The National Assembly, last week, unanimously resolved to probe a recent invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja, by operatives of the Department of State Security, during the re-arrest of Mr. Omoyele Sowore, as part of efforts to protect the sanctity of the court. Deji Elumoye and Adedayo Akinwale report
The cliche, an injury to one is an injury to all, appeared to have come to play last week as the legislative arm of government rose in unison to protect the sanctity of the temple of justice following the invasion of the Federal High Court in Abuja by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) while trying to re-arrest Mr. Omowole Sowore, an activist and politician, penultimate Friday.
Although it took the upper legislative chamber almost one week to react to the reported infractions on the part of the secret police, the House of Representatives was however quick to respond to the matter earlier.
At the Senate, the issue was not raised until last Thursday, the last day of sitting, when the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Legal matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, summoned courage and raised the issue via Order 43 of the Senate Standing Rules.
The Order 43, which is titled Personal Explanation of the Senate Standing Orders 2015 (As Amended) states that “By the indulgence of the Senate and the leave of the President of the Senate, a Senator may make a personal explanation although there will be no question before the Senate; but no controversial matter may be brought forward nor may debate arise upon the explanation. The terms of the proposed statement shall be submitted in detail to the President of the Senate, when his leave to make it is sought”.
Relying on this Order and with the express leave of the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, Senator Bamidele expressed deep concern about the alleged invasion of the court by secret policemen and would want the Red chamber to investigate the matter.
“I rise to draw the attention of this Senate to a matter that has been in public domain and especially as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, the reported invasion of the court room again by alleged officials of the Department of State Security. It is one issue that has raised a lot of concern in different quarters in Nigeria.
“The leadership and members of the judiciary are particularly concerned about this development, because they believe like the rest of us do, that the courtroom is meant to be a sanctuary but for us at the Senate, we cannot begin to take a position or analyze the issues based on conclusion without facts that we consider incontrovertible. Yet, much as we cannot just jump into conclusions, it is also a fact that we cannot pretend not to know that Nigerians are concerned about this development.
“The reason I have chosen to come under Order 43 is so that I will not generate any controversy or even make the Senate to begin to debate or engage in a debate over an issue in respect of which like I said earlier, we still need to have incontrovertible facts and evidence.
“In view of this, I just want to say that as elected representatives of the people in whom Nigerians including the judiciary must find their voice, that we mandate our Committee on National Security and Intelligence to interface with the relevant security agencies, look into this matter, investigate what happened and report back to the Senate on this matter.”
Responding, Lawan was quick to say: “Distinguished colleagues, you know Order 43 does not allow for any debate and since this is a matter that affects the judiciary, we rather mandate your committee to find out what happened. So, I would suggest that our committee on judiciary investigates, finds out what actually happened and then report back to us in one week.”
On its part, the House did not allow the noise associated with the alleged invasion of the High Court in Abuja by agents of DSS to subside before adding its voice to it upon resumption of plenary last Tuesday.
It expressed dismay over the exhibition of thuggery, brute force, and disregard for the rule of law by yet-to-be identified persons within the precinct of the Federal High court, where the Convener of #RevolutionNow, Omoyele Sowore was arrested.
The House therefore ordered thorough investigation into the matter following the adoption of a motion brought under urgent national importance moved by the Minority Leader, Hon Ndudi Elumelu.
According to him, sections 4,5 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) guarantees the separation of powers and the independence of every arm of government, noting that a situation, where one arm of government was seen to be overpowering another in the course of dispensing her duties, would definitely spell doom for the separation of powers as enshrined in the Constitution.
“The House notes with dismay, the exhibition of thuggery, brute force, lawlessness, contempt and disregard for the rule of law by yet-to-be identified persons within the precinct of the Federal high court, Abuja on the 6th day of December, 2019.”
He stressed that the videos emerging in public domain showed the unidentified person trying to bundle Sowore and Bakare out of the courtroom, while Sowore’s supporters were resisting them, a development he described as an abuse to the sanctity of the courtroom.
The legislator expressed concern that men of the civil society claimed that the unidentified masked men were agents of the DSS, while the Service had denied through its spokesman, Peter Afunanya, that its personnel were never involved in the incident.
“Worried that the actions of these unidentified persons that disrupted judicial proceedings on the 6th day of December 2019, and made the presiding judge to abandon her duty post, because of safety concerns. This is a complete desecration of the temple of justice and such an action should be completely discouraged,” he added.
Elumelu noted that if the action was not properly put to check, the National Assembly might one day be invaded and the relevant security agencies would claim not knowing who the offenders were.
He stressed that physically assaulting Sowore and Bakare by the yet-to-be identified persons inside the courtroom was the highest act of sacrilege against the judicial arm of government and a complete disrespect to the rule of law.
The House thereafter mandated “the committees on National Security and Intelligence, Judiciary and Human Rights respectively to investigate the event and report back to the House within two weeks.”
Also, last week, the face-off between the Electricity Workers Union and the Ministry of Power over non-implementation of agreements between the two parties received the attention of the Green Chamber.
The leadership of the House has therefore promised to ensure the implementation of the agreement between the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), the Bureau of Public Enterprises and the Ministry of Power to address the grievances that led to a strike action by the Union last week.
The House also promised to ensure that members of the union were henceforth treated right by the government to avoid the strike action they embarked upon last Wednesday, which paralysed economic activities in the country.
Due to the urgency of the matter and in a bid to intervene and find a lasting solution, the House cut short last Thursday’s plenary and immediately went into a closed-door meeting with all the concerned parties.
At the meeting between the leadership of the House and the Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige, the Minister of State for Power, Mr. Goddy Jedy-Agba, officials of BPE and leadership of the NUEE, Gbajabiamila appealed to the union to exercise higher tolerance before embarking on strike as their action could affect lives negatively.
Although the agreement was signed at a meeting held between the ministry of power and the NUEE, the leadership of the House said it should be included as a witness to it so that it would ensure that all issues agreed on were implemented.
“From all indications, this matter will be resolved permanently. This matter was discussed on the floor of the House yesterday (Wednesday), and we decided that it will be addressed by the leadership, not by any committee, not because the committee doesn’t have competence, but because of the seriousness.
“This issue has unintended consequences on Nigerians. Within the hours you were on strike, a lot of things may have happened. But they may not be reported. Let me plead with the electricity workers that your power of tolerance should be higher than any of us, because your work and what you do or fail to do can affect lives.
“You should be able to sacrifice more. We want to make that agreement a tripartite agreement and include the House of Representatives as part of it. We want to be part of the agreement as witnesses so that you can hold us accountable. That way, we’ll ensure that the government meets its part,” the Speaker said.
Gbajabiamila further pleaded with the leadership of the electricity workers to henceforth communicate to the House whenever there are issues that could lead them to embark on strike. He also said the House would look at the possibility of amending the Labour law so that the ministry of labour could be given powers to sanction erring employers of labour.
“We’ll see how you can work with committees on power and labour to see how we can amend the labour law to suit the issues you canvassed.”
Minister of Labour had earlier told the House leadership that he was disturbed by the strike and that the union did not duly notify his ministry about its planned action.
“I want to register my great displeasure at what has happened. This is because electricity is an essential service after the hospital. In fact, if you shut down electricity, you will end up killing people. It was unfortunate that they had to go on strike without involving us much on the issue. I didn’t find it funny that the whole economy was thrown into a gargantuan loss,” Ngige said.