The recent allegation that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, might have a hand in the alleged summons of the Deputy Senate President and Speaker of ECOWAS parliament by the Police over allegation of forgery, has raised concerns with Chairman Northern Elders Council, Tanko Yakkaasai, warning President Buhari and the party against such, considering the implication it might have on the regional collaboration to fight Boko Haram, writes correspondent Bashir Bello.
The recent uproar generated by both the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP over alleged summons by the Police on Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu once again heightened political tension in the country.
Ekweremadu was alleged to have been summoned by the Police to answer to charges of forgery. He was accused of falsifying the senate standing rules on election of principal officers in the senate. He allegedly engaged in the act to get undue advantage for the position of Deputy Senate President, which he actually won by defeating his closest rival, APC’s Ali Ndume, according to a petition and position of the APC which also asked him to honour the invitation extended by the law enforcement agency, rather than his party PDP, crying foul, where there is none.
For the PDP, the allegation was a smear campaign aimed at forcing the Deputy Senate President to resign, an action according to the party’s spokesman Chief Oliseh Metuh, which will be resisted by all known means, any attempt by the Presidency and the APC to clampdown on the opposition.
According to Metuh, APC senators met recently and “concocted a petition accusing the Deputy Senate President of altering the Senate Rules on the process of election of the Presiding Officers.”
“Apart from the fact that the Nigerian Constitution clearly guarantees the two chambers of the National Assembly the powers to regulate their proceedings without external interferences, we note that the petition by this group of senators who enjoy the sympathy of some APC leaders lacks merit as Senator Ekweremadu or any other senator-elect prior to the inauguration of the Senate and the election of presiding officers, could not have been involved in the process of producing the 2015 Standing Rules of the Senate which was strictly done by the bureaucracy under the Clerk to the National Assembly.
“Furthermore, Senator Ekweremadu was not in any way involved in the process other than being nominated for the position of the Deputy Senate President and could not have been privy to the secret ballot procedure adopted by the National Assembly bureaucracy, which has been widely adjudged as transparent and credible.
“Apparently to ensure that the agenda is given an official stamp, the Inspector General of Police, acting on instructions has invited the Deputy Senate President with a view to arresting him over phantom charges as a build up to incarcerate him, create a vacuum in the Senate and pave way for the imposition of APC preferred senator to take over his position.
“We are aware that some APC senators opposed to the emergence of Senators Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu as Senate President and Deputy Senate President respectively met last week and concocted a petition accusing the Deputy Senate President of altering the Senate Rules on the process of election of the Presiding Officers, upon which the Police via a letter dated July 1, 2015 and signed by the Deputy Inspector General in charge of criminal investigation at the Force Headquarters has invited him to appear tomorrow, Monday, July 6, 2015 where he will be detained and put under pressure.
“Also, apart from plans to use security apparatus against the Deputy Senate President, we have information that there are instructions to certain officials at the now National Electoral Commission to alter some electoral documents and records in order to create the impression that Senator Ekweremadu did not file proper documents for the general elections to eventually pave way for his removal.
“In line with the above plot, the APC has been having secret meetings with some judges and lawyers to procure injunctions to prevent Senator Ekweremadu from playing his role as the Deputy Senate President. We are also aware that part of the plot is a conspiracy to tarnish Senator Ekweremadu’s image and open him to public ridicule. Some APC leaders met in Abuja to perfect a plot to blackmail the Deputy Senate President by planting outlandish publications against him in the media,” the PDP said.
The PDP which had been the ruling party from 1999 to May 2015, said the nation will not descend into a “draconian regime” where a strike force is created to hunt key opposition figures, adding that leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC should be held responsible if anything happens to any key officer of the PDP.
“We are aware that President Buhari, who had earlier restated his willingness to work with anybody elected by the legislature, has been put under intense pressure resulting in his statement on the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu, which is now being misconstrued by some of his overzealous party members and security officials. We therefore urge the President to bear in mind that the onus therefore lies on him to moderate the political temperature of the country by calling his overbearing party members and security officials to order.”
It said no amount of threats, intimidation and blackmail will make the Deputy Senate President to abandon the mandate freely given to him by the Senate, or compel the PDP to abdicate its responsibility as an opposition party.
But the APC distanced itself. In a statement, it said absolved the party from the case, saying it had nothing to do with the Ekweremadu’s Police case.
National Publicity Secretary Alhaji Lai Mohammed said the APC did not write any petition to the Police nor was it aware that any petition was written against the Deputy Senate President.
He said: ‘’However, if, as the PDP claims, the petition concerns alleged altering of the Senate’s Standing Rules on the process of electing Presiding Officers, that is a clear case of forgery which the Police have a duty to investigate. “Questioning the right of the Police to carry out their duties in this regard amounts to intimidating the security agency.
‘’Forgery is a crime that is being regularly investigated by the Police, and it beggars belief that such investigation will now be interpreted to mean that Nigeria is descending into dictatorship or that democracy and the enjoyment of personal freedoms are now endangered.
“These claims by the scaremongering PDP are far-fetched and preposterous.” APC said if there was a petition against Senator Ekweremadu, he should gladly heed the invitation by the Police so he could clear his name, adding that no one is above the law.
‘’President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly said that at every point, the law must be supreme and everyone must respect the law, if the nation’s democratic system is to survive.
“Extrapolating a Police invitation by anyone, no matter his status, to mean the onset of dictatorship is itself an invitation to lawlessness and anarchy, which permeated the long but ineffective rule of the PDP,’’ the party said.
Though the Police high command later cleared itself from any kind of witch hunting, but said it was only on a fact finding mission on the said allegation of forgery , which necessitated meetings with principal officers including the Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasua over a petition bothering on forging the 2015 standing rules.
According to the petition written by the Unity Forum Senators, it read; ‘We write to bring to your attention, the existence of the fraudulent introduction of a 2015 senate standing rules as amended; We wish to attach the original of the and authentic standing Order for 2011 that was used by the 7th senate annexure, hereto a purported amended standing Orders 2015, which was used by the Clerk to the National assembly( along with the Clerk of the Senate) in inaugurating the 8th Senate on June 9, 2015. The so called new standing Order purports to allow for secret instead of the open ballot system that has been prevalent in all the senate elections as permitted by the extant rules; this infraction, among others arise from the fraudulent productions of the Rules without an approved consideration by the 7th Senate.
At no time were the standing orders of the senate amended during the entire life of the 7th Senate: neither has the 8th senate sat for long enough to produce the rules now being circulated and in use”
While the accused has also distanced himself from such complicity, he however said that nobody could harass him over a legitimate process that threw him up as the Deputy Senate President,DSP.
“No amount of intimidation or harassment will deter me from carrying out the constitutionally prescribed duties.
“Duties, which on June 9, 2015, the PDP and APC senators willingly elected me in the full glare of the world to perform”.
He further assured that all democratic steps were being taken to preserve the nation’s democracy and protect the independence of the legislature, in a statement made through his Special Adviser, Media, Mr. Uche Anichukwu.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Governors’ Forum and the Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, were also not left out in the condemnation of the plot to arrest the DSP under the guise of investigating the alteration of the Senate’s standing rules.
The PDP governors however, in a statement released in Abuja by the media office of the governors and signed by Patrick Okon, frowned at the obvious prodding of the Police by the presidency and the ruling APC “as a result of their desperation to remove the Deputy Senate President who was elected by his peers”.
They also called on the newly appointed Acting Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari, to rescue herself from the role of Acting Chairman because of the obvious conflict of interest as a result of her long standing relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari in her private capacity and officially.
“The honourable thing for Mrs. Zakari to do is to rescue herself of this role, as nobody who knows the level of her relationship with the President can believe she will be impartial in her conduct of any matter that the President has vested interest in.
Similarly, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has come in defence of Ekweremadu, warning that any attempt to malign him would be stoutly resisted by the people of the South-east zone.
Secretary General of the organisation, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, who made this known while reacting to media reports regarding the alleged threat on the life of the lawmaker, said any attempt to either ridicule or tarnish the integrity of Ekweremadu on account of his election as a presiding officer of the Senate would not be tolerated.
The organisation said anybody threatening to harm Ekweremadu on account of the position he currently occupies should be ready to face the consequences, as he enjoys the strong support of his people who are ready to defend him anytime and any day.
Nwaorgu said that it was a well known fact that Ndigbo voted massively for the PDP in the last election and they are ready to stand by those they elected to represent them at various levels of government.
“We are watching closely what is happening at the national level and we want to let the world know that we are solidly behind our son, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
Whereas the Ekweremadu episode has generated so much national debate, the international angle was probably left unattended. But a top northern political leader, Alhaji Tako Yakkssai has brought to the fore the implication of plotting against Ike Ekweremadu who also doubles as the speaker of the ECOWAS parliament.
He said such plot could hinder Buhari’s fight against insurgency.
According to the Elder statesman, President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against dreaded Boko Haram sect might suffer a set back if Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu who doubles as speaker of ECOWAS parliament is treated unfairly.
Yakassai who doubles as Chairman Northern Elders Council, warned President Muhammadu Buhari in an exclusive chat with the Nigerian Pilot Sunday to handle the crisis in the Senate (plot to arrest or replace Ekweremadu) with utmost care to enable him enjoy an Executive-Legislature cordial and working relationship.
He said the implication is that if Ekweremadu is treated unfairly, President Buhari’s fight against Boko Haram insurgency might suffer a setback particularly that Ekweremadu is also the Speaker of ECOWAS parliament whose influence extends to ECOWAS members’-states,
According to him, “But I think I will advise President Buhari that Ekweremadu is a special Nigerian, because he is the Speaker of ECOWAS parliament and at this moment we are trying to get the cooperation of our neighbouring states to fight Boko Haram insurgency.
The neighbouring states of Cameroon, Chad and Niger are operating -range countries where militants are violent; these countries cannot commit their military people to operation outside their country without the approval of their national assembly. Now, Ekweremadu as speaker of the ECOWAS parliament, his members in various countries (neighbouring countries) will feel offended if he is treated unfairly. If he feels offended, he has the capacity to create problem for their government for them to come and support our desire for them to cooperate with us to execute our mission against Boko Haram.
“I’m therefore advising President Buhari to tackle the issue with utmost care and diplomacy because he is not dealing with an ordinary person. He is dealing with the Speaker of ECOWAS parliament whose influence extends to all ECOWAS members,” he said.
Alhaji Yakassai further said the senate standing rule alteration allegation on Ekweremadu is strictly an internal affairs of the senate and should not involve the Police.
“I think the Inspector General of Police did not use his experience in the matter or he was only trying to look or be a good boy to the APC and that is why he agrees to handle the matter. If not the matter is not for the Police entirely if some rules of the senate is tempered with. The procedure is for the senate themselves to examine the issue, particularly that, under a normal circumstance they have a committee of ethics and that will be the appropriate body to look into the matter and see whether there is truth in the allegations or not. Where the committee finds out that there are flaws then there would be recommendations as to which section should be meted out on the culprits who have abused it. And where they could not establish proves, dismiss the matter and report to the house.
Even where the senator who reported the matter to the Police is not satisfied, the next place open to him is not the Police but the court. You can go to court and the court can examine the matter and if it’s found that an alteration is committed then the court will deal with the matter appropriately. It is a matter for the court. It is a matter for the senate in the chamber or the court but not the Police. It is not like somebody going to someones house to steal. It is an alleged offence committed in the process of the proceedings of the Senate. It is the members that will decide whether it is in accordance with their proceedings or not and to recommend appropriate sanctions. Where the complaint is not satisfied he can go to court.
“I would wonder if the APC would go to the extent of speaking to the Inspector General of Police to get him involved in this matter. But what I know is that neither President Buhari nor APC Chairman, Chief John Oyegun has legislative experience. And they should handle the crisis in the national assembly with utmost care because the national assembly is their partner in progress. They cannot deliver their electoral promises without the support of the national assembly. And the moment the budget which President Buhari is operating and which he must operate for the rest of this year is Jonathan’s budget and not his budget.
And if he wants changes he cannot do that without the support of the members of the national assembly. If you quarrel with them or APC as a party quarrel with them, you will begin to divert attention. Now, Ekweremadu is a very important person and personally I doubt if he would involve himself in this act he was alleged to have involved himself. And the clerk of the assembly, Maikasuwa is a very experienced technocrat who will not allow his reputation which he gained over the years just for somebody to tarnish. So I doubt if the two of them will indulge in such act. Besides Ekweremadu is a Senator for the third time, he was Deputy Senate President for two consecutive periods. He has known inside out of the workings of the Senate.
Not that he cannot commit an offence but I doubt that being a professional lawyer who is a practicing lawyer apart from being qualified as a lawyer will be so careless to have done what they are accusing him to have done. But this is a mere accusation you cannot say happened or not until it is investigated, it is not for the Police,” Alhaji Tanko Yakassai however said.