- Unity Forum backs Buhari, Like Mind Senators challenge them to test his popularity
- AGF shuns invitation by Judiciary C’ttee, says he acted on IG’s recommendation
Tobi Soniyi and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The cold war among senators on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) resurfaced on Thursday, when the two factions of APC caucus in the Senate disagreed on the recent actions taken by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, especially the decision to prosecute Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu over allegations of forgery of the Senate rules.
A press conference spearheaded by members of Unity Forum with the intent to condemn the withdrawal of support for President Buhari by their Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterparts and reiterate their backing for the president, was boycotted by Senators of Like Mind.
Only 16 of the 58 APC senators who are all members of the Unity Forum attended the briefing.
But in a swift reaction to the briefing, some members from the camp of Senators of Like Mind challenged their counterparts in the Unity Forum to come up with a vote of confidence motion on Buhari as an expression of their support.
According to them, their colleagues should test Buhari’s popularity among senators on the floor of the Senate through a confidence vote and see if the vote would be passed.
They also expressed their disappointment over Buhari’s recent actions especially the recent forgery charges brought against Saraki and Ekweremadu.
THISDAY further learnt yesterday that some Like Mind Senators threatened to dump the party if alleged attempts by the presidency to muzzle the National Assembly, especially the Senate, continues.
However, in their briefing, members of the Forum, which includes the sole Labour Party (LP) senator in the chamber, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, threw their weight behind the programmes and policies of the Buhari administration.
They said the decision of their counterparts in the PDP to announce the withdrawal of their support for Buhari’s government was done in bad faith, describing the move as purely partisan.
Briefing journalists on behalf of the group, the Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Olusola Adeyeye, described as untrue the PDP senators’ claim that the pursuit of the ongoing war against corruption by the federal government was in violation of the rule of law.
According to him, the administration has neither arrested nor imprisoned anyone unjustly, pointing to the alleged diversion of funds meant for the war against the insurgency by the last administration, and challenged the PDP senators to rise above partisanship.
“Members of the Joint Caucus of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Labour Party senators in the Senate are stoutly behind the policies and programmes of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
“Our support is aimed at actualising the promised desired change that Nigerians voted for last year.
“We are shocked at the totally partisan reaction of our colleagues from the minority party (PDP), to the on-going investigations and recovery of public funds meant for the prosecution of the war against the insurgency.
“Contrary to the assertions of our PDP colleagues, the investigation is not a partisan war against a particular political party. It is no longer news that there was a wanton diversion of public funds meant for fighting the insurgency to fund campaigns of PDP.
“Members of the PDP were the sole and iniquitous beneficiaries of this diversion. Seeking to recover diverted public funds is neither dictatorial nor against the rule of law.
“In all the actions, programmes and policies of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC federal government, no PDP member has been unjustly arrested or imprisoned on mere allegations.
“On the contrary, we are regaled daily with news of millions and billions of naira of public funds traced to accounts of individuals, some of whom have accepted to return such diverted public funds.
“As law abiding and patriotic citizens, we cherish the rule of law and the separation of powers among the different arms of government. Political interference based on partisan considerations must be eschewed.
“Members of the joint caucus of the APC and Labour Party will always give their best in support of the only president Nigeria has. We plead with our PDP colleagues to rise above partisan inclinations so that together, we all can bring to fruition the positive changes that our people seek and deserve,” Adeyeye said.
The position of the Forum senators, however, was in contrast to the statement issued by the Senate spokesman, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, on Sunday, which accused the administration of gross violation of the rule of law.
The position was also in contrast to the motion moved on Tuesday by Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West), stating that Buhari wanted to cripple democracy by his dictatorial and desperate acts.
AGF is a No Show
However, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, shunned the invitation extended to him by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to appear before it yesterday to explain the reason behind his decision to charge Saraki, Ekweremadu and two others to court over alleged forgery.
The Senate had mandated the committee to summon Malami on Tuesday to explain why he took the action.
But in apparent indifference to the invitation and perceived lack of faith in the current Senate, Malami did not show up yesterday.
Despite his refusal to honour the invitation of the committee, Malami said yesterday that he exercised the powers conferred on him when he filed a two-count charge of forgery and conspiracy to commit forgery against Saraki, Ekweremadu and two others.
In a statement issued yesterday by his media aide, Mr. Salihu Isah, the AGF said that he acted on the recommendation sent to him by the just retired Inspector General of Police (IG) Solomon Arase.
While calling on the senators to prepare for their trial, he accused the leadership of the Senate of whipping up sentiments and also rejected the allegation that filing the charges amounted to abuse of the principle of separation of powers.
The minister said his office was empowered under Section 174(1) of the constitution and vested with the power to undertake and initiate criminal proceedings in any court of law in Nigeria.
He also faulted the argument of the Senate that what transpired was an amendment of the rules and not forgery.
He said: “Forgery of the Senate Standing Rules cannot be described as the internal business of the National Assembly that is exclusively only in its purview.
“The Attorney General of the Federation cannot therefore be faulted for his decision to initiate legal actions against the accused for alleged forgery after a thorough police investigation of the issue whether there was an amendment of the Senate Standing Rules in 2015 or not.”
The statement read: “By virtue of this power as the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, he has simply initiated criminal proceedings for forgery against the affected principal officers in the Senate for altering the Senate Standing Rules in the Federal High Court.
“It is worthy to note here that the action of the Attorney General of the Federation can stand the test of any law since he did not act on a vacuum.
“He acted based on a recommendation by the Inspector General of Police (IG) who having fully satisfied the investigative procedure arising from the petition sent to the Nigerian Police by some aggrieved members of the Red Chambers of the National Assembly alleging that the affected officers altered the rules of the Senate for Dr. Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu to emerge leaders of the Eighth Senate of the National Assembly.
“And under the 1999 Constitution, only the Attorney General of the Federation has the powers to institute criminal proceedings.
“For the benefit of doubt, as stated above, there was a petition bordering on allegations of forgery against the defendants, the petition was investigated by the police and the police recommended the case for prosecution.
“At this point, the question is how the initiation of criminal proceedings against Dr. Bukola Saraki, Ike Ekweremadu, Salisu Maikasuwa and Bernard Efeturi violated the principle of separation of powers as contained in the constitution?
“The action of the Attorney General of the Federation cannot obviously be said to be a coup against the National Assembly as the Senate has claimed.”
The minister said that by preferring the charges, the accused persons were entitled to a fair hearing under the law while the prosecution was obligated to prove its case against them beyond reasonable doubt.
Malami maintained that he had not violated any known law in the land.
“Or is the Senate suggesting that its principal officers, members and staff of the National Assembly are above the law or enjoys the same immunity as do the nation’s president and governors?” he asked rather rhetorically.
The minister said that the case of Adesanya vs Senate, which was cited by the Senate to back its argument that filing the charges breached the principle of separation of power, did not support the senators’ case.
The statement further read: “Our attention has been drawn to a press statement by the Senate and signed by Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Affairs and dated June 19, 2016 titled, ‘Forgery Case, An Unconstitutional Violation of Principles of Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances’, and published in some national dailies and social media platforms and wish to respond as follows, that:
“The position of the Senate alleging that the move to arraign the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, former Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa and Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, Bernard Efeturi before the court last Monday (20th June, 2016 to be precise) for forgery initiated by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice portends danger and indeed, a coup against the legislature with a view to cause a leadership change in the National Assembly is quite unfortunate.
“That the Senate went on to describe it as wanton abuse of judicial processes and insinuating that the action of the Attorney General of the Federation who is the Chief Law Officer of the country is an interference in the legislature by the executive arm on the affairs of the Red Chambers of the National Assembly; and therefore a violation of the principles of separation of powers as enshrined in the Constitution is also regrettable.
“These allegations are totally untrue and baseless. We are not unaware of the doctrine of separation of powers. And it is not in doubt that each arm of government is constitutionally vested with distinct powers. Looking critically at the doctrine of the separation of powers, it is a practice that exists on a tripod viz, the executive, legislature and judiciary with clearly distinctive functions and responsibilities as captured under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
“So, by virtue of this, we are committed to the rule of law and will thus keep to the tenets of the rule of law as enshrined in a constitutional democracy like ours.”
Stringent Bail Terms
Meanwhile, some lawmakers have expressed concern over the possibility of the court imposing stringent bail conditions on Saraki and Ekweremadu when they are arraigned on Monday, June 27.
A source in the National Assembly alleged yesterday that the Ministry of Justice plans to put pressure on the trial judge, Justice Yusuf Halilu of the Abuja High Court, to impose stringent conditions on the accused persons.
The lawmaker, who preferred not to be named, said that the two men, being number three and five respectively in the national hierarchy, ordinarily should be granted bail on personal recognition.
He said: “The plan, however, is to ensure they are presented with conditions which they cannot meet immediately. The conditions will be such that they will struggle with them for some days before they wriggle out of the court’s dragnet.
“The case has political undertones and the ministry will not allow them to ride roughshod over it or enjoy a free ride. They will have to struggle for some time before they can get any concession from the court.”
Already the trial judge has ordered that the accused persons be served with the charges by pasting the notice of the summons on the notice board of the National Assembly Complex in Abuja.
However, preparatory to Saraki and Ekweremadu’s arraignment on Monday, the National Assembly yesterday stated that it would be going on a three-week Ramadan recess. It will resume on July 12.