Christopher Isiguzo, in Enugu, writes on the rallies in the state in solidarity with Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who is being tried, alongside Senate President Bukola Saraki, for allegedly forging the senate standing rules
Since June 27 when the Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, filed charges of forgery against Senate President Bukola Saraki, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, and two others at a High Court in Abuja, different opinions have been expressed by different individuals and groups. Divergent opinions have been expressed as to the propriety or impropriety of the trial, especially in view of the constitutional provisions for separation of powers as well as checks and balances.
Some All Progressives Congress legislators led by Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi had expressed anger at the emergence of Saraki as senate president, against the party’s preferred candidate, Senator Ahmed Lawan. They also moved against Ekweremadu of the Peoples Democratic Party, who emerged as deputy senate president, contrary to the wish of the ruling party.
The angry senators petitioned the police alleging that the rules used to elect the leaders of the senate were forged. The development prompted the then Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, to detail a Deputy Inspector General of Police to investigate the allegation. The police report claimed there was, indeed, a forgery of senate rules. Arase referred the matter to the office of the Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice for further action.
Consequently, the AGF, Malami, filed charges against the senate leaders and two others, leading to their arraignment. The development has clearly opened a new vista in executive-legislature relationship in a democracy, as political observers see the situation from different angles.
Only recently, the national chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, was quoted saying his party would stop at nothing in ensuring that Ekweremadu is removed from his position. He made it clear that Saraki was not the party’s problem, but his deputy.
That statement seemed to up opposition to the federal government’s forgery charges against Saraki and Ekweremadu. The people of Enugu West senatorial zone came out in their numbers at the Awgu local government area headquarters to demonstrate support for one of their own.
Since the inception of the Fourth Republic 17 years ago, Ekweremadu has featured prominently in the politics of Enugu State. He took off as the chairman of his Aninri council and later became Chief of Staff to former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani in 1999. Ekweremadu was later appointed the Secretary to State Government under Nnamani before going to the senate in 2003. From then, he has continued to maintain a steady rise in profile, retaining the position of deputy senate president for a record three terms.
Over 3000 youths, old men, women traditional rulers and the political class from Enugu West senatorial zone rose in defence of the senator last weekend. They accused the federal government of deliberate attempting to silence the lawmaker and by extension the opposition PDP where he is presently the member occupying the highest political position.
They saw the on-going trial as nothing short of “political persecution”, and vowed to resist any attempt aimed at ousting Ekweremadu from his present position.
The crowd marched round the local government secretariat from where they moved to the constituency office of the member representing Awgu-Aninri-Oji-River federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, to formally present their grievances. Ekweremadu represents the zone in the senate.
After the protest rally, where they brandished placards with different inscriptions, and sang solidarity songs, they marched back to the local government field where a prominent traditional ruler from Okpanku in Aninri local government area and former Director General of the Nigeria Defence Academy, HRH (Prof.) Sam Ukpabi, presented an address on behalf of the people.
Some of the placards carried inscriptions such as: “The life wire of Igbo should not be harassed by the Buhari-led Federal Government, Enough is enough”, “The Enugu West people will resist any attack against Ikeoha”, “Dictatorship of the executive- let separation of power prevail”, “Our son Dr. Ike Ekweremadu and Senate leadership are on course”, “Ekweremadu keep your good work”, “Ekweremadu is the real man for democracy” and “Federal Government should leave the legislature alone”.
Ukpabi, in his address, stated that the stakeholders in the senatorial zone had reviewed the state of the nation, especially the “political bitterness, nepotism, hate and crushing economic hardship, with a narrow cabal in the All Progressives Congress,” and resolved to condemn the “politically motivated persecution” of the Deputy Senate President on charges of forgery.
He said, “While the current political persecution has not come to us as a surprise, the Attorney-General of the Federation is yet to tell the world how he generated the names of Senators Ekweremadu and Bukola Saraki for trial, when the petitioners, all senators and National Assembly bureaucrats interrogated by the police, and indeed the Police Report itself did not mention or indict Senator Ekweremadu or Saraki in any way.”
While calling on the APC-led Federal Government to as a matter of urgency, refrain from the alleged culture of political persecution, the people declared that Ekweremadu was elected with an overwhelming mandate both as a senator and Deputy Senate President and his election did not violate known convention, practice or the nation’s constitution.
In a similar vein, a former Majority Leader of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Hon. Jonny Obidinma, has asked the federal government to drop the allegation of forgery preferred against the senate leaders, describing it as a witch-hunt. He advocated for dialogue between the federal government and the senate leadership on the obvious “communication gap” existing between them, noting that dropping the forgery charge would not only enthrone peace in the polity but would also advance the course of democracy, which is deeply rooted in dialogue and not confrontation.
He noted that since the trial of the senate president is on-going at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, beginning another round of criminal trial against Saraki would not only cause confusion in the polity but would also undermine the independence of the legislature. He insisted that the standing rule of the senate was entirely the business of the legislature.
Obidinma who also picked whole in the entire process recalled that the Assistant Force Public Relations Officer (AFPRO), Mr. Abayomi Shogunle, had told newsmen at the Force Headquarters on July 6, 2015 that although the police team met with the ex-Clerk to the National Assembly, Mr. Salisu Maikasuwa, they neither invited nor interrogated Saraki or Ekweremadu.
He stated, “It is even worse to try to obtain from the backdoor a statement after you have filed charges, because it shows somebody is desperate to nail somebody.
“From what they have filed at the court and the police report, there is no statement that Saraki or Ekweremadu made on the alleged forgery; there is no particular role those interrogated accused Saraki or Ekweremadu of playing in the alleged forgery. Even the Senate Unity Forum did not mention them in their petition.
So, how did the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation zero in on Saraki and Ekweremadu? And if you are talking about the leadership of the seventh Senate, Ekweremadu was not the Senate President or the Senate Majority Leader or Chairman of the Committee on Business and Rules. So, why is every other member of the leadership of the seventh Senate missing? Again, was Saraki a member of the leadership of the seventh Senate?”
The former lawmaker observed that the country was presently faced with plethora of challenges such as the militancy in the Niger Delta, the rampaging Fulani herdsmen, the pro-Biafra agitations by MASSOB and IPOB and the collapsing economy noting that adding crisis in the legislature would totally derail the entire democratic process.
Another group, the Enugu West Peoples Forum, also defended Ekweremadu over his letter alerting the attention of the international community to the on-going trial of Saraki, himself and two others and its grave implications for Nigeria’s democracy.
The ruling APC had asked Ekweremadu to retract his letter to the international community over his on-going forgery trial, insisting that by taking what should be an internal affair of the country to the outside world, the lawmaker had tarnished the image of Nigeria and by extension, the president.
Both the party’s chairman, Ben Nwoye, and the Vice chairman, Anike Nwoga, faulted the lawmaker’s decision to write to the international bodies, stressing that the senator only wanted to drag the nation’s integrity in the mud.
Nwoga spoke at a rally held by party members in Awgu town, Enugu State, with notable APC chieftains, including Deputy State Chairman, Comrade A.C. Ude, Woman Leader, Lolo Queen Nwankwo, Chief Flavour Eze, who represented the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, Special Assistant to the President on Justice Reform, Barrister Julie Ibekaku, Director General, Voice of Nigeria, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, and Barrister Sharon Ikeazor in attendance. He insisted that the letter was out of place. Nwoga urged Ekweremadu to desist from insulting the president.
But the Enugu West Peoples Forum said Ekweremadu was right, noting that Nigeria was not only a member of the global community, but also a beneficiary of the generosity of the international community. The group’s president, Hon. Paul Anikwe, berated the leadership of the APC in Enugu State for finding faults in Ekweremadu’s letter, describing them as “desperate job seekers”.
Nwoga stated, “Democracy is endangered when the executive refuses to obey court orders; when virtually every election is, especially in the strongholds of the opposition, is rendered inconclusive; when the Attorney-General of the Federation abuses his office and court process for partisan and other vested interests; when the AGF defies parliamentary summons and joint resolutions of the National Assembly; and worst of all, when we go back to the military days of trumped-up charges against people who hold dissenting views with the aim of taking over an arm of the parliament which is the symbol of democracy”.
He added, “The Enugu West Peoples Forum dare to ask members of the global community who have themselves invested so much in enthroning and sustaining Nigeria’s democracy to call the Federal Government and its AGF to order before things get out of hand.”
Nwoga noted, “Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, a perfect gentleman, was the chairman of ANPP and a founding father of the ruling party; Chief Chris Ngige is a first-rate medical doctor, former governor and senator; Prof Anthony Onwuka is a renowned intellectual and former Vice Chancellor; Mr. Osita Okechukwu has been a consistent voice in the opposition and worked hard with leaders in the present government from the days of Senator Chuba Okadigbo; what did they get but third class ministries, junior minister, and a moribund parastal?”
Though, the case against Ekweremadu and the others has been adjourned to September 28 for commencement of hearing, the issue has clearly become a major talking-point in Enugu State. Many people in the state are in solidarity with the man, who is presently the Igbo man occupying the highest political office in the present administration. As far as they are concerned, any attack on the lawmaker is an attack on the people of Enugu West senatorial zone, Enugu State and indeed the people of south-east geopolitical zone.