The suit filed recently by the federal government, alleging forgery in the election of the Senate President Bukola Saraki and other principal officers of the senate is crossing the line in the separation of powers, writes Segun James
Apparently in need of something controversially engaging to keep him in the news for a while, the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, last week filed a suit, accusing the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and two others of forging the 2015 Senate Standing Rules used in electing Saraki and Ekweremadu to office. This is coming over a year after the election had taken place.
Although days after the elections, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi (APC-Kaduna North) had petitioned the Inspector General of Police, alleging that the Standing Rules used for the exercise was forged. He accused four officials of conspiracy and demanded criminal investigation of the matter. Mr. Hunkuyi is the secretary of the Unity Forum, a group of APC Senators opposed to the emergence of Saraki, preferring his opponent, Senator Ahmed Lawan instead.
Immediately, the police launched an investigation and submitted a detailed report to Malami. The case, with reference number, CR/219/16, was filed on June 10, 2015 at the Federal High Court, Abuja and assigned to Justice Yusuf Haliru. The case borders on two-count charge, including offence of conspiracy punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Law; and offence of forgery with “fraudulent intent” punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code Law.
But the sudden interest of the executive arm in a matter that is purely of the legislative concern has since raised suspicion especially against the backdrop of insinuations that it was another avenue to rattle the Senate President and further threaten his seat. Besides, it may have further exposed the fact that the executive clandestinely interfered with the exposed its clandestine involvement in the election of the National Assembly leadership. What however confirmed these fears was the Police letter to the senate leadership, which had requested to meet with the leaders of the 7th Senate of which Saraki was not a part. Indeed, the suit by Malami deliberately replaced a former Senate President, David Mark with Saraki, obviosuly to bring in the incumbent Senate President.
On the contrary, the letter from the office of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Criminal Investigation Department, signed by AIG James Caulcrick, dated June 7, 2016, and titled: “Letter of Invitation…Re: Forgeries/Fraudulent Use of Senate Standing Order/Rules 2015 (As Amended) By the 8th Senate”, had requested to see seven members of the leadership of the 7th senate in this order: Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Majority Leader of the Senate, Clerk of the National Assembly, Clerk of the Senate as well as Chairman and Secretary, Business and Rules Committee.
An extract from the Police letter reads: “I refer to the Deputy Inspector-General of Police’s letter no. CR:3000/X/FHQ/ABJ/VOL.185/98 dated 1st July, 2015, requesting the under-listed officials of the 7th senate to report to the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department for the purpose of conducting investigation on the above matter.” The under-listed in this extract are those earlier identified.
Clearly addressed to the 7th Senate, which was stated twice in the letter, who therefore does not know that the Senate President in the 7th Senate was David Mark? Curiously, in adjusting the new plan to accommodate their intention, four out of the initial seven principal officers, with Saraki now replacing Mark have been charged with allegation of forgery.
How that is now Saraki’s business is what the federal government is yet to address in this latest onslaught to install the senate leadership of choice. The selected four for the forgery charge are the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Clerk of the National Assembly and Clerk of the Senate, with only Saraki being the new person on the list.
In another extract which shows again that the mention of the 7th senate was not in error, the police wrote: “As at the time of writing this letter, none of the officials in the above 7th senate list honoured the invitation to respond to the allegations, except the Clerks of the National Assembly and that of the Senate,” urging them afresh to report to their office on the 9th of June, 2016, two days after the letter was dispatched.
Against the backdrop of the above, the intent in the police letter is not only clear from inception; its position too is purely professional and handled as such. But how the name of a former senate president was swapped or assumed to be, is the missing link in the latest war launched by the executive against the legislature.
But the Senate had since responded. Setting the record straight, the Senate through its Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, started by warning the executive not to take its maturity for weakness and asked it to steer clear of its business. In a statement titled: Forgery Case, an Unconstitutional Violation of Principles of Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, alleged attempts by the executive arm to undermine the principles of checks and balances.
“After reading in the national newspapers and online platforms of the planned charges of forgery and conspiracy preferred against the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, his Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, immediate past Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa and the Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Ben Efeturi and reviewing the circumstances leading to the filing of these charges, we are compelled to alert the good people of Nigeria and the international community that our democracy is in danger and that the attempt by the Executive Arm of the federal government to muzzle the legislature and criminalise legislative processes in order to cause leadership change in the National Assembly is a return to the era of impunity and lack of respect for due process, which we all fought to abolish.
“We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to please call his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to order. The Senate of the Federal Republic 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 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 further contended that “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 co-operation being extended to the Presidency by the legislature as a sign of weakness. The National Assembly bent backwards to accommodate various infractions and inefficiencies in pursuit of inter-arms co-operation and national interest. We did not follow up the various infractions because we believe there are bigger issues, which the government has to attend to in order to ensure that every Nigerian has food on his table and lives comfortably in a secure environment. We know that the country is actually in a state of economic emergency and all hands must be on deck.
“This latest plot is directed at forcing a change of leadership in the Senate or, in the extreme case, ground 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 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 said.
Continuing, the Senate argued that, “This present efforts, therefore, is clearly a coup against the legislature with the ignoble aim to undermine its independence and subject the lawmaking 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.
“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 have 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,” the Senate contended.
Certainly, a fresh battle is set between the executive and the legislature and interestingly, it is one to determine the independence or otherwise of the judiciary. To assume too that the judiciary has been much of a shadow of itself in recent years is merely alluding to the obvious. But the weight of what is currently at stake manifestly brings to test, its true standing as the bastion of democracy, and as the only shield for justice in a truly just state.
So much has gone on as a test of the nation’s democratic credentials since power changed hands in May last year. And often put to test, is the strength of the nation’s justice system, which has come out much helpless than it was in the inglorious years of the locust. Unfortunately, attempts at spotting the difference between then and now gives a damning verdict on the pretence of the retrogressive progressivism and leaves expectations of a desired future in a near hopelessness. It is for this reasons the conclusion that it is the nation’s judiciary that is on trial is given expression.
Date and time has been set for the epic battle as the nation as well as the rest of the world watches from Monday, another trial of her judiciary. One thing is certain though. With the latest engagement defined more by politics of will, ego, domination, blackmail and harassment of one arm by another, the drifting of the camaraderie expected between both arms in collective interest is surely going to be visited on the already tottering governance of the country and it is only then Nigerians shall begin to understand the fruitlessness of embarking on such a poorly conceived journey to nowhere.
Date and time has been set for the epic battle as the nation as well as the rest of the world watches from Monday, another trial of her judiciary. One thing is certain though. With the latest engagement defined more by politics of will, ego, domination, blackmail and harassment of one arm by another, the drifting of the camaraderie expected between both arms in collective interest is surely going to be visited on the already tottering governance of the country