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Plot against Senate and matters arising

 

It seems some of the current operators of Nigeria’s democracy are bent on bringing back the dark days of dictatorship going by stage developments in the polity.

In a brazen violation of the doctrine of separation of powers, the Executive led by President Muhammadu Buhari has embarked on a sinister mission to bring down the leadership of the Senate. Driven by an evil vengeance mission, Buhari’s men have revived a dead report with which they intend to use to prosecute Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.

For the first time since independence, the Executive is investigating the Senate’s rules, which are the internal affairs of the Red Chamber. Last year, the Nigeria Police had investigated the alleged forgery of the Senate’s Standing Rules and established no case of wrongdoing against the leadership of the Red Chamber.

Interestingly, the Executive felt slighted that its choices for Senate leadership did not emerge and so subterranean moves were launched to oust Saraki, Ekweremadu and the principal officers of the upper chamber. The police were instigated to investigate the alleged forgery of the rules, which enemies of democracy had claimed were forged to pave the way for the emergence of Saraki and others.

The election of Saraki and Ekweremadu by a sizeable number of senators in he presence of the Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, and his deputy, Benedict Efeturi, on June 9, 2015 was widely acknowledged by Nigerians as a big boost for democracy. That senators were allowed to freely elect their leaders without interference from the Executive was considered as a big plus for Buhari. It should be recalled that the President had rejected pressures from some quarters to back particular candidates for the leadership positions in the Senate and House of Representatives, as was the case in the past. It was reported that the principle of separation of powers be fully respected, given his high score on integrity.

However, some desperate forces within the ruling All Progressives Congress had unsuccessfully tried to foist their choice candidates on the National Assembly using the President’s imprimatur. When their sinister plot failed, they reached out to their allies in the Senate to cook up an imaginary tale of forgery of Senate Rules.

Acting on a spurious petition filed by a group of sensors led by Suleiman Hunkuyi (APC, Kaduna North), on behalf of he so-called Unity Forum, the police swung into the matter. After an extensive investigation, nothing was established against Saraki, Ekweremadu, Maikasuwa or Efeturi.

Strangely, the police suddenly woke up recently to submit a report to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), upon which the Executive decided to press criminal charges of offence of conspiracy punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Law; and offence of forgery with “fraudulent intent” punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code Law, against them.

It is unheard of in the history of this great nation that the Executive would seek to look into the internal affairs of the National Assembly. The latest attempt to arrain the quartet and get them remanded in prison is a desperate bid to shut down the Senate. Through this ‘cop,’ desperate forces intend to ignite a leadership vacuum in the Senate and force senators to elect a new leadership. It’s all a resort to Gestapo tactics, the sort that Nigerians thought they had put behind them with the election of President Buhari.

It is noteworthy that the Senate has already raised the alarm about the underhand tactics by the Executive to destroy this bastion of democracy.

Senate spokesman, Aliyu Abdullah, had in a statement on Sunday alerted Nigerians and the international community to this sinister plot by persons bent on foisting a dictatorship on Nigerians.

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.
2. 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.
3.  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.
4. 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.

5. 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 do 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.
6.  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.

7. This present efforts, 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.

8. 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.
9. 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.”

Also, Ekweremadu said in a statement by his spokesman, Uche Anichukwu, that he had no hand in such an unlawful act.

He also described the accusation as “a form of intimidation and onslaught to rubbish him.”
In the statement, he said: “The hands of Sen Ike Ekweremadu are clean because he has no business whatsoever with the production of Senate Standing Orders.
“This is the latest attempt to try and convict him in the court of public opinion, notwithstanding that we do not want to mount a public defence. We would rather meet them in court if they so wish.
“We plead with our supporters across the nation to maintain the peace and go about their normal businesses unperturbed by this latest act of harassment and impunity.
“We want to reassure them that no form of intimidation and onslaught to rubbish him will make him shy away from diligently carrying out the constitutional duties. Ekweremadu will not legislate in fear, and he will certainly not fear to legislate.”
The nation’s Number Six said it was surprising that there wee plans to arraying them when they were never formally invited by the police. He said it was on record that the police had in
July 2015, told the world that he was not at any time questioned over the said forgery.
“We are, therefore, as surprised as other Nigerians at the current twists and turns by the same police one year after and also after they had since submitted to the Attorney General of the Federation, their investigation report, which neither indicted nor even made the slightest mention of Senator Ike Ekweremadu. Moreso that the petitioners never named Ekweremadu in their petition in the first instance”, his spokesman 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,” the statement concluded.
Nigerians mist be on their guard against these forces of darkness whose sole agenda is to trample on all democratic institutions and pave the way for a full-blown dictatorship. Having seen that they cannot achieve their grand design through lawful means, they have resorted to undermining the Senate through their sinister plot.

If they succeed in their plot (God forbid!), they will target the judiciary, media and other democratic institutions for destruction. This travesty must not be allowed to stand. Nigerians must guard this hard-won democracy. We don’t have any other country we can call ours.

Suleiman is a public affairs commentators based in Abuja

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