On the Rights of AGF to Institute Criminal Proceedings

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Chuks Okocha

The statement by the media aide to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, that the forgery charge against the Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, with two others is line with the minister’s constitutional duties as the chief law officer of the federation is correct. Such prosecutorial power under the law is not in doubt. It is constitutionally guaranteed.

But the question is how the AGF exercises such right without prejudice. Like Caesar’s wife, such rights must be exercised with caution, especially where personal interests seem to override national interest, or where there is conflict of interest. Or what explanation has the minister to offer to Nigerians to convince them that what he is trying to achieve is not what he failed to achieve as the attorney to the group of senators under the aegis of Senators of Unity Forum in the eighth Senate.

For the avoidance of doubt, Malami was the counsel to the Senators of the Unity Forum in the suit no: FHC/ABJ/CS/646/2015, where two judges of the Federal High Court, Justice Godwin Kolawole and Justice Adeniyi Ademola, ruled that the case of alleged forgery of the Senate Rules was an internal affair of the Senate.

Ruling on the forgery case that had the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of the Federation as defendants/respondents, Justice Kolawole, as the vacation judge, urged the aggrieved senators of the unity forum to mobilise their colleagues to upturn the standing rules of the eighth senate if they were not happy with the contents. He further said that the courts would not be venturing into the case, as to do so was to infer in the duties of the parliament, unless where such alleged infractions affect the constitution. The judge went further to state that the dictates of separation of powers should be respected.

Justice Kolawole said, “My view is that in relation to the instant suit, the allegation which relate to alleged forgery of the Rules of the National Assembly is not an ordinary allegation in which the court can approach with a pedantic mind-set. It is so because the issues as relating to the standing rules or standing orders are, firstly, a purely domestic legislative matter, but where the allegation of forgery is made, it is for the court to reflect deeply whether it is not an allegation which the Senate Committees on Rules and of Ethics can validly investigate and take steps within its own internal proceedings to nullify any of its standing orders found to be irregular and also sanction any of its members that may be found culpable.

“One of the sanctions it may prescribe is to recommend such members or members to the defendants for prosecution. All of these are my thinking as a way to protect the integrity and independence of the National Assembly so that neither the executive arm as constituted by the defendants nor the judiciary should not be allowed to pry into a matter which the National Assembly as legislative arm of government can deal with applying its own rules and standing orders.

“I am wary that a dangerous precedent is not being set for the eighth National Assembly to have its internal proceedings, being regulated, perhaps supervised by other arms of government of the federation, i.e. the executive and judicial arms. This has been the philosophy, when I reflected on the constitution as a holistic instrument of governance, that informed my cautious judicial approach to all of the cases which have been filed in respect of internal conflicts which the National Assembly has been bedevilled with since it was inaugurated on June 9, 2015.”
Thereafter, as a vacation judge, he transferred the suit to another vacation judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola. In his ruling, Justice Ademola espoused the same views, when he cited the instance of the 1981 suit between Senator Abraham Adesanya and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Justice Ademola in his ruling urged the aggrieved senators to mobilise their colleagues to upturn the perceived portions of the standing rules that they claimed were forged, stating that in the instance any venture into the affairs of the senate is to violate the principles of separation of powers.

One clear thing here is that both the AGF and the Inspector General of Police were the defendants/respondents in this instant case. Curiously, Malami was the attorney to the Senators of Unity Forum and he never advised his clients to appeal the rulings of the two learned judges of the Federal High Court.

Rather, he moved as the chief law officer of the federation to criminalise what he failed to achieve in a civil suit as the Minister of Justice. Nigeria is working!
A step further is in the letter by the police inviting those perceived to have forged the standing rules of the eighth Senate. The Nigeria Police on June 8, 2016, barely two weeks ago, did not mention the name of the Senate President, Saraki. The letter to the Clerk of National Assembly clearly stated those to be so invited to state their own side of the story over the perceived forgery of the rules of the senate. The then Senate President was David mark, Saraki was not.

Mark was not invited. The letter clearly invited the principal officers of the seventh Senate and, indeed, the name of Saraki was not there. So, how come Saraki was among those charged to court through the Attorney General in exercise of his constitutional duties? This is another curious explanation begging for answers. Or is it a case of crucify him, crucify him at all cost.

The Attorney General of the Federation as the chief law officer of the country is constitutionally empowered to do his duties, but it must be done within the ambit of the law, which he swore to protect. Indeed, no one is above the law. The Attorney General should tell Nigerians his interest in this suit to which he was a counsel as a private legal practitioner and as the chief law officer of Nigeria. Is he not using his official powers to achieve what he could not do as a private lawyer? Nigeria can only move forward when we do what is right irrespective of our opinions.
––Okocha is Special Assistant, Print Media, to the Senate President.