The battle of wits between the Presidency and the Senate took a new twist, yesterday, as the Senate summoned the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, for describing the lawmakers’ actions as childish and irresponsible.
The Senate asked Professor Sagay to appear before the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, led by Senator Samuel Anyanwu, PDP, Imo East, to clear himself of the allegation and explain why he insulted the Senate as an institution. The committee was given four weeks to submit its report.
In a reposte, Prof Sagay said the lawmakers cannot summon him and described the summons as illegal.
This happened on a day the Upper Chamber suspended former Senate Leader, Senator Mohammed Ndume over his petition calling for investigation into the allegation discrediting Senator Dino Melaye as a graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria.
It also cleared Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, over the Range Rover SUV Customs duty scandal.
Ndume’s suspension order followed the recommendation of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions which investigated the allegation.
Meanwhile, the polity was awash with mixed views over the soured relations between the Presidency and the Senate on account of which the legislators suspended for two weeks the screening of 27 nominees for appointment as Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs by President Muhammadu Buhari. While some backed the lawmakers and wondered why President Buhari is insisting on Mr Ibrahim Magu as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, others threw their weight behind the presidency and berated the lawmakers.
Yet, some urged immediate resolution of the brewing crisis, fearing that it portends grave danger for the country.
Eminent Nigerians, who spoke on the face-off, included; Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed; Senator Femi Okurounmu; Senator Lee Maeba; Politician and Management Consultant, Chief Cliff Mbagwu; Col Paul Ogbebor, retd; former Health Minister, Professor ABC Nwosu; National Chairman of United Progressives Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie; Constitutional lawyers, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN and Mike Ahamba, SAN; former FCT Police Commissioner, Lawrence Alobi; a Human Rights Activist, Comrade Liborous Oshoma; and National President, Arewa Youth Consultantive Forum, AYCF, Alhaji Shetima Yerima.
Senate summons Sagay, urges Buhari to caution aides on utterances
The resolution to summon Sagay was sequel to a point of Order by Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi South, who directed the attention of the Senate to a publication in a national newspaper (not Vanguard), said that Sagay described the Senate’s action calling on Buhari to sack Magu in two weeks, ''as childish and irresponsible.''
His words: ''There is no dispute as to the fact that today, distinguished Senator Na'Allah is a senator. If somebody with the status of Professor Sagay made this comment, it means this Senate is under obligation to invite Itse Sagay to come and name the questionable people that fill this Senate. It is very important at this stage of our political development. It is very important. I, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, I am not a person of questionable integrity. Let me equally say that no senator is of questionable integrity.
''For somebody in Itse Sagay’s position to come and call this Senate irresponsible and that senators are childish and are of questionable character, it behoves on this Senate to call on him to appear before the Ethics and Privileges Committee to name the senators that are of questionable character.''
Contributing, Senate leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, who also picked holes in Sagay’s comments, urged President Buhari to caution his aides on their utterances so as not to overheat the polity.
The Senate leader said: ''I believe that if there is anything that this administration needs, it is cordiality, a relationship between the legislature and the executive. It, therefore, behoves every presidential aide, from ministers to the least in the ladder, to behave responsibly to encourage and sustain the very cordial relationship between the National Assembly and the administration.
''The Nigerian public has every right to criticise us, call us to order where we erred, proffer suggestions and way out where they think we need that. But I take special and serious exception when a presidential aide, instead of trying to bring together the two sides of government, would speak in this manner that is so divisive and necessarily creating tension between the two arms of government.''
Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, PDP, Delta North, tried to stop the Senate from inviting Professor Sagay against the backdrop that it would amount to waste of time discussing the person of Sagay.
''I want to appeal, let us not waste our time on Professor Sagay, let us face important issues, national issues.''
However, the Senate rejected Nwaoboshi’s suggestion as Senate President Saraki ruled that Sagay should appear before the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions. ''I think this matter will be referred to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges and report back in four weeks.''
It’s illegal, unconstitutional for Senate to summon me – Sagay
Reacting to the summons, Professor Sagay described the move as illegal and unconstitutional.
His words: ''I made a statement, I expressed an opinion about the conduct of the Senate, which I am entitled to do under the constitution. It is freedom of expression and in fact, it is my constitutional right.
''So, for them to say they are summoning me and saying I should appear before them for expressing my personal opinion on their conduct is totally unconstitutional and illegal. It is a question that does not arise. I do not come under the crop of people they can summon. The Senate cannot constitute itself into a court and hear a case they are involved. So, if they have any grouse against what I said, there is a place they can go to seek redress. Apart from all that, even looking at Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution, I am miles away from somebody they can summon.''
Why Senate cleared Saraki, Melaye..
Following the summoning of Melaye and Ndume on March 27, to state their versions of the allegations, the Chairman of the Ethics and Privileges Committee, Sen. Sam Anyanwu, submitted his committee’s report, which recommended that “the Senate do suspend Sen. Mohammed Ndume for bringing Sen. Dino Melaye, his colleagues and the institution of the Senate to unbearable disrepute. ''The suspension is with effect from today, March 29, 2017, to last for six months.
''After having been properly cleared of any wrong doings by the findings of the committee, Sen. Dino Melaye has been cleared of the allegations made against him and exonerated.'' Anyanwu said, adding that the recommendation was signed by seven members of the committee.
Senator Obinna Ogba, PDP-Ebonyi, seconded the motion.
In his remarks, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over plenary, said the matter was a lesson that had been learned because ''we must investigate matters before we make allegations.''
Ndume’s suspension, height of illegality – Falana, SAN..
However, Ndume’s suspension was criticised by Mr. Femi Falana.
He said: ''The purported suspension of Senator Ali Ndume is the height of the serial illegality in the Senate. In Hon. Dino Melaye & Others v House of Representatives (unreported) the federal high court declared the indefinite suspension of the plaintiffs illegal and unconstitutional on the ground that a legislator could not be suspended for more than 14 days. But in House of Assembly v Hon Danna, the Court of Appeal held that a legislative house in Nigeria is not competent to suspend a member even for a single day as it is a violation of the democratic rights of members of his/her constituency.
''In view of the settled state of the law on summoning of critics by the National Assembly and suspension of legislators, the Senate is advised to reverse its illegal decisions and quickly return to the path of constitutionalism in the interest of lasting democracy in the country. However, if the Senate remains intransigent, the Executive branch of the government should adopt decisive measures to terminate the unending rein of impunity in the National Assembly.''
Mixed reactions trail Senate, Presidency face-off
Meanwhile, the battle of wits between the Senate and the presidency raised dust in the polity, yesterday.
It is bad omen for the country – Mohammed..
Dr. Junaid Mohammed, described the power tussle between the Senate and the Presidency as bad omen for the country.
''I am worried over this new confrontation between the Presidency and the Senate. I expect both of them to find a common ground or find a sensible way of settling the issues since it is nothing personal between Buhari and Saraki. Both institutions are guided by the constitution and it is very unfortunate that they have gotten to the level of being confrontational. However, I still feel strongly that Magu should be given fair hearing because the continued power tussle will bring bad omen for the country. So they have to tread carefully.'' He said.
Magu cannot be forced on the Senate – Okurounmun..
Senator Femi Okurounmun said the constitution gives the right to the President to present someone to occupy a particular seat, while the same constitution gives the National Assembly the right to accept or reject whatever name the President sends.
His words: ''The President cannot force anybody on the Senate especially when an organ of the same government, the DSS discredited Magu with its report. The Senate cannot go ahead to clear Magu with the negative report they got. So, the President doesn’t have the right to insist on Magu.''
The Senate is right to stop screening of REC nominees – Maeba..
Senator Lee Maeba said the Senate’s actions are justified, arguing: ''Our constitution says the President has the right to appoint while the appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate. Every senator has the right to react and suggest whether to clear a nominee or not. So, the President acted wrongly by insisting that his judgment on Magu should prevail.''
Buhari not in control of agencies – Mbagwu..
To Chief Cliff Mbagwu, the face-off is amazing because ''the senate is acting based on a report written by the DSS. The DSS is an agency under the Presidency just like the EFCC. The Senate even gave Magu a second chance when it asked the DSS to take a second look at the report after Magu’s name was sent a second time and the DSS again re-confirmed its earlier report.
''What this shows is that the president is probably not in control of some of these agencies. This Magu issue raises some fundamental questions. How did such an important report like the one written by the DSS on Magu go to the Senate without the President reading it? Is it possible that some people in the Presidency might be doing things without the President’s knowledge or approval?''
Saraki should learn from David Mark – Col Ogbebor..
Col Ogbebor said: ''We are having a Senate that is not mature. What they are doing is what state houses of assembly may do, not even the House of Representatives. The Senate is for mature and experienced people. It is not place for clowns as one of them displayed on Tuesday. Senate President Bukola Saraki is not doing enough. He should learn from how Senator David Mark managed the Senate for eight years. What the Senate is doing is telling Nigerians to be careful.''
Senate’s position arrogant, provocative – Okorie..
The UPP chairman described as high handed, the Senate’s suspension of the screening of the 27 REC nominees on account of the President’s refusal to sack Mr Ibrahim Magu.
His words: ''The two weeks ultimatum given to the President to sack Mr Magu is outside the powers of the Senate. Their stand in this matter is arrogant and provocative. I think that the Senate is interfering too much in matters that are within the purview of the Presidency.''
It’s a danger that must be nipped in the bud – ABC Nwosu..
Professor ABC Nwosu said the mere fact that the Senate declined to confirm Magu does not mean that the president should engage in a fight with the Senate. He cited the example of the recent rejection of President Donald Trump’s Bill in the United States of America.
Stressing that the face-off between the two arms is unhealthy, he said: ''It is a danger that must be nipped in the bud. It is a serious danger. It is not only dangerous, it must be nipped in the bud and everybody must put hand together to nip it in the bud because the most important institution in any democracy is the parliament.''
It can cause big trouble – Ahamba..
To Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN: ''The apparent feud between the Federal Government and the Senate is not a healthy development. I hope both sides will handle the matter with maturity because this is a small thing that can cause a very big trouble in the country. I want both sides to handle things with maturity and be realistic.''
Development healthy for our democracy – Ozekhome
On his part, Chief Mike Ozhekome, SAN said: ''The face-off between the President and the Senate is very healthy for our democracy; it shows that the Presidency cannot dictate to the Senate or annex it to be part of the executive.
''I have heard from some lawyers advising the president that he can continue to retain people in acting capacity. It is this advice that is making the president more and more dictatorial and despotic in a constitutional democracy such that we are operating.
''We borrowed presidential system from America. Have you heard that their Senate would reject a nominee and the president would appoint the nominee in acting capacity? It is a taboo, it is an abomination and has never happened. Once a person has been rejected, the person has been rejected, he cannot continue to be in any acting capacity.
''If any EFCC nominee, ambassadorial nominees or ministerial nominees has been rejected, that puts an end to that. It cannot be reviewed. And so what the president is doing here is wrong and against the spirit of democracy which we are practicing.''
It’s unhealthy – Alobi..
Lawrence Alobi, former FCT Police Commissioner said: ''What is currently happening between the Presidency and the Senate is actually not healthy because when there is a conflict of this nature, there cannot can be development. What we should pray for is collaboration and cooperation and not competition as we are seeing now between the Senate and the Presidency.
''The Senate should save the Nigerian people by adhering to Section 14(b) of the Constitution which tasks them to be concerned with working for the people. They should work for Nigerians and strengthen our democracy by promulgating laws that will strengthen our democracy.
''There should be an understanding among the three arms of government-the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Each of these arms has its core mandate and each of the arms must stick to its mandate.''
What is Senate afraid of in Magu? – Shetima Yerima..
On his part, Yerima wondered why the Senate does not want Magu. ''The story is neither here or there. But my position is very clear. Who is afraid of Magu in the first place? Why should the senate make it a serious matter as if they don’t have skeletons in their cupboard? Why are they so worried about it? Would Magu just on his own begin to witch hunt people as generally claimed that he keeps witch hunting people? As watchdogs, we are watching the situation.
''If anybody is not found wanting, why should he be afraid of Magu? Let Magu be there, if need be. At least, it is not about Magu but the institution. The only reason why we are in support of EFCC is because that was what the new government campaigned for: to fight corruption and all of us welcomed the development. But why does the president feel that it has to be Magu by all means? the moment we lose fight against corruption, the hope of Nigerians will be dashed especially the younger generation of people like us.''
The executive provided weapons against Magu – Oshoma..
A human Right Activist, Comrade Liborous Oshoma accused the executive of providing the weapon that was used by the Senate to shut down Magu’s confirmation and told the executive to put its house in order.
The Delta State based activist said, ''For me really, it depends on the side you are looking at it from. If the law says an appointment shall be subject to confirmation of the National Assembly and once that confirmation is declined by the National Assembly, I don’t see any reason why that person should continue to act in that office because if he continues to act what it means is that you have undermined the power to confirm by the National Assembly.''
The presidency erred – Tietie..
Frank Tietie, an Abuja based civil and human rights Lawyer said: ''The president’s action in continuing to retain Magu against the Senate resolution is not in tone with the principles of democracy, especially regarding presidential federalism. In presidential federalism where there is the principle of separation of powers, a situation where the President’s action is daily weakening the power of the Senate and disrespecting the powers of the National Assembly which directly represents the people, undermine democracy and should be condemned.''