The Senate, on Tuesday, directed its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, to immediately summon the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mallam Abubakar Malami, to appear before it over the planned move to have the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu arraigned before the Federal High Court over the alleged forgery offence.
Also involved in the case are Efeture Ben, the present Clerk of the Senate and the retired Clerk of the National Assembly, Maikasuwa Salisu.
The Attorney-General is to come, explain and justify with evidence, the basis for his action and “why such does not constitute gross misconduct, incompetence, contempt of court and abuse of office.”
However, the Senate agreed that the Senate Standing Rule 2015, used for the inauguration of the eighth Senate on June 9, 2015 was not forged, but authentic in all its ramifications, adding “if it is considered as a forged document, then all legislative actions taken so far with the document are forged, like the 2016 budget approval, confirmation of ministerial nominees, screening and confirmation of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, among others.”
This followed a motion moved by Senator Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West), entitled: “Imminent threat to our democracy as it relates to the alleged invitation of our presiding officers by a court of law in Abuja” and condemned in all its entirety, surreptitious attempts being made by the executive arm of government under President Muhammadu Buhari, to erode the independence of the parliament by forcing on them a leadership change through the backdoor.
According to him, “this is without a pending appeal by the police and the Attorney-General on the same matter, which the Federal High Court had decided.
“To file charges against the leadership of the National Assembly is a gross violation of the Attorney- General’s calling and an attempt to overthrow the legislative arm of government and force autocracy on the Senate.
“The current attempt to arraign the leadership of the Senate over an internal matter of the Senate is an attempt to overthrow the legislative arm.
“The judiciary has through several rulings, in a recent case suit number 88C/ABJ/CS/646/2015 on the same issue, warned the executive arm from criminalising or interferring in the running of the internal affairs of the Senate.
“This Senate notes also the lack of respect for judicial decisions and the resolutions of the National Assembly by the executive, which is beginning to arrogate itself the unified powers of the federation.
“The Senate acknowledges the great implication of this emerging trend poses to the security, continued existence and survival of our dear country,’’ he said.
The lawmaker said the National Assembly was empowered by Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution as amended to regulate its procedures.
Melaye expressed concern that the recent development over the alleged forgery of the Standing Orders was a threat to democracy.
Seconding the motion, the chairman, Senate Committee on Gas, Senator Bassey Akpan, said he was handed over a copy of the constitution and 2015 Standing Orders during accreditation.
He expressed concern that the leadership of the Senate was accused of forging it when they had not been elected as presiding officers as at then.
“When I came for accreditation, I was given a copy of the constitution and this Standing Rule to guide my conduct in the chamber.
“This constitution recognises the doctrine of separation of powers and this is the first time we are having a National Assembly of this nature, an assembly, where there is no clearcut majority and that is built on simple understanding and consensus.
“What makes democracy what it is today is the existence of the National Assembly and as such, should not be truncated. We owe this country a duty to reflect the content of this oath.
“I second this motion and challenge every member of this chamber to speak their minds.
“It is time that we rise and speak and defend democracy because if democracy is under threat then the existence of this country is under threat,’’ he said.
Supporting the motion, chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Commission (NDDC) Senator Peter Nwoboshi, informed that there was laid down procedure for correcting anything in the Senate Order.
According to him, “if anyone has anything against any section of the rule, what to do is to apply the amendment clause and it is done among the lawmakers not with interference from outside.
“You don’t amend what you are not part of. We should rise and tell ourselves the truth and tell the world that there is an attempt to strangulate the legislature and we must not allow it,’’ he said.
Senator Isah Misau (APC-Bauchi Central) described the current development as injustice being done to the judiciary.
He insisted that it was on the basis of the standing orders that he was given the privilege by the Senate to ask Malami to take a bow and go when he came to the Senate for confirmation as minister.
He said “the interference is a deliberate attempt to bring down the integrity of the Senate President.
“We are the hope of the ordinary people. We must stand for justice and fairness.’’
Senator Ibrahim Gobir, in his view, said he was completely in support of the motion, adding that the standing orders was authentic and should not be used as a move to destabilise the Senate.
Gobir said “there are three arms of government and they are totally independent. So, nobody can change anything without changing the constitution.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, warned those presently in public office and using it to persecute others to know that “no condition is permanent.”
Presidency wants to cripple NASS, Reps allege
The House of Representatives, on Tuesday, alleged that there are ongoing plots by the executive arm of government to cripple the activities of the National Assembly.
Consequently, the House urged President Muhammadu Buhari, who it said had sworn to defend and protect the constitution of Nigeria, to desist from taking steps that would cripple the National Assembly, including prosecuting the presiding officers of the Senate, over alleged “forgery” of Senate Rules, which a competent court of law had also recognised as strictly the “internal affairs of the National Assembly” and which judgment had not been set aside by any superior court.
The House resolution was sequel to a motion moved by Honourable Yusuf Ayo Tajudeen, entitled: “Urgent need to safeguard the nation’s democracy and protect the integrity and independence of the National Assembly.”
According to the lawmaker, “the independence of the National Assembly was unprecedented, severe, and sustained attack by the executive arm of government.”
He noted that the 1999 Constitution guaranteed the independence of the legislature with powers to regulate its own proceedings, stressing that this Fourth Republic had endured uninterrupted since 1999 with five general election, having been held since then.
He equally denounced the recent move by the executive to cripple the National Assembly by filing charges and seeking to assign the presiding officers of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in relation to matters that were wholly the internal affairs of the Senate.
On the forgery allegation, he recalled that the Federal High Court in Abuja, issued a ruling on July 27, 2015, and another one on August 4, 2015, to the effect that even the allegation of “forgery” of the standing order was an internal affair of the National Assembly, which should not be pried into by the Inspector-General of Police or the Attorney-General of the Federation or even the judiciary.
If the current move is allowed, he contended that “a dangerous precedent is being set for the eighth National Assembly to have its internal proceedings being regulated, perhaps supervised, by other arms of government.”
He expressed worry that if this ugly trend continued unabated, it would be detrimental to good governance and highly damaging to the nation’s democracy.
When the motion was put to vote by Speaker, Honourable Yakubu Dogara it was unanimously supported by majority of the members.
Any attempt to remove Saraki, Ekweremadu will fail— PDP Reps
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members of the House of Representatives, on Tuesday, vowed that any attempt by the Federal Government to illegally remove the two presiding officers of the Senate, the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu from office, would fail woefully.
Briefing newsmen on Tuesday, in Abuja, spokesman for the caucus, who is also the Minority Leader of the House, Honourable Leo Ogor, condemned, in strong terms, the current onslaught on the leadership of the eighth Senate.
Ogor, citing from a ruling by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/646/2015 between Senator Gilbert Nnaji, Palintiff/Applicant and the Inspector-General of Police, the Attorney General of the Federation, who were Defendant/Respondents respectively, to back up the caucus’ position, declared that the action was an attempt by the executive to erode the independence of the legislature against the principles of separation of powers, as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The lawmakers challenged the executive to provide instances where the presiding officers had hands in the amendment of the Senate Standing Rules.
The caucus said: “Democracy thrives on mutual respect and cooperation among the three arms of government. Therefore, the executive arm of government has no business whatsoever meddling in the internal affairs of the legislature. Each of the Houses of the National Assembly since 1999, had always had its own rule produced by the management of the National Assembly, hence, Senate Standing Orders 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 in the instance of the Senate.”
The opposition lawmakers also pointed out that Senator Ekweremadu ceased being a senator since June 4, 2015, when the seventh Senate adjourned sine dine, until he was inaugurated alongside other members of the eighth Senate on June 9, 2015.
The caucus, therefore, wondered how the production of Senate Order issued for the inauguration of the Senate would be any business of his, adding that the duo were never accused by any panel of inquiry or the purported petition to the police.
They said the National Assembly should not be taken for granted for the understanding and coorperation it had accorded the executive in the last one year, adding that they had bent backwards to accommodate the excesses of this current administration in the interest of peace.
Court Summons Saraki, Ekweremadu
The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, summoned the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki; his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, former clerk to the National Assembly , Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa and Deputy Clerk, Ben Efeturi, over their alleged involvement in the forgery of Senate Standing Order.
The summon was effected through a substituted service which was pasted at the corridor along the Senate President’s office.
Parts of the summons read: “By oral application, dated June 21, 2016, moved by D.E Kaswe, Principal State Counsel, Federal Ministry of Justices in this case praying the court for: An order of this Honourable Court granting leave to the complainant/ applicant to serve the criminal summon on the defendants by substituted means to wit by pasting it at the Notice Board of the National Assembly Three Arms Zone, Abuja.
“And after hearing D.E Kaswe with A.A Kaltingo Esq, counsel for the complainant/Applicant moved the court orally for the above relief.”
Also included in the summon were statement already volunteered by the former Clerk to the National Assembly, Maikasuwa and the outgoing Deputy Clerk to the National Assembly, Ben Efeturi on their alleged involvement in the forgery .
Maikasuwa in his own statement said: “The Senate Standing Orders used in seventh Senate was not known to me. The Clerk of the Senate is in position to know. I was not aware of the amendment that was made to the Standing Rules.”
15 witnesses lined up against Saraki, Ekweremadu, others
No fewer than 15 witnesses have been lined up by the Federal Government in the forgery case brought against the Senate President, Dr Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ekweremadu.
Others due to appear before the court on Monday for allegedly forging the Senate Standing Rules 2015 are a former Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa and the acting Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, Benedict Efeturi.
In the court summons pasted on the notice board of the National Assembly on Tuesday, about 15 witnesses were listed by the Federal Government to testify against the defendants.
Among the witnesses are Senator Solomon Ewuga, Senator Ita Enag, Senator Ajayi Borrofice, Senator Kabiru Marafa, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Senator Abu Ibrahim, Senator Ahmad Lawan and David Igbodo, an Assistant Superintendent of Police.