance with the procedure for amendment of the Senate Order. You thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code Law.”
Some lawmakers, on behalf of the Senate’s Unity Forum (SUF), a group of senators who were opposed to Saraki and Ekweremadu’s emergence as the President of the Senate and Deputy Senate President, respectively, had petitioned the police, alleging forgery of the Senate Standing Rules, 2015, that produced Saraki and his deputy, Ekweremadu, following the election of principal officers for the Senate.
However, both Saraki and Ekweremadu monday insisted that they had not been served any notice of any arraignment by the court.
Making this disclosure late monday evening, the Special Adviser to the Senate President, Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, said up till the time of filing this report, Saraki had not been served with a court notice.
He described the claim of a planned arraignment as strange, stressing that it was impossible to arraign an accused person without his formal knowledge of the arraignment.
In the same vein, the Special Adviser to Ekweremadu on Media, Mr. Uche Anichukwu, said at the time of filing this report at about 7 pm yesterday, the deputy senate president too was yet to receive any court papers on the arraignment.
But in another development, a court paper obtained monday by THISDAY showed that the AGF and Minister of Justice, Malam Abubakar Malami, was before his appointment as the AGF last year, one of the lawyers to members of the Senate Unity Forum who had initiated a suit on the alleged forgery of the Senate Rules in the court.
The court paper, dated August 3, 2015, showed a list of 12 lawyers as defence counsel to Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi and other senators who initiated the suit. Malami was number three on the list of the counsel.
This has fuelled speculations that the AGF might have a vested interest in the case, which was earlier struck out by Justice Adeniyi Ademola of a Federal High Court in Abuja.
While striking out the case, Ademola said the judiciary could not interfere in the affairs of another arm of government.
Meanwhile, the national leadership of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) has said that it will look into the alleged forgery case involving the leadership of the Senate to establish its veracity or otherwise.
Speaking to journalists monday at the national secretariat of APC, its national chairman, Chief John Oyegun, said the party would conduct an investigation into the matter to be sure of the allegation.
Oyegun said that as far as the party was concerned, the issue was still in the realm of suspicion and none of the affected party men had been indicted.
“At this stage, I don’t think there is anything to say. In fact, everything is still guesswork. Nobody has said yes or they have been arrested or asked to make a statement or whatever.
“As a party, we do not think it is the party’s business to interfere in judicial matters of this nature. We will just wait and see, as we are even making investigations to be sure what the situation is,” he said.
On whether the party was still pushing for the removal of the Senate leadership on the account of the strained relationship between both sides, Oyegun said: “No, no, no. I don’t know, this is the kind of problem that the press always causes. You are now taking the sensational aspect of this issue. You are forgetting the nitty gritty.
“Did what they say really happened? That is what you should look at. Take the two copies – the new copy and the old copy – of the Senate rules and see if there is a difference. If there is a difference, at what formal meeting was it approved and adopted? These are the issues.
“You should start from this so that when you are commenting it would not be sensational, it would be based on facts and reality.
“You see we have to change the way we do things in this country; we have to start telling people what is right and what is wrong and to choose what is right as against what is wrong.
“This is where I expect you to start. Don’t start making it a party versus Mr. X issue. The point should be: was an offence committed? Establish that first and then you can move on.”