The Senate on Sunday described the forgery case initiated by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, against principal officers of the Senate as a coup against the legislature.
It claimed the move was aimed at subjecting the National Assembly to the control of the executive.
The upper chamber also accused the executive arm and some unnamed party leaders of instituting the case to ensure that Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, were remanded in prison and prevented from presiding over the affairs of the Senate.
The Senate, in a statement by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, described the forgery case as unconstitutional and a violation of the principles of separation of powers, checks and balances.
It, however, warned that the prosecution of the principal officers, which it alleged was aimed at forcing a leadership change in the chamber, was capable of plunging the country into anarchy and constitutional crisis, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to caution Malami.
The AGF office had commenced a forgery and conspiracy case against Saraki, Ekweremadu, the immediate past Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, and the Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Ben Efeturi, at an Abuja Federal High Court.
But the Senate, on Sunday, said, “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 caution his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami.
“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 Senate believed other national pressing issues should engage the attention of all levels of government at this critical time, saying the executive should come up with bills to tackle the nation’s challenges.
The statement added, “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 plot not to mistake the maturity and hand of cooperation being extended to the Presidency by the legislature as a sign of weakness.
“The National Assembly bent backwards to accommodate various infractions and inefficiencies in pursuit of inter-arms cooperation and national interest. We did not follow up the various infractions because we believe there are bigger issues which the government has to attend to in order to ensure that every Nigerian has food on his table and live comfortably in a secure environment.”
The upper chamber of the National Assembly said the forgery case was a strategy to send Saraki and Ekweremadu to prison and prevent them from performing their constitutional roles.
It stated, “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 do 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 obviously is a dangerous case of violation of the independence of the legislature, undue and unnecessary interference in the internal affairs of the Senate and blatant abuse of the judicial process.
“To now take a matter that was resolved on the floor of the Senate to the police and then make it form the subject of a criminal prosecution of freely elected legislators beats all imagination of free thinking men all over the world.
“The implication is that any matter that fails on the floor of the National Assembly will now be taken to the Police, thereby endangering every senator and House member.
“This current move clearly runs contrary to the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances, which are fundamental to the successful operation of the presidential system of government. It runs counter to the principle outlined by the Supreme Court in Adesanya Vs Senate case, where it was held that nobody should seek to use the courts to achieve what he or she has failed to push through on the floor of the National Assembly.
“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 why 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.”
It added that the Rules of the Senate and how the institution elected its leadership were internal affairs.
It said, “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.”
The Senate urged Nigerians and the international community to condemn what it called “this blatant attempt to subject the legislature to the control, whims and caprices of the executive.”
The red chamber added, “If the legislative branch falls, democracy fails as there will be no other institution empowered by the constitution to check and balance the enormous powers of the executive branch.”
Meanwhile, Ekweremadu said on Sunday that he had not received any court papers from the Federal High Court over an alleged suit preferred against him and others concerning the forgery of the Senate Standing Order in June, 2015.
A national daily (not The PUNCH), had reported that Ekweremadu would appear in court on Monday (today).
But the deputy Senate president, who spoke with our correspondent through his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Uche Anichukwu, in Abuja, said he was reading and hearing about his invitation by the police and the suit like every Nigerian.
He said, “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.”
Also in another statement on Sunday, Ekweremadu challenged the Federal Government to meet him in the law court over the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Order 2015 instead of convicting him in the court of public opinion.
He expressed surprise that the same police, which said in July, 2015, that they did not invite him for questioning over the production of the Senate Standing Order 2015, now claimed that the man and others shunned the invitation extended to them since July, 2015.
The statement said, “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.
“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.’’