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PDP govs, Reps talk tough over Saraki, Ekweremadu, Fayose

By Alifa Daniel, Abiodun Fagbemi, Sunny Ogefere, Seye Olumide Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Adamu Abuh, Azimazi
22 June 2016   |   4:15 am
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors’ Forum and the party’s caucus in the House of Representatives yesterday seemed to have woken up to the realities ...
Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja …yesterday. PHOTO: LADIDI LUCY ELUKPO.

Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja …yesterday. PHOTO: LADIDI LUCY ELUKPO.

• Senate says Rules forgery trial is to cripple legislature
• CCT reserves ruling on self-disqualification motion till July 13

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors’ Forum and the party’s caucus in the House of Representatives yesterday seemed to have woken up to the realities of the threat facing the party and urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to order to desist forthwith in their persecution of Senate President Bukola Saraki , his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and the Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose.

While the forum chaired by the Governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko asked that Mr. President should immediately intervene to rescue the country from what it described as the current gross abuse of the constitution, the PDP House of Representatives members rose from an emergency meeting vowing to resist any attempt to illegally remove them from office.

The caucus while briefing newsmen in Abuja said the onslaught on the leadership of the upper legislative house, is an attempt to erode the independence of the legislature as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In a related development, the Senate yesterday decried what it noted was a carefully thought-out plan to cripple the legislative arm of government in Nigeria‎.

It has also invited the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to appear before it tomorrow to answer questions relating to his roles in the planned trial of Senate presiding officers over alleged forgery of the standing rules of the upper chamber.

The Senate also insisted that ‎its 2015 Standing Rule was not forged but remains a legal and valid document that had been authenticated by the upper chamber since its second day of inauguration in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has fixed July 13 for ruling on the motion filed by the Saraki, asking the Chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, to disqualify self from his trial.

At the resumed hearing yesterday, Counsel to Saraki, Paul Erokoro (SAN), told the Umar, that the Senate President, who is standing trial before him on false assets declaration, cannot get justice from him because of his bias and prejudicial comments in the trial.

In a statement issued yesterday apparently in reaction to the freezing of Fayose’s bank account by the EFCC, Mimiko said the action of the anti-graft agency has portrayed the nation as one in crisis.

According to Mimiko, the danger in the decision of the EFCC to freeze Fayose’s account amounted to distracting and impeding the activities of a sitting governor contrary to the provisions of the constitution.

He stressed that the EFCC cannot interfere with the account of a sitting governor, adding that such an act would not find comfort with the position of Section 308 of the Nigerian Constitution.

“What has happened is a blatant and violent infraction on the provision of the Constitution and our democracy. It’s an attempt to subvert the constitution and it is fascist. The intention is to achieve a penal sanction without going through the due criminal procedure and criminal proceedings.”

Mimiko said the essence of Section 308 of the Constitution of the country was to safeguard governors in the country from distractions, insisting that, “what they have done now is to distract the governor of Ekiti and this is not good for our democracy.”

Minority Leader of the House, Leo Okuweh Ogor (PDP, Delta) challenged the executive to provide instances where the presiding officers had hands in the amendment of the Senate standing rule.

“The PDP caucus of the House of Representatives has noted with total embarrassment the lawsuit reportedly filed against the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki and Deputy President and the highest political office holder of the PDP extraction, Senator Ike Ekweremadu; and two others in connection with the alleged forgery of the 2011 Senate Standing Orders.

“Democracy thrives on mutual respect and cooperation among the three arms of government. Therefore, the executive arm of government has no business whatsoever meddling in the internal affairs of the legislature. Each of the House of the National Assembly since 1999 has always had its own rule produced by the management of the National Assembly, hence Senate Standing Orders 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 in the instance of the Senate.

“We therefore challenge the Attorney General of the Federation to tell Nigerians how it came about the names of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Senator Bukola Saraki in the lawsuit or how a legal practitioner of his ranking preferred criminal charges against presiding officers of the National Assembly without according them a fair hearing,” the caucus submitted.

They said the National Assembly should not be taken for granted for the understanding and cooperation it has accorded the executive in the last one year, adding that they have bent backward to accommodate the excesses of the current administration in the interest of peace.

Also, a statement signed by the Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Onyeama Okechukwu said: “This latest onslaught in the form of charges preferred against Ekweremadu in particular and others in general cannot be sustained in a competent court of law.”

Meanwhile, ‎the court summons inviting the Senate President, and his deputy, has been posted at the notice board of the Senate.

The summons from the Abuja High Court listed Saraki, Ekweremadu, immediate National Assembly Clerk, Salisu Maikasuwa and Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, Ben Ofeturi as defendants.

But, in a unanimous adoption of a motion sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi State), the Senate described as unfortunate attempts by the executive arm of government to muzzle the legislature and make it an appendage of the executive.

The only two prayers of the motion which received unanimous endorsement read: That ‎Senate mandates the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Legal Matters and Human Rights to within two days summon the Attorney General of the Federation to explain and justify with evidence the basis for his action and why it does not constitute gross misconduct, incompetence, contempt of court and abuse of office; that the Senate Rule 2015 is not forged and it is the authentic rule of the Senate.”

Ekweremadu, who presided over the session said: “Thank you very distinguished colleagues. I am going to put the question, I don’t intend to say much because I’m involved. I just want to add that those who use their public office today to persecute others must realise that no condition is permanent,” Ekweremadu said.

The CCT chairman had on June 7, told Saraki that the delayed tactics he alleged the Senate President was to be employing through his lawyers will not reduce the consequences he would face at the end of the trial.

In a motion on notice filed by Erokoro, Saraki claimed that the comment by the chairman was prejudicial to him and that neither the chairman, who was personally served with the motion, informing him of the prejudicial statement made in the open court nor the prosecution had denied the statement.

Erokoro also held that by implication, the CCT chairman and the prosecution have admitted making the statement and as such, the chairman should disqualify himself in the interest of justice and fair trial.

He maintained that the independence and the impartiality of the chairman as envisaged in Section 36 of the Constitution can no longer be guaranteed.

He said: “Once a judge by word or action shows that he cannot hold the scale of justice, he should disqualify himself”.

In his argument, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacob (SAN), vehemently opposed the motion on the grounds that there was no basis for it.

Urging the court to dismiss it, Jacobs held that the application was frivolous, abuse of court process and a deliberate attempt to delay trail.
“It is not fair, it is not fair. They were trying the chairman’s state of mind,” he insisted.

In a quick response, Erokoro reminded Jacobs that there was a statutory provisions for the establishment of the tribunal and that the authority knows what to do in that regard should the need arise.

At this point, the lead defence counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN) warned against a situation, where the judge begins to look beyond the result of his judgment.

“The duty of a judge is to act. Once a judge begins to look beyond the result, he cannot act,” he noted.

In the midst of a heated argument, the chairman abruptly adjourned ruling on the application till July 13.