• Says Magu discredited by DSS, not legislature
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
Senators have remain unfazed by reports that the presidency may likely head to the Supreme Court to seek a judicial interpretation of Section 171 of the constitution, in a bid to resolve the impasse on the powers of the Senate to confirm the nominees of the president and by extension whether the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, can remain in office despite his rejection by the upper legislative chamber.
The executive arm and the Senate have been at loggerheads for months over the latter’s insistence that the executive must remove Magu, having been rejected twice during his confirmation process at the upper legislative chamber.
The Senate’s rejection of Magu was based on a report from the Department of State Services (DSS), which had indicted him for alleged corruption and unprofessional conduct.
Giving a reason for the presidency’s refusal to remove Magu, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had latched onto Section 171 of the constitution and stated that the confirmation of the Senate was not required for Magu’s appointment.
Osinbajo’s stance prompted a reaction from the Senate, which accused the presidency of double standards for sending the name of another nominee for the post of Director General of the National Lottery Commission for confirmation, after dismissing its powers to consider and confirm nominees.
On this basis, the Senate said it would no longer consider nominees sent by the presidency except Magu ceases to act as the chairman of EFCC.
Following the impasse over the powers of the Senate to confirm the nominees of the presidency, which was further aggravated by another disagreement over the power of the National Assembly to alter the figures in the executive’s Appropriation Bill, Osinbajo had held a series of meetings with the leadership of the National Assembly to resolve the disagreement.
This was followed by information made available to THISDAY by a presidency source on Sunday that the presidency was of the view that only a judicial interpretation of Section 171 of the constitution could either resolve or settle the matter once and for all.
Reacting to the presidency’s position Monday, some senators who spoke to THISDAY welcomed its decision to take what they described as a bold step to lay the matter to rest.
“If they want to go to the Supreme Court, that is fine with us. The presidency is just looking for excuses. At the end of the day, it is a win-win situation, let the Supreme Court rule on the matter so we can lay it to rest.
“It is good for both parties so we can settle the matter of Magu once and for all,” said a senator who did not want to be named.
“We are sure that they would lose. If they do not lose, it will set a bad precedence. The constitution is clear, but since they need verification, they should go for verification.
“We have been saying it for months: go to the Supreme Court and they have been stalling. Now we have said nothing would happen unless they get that verification,” he added.
Another senator challenged the presidency to also consider seeking interpretation on whether the National Assembly can alter figures proposed in the budget submitted by the executive.
“In fact, they should go ahead on the budget bill also, so that the Supreme Court can decide if the National Assembly can tinker with the proposed figures.
“If the lawmakers can alter executive bills, will the Supreme Court say it cannot alter a money bill? A bill is a bill,” the senator said.
“We stand firm and resolute, we will not consider anything, any request for confirmation.
“Is it not contradictory that a presidency that said the EFCC chair does not need confirmation because the agency is not specifically listed in the constitution, would send us a confirmation request for another nominee for the Director General of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission, whose proposed agency is not listed in same constitution?
“Finally heading to the Supreme Court is actually a welcome development.
“Whatever they do between now and next week when we are going on recess, they have to get the ruling. The Supreme Court can get back within this week on the matter,” he said.
Another senator maintained that Magu was rejected by the Senate on the basis of the report of the DSS.
“If for instance the Supreme Court rules in their favour, mind you, this is about the Presidency versus the Constitution, not the Senate versus the Presidency, as some may look at it, the issue of Magu’s credibility is still at stake.
“An agency of the same presidency discredited him, not us, and it was on this basis that we rejected him, not just due to his appalling performance during the screening exercise,” he said.
“It would actually be interesting to see how this plays out, whatever the outcome,” he added.
Sources from the presidency had told THISDAY that the presidency was convinced that its position on Magu was the correct one, but wants the court to lay the dispute to rest.
A source, who did not disclose when exactly the executive would head to court for an interpretation of Section 171, said the decision was based on the advice prepared by judicial and legal experts.
“Our position is based on the legal advice prepared by judicial and legal experts as a working document in the presidency regarding the differences in the constitutional interpretations on matters of certain federal appointments.
“In fact, the advisory unearthed a ruling of the Supreme Court on the matter when the current Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), before his elevation to CJN, had ruled in line with the view of the presidency on the matter,” he said.
He also observed that it was inaccurate to accuse the executive of acting unilaterally in its interpretation of Section 171.
Efforts to get the official position of the Senate Monday proved abortive, as the phone numbers of its spokesman, Senator Sani Abdullahi, could not be reached.