• Senate summons AGF, says Buhari wants to cripple democracy
• N’Assembly rules are not your business, House tells executive
Omololu Ogunmade and Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The arraignment of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, over the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Order, 2015, will now take place on June 27.
Also to be arraigned are a former Clerk of the National Assembly Salisu Maikasuwa and the Deputy Clerk Benedict Efeturi.
Four of them were to be arraigned yesterday but the accused were not in court following claims that they had not been served the court summons.
Following the failure to arraign them, the judge of the Federal High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Jabi Division, gave an order for substituted service following the claim of the bailiff that he had found it difficult to serve the accused persons.
Against this backdrop, the notice of arraignment was pasted on the notice board of the National Assembly yesterday.
According to the notice, the case, with charge number CV/21916, is between the federal government as “complainant applicant” and defendants listed in the following order: Salisu Maikasuwa; Benedict Efeturi, Dr. Olubukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu.
The notice read in part: “By oral application dated 21st June, 2016 moved by D.E Kaswe, Principal State Counsel FMJ, in this case praying the court for an order of this Honourable Court granting leave to the complainant application to serve the criminal summons on the defendants by substituted means to wit by pasting it at the notice board of the National Assembly, Three Arms Zone and after hearing D.C. Kaswe with A.A. Kaltingo, Esq, counsel for the complainant/applicant moved the court orally for the above relief.”
Reacting to the federal government’s decision to proceed with the prosecution of its principal officers, the Senate yesterday summoned the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Malam Abubakar Malami, to appear before it within the next two days to explain the rationale behind federal government’s decision to charge Saraki and Ekweremadu to court over alleged forgery of the Senate rules.
The resolution, which arose from a motion by Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West), further asked the AGF to appear before it to explain the basis for his action as well as the evidence for his claims.
Melaye said it was regrettable that the presidency had failed to be concerned about the huge crises of monumental proportion confronting the nation and instead was concentrating on chasing shadows by seeking to overthrow the leadership of the Senate at all cost.
“The Senate mandates the Committee on Judiciary, Legal Matters and Human Rights to within two days summon the Attorney-General of the Federation to explain and justify with evidence the basis for his action and why it does not constitute gross misconduct, incompetence, contempt of court, and abuse of office,” the Senate resolved.
Melaye, in his motion, said the charge was a gross violation of the ruling of a Federal High Court in Abuja which last year struck out the case on the grounds that the National Assembly was an independent arm of government and hence, it would be wrong for another arm to interfere in its affairs unless such matter is proved to be in violation of the constitution.
He said: “The Nigerian Senate has observed the ongoing systematic degradation and abuse of the office of the leadership of the National Assembly by the executive arm of government through intimidation and harassment.
“This Senate notes regrettably that the executive arm of government as presently constituted is still to come to terms with the constitutional tenets of separation of powers and the independence of the legislative arm of government.
“My respected colleagues, this very noble Senate observes further, notwithstanding the maturity and nationalistic commitment of the National Assembly to ensure the survival of our democracy and the enthronement of order and national development through bipartisan initiatives and support for the executive, there remains a grand design not only to distract the National Assembly but to also intimidate it into silence and enthrone a one man rule.
“My colleagues, Mr. President, this Senate notes also the lack of respect for judicial decisions and the resolutions of the National Assembly by the executive which is beginning to arrogate itself unifying powers of the federation.
“The Senate notes that the current attempt to arraign the leadership of the Senate over an internal matter of the Senate and claims spuriously a forgery that does not exist is a smokescreen for an impending attempt to overthrow the legislative arm.
“This Senate notes further that the judiciary had through several rulings in a recent case suit no AFC/ABJ/CS/646/2015 on the same issue warned the executive arm from treading on the path of criminalising or interfering in the running of the internal affairs of the Senate.
“This Senate therefore acknowledges the grave implications of this emerging trends which pose threats to the security and continued existence, unity and survival of our dear country.
“This Senate is aware that the legislature is empowered subject to provisions of the constitution to regulate its own procedures as explicitly stated in Section 60 of the Nigerian Constitution which we have all sworn to uphold.
“Mr. President, my colleagues, the Senate is disturbed that instead of applying itself to the myriad of problems confronting the nation including the escalating cost of living, upsurge in environment extremism, worsening insecurity, rising ethnic divisions, skyrocketing unemployment, declining national productivity, and a nose-diving economy into recession, the executive has continued to be hell bent on chasing rats while the federation burns.”
Melaye further described the action as a move to foist autocracy on the Senate, noting that if the Senate Standing Order are alleged to be fake, then every legislation the Senate has done under the authority of the book so far is also fake including the 2016 budget passed by it.
He also said the claim that the rule book was fake also implied that all the services the parliament had rendered to the executive through the rule book, including the screening of ministers and other government officials as well as the 2016 budget were illegal.
Also speaking on the motion, Senator Isa Misau (Bauchi Central) said what was being witnessed in the country at the moment was the pure corruption of the judiciary, adding that he was worried and scared for the state of this country as well as the attitude of the president because “they want to derail democracy”.
He also alleged that the AGF was being sponsored by some elements, adding that the interference in the Senate’s affairs would only bring the image and integrity of President Muhammadu Buhari into disrepute.
While Senator Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto North) condemned the action, saying he was fully in support of the motion, Senator Peter Nwaboshi (Delta North) said he was not elected to legislate with fear neither would he be a coward to the executive.
The senator, who further decried the court charge, said it was time the Senate cried out against a perceived attempt to strangle the upper legislative chamber.
In the same vein, Senator Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu North) said it was ridiculous that the internal affairs of the Senate would be the headache of external forces and vowed that senators would never allow “anyone to remote control us here”.
In his contribution, Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, said those who use public offices to persecute others must not forget that their sojourn in power was temporary.
“Thank you very distinguished colleagues. I am going to put the question. I don’t intend to say much because I’m involved. I just want to add that those who use their public offices today to persecute others must realise that no condition is permanent,” Ekweremadu said.
Yesterday’s plenary was held after a two-hour closed-door session. THISDAY reliably gathered that the session was stormy as some senators were said to have vehemently demanded a resolution, asking Buhari to sack the AGF.
But the suggestion was dropped following pleas by Ekweremadu who counselled that since the matter involved the Senate itself, calling for the AGF’s sack would be viewed as the chamber being biased.
His advice was heeded as the suggestion was eventually dropped.
It was also learnt yesterday that some senators were exchanging text messages calling for the commencement of impeachment process against the president but were said to have been advised against such messages to avoid further heating up the polity.
Also yesterday, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators held a closed-door session immediately after the plenary where they suggested the need to withdraw all support for the government of Muhammadu Buhari.
The senators were said to have been angered by perceived attempts by the president to muzzle the legislature, observing that he did not deserve the cooperation they had offered him so far.
They threatened that the president should henceforth prepare to witness a stand off with them.
However, one of the senators, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (Taraba South), told journalists after the meeting that no decision was reached, as the meeting would continue today.
Also weighing in on the issue yesterday, the House of Representatives accused the executive of deliberate and sustained attack on the National Assembly, a development which it warned could be highly damaging to the country’s democracy.
It added that any matter concerning the documents of the National Assembly were purely an internal matter and should not be subjected to interference by any other arm of government.
The House recalled that the latest matter of alleged forgery, which the executive was pursuing, had already been ruled upon by a court of competent jurisdiction.
The lawmakers therefore asked Buhari to call members of his cabinet to order, and ensure they desist from meddling in legislative affairs.
The resolution of the House followed a motion sponsored as a matter of urgent national importance by Hon. Tajudeen Yusuf (Kogi PDP) who fingered Malami and accused him of constantly trying to undermine the National Assembly.
He cited the matter of the House’s takeover of the Kogi State House of Assembly, during which the AGF had issued a counter directive to the former Inspector General of Police Solomon Arase.
“It is now commonplace that ministers and head of parastatals ignore invitations by standing committees and ad hoc committees at will,” Yusuf said.
Yusuf added that no superior court had set aside the ruling of the Federal High Court on the alleged forgery of the Senate rules.
Similarly, the PDP caucus in the House advised the federal government to concentrate on fixing the economy and address rising insecurity, rather than making the matter of Senate rules its primary concern.
The caucus, in a statement signed by its leader, Hon. Leo Ogor, also accused the AGF of blatant impunity and a grand design to undermine the legislature since his appointment.
It described the lawsuit filed against Ekweremadu, who is the highest political office holder of PDP extraction, Saraki, Maikasuwa and Efeturi as an embarrassment.
The Senate and House Standing Rules have always been produced by each chamber, the caucus said, adding: “Ekweremadu ceased to be a senator from 4th of June 2015 when the 7th Senate adjourned sine die, until he was inaugurated alongside other members of the 8th Senate on 9th June 2015.
“We wonder how the production of the Senate Order issued for the inauguration was his business.”
The caucus further noted that it was equally instructive that Ekweremadu and the Senate President were not accused or mentioned by senators who petitioned the police.
The caucus challenged the AGF to explain how Saraki and Ekweremadu came to be included in the lawsuit or how “a legal practitioner of his ranking preferred criminal charges against presiding officers of the National Assembly without according them fair hearing”.
Also, the South-east Caucus in the House said the lawsuit filed against Ekweremadu had revealed the intention of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to shut out the region from substantive positions in this government at all cost.
In a statement signed by its leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema, the caucus accused the government of divisiveness, marginalisation, exclusion and palpable hatred for the people of the region.