The Limit of Defiance

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Senator Ovie Omo-Agege’s defiance of his suspension from the Senate, last week, writes Damilola Oyedele, casts a question mark on his respect for the rule of law

Wednesday, April 18, 2018, began like every other day at the Senate, but by

midday, events from there, were riding the news waves. In a story that left more questions than answers, Nigerians were reading, (or watching) an invasion of the hallowed chambers by thugs, and the abduction of the sacred mace. As confusion spread, the story started to take a shape.

Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who was suspended for 90 legislative days last week, had entered the chamber with thugs while plenary was ongoing. In a spate of minutes, his thugs had assaulted some legislative security officials and escaped with the mace. People watched in disbelief at the commotion, which saw the thugs run through the supposedly secured building, into waiting vehicles, and left the premises of the National Assembly.

Why the Mace?

The mace is the symbol of authority of the Senate or House of Representatives as the case may be. Without it being present, the legislative body cannot sit as any decisions taken, would be invalid. It, therefore, pre-supposed that the plan may have been to prevent the Senate from holding its plenary, which had scheduled, the contentious Electoral Amendment Bill, 2018 for debate. The bill may have been at the root of the invasion of the chamber.

The National Assembly, last February, had altered the order of elections and proposed that the presidential poll to be conducted last after the National Assembly and governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections.

But President Muhammadu Buhari vetoed the bill, forcing the National Assembly to consider a veto-override.

However, THISDAY reported exclusively last week that the federal legislators in an attempt to pacify state governors has decided to drop the veto-override and introduce a new amendment bill that takes care of the interest of the governors.

Subsequently, the National Assembly in the section 25 of the new bill, revised the sequence of elections and provides that the governorship and state Houses of Assembly election holds first, while the National Assembly poll follows with the presidential poll bringing up the rear.

But Omo-Agege and some senators, who later metamorphosed into the Parliamentary Support Group, led by Senator Abdullahi Adamu, had kicked against the amendment in February.

Addressing the press, Omo-Agege had claimed the motive was to weaken Buhariin the 2019 polls and that the Senate and the House did not follow laiddown procedures for amending the bill.

The Senate thereafter mandated its Committee on Ethics, Privileges andPublic Petitions to investigate Omo-Agege over his remarks. A few daysafter the resolution of the Senate to investigate him, Omo-Agege apologisedat plenary. But in a new twist in the saga, he turned around and sued theSenate.

At his appearance before the committee, of which he is a member, hedeclined to respond to any questions. Consequently, the Senate, last  Thursday, adopting the recommendations of the committee, suspended him.

Background 

Omo-Agege is the son of late Justice James Omo-Agege, who was Chief Judge of Delta State from 1993-1998. He studied Law at the University of Benin and later studied and passed his LLM at Tulane University Law School, New Orleans, US. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1986.

He had his mandatory one year service at the Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Intelligence of the Kwara State Command of the Nigerian Police Force in 1987, before his engagement as a litigation officer at the law firm of Pat Okupa & Co.

He founded his own practice, Agege & Co., in 1989 to specialise in corporate banking and commercial litigation. He, however, moved to the United States and practised as a foreign associate in Charles O. Agege Law Office, Los Angeles.

In 1992, he was admitted into the Bar of California, and the US Supreme Court, after which he founded his own firm, Agege & Associates, with emphasis on professional malpractice, insurance, domestic international commercial arbitration, criminal defence litigation, admiralty and marine litigation practices and suits against foreign entities under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA).

He joined politics at the state level in 2002, and served in the administration of former Governor James Ibori in different capacities. Omo-Agege contested for the Senate seat on the platform of the Labour Party in 2015, after challenges in the Peoples Democratic Party, and won. He, however, defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) last year.

It was, however, expected that Omo-Agege, with his legal background, should have known better. Most Nigerians consider him one of the calm and cool headed politicians.

His Defence

Following the invasion and theft of the mace, the senator was arrested and whisked away by the police. 

He was, however, released some hours later. In a statement by his aide, Lucky Ajos, Omo-Agege denied having anything to do with the theft of the mace, saying he only went to the Senate to perform his constitutionally duty.

“We are aware of several media reports suggesting that Senator Omo-Agege personally removed or encouraged anyone to remove the Mace of the Senate,” he said, but added: “This weighty allegation is not true at all.”

According to him: “Following the said media reports on the Mace issue, the

Police authorities decided to hear from Senator Omo-Agege. He has told the Police his perspective to help them carry out a proper investigation. He has since left the Police. Senator Omo-Agege trusts them to thoroughly investigate this very serious matter.”

He denied a statement by Senate spokesman, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, that he was the mastermind of the invasion of the upper chamber and the theft of its mace and expressed the hope that subsequent police investigations would bear him out.

Posers for Omo Agege

But watchers of the drama in the Senate have picked holes in Omo-Agege’s defence. They wondered why he did not come to the Tuesday plenary where his colleagues debated the serious issues of insecurity and killings by herdsmen, and called for the sack of defence chiefs. They queried his approach of the mace without taking a bow and asked for the identity of the five men that escorted him into the chambers and eventually snatched the mace. Analyst felt Omo-Agege being a lawyer, and having gone to court to challenge his suspension from the Senate, ought to have waited for the due process of the law to restore his rights instead resorting to self-help.

Resolution

The coming weeks would certainly see more unfolding drama. The police, which was believed to have arrested Omo-Agege at the end of Wednesday plenary, had issued a statement denying the arrest, saying it only took the lawmaker into protective custody and released him thereafter. Meanwhile the

Senate and the House of Representatives had indicated a possible showdown with the executive except the perpetrators of the invasion of the Senate were brought to book.

For now, the executive has met the legislators half way, ordering an investigation into the incident and promising to take the perpetrators to the law.