When Buhari Dealt Legislature a Big Blow

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Contrary to his initial promise, President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, shocked an expectant National Assembly, when he snubbed an invitation by the House of Representatives to explain the worrisome state of insecurity in the country. Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu report

On December 1, the House of Representatives adopted a motion moved by the Borno State caucus in the House and resolved to invite President Muhammadu Buhari to explain what his administration was doing to combat the worsening insecurity in the country.

The resolution to invite the President came on the heels of recent gruesome killing of over 43 rice farmers in Zabarmari community in Jere Local Government Area of Borno State, by the Boko Haram insurgents.

Buhari, who at first expressed readiness to address the Parliament, however, withdrew last minute, with no formal communication to the Parliament, raising uncertainty and heated debate between the Parliament and the Executive arms of government.

The Controversial Invitation

Members of the House of Representatives, after an hour of heated arguments, had resolved to invite the president to appear before them and offer explanation on the security situation in the country.

Moving the motion on behalf of other 10 Borno State lawmakers at the plenary, Hon Satomi Ahmed, prayed the President to among others things, declare a state of emergency on security matters.

Ahmed lamented that the attackers tied up agricultural labourers working in rice field and slit their throats and that some of the victims were labourers from other states, who had travelled to work on the rice farm.

The lawmaker also prayed the house to urge the federal government to declare state of emergency on security in the North East and other parts of the country.

But, Hon. Ahmadu Jaha, one of the co-sponsors of the motion raised a point of order saying, a prayer was omitted. Jaha said in the original motion, all the sponsors agreed that Buhari should be invited to brief the House on the true state of the security of the nation but was removed, adding that he’s shocked by the removal.

While his amendment got overwhelming support from other lawmakers, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and the Majority Leader, Hon. Ado Doguwa were of the opinion that it was not necessary as security issues couldn’t be discussed openly, pleading for the understanding of his colleagues not to summon the President.

Gbajabiamila said inviting the President to the floor might not be the best way to go, saying there were other ways to engage. He said the prayer calling for a state of emergency on insecurity allows for far-reaching decision and was enough to address the many demands of the region.

Their contributions were greeted with shouts of ‘No’, from a majority of the lawmakers, who insisted that the President must appear on the floor and address the security situation in the country.

Gbajabiamila, in an attempt to calm the very rowdy session ruled that plenary be suspended and members go into an executive session to resolve the matter.

Reconvening after an hour from the closed-door session, Jaha, who earlier insisted on the invitation as the key prayer of the motion, was asked to formally move the motion for the President’s appearance.

The House, however, did not specify on the day or time of the President’s appearance.

A Pledge on Buhari’s Honour

On December 2, Gbajabiamila hinted that President Buhari had pledged to honour the invitation from the lower chamber to explain what he has been doing about the rising wave of insecurity in the country.

He told State House reporters in Abuja, after leading a delegation to a meeting with the president, that they came to convey the resolution summoning him to appear before it.

Gbajabiamila said aside conveying the resolution to the president, they also had the intention of fixing a date for his appearance.

Asked what was his perception of the President’s handling of security threats ravaging the country was, Gbajabiamila said the president was concerned about the worsening insecurity. But said he would avoid pre-empting him until he appears before the House.

According to him, when Buhari appears before the House, he would not be there to address only the lawmakers, but will use the platform to address the country.

Spokesperson of the House, Hon. Ben Kalu, the next day revealed that Buhari was likely to appear before the House last Thursday to rub minds and proffer solutions to the insecurity challenges facing the country.

Giving an official confirmation, the Presidency said the President would on Thursday (Dec 10) address a joint session of the National Assembly on efforts being made by his administration to address the security challenges currently bedeviling the country.

This was disclosed by the President’s Personal Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie via a message she posted on her Twitter handle, @Laurestar, last Monday. The message read: “President @MBuhari will address a joint session of the National Assembly (@nassnigeria) on Thursday, December 10, 2020.”

And Boom, the Typical Buhari…

A few days after committing himself to honour the House’s invitation, the President came under pressure from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) governors and other party bigwigs not to honour the invitation.

It was gathered that the APC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja last Tuesday chaired by the Yobe State Governor, Mr. Mala Buni, had queried the summon of the President by the House and prevailed on him to rescind his decision to appear before the joint session of the National Assembly last Thursday.

It was also gathered that at the NEC meeting, a prominent South-west governor had reportedly put Gbajabiamila on the spot for allowing the motion summoning the President to scale through, advising Buhari to ignore the invitation.

The Chairman, Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee, Buni, said at the meeting that the party had decided that Buhari should not appear before the National Assembly.

Gbajabiamila reportedly interjected that it would be the President’s prerogative to determine whether to honour the summon or not.

It was also learnt that in furtherance of the NEC decision, APC governors, led by the Chairman, APC Governors’ Forum and Kebbi State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Bagudu, met behind closed doors last Tuesday night with party lawmakers on why they are opposed to the President honouring the House’s invitation.

They were said to have raised concerns about opposition lawmakers heckling the president to embarrass him and the party.

THISDAY however gathered the lawmakers were not happy with the party’s position but there was little or nothing they could do so as not to appear to be confrontational with party authorities.

The coffin of the proposed appearance of the President was however nailed when, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, a day to the scheduled appearance challenged the House’s power to invite the President.

Malami, in a statement, said the “confidentiality of strategies” employed by the president as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not open for public exposure in view of the security implications that could undermine the war against terror.

“The fact that President Muhammadu Buhari was instrumental to the reclaiming of over 14 local governments previously controlled by the Boko Haram in North-east is an open secret, the strategies for such achievement are not open for public expose”, the minister stated.

Although Malami was not categorical in his statement whether or not the President will appear before the House, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, while responding to THISDAY inquiry on the President honouring the invitation, however, said Buhari would not need to do so anymore, given the clarification by the AGF.

How the Lawmakers Reacted

Following Malami’s claim, members of the House of Representatives faulted the attorney general, saying the House has constitutional powers to invite President Buhari.

Spokesman of the House, Kalu, insisted the parliament did not act in error.

“There’s a mandate and that mandate is well expressed on Sections 88, 89. The position of the law says that granted by section four of the armed forces act, the President is the Chairman of Security Council. The armed forces act is a piece of legislation made by the Parliament.

“It is the provision of 89 that we have the right to investigate issues bordering on anything we have the capacity to legislate on. We have legislative competence to legislate on all this and therefore if there are things we need to find out in such areas, the law in 89 empowers us to invite anybody for the purposes of obtaining pieces of evidence, either in oral or documentary form and that includes everybody.

“There’s also a part of the law which is the power to arrest and command President, that particular one because of section 308 of the constitution that gives immunity to the President you cannot exercise that,’’ he explained.

Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, in a statement described as “reckless ” the claims by the Attorney General, saying such assertion amounts to standing the law on its head and portrays him as an officer, who is not in touch with the laws and the realities on ground.

He stated that the President’s apparent backward steps on the invitation just because handlers like Abubakar Malami, are afraid of the people, puts him in very bad light before Nigerians and the world.

The lawmaker further expressed serious concerns over the interest and roles being played by officers like Malami in governance, especially in relation to the failures to stem the tide of insecurity in the country.

House Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, said the attempt to pressurise Buhari not to appear before the National Assembly showed that some highly placed political actors in the ruling party are placing politics over the protection of lives of Nigerians.

Okechukwu, in a statement, described Malami’s position as “strange.”

Speaking with THISDAY in a telephone interview, Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, said it was unfortunate that some people are playing ostrich with the issue of security.

He said in spite of the fact that the PDP did not have the numbers it maintained its earlier call for the impeachment of the President.

On his part, Hon. Ben Igbaka, said the President missed a golden opportunity to tell his side of the story, when he refused to appear before the House, as Nigerians believed that he was doing nothing on the issue of security.

According to him, as far as most Nigerians are concerned, they believe Mr. President is not doing anything as the security situation facing the country is concerned. But after agreeing with the Speaker to honour the invitation, it was an opportunity to tell his own side of the story, but the President was ill advised and he missed the golden opportunity.

Hon. Aniekan Umanah, while responding to THISDAY enquiry insisted that the Constitution empowers the parliament to invite any Nigerian to appear before her and offer explanations to any issue of public interest.

He added, “I was very excited with initial information confirming that Mr. President had accepted to honour the invitation of the House for a brief on the security situation in the country. I saw his acceptance as very democratic and a huge opportunity to put matters in perspective.

“The cancellation of the visit to the Parliament without any strong reason in my opinion represents a lost opportunity for the emboldening of our democratic culture and ethos particularly in a parliament controlled by the ruling party.”

Is the Parliament Still Hopeful?

Following Malami’s assertion and eventual snub by President Buhari, the leadership of the House still insisted that the President has not shunned its invitation till there’s a formal communication from the President on whether he’s coming or not.

Addressing journalists last Thursday, Kalu stressed that the position of attorney general was not the position of the court, neither is he a judge or the spokesperson of APC.

Earlier at the plenary, same day, a member, Hon. Solomon Bob, demanded that the Speaker address the House on why the President refused to honour the invitation after he had initially agreed to.

Bob, relying on the order of privileges said, “Last week, I recall that this House passed a resolution. Subsequently, I read that the president has considered our request. If this House can pass a resolution and we have a situation, where such a resolution is abused, it means our very existence is being questioned. I think that the Speaker should address us on the current situation. The entire country is watching. It bothers me.’’

Responding, Gbajabiamila said, ‘’Honourable, your point of Privilege is well noted. We wait for official communications from Mr. President as opposed to newspaper publications”.