It’s coup against legislature – Senate leadership
By Ezrel Tabiowo and Taiye Odewale, Abuja
The duos of Senate President Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and others alleged to have been involved in forging the Senate’s Standing Order, risk 14-year jail term if found guilty.
According to the provisions of the penal code laws (Sections 97(1) on criminal conspiracy and 364 (on forgery), upon which the case is to be prosecuted, anybody convicted of the crimes is to bag two and 14- year jail term respectively for the offences.
Others alleged include; former Clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa and outgoing Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly ( DCN), Mr. Ben Efeturi, by the federal government.
This is a major fallout of the June 9, 2015 election of the principal officials of the Senate, which against all odds, produced Saraki of the APC as Senate President and Ekweremadu of the opposition PDP as his deputy.
But the Senate leadership in a quick reaction said it was a ploy by the Presidency to destabilise the 8th Senate, even as it reassured that there is no cause for alarm.
Last week, the Office of the Attorney- General of the Federation, in charge No CR/219/16, slammed a two-count charge of “criminal conspiracy, contrary to Section 97 of the Penal Code Law” and “Forgery contrary to 364 of the Penal Code Law” against Saraki and others for allegedly forging the Senate Standing Order used for the inauguration of the 8th Senate in June last year and later adopted as Senate Standing Orders 2015.
This, the OAGF said, was based on report of investigation carried out on petition forwarded to the Police to that effect by Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi (APC Kaduna North) on behalf of other senators belonging to the Senate Unity Forum (SUF).
The SUF in the petition dated 30th June 2015, alleged that “the so-called new Standing Order purports to allow for secret instead of open ballot system that has been prevalent in all Senate elections as permitted by the extant rules” but however failed to name Saraki or
Ekweremadu or anybody as suspects.
In its particulars of Offence to count one, the federal government alleged that the accused persons committed the offence of conspiracy, punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Law.
The federal government further alleged that Saraki, Ekweremadu and others caused the Standing Order to be believed as the genuine Standing Order, 2015 and circulated same for use during the inauguration of the 8th Senate of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code Law.
The charge sheet dated 10th June, 2016, was signed by D.E Kaswe Esq., Principal State Counsel on behalf of the Attorney-General of the Federation and backed by an Affidavit of Completion of Investigation deposed to at the Federal High Court Registry, Abuja on the same date by Okara Neji Jonah, a litigation officer at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja.
Okara maintained that “the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID), has concluded the investigation of the case and has forwarded the file to the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation for Prosecution”.
But in a torrent of reactions, Senate’s spokesman, Aliyu Sabi and Ekweremadu, in separate statements said the body would not be cowed to submitting its independence.
According to Sabi, the Senate asked President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately intervene by calling the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami to order.
The Senate spokesperson described the latest plot to have both Saraki and Ekweremadu, face charges of forgery and conspiracy, as a calculated attempt by the Executive arm of government and the leadership of the All Progressives Congress to oust the Senate leadership as presently composed.
Describing the exhumation of the alleged forgery case as a coup against the legislature, Sabi cautioned the executive against misinterpreting the cooperation of the National Assembly as a sign of weakness.
The statement reads: “After reading in the national newspapers and online platforms of the planned charges of forgery and conspiracy preferred against the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, his Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, immediate past Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa and the Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Ben Efeturi and reviewing the circumstances leading to the filing of these charges, we are compelled to alert the good people of Nigeria and the international community, that our democracy is in danger and that the attempt by the Executive Arm of the Federal Government to muzzle the legislature and criminalise legislative processes in order to cause leadership change in the National Assembly, is a return to the era of impunity and lack of respect for due process which we all fought to abolish.
“We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to please call his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to order. The Senate of the Federal Republic voted freely to elect its leadership into office and continuing attempts to change that leadership through the wanton abuse of judicial processes cannot stand in the eyes of the world.
“It is clear that the Attorney General and party leaders behind this action either lack the understanding of the underlining principles of constitutional democracy, the concept of separation of powers, checks and balances and parliamentary convention or they just simply do not care if the present democracy in the country survives or collapses in their blinded determination to get Saraki and Ekweremadu by all means necessary, including abuse of office and sacking the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The Nigerian people have enough economic hardship at this time requiring the full attention and cooperation of the three arms of government, instead of these attempts to distract and politicise governance.
We are in a state of economic emergency such that what the National Assembly needs at this time are executive bills and proposals aimed at resolving the crises of unemployment, currency depreciation, inflation, crime and insecurity. What the National Assembly needs now are executive bills to build and strengthen institutions to earn revenues, fight corruption and eliminate waste. Instead, we are getting hostile actions aimed at destabilising the National Assembly, distracting senators from their oversight functions and ensuring good and accountable governance.
“We must make it clear here to the individuals in the Executive arm and party leadership behind these plots, not to mistake the maturity and hand of co-operation being extended to the Presidency by the legislature as a sign of weakness.
The National Assembly bent backwards to accommodate various infractions and inefficiencies in pursuit of inter-arms co-operation and national interest.
“We did not follow up the various infractions because we believe there are bigger issues which the government has to attend to in order to ensure that every Nigerian have food on his table and live comfortably in a secure environment. We know that the country is actually in a state of economic emergency and all hands must be on deck.
“This latest plot is directed at forcing a change of leadership in the Senate or, in the extreme case, ground the Red Chamber of the National Assembly. Or how does one interpret a move in which the two presiding officers are being set up to be remanded in Kuje Prison or incapacitated from sitting at plenary through a day-to-day trial on a matter that is purely an internal affair of the Senate.
“This obviously is a dangerous case of violation of the independence of the legislature, undue and unnecessary interference in the internal affairs of the Senate and blatant abuse of the judicial process. The matter now being criminalised was brought to the plenary of the Senate in session, over a year ago. And because it had no support, it was overruled and roundly defeated in chambers.
“To now take a matter that was resolved on the floor of the Senate to the police and then make it form the subject of a criminal prosecution of freely elected legislators, beats all imagination of free thinking men all over the world. The implication is that any matter that fails on the floor of the National Assembly will now be taken to the Police, thereby endangering every Senator and House member.
“This current move clearly runs contrary to the Doctrine of Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances which are fundamental to the successful operation of the Presidential System of government. It runs counter to the principle outlined by the Supreme Court in the Adesanya Vs Senate case where it was held that nobody should seek to use the courts to achieve what he or she has failed to push through on the floor of the National Assembly.
“This present effort, therefore, is clearly a coup against the legislature with the ignoble aim to undermine its independence and subject the law making institution to the whims and caprices of the executive. It is a plan to return Nigeria to the dictatorial era which we have, as a nation, voted to reject. It is a dangerous trend with grave implications for the survival of our democracy and the integrity of the component institutions. This rule of men as against the rule of law is also the reason why the War Against Corruption, one of the cardinal objectives of the present administration, is losing credibility because people perceive it to be selective and, in most cases, aimed at settling political or partisan scores.
“The Rules of the Senate and how the institution elects its leadership are internal affairs. The Rules of a new Senate are provided by the National Assembly bureaucracy. It has always been so since 1999. After the inauguration of the Senate, if Senators have objections to any part of the Rules, they can follow the procedure for changing it.
Senators of the Eighth Senate have no control on the rules applied in the elections of June 9, 2015 because until after their inauguration, they were only Senators-elect and therefore mere bystanders in the affairs of the Senate.
“We therefore urge all Nigerians and the International Community to rise up and condemn this blatant attempt to subject the legislature to the control, whims and caprices of the executive. If the Legislative branch falls, democracy fails as there will be no other institution empowered by the Constitution to check and balance the enormous powers of the Executive branch. We also call on the judiciary as the last hope to save our constitutional democracy and stand up for the rule of law, by doing that which is right in this case.”
Similarly, the Deputy Senate President accused the police of contradicting itself, recalling that the police last year, said, they never invited him nor the Senate President for interrogation.
He declared that neither Police invitation nor court summons has been received by his office.
In a statement by his Special Adviser (Media), Uche Anichukwu, he said: “We wish to state that we read the reports of the so-called police invitation and charges allegedly preferred against Senator Ekweremadu; the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki; and others on the pages of the newspapers like other Nigerian.
“Even as we try to reconcile the reports of the simultaneous police invitation and court processes, nobody has, till date, served the Deputy President of the Senate any letter of invitation by the police or court summons.
“The Office or person of the Deputy President of the Senate is not in the moon. The concerned authorities know how and where to reach Senator Ekweremadu if they want to. But, so far, everything remains in the realms of the usual propaganda onslaught to malign, bully, intimidate, and divert attention from the real challenges presently confronting the nation. However, when the bird jerks in the air, we can fathom where it would perch”.
While pleading with his supporters to remain calm, the deputy senate president said: “If an attempt on his life on November 17, 2015 (which there are no facts or information to show that the police investigated an incident of such magnitude duly reported to them) did not deter him, certainly not even a purported police invitation, lawsuit, propaganda, and intimidation would cow him because Nigeria belongs to all of us, irrespective of our different political, ethnic, and religious leanings.”