ABUJA — The Senate, yesterday, strongly rebuffed what it termed a strong attempt to cripple the legislative arm of government through alleged plans to imprison the two presiding officers of the Senate, Senators Bukola Saraki, and Ike Ekweremadu.
In a strongly worded statement, yesterday, the Senate called on President Muhammadu Buhari to rein in the Attorney General, Mr. Abubakar Malami, and other senior officials of the All Progressives Congress, APC, who it claimed were seeking to use the courts to obtain what they failed to get during the Senate leadership election.
Warning that bending over to accommodate the interests of the Presidency did not mean weakness on its part, the Senate said the attempt to charge Senators Saraki and Ekweremadu were pointed attempts to erode the independence of the legislative branch of government.
The Senate statement, signed by its spokesman, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi, followed news reports of plans by the Federal Government to charge Senators Saraki; Ekweremadu; the immediate past clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa; and former Senate Clerk, Mr. Bennedict Efeturi, with forgery of the Senate Standing Rules.
Noting that the country was enmeshed in enough economic troubles and needed to focus on remedies, the Senate expressed outrage over the Presidency’s plans to dabble into what it claimed were simply internal affairs of the Senate.
Saying that such efforts could mean the executive is criminalising any matter it failed to secure in the Senate, the legislative body warned that the attempt, if successful, could erode the independence of the legislature and return Nigeria to full-scale dictatorship.
The charge against Senators Saraki and Ekweremadu followed complaints by members of the Senate Unity Forum that the election of the two did not follow the 2011 Standing Orders of the Senate.
However, Mr. Efeturi, had said during police investigation that the management of the National Assembly was responsible for the production of the Standing Orders and that the production of the 2015 Standing Orders followed the normal convention of the legislature.
Maikasuwa, who conducted the election, also in his statement to the police, said he did not use any standing order in the conduct of the election, noting that he used the normal parliamentary convention.
“After reading in the national newspapers and online platforms of the planned charges of forgery and conspiracy preferred against the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki; his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu; immediate past Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa; and Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Ben Efeturi, and reviewing the circumstances leading to the filing of these charges, we are compelled to alert the good people of Nigeria and the international community, that our democracy is in danger and that 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.
“We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to please call his Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to order. 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 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.
“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.
“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 does 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 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 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.”
Meanwhile, Senator Ekweremadu, yesterday, denied ever being invited by the police in respect of the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Rules as he urged his associates and supporters to keep calm, saying there was no reason for alarm.
“The office also notes that in July 2015, the Police spokesperson told the world (and it is on record) that the NPF did not invite Senator Ekweremadu for questioning and that the NPF did not at any time question him over the so-called forged Senate Standing Orders.
“We are, therefore, as surprised as other Nigerians at the current twists and turns by the same police one year after and also after they had since submitted to the Attorney General of the Federation, their investigation report, which neither indicted nor even made the slightest mention of Senator Ike Ekweremadu. Moreso that the petitioners never named Ekweremadu in their petition in the first instance.
“We wish to state that we read the reports of the so-called police invitation and charges allegedly preferred against Senator Ekweremadu; the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki; and others on the pages of the newspapers like other Nigerians.
“Even as we try to reconcile the reports of the simultaneous police invitation and court processes, nobody has, till date, served the Deputy President of the Senate any letter of invitation by the police or court summons.
“The office or person of the Deputy President of the Senate is not in the moon. The concerned authorities know how and where to reach Senator Ekweremadu if they want to.
“But, so far, everything remains in the realms of the usual propaganda onslaught to malign, bully, intimidate, and divert attention from the real challenges currently confronting the nation. However, when the bird jerks in the air, we can fathom where it would perch.
“In the meantime, we want to assure our teeming supporters, well-meaning Nigerians, and youths from across Nigeria and beyond, who have continued to throng Senator Ekweremadu’s residence and inundate him with calls, mails, and text messages to make inquiries, express their displeasure, and show solidarity over this daylight persecution, that there is no cause for alarm.
“The hands of Senator Ike Ekweremadu are clean because he has no business whatsoever with the production of Senate Standing Orders.”
“This latest attempt to try and convict him in the court of public opinion notwithstanding, we do not want to mount a public defence. We would rather meet them in court if they so wish.
“While we plead with our supporters across the nation to maintain the peace and go about their normal businesses unperturbed by this latest act of harassment and impunity, we want to reassure them that no form of intimidation and onslaught to rubbish him will make the Deputy President of the Senate shy away from diligently carrying out the constitutional duties, which his constituency and distinguished Senators representing every part of Nigeria, lawfully elected him on June 9, 2015 to perform for the good governance and development of Nigeria. Ekweremadu will not legislate in fear, and he will certainly not fear to legislate.
“If an attempt on his life on November 17, 2015 (which there are no facts or information to show that the police investigated an incident of such magnitude duly reported to them) did not deter him, certainly not even a purported police invitation, lawsuit, propaganda, and intimidation would cow him because Nigeria belongs to all of us, irrespective of our different political, ethnic, and religious leanings.”