- Senate, House of Reps kick
Justice Yusuf Halilu of an Abuja High Court sitting in Jabi, yesterday moved the arraignment of the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, on a two-count charge bordering on conspiracy and forgery, till June 27, 2016.
The court also ordered substituted service of the charge on the defendants by pasting it at the notice board of the National Assembly.
The order followed an oral application by the prosecuting counsel, Mr. David Kaswe, who told the court that effecting personal service of the charge on the defendants proved “very difficult.”
Kaswe said the prosecution had also deposed an affidavit to show efforts it made to furnish the defendants with copies of the charge against them.
He therefore urged the court to invoke sections 123 and 124 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, and okay that the charge be served on the defendants by substituted means.
In a brief ruling, Justice Halilu acceded to the request, though he noted that the prosecution ought to have supported the application with a motion ex-parte.
However, the judge said he was minded to grant the oral request for substituted service considering the need for the defendants to be aware of the criminal charge pending against them.
The case was subsequently adjourned till next week Monday for arraignment of the defendants.
Other defendants in the charge marked CR/219/16 are the former clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, and his deputy, Mr. Benedict Efeturi.
The four defendants were accused of complicity in alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Orders, 2015.
The alleged bogus Standing Order was used to conduct the July 9, 2015, election through which both Saraki and Ekweremadu took over the leadership of the Senate.
The federal government maintained that the defendants had by their conduct committed an offence punishable under Section 97 (1) and 364 of the Penal Code Act.
The two-count charge which was okayed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), read: “That you, Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, Benedict Efeturi, Dr. Olubukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, on or about, the 9th of June, 2015, at the National Assembly complex, Three Arms Zone, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this court, conspired amongst yourselves to forge the Senate Standing Order, 2011 (as amended) and you thereby committed the offence of conspiracy punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Law.
“That you, Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, Benedict Efeturi, Dr. Olubukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, on or about the 9th of June, 2015, at the National Assembly complex, Three Arms Zone, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this court, with fraudulent intent, forged the Senate Standing Order 2011 (as amended), causing it 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 when you knew that the said Order was not made in compliance with the procedure for amendment of the Senate Order. You thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code Law.”
The charge was a fallout of investigation police conducted into a petition by a group of lawmakers under the aegis of Senate Unity Forum, SUF, who alleged that the Standing Order used for the July 9, 2015, election of principal officers for the eighth Senate was doctored.
Earlier, five members of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the Senate, Abu Ibrahim, Kabir Marafa, Ajayi Boroffice, Olugbenga Ashafa and Suleiman Hunkuyi, in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/ CS/651/2015, sought the removal of Saraki and Ekweremadu.
The plaintiffs prayed the court to sack the duo on the premise that the version of the Senate Standing Orders that was used for their election was forged.
In their suit dated July 27, 2015, the plaintiffs contended that allowing Saraki and Ekweremadu to continue to pilot the affairs of the Senate regardless of the fact that they emerged through an act of illegality, would on itself amount to corruption.
Cited as defendants in the suit were Saraki, Ekweremadu, the National Assembly and clerks of the National Assembly.
Though the court had concluded hearing on the matter, Ekweremadu filed a petition before the chief judge of the high court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, alleging bias against the judge that handled the case, Justice Ademola Adeniyi.
In his petition dated December 18, 2015, Ekweremadu insisted that Justice Adeniyi was closely related with some chieftains of the APC.
He specifically identified the national leader of the party and former governor of Lagos State, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, as one of the people with personal relationship with the judge.
Ekweremadu queried the ability of Justice Adeniyi to deliver an objective verdict on the matter in view of his alleged closeness with the APC- the party the plaintiffs belong to.
Following Ekweremadu’s petition which was filed four days after the suit was fixed for judgment, the CJ re-assigned the case to Justice Evoh Chukwu.
However, Justice Chukwu died earlier this month, thus leaving the case hanging, waiting to be re- assigned to another judge.
Meanwhile, court summons inviting Senate President Saraki and his deputy over forging of Senate Rules has been pasted at the National Assembly.
Also invited are the immediate past clerk to the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa and the deputy clerk, Ben Efeturi.
According to the order pasted at the entrance of the National Assembly “by oral application dated June 21, 2016, moved by D.E Kaswe, principal state counsel, Federal Ministry of Justices, is praying the court for: 1. “An order…granting leave to the complainant/ applicant to serve the criminal summon on the defendants by substituted means to wit by pasting it at the Notice Board of the National Assembly Three Arms Zone, Abuja.”
And after hearing Kaswe with A. A. Kaltingo Esq, counsel for the complainant/applicant moved the court orally for the above relief.
Before this however, the Senate had on Sunday said that the planned trial of the Senate president and his deputy over the alleged forgery was a direct affront on the legislature which it noted was forbidden by the constitution.
Asking President Muhammadu Buhari to halt the desperation of some leaders of the APC and other key officials of the federal government to destroy the National Assembly, the Senate noted that such desperation to get at perceived political enemies was the reason that the anti-corruption war had lost credibility.
A statement issued by the Senate through the chairman of its Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, pointed out that “Nigeria’s democracy is in danger and 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.”
Captioned ‘Forgery Case, An Unconstitutional Violation of Principles of Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances,’ the statement noted that 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,” It added.
The Senate specifically charged President Buhari to “please call his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to order,” adding “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 statement further posited.
Sending the signals of readiness to confront the executive arm, the Senate said: “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 confortably in a secure environment.”
The Senate said that it was aware 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 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.
“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 averred.
The statement added: “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.”
Stop interfering in our activities, Reps warn executive
Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives yesterday unanimously agreed to safeguard the nation’s democracy and protect the integrity and independence of the National Assembly.
The House therefore warned the executive to stop meddling in its activities.
This followed a motion sponsored by Hon. Tajudeen Yusuf, representing Kabba-Bunu/Ijumu federal constituency of Kogi State.
Yusuf said President Muhammadu Buhari must defend the constitution by prevailing on members of the executive council to desist from taking steps that would cripple the National Assembly.
The lawmaker frowned at the prosecution of the presiding officers of the Senate over alleged forgery of its rules, saying that a competent court of law had also recognised as strictly the internal affairs of the National Assembly.
According to him, “I strongly urge Mr. President who has sworn to an oath to defend and protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to prevail on the members of the executive council from taking steps that will cripple the National Assembly, including prosecuting the presiding officers of the Senate, over alleged forgery of senate rules, which a competent court of law has also recognized as strictly the internal affairs of the National Assembly and which judgement has not been set aside by any superior court.”
Yusuf observed that the National Assembly was presently under unprecedented, severe and sustained attack by the executive arm of government since the advent of the eighth Assembly.
He condemned the continuing disregard of the constitutionally binding decisions of the House, including the resolution of the House in relation to taking over of the functions of the Kogi House of Assembly.
He disclosed that the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami was undermining the House by using the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, to open the assembly for the five members that caused the House of Reps to intervene in the first instance.
The lawmaker also decried the regular disregard of the House by ministers and heads of parastatals who refused to honour invitations by standing committees, thereby rendering the committees toothless.
Yusuf expressed concern that the actions of the executive arm were deliberate and concerted attack on the legislative arm so as to render it useless in the eyes of the public.
He, therefore, prayed that the ugly trend be stopped as refusal to do so would be detrimental to good governance that ultimately damages the country’s democracy.