Saraki’s trial: Understanding the position of the law
The lingering faceoff between the Presidency and the Senate over the alleged forgery of Senate rules when the 8th National Assembly was proclaimed has elicited grave concern among discerning Nigerians.
It was alleged that the forged rules paved the way for the election of Sen. Bukola Saraki and Sen. Ike Ekweremadu as Senate President and Deputy Senate President respectively.
The controversies that greeted the emergence of the two Senate leaders have yet to abate.
It will be recalled that Sen. Saraki and Sen Ahmed Lawan, both of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), contested for the Senate President post but the contest somewhat led to the polarisation of the party.
Members of the APC particularly resented the election of Ekweremadu of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as Deputy Senate President and this further polarised the party.
The development also provoked the onset of allegations regarding the forgery of the Senate Rules, in a plot to facilitate the election of the two principal officers of the upper legislative arm.
Senators, opposed to the leadership of Saraki, had on July 29, 2015 filled a suit at Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking the nullification of the June 9 proclamation of the 8th Senate carried out by the management of the National Assembly.
The group of senators implored the court to declare the proclamation of the 8th Senate as well as the election of its presiding officers as null and void based on the alleged forgery.
Sen. Kabiru Marafa (APC-Zamfara West), in one of the sittings of the 8th Senate, raised a point of order that the new Standing Order 2015 (as amended), which was produced and circulated, was never approved by the 7th Senate.
He concluded that new Standing Order was a fraudulent document, adding that all the activities conducted by the Senate from June 9, 2015 were, therefore, null and void.
In a swift reaction, Sen. Gilbert Nnaji (PDP-Enugu East) approached a court to stop the police from investigating the alleged forgery of the 2015 Senate Standing Order.
Responding to the suit, the former Inspector-General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase, via a counter-affidavit, said that no court of law in the country had the power to stop the police from carrying out its statutory function of investigating crimes.
According to him, nobody in the country, including the 74 political office holders covered by the provisions of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), is exempted from investigation.
Arase argued that the principal officers of the Senate had no constitutional immunity from investigation.
According to the rules of the Senate, there are procedures for amending the Senate Standing Orders. Section 110 of the Senate Standing Order 2011 specifically lists the procedures that should be followed in making such amendments.
Mr Benedict Efeturi, the Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, confirmed to police investigators that the Senate Standing Order that was used for the 2015 election of Saraki and Ekweremadu was different from the 2011 version which ought to have been used at that point in time.
Efeturi made the disclosure to the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department of the Nigeria Police, which investigated claims that the rules were forged to facilitate the election of Saraki and Ekweremadu.
However, after a year since the news of the alleged forgery broke, the Senate President, his deputy, Mr Salisu Maikasuwa, the former Clerk of the National Assembly and his deputy, Mr Benedict Efeturi were arraigned at FCT High Court, Abuja on June 27.
Saraki, who has consistently voiced his innocence as to the formulation of the contentious Senate Rules, said that the case of forgery brought against him at the FCT High Court, Abuja, was another phase in the orchestrated persecution he had been facing since his emergence as Senate President.
The senate president alleged that some cabals, who had taken over the control of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, were now using it to perpetrate their nefarious activities.
He said that the on-going trial of the Senate leadership was an attack on the legislative arm of government.
“Today, we the leaders of the Nigerian Senate reiterate our innocence against the charges filed by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) at the FCT High Court on the allegations of forgery of the Senate Standing Rules document,’’ he said.
On the other hand, Ekweremadu wrote to the United Nations, the U.S. Congress and the European Union Parliament, alerting the international community over what he described as an attempt to truncate Nigeria’s democracy.
He said that the endeavour was also aimed at silencing him as the highest-ranking member of the opposition party in the country.
He said that his trial alongside Saraki and two others was part of an orchestrated attempt to stifle the opposition and ensure the full entrenchment of dictatorship in Nigeria.
Ekweremadu said that their arraignment before the court could not be divorced from the perceived bid by some elements in the Federal Government who were bent on crippling the National Assembly, all the name of fighting corruption.
In a swift reaction to Saraki’s allegation, Mr Femi Adesina, the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, said that the senate president’s claim would have been more worthwhile if it had been backed with adequate information.
“If he had proceeded to identify those who constitute the ‘government within the government’, it would have taken the issue beyond the realm of fiction and mere conjecture.
“But as it stands, the allegation is not even worth the paper on which it was written, as anybody can wake from a troubled sleep and say anything.
“The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) is the Chief Law Officer of the nation; it is within his constitutional powers to determine who has infringed upon the law and who has not,’’ he said.
In his statement to the Police, Sen. Ita Enang, who was the Chairman of the Senate Committee of Rules and Business in the 7th Senate, said that the standing order had never been amended.
He said that the committee proposed the amendment of the 2011 Standing Order but up to the expiration of its tenure, the proposal was not debated, approved or rejected at any Senate sitting
Mr Okoi Obono-Obla, the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, emphasised that the AGF had not done anything wrong by prosecuting the lawmakers in the alleged forgery case.
He said that the AGF’s action never undermined the country’s democracy, adding that he only acted in accordance with the powers vested on him.
He said that in line with the provisions of Section 174 (1) of the Constitution, the AGF could prosecute any citizen, adding that was what he had done.
Obono-Obla stressed that the Senate was not on trial and the AGF had not taken the Senate to court, adding that he had only taken four individuals to court.
“Being President of the Senate does not make one the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The matter was investigated by the police and a prima facie case was established.
“The AGF invoked his powers under Section 174 (1) to initiate criminal proceedings against those persons and this matter is now before a court of law,’’ he added.
Obono-Obla said that one of the striking features of democracy was the separation of powers among the three arms of government, stressing that the senators were not in a position to constitute themselves into a court of law.
“He (AGF) is not answerable to the Senate; by virtue of the principle of separation of powers, he is answerable to the President who appointed him. And he has not done anything wrong.
“You cannot be a judge in your own case,’’ he added.
Analysts, nonetheless, argue that Saraki is not the first lawmaker in Nigeria’s political history to face investigation or prosecution for misdemeanours.
For instance, they note that Alhaji Salisu Buhari, the first Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Fourth Republic, lost his seat in 1999 for forging his university certificate and age.
In the upper chamber, Sen. Evan Enwerem, the first President of the Senate in the Forth Republic, also lost his seat on Nov. 18, 1999, following controversies generated by allegations that he falsified his name.
Later, Sen. Adolphus Wabara, the President of the Senate between 2003 and 2005 resigned from his position, following allegations that he and others took a bribe from a minister.
As regards actual prosecution, Alhaji Farouk Lawal, a former member of the House of Representatives, is currently facing trial for alleged bribery.
The current Senate Leader, Sen. Ali Ndume, is also being prosecuted for alleged complicity by holding information about the Boko Haram insurgents.
All in all, the analysts contend that pragmatic efforts should be made to resolve the alleged forgery case involving Saraki and Ekweremadu, as part of efforts to protect the sanctity of the Senate and the integrity of the country’s democracy.
They insist that regardless of the position of the suspected perpetrators of the wrongdoing, the law should be allowed to fully run its course.