By Femi Falana
Last week, both houses of the National Assembly had cause to review of the worsening security situation in the country.
At the end of the deliberations the members of the House of Representatives unanimously resolved to invite President Muhammadu Buhari to address them on the state of the nation with respect to the huge fund appropriated for the war on terror without tangible results.
The President accepted the invitation and announced that he would address the House on Thursday, December 10, 2020.
Regrettably, the President has been under pressure from APC Governors not to honour the invitation for fear that they too may be similarly invited to address the respective houses of assembly. On his own part
the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation has questioned the Constitutional power of the National Assembly to invite the President on the grounds that as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces he cannot be compelled to disclose operational details of the defence of the country.
With respect, the President is under a moral and legal obligation to honour the invitation.
Having accepted the invitation the President should not allow himself to be embarrassed by turning round to turn down the invitation. By the combined effect of sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution the National Assembly is empowered to summon any public officer including the President in the course of conducting investigation into any matter with respect to which it has power to make laws and the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly.
It is pertinent to note that the powers conferred on the National assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and to correct any defects in existing laws; and expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of funds appropriated by it.
Apart from addressing the joint session of the National Assembly during the presentation of the annual budget, the National Assembly has the power to summon the President to address the members on jumbo loans being incurred by the federal government.
In other words, the National Assembly may not approve any of such loans without an address by the President.The President has made himself the Minister of Petroleum Resources. If the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation is being investigated for fraud or mismanagement of public funds by the National Assembly the Minister is liable to be summoned to testify like any other Minister. In other words, he is summoned as a Minister and not as the President. In 1987, the then military President, General Ibrahim Babangida sacked Professor Itse Sagay and other Professors in his capacity as the Visitor to the University of Benin. It was the argument of the University that the Court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit as the Professors were sacked by the President whose actions could not be challenged under Decree No 17 of 1984. But the Supreme Court agreed with us that the President lacked the power to sack the Professors in exercise of his visitorial powers.
In the instant case, the powers of the President are different from those of the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
To that extent, the National Assembly has the constitutional power to summon him to testify in any relevant inquiry conducted into the affairs of his ministry of Petroleum Resources.This submission is anchored on section 67(2) of the Constitution which states :
“A Minister of the Government of the Federation shall attend either House of the National Assembly if invited to express to the House the conduct of his Ministry, and in particular when the affairs of that Ministry are under discussion.”
*Mr. Falana is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria