THE story of alleged forgery of Senate Rule Book 2015 (as amended) has been going back and forth for some time now. It’s been a constant issue since the beginning of this Senate but right now, it is taking a life of its own.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu have been dragged to court alongside the immediate past Clerk to the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa and the Deputy Clerk, Ben Efeturi .
The issue has already divided the executive and the legislature. On one hand, some lawmakers said that the Senate is on trial and that the executive was willing to actualise a coup through the back door. Senators of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have raised the banner of this argument and declared they would no longer cooperate with the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led executive arm.
The two chambers of the National Assembly have also expressed apprehension at the development. The script looked so predictable and simple: An unhappy executive propped up its loyalists in the legislature to yell at the emergence of Senator Saraki and Ekweremadu as Senate’s helmsmen; the combatants raised all manners of issues and eventually dragged the matter to court. With ongoing suits at the Code of Conduct Tribunal CCT) dragging beyond imagination, the executive took it upon itself to do legal battle against Saraki and Ekweremadu; the duo would be required to be in the Dock anytime the case is holding and if that coincides with Senate sitting, the opportunity could come to replace the duo.
That was the script many had thought would never materialise. But the filing of the suit by the Federal Government has confirmed you can’t take anything beyond this administration.
The Senate itself has also fought back, last week, it hosted the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Barrister Abubakar Malami who insisted that the suit filed against Saraki and Ekweremadu was in public interest.
Malami, who appeared before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, on Wednesday, said that the decision of his office to institute a legal action against the presiding officers over the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Order 2015 was in good faith and in Public interest.
He told the Committee that the fact that he was contracted as one of the counsels in one of the three suits instituted on the forgery saga did not constitute conflict of interest.
Malami said that his decision was informed by police investigation report on the matter which he said bothered on criminality. He insisted that Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution empowers him to file criminal charges against Saraki, Ekweremadu and others.
But Malami did not answer why he included the names of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, in the suit despite the fact that their names were not mentioned in the police report.
He said: “The issue that constitutes the basis of this invitation is a criminal case instituted against certain members of the Senate. It is an act that predates my appointment. There are a series of suits.
“… I have an obligation in the sustenance of democracy to institute a legal action from an investigation that has been concluded. It was based on this that I took the action.
“The action was not taken to truncate any democratic process, but was taken to protect the democracy. There are now two pending cases in court. One is a civil case instituted by some Senators. The other is a criminal case instituted by the office of the AGF.
“The National Assembly has the powers to regulate its own procedure. But the basis for filing my case was that the position taken was not that of the Senate.”
Fortunately for Malami, he faced a gentle committee, whose members asked questions more like diplomats rather than politicians. In the tradition of the Senate, no member of the executive is able to leave the venue of a hearing except on their terms. Even, the ebullient Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai received bruises in his encounter with the Senate. But Malami took the shine off his hosts right on their own turf.
Away from the legalistic arguments of whether Malami as AGF could institute cases against any Nigerian, which is granted, is the question of who determines forgery in this case. True, some members of the Senate had petitioned the police to alleged forgery of the Rule book. But the critical questions still remained who forged what? At what point can you talk of forgery? How did Saraki get involved in forging a document he was not in custody of? And how really does a Rule book emerge?
Malami referred to the Votes and Preceding that showed the alteration of the Rule book ahead of the 7th Senate but said that no such record exists ahead of the changes made in the 2015 Rule Book.
His argument could look sound in the eye of a lawyer. But the legislature is a much more complex setting. Has Malami asked which votes and proceedings yielded the 1999 Rule Book, or the 1991 Rule Book used in the aborted Third Republic.
The fact is that the Bureaucracy of the National Assembly prepared the Rule Books of 1991 and 1999 and could propose changes to the Rules in line with legislative practices around the world when a chamber is not in session. It behooves the chamber to adopt the same when it reconvenes or proposes further amendments in the life of that Assembly. In truth, I do not know how to sustain a forgery case here.