…Uncertainty trails NASS resumption over INEC budget, virement
…NASS Clerk yet to give notice of reconvening
In a preemptive move to stop the Federal Government, the police and the Department of State Service (DSS) from allegedly aiding the All Progressives Congress (APC) to remove the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, from office, their allies, on Monday, dragged the Attorney -General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, the Inspector General of Police and the Department of State Services (DSS) before the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Saraki’s associates, Senators Rafiu Adebayo (PDP, Kwara South) and Isa Misau (PDP, Bauchi Central), are asking the court to restrain the Federal Government and its agents from aiding the forceful removal or impeachment of Saraki and Ekweremadu from office.
The plaintiffs also named the Senate, the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawal, Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Nallah, Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emma Bwacha; clerk of the Senate, deputy clerk of the Senate, the AGF, the inspector general of police and the DSS.
The suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/872/2018, was filed on Monday by Mahmoud Magaji (SAN).
The two senators also filed a motion on notice praying for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the fourth to 11th defendants and their agents from unlawfully removing Saraki as the Senate President, pending the determination of the substantive suit.
The plaintiffs are also seeking for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the ninth to 10th defendants from unlawfully interfering with the lawful legislative duties of Saraki as the Senate president, until the determination of the substantive suit.
The plaintiffs are further seeking an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the 10th to 11th defendants from harassing, hounding intimidating, arresting or detaining Saraki in respect of the lawful exercise of his duties pursuant to Section 50 (1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) pending the determination of the substantive suit.
The two senators are also asking the court to make an order directing the parties in the suit to maintain the status quo pending the determination of the substantive suit.
In the substantive suit, the plaintiffs want the court to determine among others: “Whether in view of the provisions of Section 50 (1) (a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution, the president of the Senate who defected to another party as a result of division in his former party, can be made to vacate his office other than in accordance with the provisions of Section 50 (2) of the constitution?
“Whether by a combined reading of Section 50 (1) (a) and (2) of the constitution and Order 3, Rule 8 of the Senate Standing Orders, 2015 (as amended), the president of the Senate can be compelled to vacate his office on the ground that he is not a member of the party with majority of senators in the Senate?
“Whether by a combined reading of Section 50 (2) (a) of the constitution and Order 3, Rule 8 of the Senate Standing Orders, 2015 (as amended), the president of the Senate can be said to have vacated his office by virtue of Section 50 (2) (a) of the constitution when he has not ceased to be a member of the Senate?
“Whether the president of the Senate can be said to have vacated his office as president at the Senate by virtue of Section 50 (2) (b) of the constitution when the 8th Senate of which he is the president has not been dissolved?”
Upon the determination of the questions, the plaintiffs are seeking the following reliefs:
“A declaration that the president of the Senate cannot be made to vacate his office other than in accordance with the provisions of Section 50 (2) of the constitution and a declaration that Saraki cannot be compelled to vacate his office on the grounds that he is not a member of the party with majority of Senators in the Senate.
Others include a declaration that he cannot be said to have vacated his office by virtue of Section 50 (2) (a) of the constitution when he has not ceased to be a member of the Senate and a declaration that the president of the Senate cannot be said to have vacated his office as president of the Senate by virtue of Section 50 (2) (b) of the constitution when the 8th Senate of which he is the president has not been dissolved.
Furthermore, the two senators are seeking a declaration that the president of the Senate cannot be said to have vacated his office by virtue of Section 50 (2) (c) of the constitution when he has not been removed from office by the votes of not less than two – thirds majority of the members of the Senate.
In addition, they want a declaration that in view of Section 50 (2) (c) and the fact that the members of the Senate are 109 in number, any number less than 72 out of the 109 members of the Senate cannot validly sit and remove the president of the Senate whether by impeachment or whatever name so called.
Similarly, the plaintiffs want the court to declare that by a combined reading of Sections 5 and 150 (1) of the constitution, any of the 8th to 10th and 11th defendants and their agents cannot validly enforce any act of the 1st, 3rd to 8th defendants, whether jointly or severally, to remove the 2nd defendant from office without such act being in compliance with Section 50 (2) of the constitution as amended.
By the suit, the plaintiffs therefore want an order of court restraining the 9th, 10th and 11th defendants, either by themselves and their agents to enforce any act of the 1st, 3rd to 8th defendants purporting to have removed the 2nd defendant from office without such act being in compliance with the provisions of Section 50 (2) of the constitution as amended.
An affidavit deposed to by Senator Isah Misau in support of the originating summon, averred that the agents of the 10th and 11th defendants have taken steps to flagrantly breach provision of Section 50 (i) and 2 of the constitution by employing their agents and privies to disrupt the plenary of the 1st defendant without recourse to the provision of Section 50 (2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Misau stated that the constitutional provision of removing the Senate president as contained in Section 50 (2) (c) of the constitution does not empower the 9th, 10th and 11th defendants to unlawfully interfere with the legislative duties of the 1st defendant by causing the blockade of the National Assembly complex or using their agents to disrupt the lawful duties of the Senate.
The deponent posited that the court is statutorily empowered under Section 6 (6) (b) of the constitution to prevent the usurpation of the powers of the 1st defendant by granting the interlocutory reliefs pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
He stated further that on August 6, 2018, the agents of the 9th and 11th defendants blocked the major entrants leading to the National Assembly complex and thereafter directed their agents not to allow the senators, House of Representatives members as well as the staff of the National Assembly access the National Assembly complex.
“That the essence of that blockade was to pave the way for few members of the Senate to sit and impeach the Senate president without recourse to the provisions of Section 50 (2) (c) of the constitution.
Misau contended that the court is statutory empowered to intervene and curtail the excesses of the acts of the defendants which are in flagrant violation of Section 50 (2) (c) of the constitution.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
In a related development, the anticipated reconvening of the National Assembly to consider the supplementary budget and virement is now shrouded in uncertainty as no specific date has been announced by the leadership of the legislature when it would cut short its annual recess and resume plenary.
Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon Yusuff Lasun, had last week at the briefing by the All Progressives Congress (APC) House caucus given an indication that the assembly would reconvene on Tuesday or Wednesday this week to consider and pass the supplementary budget and the virement.
But as at Monday, the Clerk to the National Assembly, Sani Omolori, was yet to publicly inform senators and House members, majority of whom are abroad on holidays when the National Assembly is to reconvene.
Usually, when lawmakers are to be recalled from their annual recess to consider matters of national importance, the clerk to the National Assembly would place advertorials in major national dailies, radio and television stations, notifying senators and House members that they would resume plenary at a specific date.
Sources said the level of anxiety and uncertainty over the exact date of resumption by the National Assembly is further aggravated by the fact that lawmakers who are Muslims and are performing the lesser hajj in Saudi Arabia would want to be in the country when the National Assembly reconvenes.
Also, as at press time, there was no information to the reconvening of the assembly from either the office of the Senate president and that of the chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Aliyu Sabi Mohammed.
Similarly, spokesman of the House, Hon Abdulrazaq Namdas, confirmed to newsmen that the House leadership under Speaker Yakubu Dogara was yet to decide on when to reconvene the House.
The Daily Times further gathered that the leadership of the Senate under Saraki, who acts as chairman of the National Assembly, might be buying time in order to extract a firm commitment from the Presidency, before reconvening, following last Tuesday’s siege on the assembly by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).
The rumoured imminent arrest of Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, by security agents to pave way for their subsequent impeachment is another reason why the reconvening of the National Assembly remains uncertain.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had on Sunday raised the alarm over what it called a plot by the APC and the Presidency to allegedly use compromised security agencies and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to invite, arrest and detain Saraki and Ekweremadu.
Also, the party alleged that the pressure by the Presidency for the reconvening of the National Assembly is borne out of a sinister motive and not for the purpose of approving the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2019 elections.
“The fresh plot to detain the two presiding officers is part of renewed design to keep them out of circulation, ahead of Senate resumption, so as to enable the heavily induced APC senators, who are now in the minority, to throw up two of their members as Senate president and deputy Senate president respectively, on the excuse that Saraki and Ekweremadu failed to show up for proceedings in the Senate,” the PDP alleged.
The Daily Times further gathered that nocturnal meetings have been held over the past 48 hours by Saraki with PDP senators and a few APC senators in order to convince them to defect to the PDP, to fortify the opposition party against any expected move by the APC to successfully impeach the two incumbent Senate presiding officers.
While the PDP is insisting on the constitutional backing that the impeachment of the Senate leadership requires a two-thirds majority (73 senators), they however, entertain the fear of the APC’s recourse to illegality aided by the Presidency to execute the unexpected.
Indication that the National Assembly may reconvene this week, follows last week’s meeting of the National Assembly leadership with the management of the INEC.
Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, after a two – hour meeting with the principal officers of both chambers, had assured that the commission’s budget will be approved this week to provide spending for a six- month series of activities preceding the commencement of the election which is 190 days away.
Meanwhile, the APC has described the allegation by the PDP that the Federal Government plans to arrest Saraki and Ekweremadu as hogwash and baseless.
The party also said the victories witnessed at the just concluded bye-elections in Katsina, Bauchi and Kogi states has demonstrated the confidence and trust Nigerians have in the Buhari administration.
A statement released in Abuja by the acting National Publicity Secretary of the party, Yekini Nabena, said that he thought by now, the PDP would be tired of what he described as “lame opposition strategy of false alarm, baseless and frivolous accusations”.
Nabena said President Buharsi’s administration has repeatedly demonstrated its strict adherence to the rule of law, therefore the alleged plan to arrest or harass the mentioned National Assembly leaders is “hogwash and baseless”.
The statement assured that nobody, no matter how highly placed will escape the full wrath of the law if he or she runs fowl of the law.
He said, “Clear conscience fears no accusation. Why are the PDP leaders afraid of arrest if their conscience is clear? All law-abiding citizens or residents of the country have nothing to fear about arrest.
“If the Senate president and the tree-climbing senator are facing criminal charges in our law courts and his deputy has explanations to make to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for acquisition of numerous properties in Nigeria and abroad through questionable sources, the President Buhari-led APC administration has nothing to do with them.
“The laws of the country are only being applied and they should answer for their acts of infamy”.
Commenting on the outcome of the bye- elections, Nabena said: “Since assuming office, President Buhari has demonstrated the political will and remains solidly committed to the task of building a new Nigeria in line with the change agenda promised the electorate and the progressive ideals we stand for.
“As a political party, we remain genuinely committed to address our challenges, reconcile legitimately aggrieved interests and emerge as a more united and stronger political fighting force as we face the general elections in 2019.
“Like every other country, we have our challenges, but they are surmountable. We have an administration working day and night to surmount them and put the country on the right pedestal. With the continued cooperation and support of Nigerians, we have good reason to look forward to the future with great hope”.