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Saraki, Ekweremadu trials fuels fear over legislative independence

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Abuja
07 July 2016   |   2:51 am
The controversy on whether the current trial of the leadership of the upper chamber over allegations of forgery of the Senate rules, has continued to exacerbate the political crisis rocking Nigeria’s 8th National Assembly.
Senate President Bukola Saraki and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu

Senate President Bukola Saraki and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu

The controversy on whether the current trial of the leadership of the upper chamber over allegations of forgery of the Senate rules, has continued to exacerbate the political crisis rocking Nigeria’s 8th National Assembly.

As the debate about whether or not the trial was the right political step to take ‎grows, concerns have continued to mount about the trend such debate had taken.

Apart from its possible negative effects ‎on the much-needed synergy between the executive and legislative arms to deliver good governance, many feared that the resulting diversion of attention from the business of governance to political mudslinging could defeat the very essence of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

When hostilities ‎broke out within the All Progressives Congress (APC) shortly after the March 2015 general elections over the occupation of National Assembly leadership seats, it was obvious that the battle would go beyond some boundaries.

The coalition nature of that party, deep seated suspicion and distrust among its leaders which made it impossible to manage themselves and peacefully reach consensus on candidates for each of the leadership positions in the two chambers is responsible for what has metamorphosed into today’s face off between the Senate and the executive arm of government.

This fact was why despite the later solution offered by the APC leadership to the effect that Senator Ahmed Lawal and a few others who lost out in the tussle for Senate leadership be compensated with four top most principal offices of Senate was ignored.

The Majority Leader, Ali Ndume, who was required to relinquish his position for this solution to be effective, was the first to cry foul. He told a gathering of peace makers who gathered at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in a meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo that ‎such requests could not be situated within any democratic norm and therefore should be rejected.

Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who the APC expected to prevail of the likes of Ndume to quit their positions for Lawal and his group, could not do so for some political difficulties.

So, when the news broke last September that Saraki was being charged before the Code of Conduct ‎Tribunal, (CCT) over alleged false declaration of assets some 12 years earlier, it was easy for many to conclude that this trial might be related to the political battles fought, won and lost over leadership positions in the Upper Chamber.

And most recently the school of thought which believes that the trial of the Senate President is a mere political persecution, got more support when the Federal Government dragged him and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, before an Abuja High Court on criminal charges of alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Order.

But Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, has been defending the trial and trying to separate it from the power tussle within the Senate.

He has also tried to convince Nigerians that ‎the Senate is not the one on trial but only the four persons docked for the forgery allegations were.The presidency has also attempted to take away the person of the President from the matter by declaring that President Buhari had no hand in it.

In a recent press statement, the SGF said, “since the arraignment of the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki and, his Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu before the Federal High Court on Monday, June 27, 2016, the two leaders of the Senate, have issued two separate press statements conveying messages that are far from being complementary to the person and government of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“Senator Saraki in his statement clearly insinuated that Mr. President is not in control of his administration and that a cabal now runs the federal administration.  On the part of Senator Ekweremadu, he insisted that President Buhari is exhibiting dictatorial tendencies that can derail our democracy.

“From their statements, the two leaders of the Senate also gave this erroneous impression that by their arraignment, it is the entire Senate and indeed, the Legislative arm of government that is on trial.  They want the public to believe that their prosecution is an utter disregard by the Executive Arm of government for the constitutional provisions of separation of powers and that preferring the forgery case against them is a vendetta exercise. “

The SGF argued further, “since this case is in court, the Judiciary should be allowed to do its job.  However, it is important to emphasize that this case involves only the four accused persons and should not be presented to the unsuspecting public as involving the entire Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  The complaint leading to the forgery investigation was reported to the Police by some aggrieved Senators who specifically accused certain persons.

“It is not the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that is involved and definitely not the House of Representatives.  To bring the National Assembly as a body into this court case is totally unwarranted. It can only be for other purposes and reasons outside the investigation and legal proceedings.

“A case of forgery is usually preferred against individuals.  This is not different.  As was the case with a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who was accused of certificate forgery, what he did was to resign, honourably.  The matter did not even go to court.  In that particular case, it was never orchestrated as a matter for the National Assembly.  The individual involved did not drag the entire Legislature into the matter.”

But Saraki in his immediate reaction to the forgery arraignment had alleged that there exist a cabal in the presidency that had hijacked executive powers from Buhari and using it for what he called a nefarious  interests.

“What has become clear is that there is now a government within the government of President Buhari who have seized the apparatus of Executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda.‎”

Saraki said his trial was part of the continuous persecution by some persons in and outside government for emerging as Senate President adding, “this latest onslaught on the Legislature represents a clear and present danger to the democracy Nigerians fought hard to win and preserve.  The suit filed on behalf of the Federal government suggests that perhaps some forces in the Federal Republic have not fully embraced the fact that the Senate’s rules and procedures govern how the legislative body adjudicates and resolves its own disputes.

“Let it be abundantly clear, both as a citizen and as a foremost Legislator, I will continue to rise above all the persecution and distraction that have been visited on me. In the words of Martin Luther King Junior, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at a time of challenge and controversy.”

Expanding the debate, constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, said it is not just the Senate President and his deputy that are on trial but the entire Senate.

He said that the prosecution of the two Presiding officers of the Senate in a court of law under the Executive amounts to use of coercive influence to interfere in the internal proceedings of the Senate.

According to him, “It is a flagrant breach of separation of powers caused by ignorance as can be seen in the incompetent statement by the SGF.”
He said the SGF was wrong in saying that the forgery case had nothing to do with separation of powers and that he has powers to initiate proceedings in any court of law.Nwabueze argued that the Executive arm of government has contravened Section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.