alleged forgery of senate rules
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
For the second time in one week, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Malam Abubakar Malami (SAN), on Thursday failed to appear before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, saying that the committee had no jurisdiction to summon him over the ongoing trial of the Senate’s presiding officers for the alleged forgery of the Senate rules.
Consequently, the committee walked out his representative, Okoi Obono-Obla, the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution.
Malami had been summoned by the committee to provide the raison d’être for his decision to charge the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, to court for alleged forgery of the Senate rules ahead of last year’s elections of the presiding officers of the upper legislative chamber.
The AGF was earlier scheduled to appear before the committee on June 23 but stayed away, prompting the committee to reschedule for him to appear yesterday.
But for the second time, the AGF stayed away and sent Obono-Obla, attached to his office, to represent him.
While Obono-Obla was only asked to introduce himself, he immediately swung into action, challenging the jurisdiction of the committee to summon the AGF over the forgery case. He said the AGF had travelled out of the country.
“The AGF is out of the country. The position of the AGF is that this committee has no jurisdiction on this matter,” he said.
His submission struck the committee which hurriedly stopped him from making further comments.
The committee fired back: “You are not the AGF. So we cannot hear you. As far as we are concerned, you are not the AGF. The person we invited is the AGF. Since he’s not here, we take it that he didn’t respond to our invitation.”
With that comment, the committee sent Obono-Obla out of the committee room.
Fielding questions from journalists after the encounter, Obono-Obla said the AGF was not answerable to the committee but is answerable to the president who appointed him.
He also said the AGF did not have confidence in the committee, noting that the AGF charged Saraki, Ekweremadu and others to court in accordance with the powers conferred on him by Section 174(1) of the constitution.
Below are the excerpts of the interview:
The AGF has been accused of attempting to truncate democracy by this charge. Isn’t this true?
The AGF has not done anything wrong. The AGF has not undermined democracy. He acted pursuant to the powers vested on him by the constitution. Section 174(1) says he can prosecute anyone. And he has done that.
The Senate is not on trial. He has not taken the Senate to court. He has taken four persons to court. They are not the Senate. Being President of the Senate does not make you the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The matter was investigated by the police and a prima facie case was established and the AGF invoked his powers under Section 174(1) to initiate criminal proceedings against those persons.
And this matter is now before a court of law. There is separation of powers in Nigeria. It is not the position of the Senate to constitute themselves into a court of law. It is not true.
But they said this is the internal affair of the Senate…
If I go to the chambers of the National Assembly to shoot you, would it be an internal affair? The Senate rules are a law and somebody allegedly forged the rules.
How do you know it was forged?
The police investigation.
Did the police write the rules in the first place?
That question is neither here nor there. They don’t need to write the rules. If I forge a certificate, will you say that the police did not give me the certificate? What is the duty of the police? To investigate a crime. And they investigated.
A Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG), a very experienced police officer, carried out a forensic investigation. And they established that these rules were forged.
Anybody who’s not satisfied should go to the court and ventilate his defence but not to take the position that the AGF has committed a crime.
But the Senate President said he was not invited by police in the first place. Why was he suddenly charged to court?
It doesn’t matter. So let him go and tell that to the court. That is why he should hands off and allow the court to hear this matter. At the end of the day, if it is established that this charge is frivolous, the court will discharge him but not to take the position that the AGF has committed any crime.
He’s not answerable to them. By virtue of the principle of separation of powers, he is answerable to the president who appointed him and he has not done anything wrong.
But are you really qualified to represent the president here?
I’m qualified. Why not? I’m working in the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation as an SA to the president.
Why didn’t the Special Adviser to the Attorney General come to represent him?
The AGF does not have an SA. The president appointed a number of SAs and posted them to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation.
Do you know why the Attorney General is not here?
He’s on a national duty. He’s outside the country.
Do you have confidence in the committee?
You cannot be a judge in your own case. We don’t have confidence in the committee.
If you said the AGF is not answerable to the Senate, you as a lawyer, have you forgotten that the Senate has oversight power over the AGF?
You are not a lawyer. I’m a lawyer of 26 years experience. This is not oversight. The AGF has the power to act according to Section 174 of the Constitution.
In his remarks, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator David Umaru, said the decision of the AGF not to appear before the committee showed his measure of disrespect for the Senate, adding, however, that the Senate would report its experience on the matter to the Senate which gave it the assignment.