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Saraki, Ekweremadu’s battle for survival

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Saraki, Ekweremadu’s battle for survival

Saraki, Ekweremadu’s battle for survival
June 26
04:39 2016

Another chapter of political drama and intrigues appear to have been opened with the decision of the federal government, through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to drag Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, to court for allegedly having a hand in the 2015 forgery of the Senate Standing Orders used for the proclamation of the current Senate.

Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) said the decision to prosecute the senate helmsmen was consequent upon the recommendations of the police which investigated allegations of forgery levelled against the duo. Malami denied allegations that the move was politically motivated.

Consequently, Malami gave the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation and the police a directive to prefer charges against those who allegedly forged the Senate Standing Orders used for the proclamation of the current Senate.

Listed as defendants in the case earlier scheduled to begin last Thursday were Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, erstwhile Clerk of the National Assembly; Benedict Efeturi, the erstwhile Clerk of the Senate; Senator Olubukola Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu. They are being beng charged for alleged commitment of the offence of conspiracy, punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code. They are also being charged with the weighty offence of forgery, contrary to Section 362 of the Penal Code Law.

The list of witnesses being brought forward by the prosecution include: Senator Suleiman Othma Hunkuyi, Senator Kabiru Marafa, Senator Ita Enang, Senator Solomon Ewuga, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, Senator Robert Boroffice, Senator Ahmed Lawan, Senator Abdullahi Gumel, Senator Abu Ibrahim and Senator Babafemi Ojudu, who were all either former or serving Senators.

Other witnesses are Dr. Ogozy Nma, the clerk of the Senate Rules and Business Committee; Mr. O. J. Adem, Police DIG, Dan Azumi Doma and ACP David Igbodo.

The crux of the case

According to the processes filed before the court by the prosecutors, the particulars of the offence are: “That you, Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, Benedict Efeturi, Olubukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu on or about the 9th of June, 2016, at the National Asssembly Complex, Abuja within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, with fraudulent intent, forged the Senate Standing Order 2011 (as amended), causing it to be believed as the genuine Standing Order 2015 and circulated same for use during the inauguration of the 8th Senate of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, when you knew that the said Order was not made in compliance with the procedure for amendment of the Senate Order, you thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code Law.”

It is being alleged that the 2011 version of the Senate Orders was secretly altered by some individuals to produce the 2015 edition. There are also allegations that Rules 3 (3) (e) and (k) in the 2015 edition of the orders were not amended in accordance with the provisions of Rule 110 (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) of the 2011 Orders.

While the 2011 Order Rule 3 (3) (e) provides for manual voting and open ballot in the election of the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President, the 2015 Orders allow electronic and secret ballot voting in the said elections.

Also, while Rule 3 (3) (k) of the 2011 Order makes it mandatory for all members to participate in the process of electing the Senate President and Deputy Senate President, the reverse is the case in the 2015 Orders.

According to 2011 Orders, Rule 3 (3) (k): “All Senators-elect shall participate in the nomination and voting for President and Deputy President of the Senate.”

However, a similar provision in Rule 3 (3) (i) in the 2015 Orders reads, “All Senator-elect are entitled to participate in the voting for Senate President and Deputy Senate President.”

Some observers of the unfolding scenario are of the opinion that the prosecution appears keenly focussed on showing how the leadership election that produced Saraki and Ekweremadu is based on a forged document and thereby deserving of being declared as a nullified exercise.

Specifically, the effort aims to unravel who authorised the promulgation of the Senate Standing Order 2015; who published the Senate Standing Order 2015; who approved the Senate Standing Order 2015; who paid for the publishing of the Senate Standing Order 2015, and; who distributed the Senate Standing Order 2015. Consequently, prison terms are envisaged to inevitably get apportioned to indicted persons – firmly ending political careers long before 2019.

But the prosecution differs on the above. According to the AGF, it is wrong to assume that the main objective of the whole exercise is about discrediting the emergence of the current Senate leadership.

“Forgery of the Senate Standing Rules cannot be described as the internal business of the National Assembly that is exclusively only in its purview. The Attorney General of the Federation cannot, therefore, be faulted for his decision to initiate legal actions against the accused for alleged forgery after a thorough police investigation of the issue,” he said recently.

Of course, Saraki and his deputy have been denying any wrongdoing and say they are ready to prove their innocence in court. This is just as their allies have been alleging political victimization.

The many implications

For the Senate, the executive arm, the nation’s ruling political party and the citizenry, the unfolding court matter may yield lots of foul dividends. For Saraki who feels hounded by an on-going trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and for Ekweremadu, whom many perceive to be a potential beneficiary as likely Senate President if the battle against Saraki succeeds; these are evidently not the best of times.

Indeed, for the ruling party, the APC that is yet to, as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo noted, knead together an elite consensus for a forward march, there are real implications. If the case against the defendants is conclusively proven, some three to five years jail term may be awaiting them. Yet it will not be a victory without serious fallouts for all concerned.

Threats of causing a split that is reminiscent of how ‘new-PDP’ joined forces with APC have been on the cards for long. In the Senate, a resolute group of pro-Saraki APC Senators can do more than provide the meagre votes needed by PDP to try neutralising APC strength in the Senate. A foretaste of how such needless crises can slow down the Buhari administration is already being seen in last week’s delay of the screening of ambassadorial nominees.

Indeed, last week’s development connotes more than mere sabre-rattling. “We must make it clear here to the Executive arm and party leadership behind these plots not to mistake the maturity and hand of cooperation being extended to the Presidency by the legislature as a sign of weakness”, the Senate had said, in a statement released early in the week.

The statement signed by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi equates the forgery case against Saraki and Ekweremadu to a coup orchestrated by the executive arm. Service of the court summons almost became a drama of sorts during the week and PDP Senators took matters further by coming out to pointedly accuse the Buhari administration of running an autocratic government.

Dismissing the notion of immunity for the Senate leadership, Malami had emphasized that there is no rational explanation for suggestions that the forgery of the Senate rules should be merely treated as an internal affair of the Senate.

“For the benefit of doubt, as stated above, there was a petition bordering on allegations of forgery against the defendants; the petition was investigated by the police and the police recommended the case for prosecution. At this point, the question is how initiation of criminal proceedings against Dr Bukola Saraki, Ike Ekweremadu, Salisu Maikasuwa and Bernard Efeturi violated the principle of separation of powers as contained in the constitution?

“The action of the Attorney General of the Federation cannot obviously be said to be a coup against the National Assembly as the Senate has claimed. By preferring the charge, the accused persons are entitled to fair hearing under the law while the prosecution is obligated to prove its case against them beyond reasonable doubts.”

“Therefore, the Attorney General of the Federation has not violated any known law in the land. Or is the Senate suggesting that its principal officers, members and staff of the National Assembly are above the law or enjoy same immunity as do the nation’s President and Governors? It is common knowledge over the years since the nation embraced democratic system of governance and backed by the current constitution those elected officers of government, who are exempted from legal encumbrances, whether it is civil or criminal, are known to all.

“It is pertinent to be reminded too, that forgery of the Senate Standing Rules cannot be described as the internal business of the National Assembly that is exclusively only in its purview. The Attorney General of the Federation cannot therefore be faulted for his decision to initiate legal actions against the accused persons for alleged forgery after a thorough police investigation of the issue, whether there was an amendment to the Senate Standing Rules in 2015 or not.

“The case of Adesanya vs Senate, which has been seriously touted in its (Senate) press statement does not support them and they should rather take their plea and defend the action accordingly,” it stated.

The AGF who had been summoned to appear before the Senate Committee on Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on Thursday did not turn up. Instead, his office gave explanations why Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Okoi Obono Obla had to stand in for the AGF.

Days earlier, Obla had articulated a logical, blistering response to the Senate’s allegation that the Executive was mounting a coup agaist the Senate. According to Obla: “It is pertinent under Section 174 (1) of the Constitution, the Attorney General of the Federation is vested with the power to undertake and initiate criminal proceedings in any Court of Law in the Country over an offence created by an Act of the National Assembly. ..

“So, the question is how initiation of criminal proceedings against Dr Saraki; Ike Ekweremadu, Salisu Maikasuwa and Bernard Eferuti violated the principle of separation of powers inherent in the Constitution? How does the initiation of criminal proceedings amount to a coup against the legislature?

A flurry of reactions

With legal hostilities over the matter rescheduled to commence tomorrow Monday, June27th, when legal luminaries will file out against one another to exchange fireworks in court, it appears Saraki’s camp is not leaving any stone unturned to send strong messages to his alleged detractors that the duo are not likely to go down without a fight, that is if they go down at all.

At the dawn of the new regime, not many Nigerians expected the proclamation of the country’s National Assembly, the eighth under the democratic dispensation that begun in 1999, to degenerate into such unimaginable affray that directly or indirectly challenges the assumed integrity of the nation’s ruling party, the executive arm and the individual principal actors.

Such it was that the early days of the current Senate was more of confusion and infighting as gladiators fought unrelentingly for the leadership positions. Eventually, Senator Bukola Saraki of the ruling APC and Ike Ekweremadu of the opposition PDP became President and Deputy President of the Senate respectively.

But the crisis in the assembly was not to cease and allegations and counter allegations persisted. Ironically, all those to whom fingers pointed all along surreptitiously or directly were in fact the highly privileged crème de la crème of the nation’s ruling class. And chief amongst the allegations was that the senate rule had been forged to pave the way for Saraki and his Deputy to emerge.

Thus, pregnant with possibilities for diverse interpretations, the conspiracy and forgery case against Saraki, Ekweremadu and two officials of the National Assembly, which harbors lots of legal and political implications, is being seen by many observers as the continuation of the political battle between LikeMinds Senators and their counterparts in the Unity Forum.

And the Senators, along with other players in the unfolding drama, are not doing much to show the latest development will not again snowball into a face-off between the two groups of legislators in the upper chamber. While Unity Forum Senators are yet to say anything about the prosecution of Saraki and his deputy, LikeMinds Senators have severally condemned the move and accused the ruling party of persecuting Saraki and Ekweremadu.

In reaction to the move, the Senate, had penultimate Tuesday, summoned the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami to “explain and justify with evidence” the basis for the criminal charges of conspiracy and forgery against its presiding officers, Saraki and Ekweremadu. The resolution of the Senate, after an executive session that held for close to two hours, followed a motion by Dino Melaye (APC-Kogi West).

Few days later, the Senate, in a statement through its spokesperson, Aliyu Sabi, said the Buhari administration was bent on forcing a leadership change in the Senate by, first, “muzzling the legislature and criminalizing legislative processes”. Melaye echoed this again when he alleged that the forgery suit amounted to “grand design to silence” the National Assembly by the Buhari Administration and “enthrone one man rule”.

He warned of “impending danger to democracy”, noting alleged “defiant decision” of Mr. Malami in disregard of Federal High Court ruling which he said had upheld the right of the Senate to regulate its internal affairs.

Same day, news broke that Senators elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who are in the majority within the ranks of LikeMind Senators, may have resolved to stop supporting the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government. They alleged that the APC led government is unfriendly to their party and its chieftains.

Coming few days after the court summon on Ekweremadu, along with Saraki, over alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Rules, it appears the decision was a direct reaction to the development.

Counter reactions

But Malami,insisting there is nothing political about the development, urged Saraki and other defendants to take their argument before the court and explain their roles in the forgery case rather than accusing the ruling party of persecuting them for whatever reason.

“It is not in doubt that each arm of government is constitutionally vested with distinct powers. Looking critically at the doctrine of the separation of powers, it is a practice that exist on a tripod viz, the executive, legislature and judiciary with clearly distinctive functions and responsibilities as captured under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

“So, by virtue of this, we are committed to the rule of law and will thus keep to the tenets of the rule of law as enshrined in a constitutional democracy like ours. The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation is empowered under Section 174 (1) of the Constitution and vested with the power to undertake and initiate criminal proceedings in any court of law in Nigeria.

“By virtue of this power as the Chief Law Officer of the nation, he has simply initiated criminal proceedings for forgery against the affected principal officers in the Senate for altering the Senate Standing Rules in the Federal High Court. It is worthy to note here that the action of the Attorney General of the Federation can stand the test of any law since he did not act on a vacuum.

“He acted based on a recommendation by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) who having fully satisfied investigative procedure arising from the petition sent to the Nigerian Police by some aggrieved members of the Red Chambers of the National Assembly alleging that the affected officers altered the rules of the Senate for Dr. Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu to emerge leaders of the Eighth Senate of the National Assembly.

But frontline Lagos Lawyer, Barrister John Itodo, whikle reacting to the positions of the Senate, cautioned the LikeMinds Senators against acting in contrary to their vows. Itodo said forgery as a criminal offense, is committed against the state and not against the Senate or even the presidency. He insisted that the AGF acted in good faith.

“Allegation of forgery is a criminal allegation if there are evidences and it is up to the accused to prove their innocence. Since it is a criminal allegation, it is an offence against the state and not against the Senate or even President Buhari.

“It doesn’t lie in the mouth of the Senate to cover up crime since the crime is not against the Senate. If there is a crime, the FG can prosecute particularly since they do not enjoy immunity,” he said.

Similarly, APC Senators, while daring their ounterparts in the PDP to withdraw their support for President Buhari’s government, said they will continue to support the ruling party’s actions. They insisted that no amount of threat from their PDP counterparts would make them back down on their support for the President’s programmes and policies which, they alleged, were being considered unfavourable by their PDP counterparts.

Reading a prepared text through the Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Sola Adeyeye, the APC senators accused their PDP counterparts of mischief against their party and President Muhammadu Buhari, saying the President’s fight against corruption was within the ambit of the nation’s laws. They said the President cannot be distracted from his determined fight against criminality.

Still LikeMinds vs Unity Forum?

However, the absence of known loyalists of the Senate President who are Senators elected on the platform of the APC at the briefing, indicated that all is not well in the caucus of the party which has a total of 57 senators. Only 16 of the APC senators, including Ovie Omo-Agege, were present at the briefing.

An observer also cited cited the decision of the caucus to present their position on such an important matter as reiterating their support for the President, through Adegeye, the deputy Majority Leader, instead of Ali Ndume, the Senate Leader, as a sign of cracks within the wall. Ndume was absent at the press briefing.

Speaking to The Nation on the current developments within the caucus, a Senator from the southwest regretted the return of bickering amongst APC Senators following disagreement over the action of the AGF over the forgery allegations. He explained that pro-Saraki Senators are accusing Unity Forum members of authoring the petition that nailed the duo.

“I can tell you that the petitions were written by many people and groups. While it is possible some of our colleagues, who felt it was criminal to forge the senate rules, wrote petitions, it is also correct to say groups and people outside the senate also petitioned over the matter. It is not a matter for the senate alone. it is a criminal matter.

But as we speak, the LikeMind Senators are returning to the trenches over the ongoing prosecution of suspects indicted in the matter. Why must we always point fingers in matters like this. Are we saying the senate is a place to harbor people against the rule of law? We are watching events and we will surely react accordingly,” he said.

Explaining the current situation of things in the upper chamber, our source, a Senator, said the LikeMinds Senators are angry that in spite of efforts to settle the face-off between the two groups of Senators in the house, APC senators in the Unity Forum are unrepentant in their determination to effect a change of leadership.

“All these are still about the leadership struggle of the past. We in the LikeMind have made a lot of sacrifices for peace to reign but our colleague in the Unity Forum are unrepentant. They cannot come to terms with the current arrangement in the Senate and that is why we are seeing all these allegations and prosecutions.

It is sad that the ruling party and the Presidency is supporting these people to continue disturbing the peace of the national assembly. We have accommodated their positions and demands enough. Now, we see this as politics and we are ready for it. Sadly, our positions may be misinterpreted by Nigerians but we may be left with little or no choice.

Their is no way we will fold our hands and watch APC kill opposition in the country. They have dragged Saraki to CCT because he insist the Senate must be independent. Now they are after Ekweremadu because he is PDP. We will have to use our numerical strength in the assembly to call the APC led administration and President Buhari to order,” he said.

-Source: The Nation

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