By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, David Babachir Lawal, has thrown himself into the fray in respect of alleged forgery trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, asking the principal officers of the Senate to resign their positions.
The Senate, in a swift reaction last night, said the two principal officers of the Senate will not resign, insisting that it was being assaulted by the executive arm of government in the ongoing trial of its leaders.
But Lawal said, yesterday, that the Senate was not on trial for forgery, but that only the actors in the alleged act, the Senate President, his deputy and two others being prosecuted.
He also said the honourable thing for the duo to do was to resign as former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, who was accused of certificate forgery, did.
The SGF was reacting to the allegation by Saraki that a “cabal” had hijacked the government of President Muhammadu Buhari as well as Ekweremadu’s statement that Buhari was exhibiting dictatorial tendencies.
In a statement he personally signed, Lawal said the positions of the Senate leaders were contradictory. He also described their statements as unfortunate, stating that the Federal Government was not deciding the trial of the duo.
Saraki and Ekweremadu are being tried before an FCT High Court for allegedly forging the Senate Standing Rules 2015. The other accused persons are former Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, and his former deputy, Bernard Efeturi.
Lawal stated that a case of forgery was usually preferred against individuals, recalling that such case of certificate forgery led to the resignation of one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Salisu Buhari. He said bringing the National Assembly as a body into the court case was unwarranted.
Senate not on trial —SGF
The statement read in part: “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 insists 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 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.
“Since this case is in court, the judiciary should be allowed to do its job. However, it is important to emphasise 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.”
Saraki, Ekweremadu won’t resign —Senate
Reacting to the SGF’s call, the Senate said, yesterday, Saraki and his deputy, Ekweremadu, would not resign their positions.
According to the Senate, there is no basis for them to throw in the towel because both Saraki and Ekweremadu were never mentioned by petitioners in the case involving alleged forgery of the 2015 Senate Standing Order.
In a statement signed yesterday by Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate said: “We note the statement issued by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. David Babachir Lawal, that the Senate is not the one on trial in the Forgery case instituted by the Attorney-General of the Federation against the Senate President and his deputy.
“We disagree with him on this position and we maintain our earlier stand that it is the Senate that is the target of the present attempt to intimidate the legislature to force a leadership change in the Senate.
“Mr. Babachir Lawal should tell us how reasonable it is to conclude that when the President of Nigeria and the Vice President are being jointly tried in a suit whose outcome can remove them from office, it is not the Buhari government that is being targeted?
“It is also imperative to clearly state that contrary to the claim by the SGF, neither the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, nor Senator Ike Ekweremadu was mentioned by the petitioners, the statements by those interviewed by the police or even the police report.
Don’t compare an apple with orange
“Meanwhile, let us refresh Mr. Lawal’s memory about the facts of the 1999 case. It is obvious that the Senate President and his deputy are not being accused of certificate forgery as it happened in ex-Speaker Salisu Buhari’s case.
“Therefore, nobody should compare an apple with orange. Also, neither Saraki nor Ekweremadu is below the age requirement for their present position as it was alleged in the Buhari case. Attempts to make the two situations look similar is to present all Nigerians as having no sense of history.
“We also know that nobody can be accused of forging his own signature. The executive is in no position to determine what is the correct Standing Orders of the Senate. The Senate President and his deputy were, as at the morning of the June 9, 2015 inauguration of the Senate, mere Senators-elect and could, therefore, not have been in a position to influence any alteration in the rule book.
“The Senate, as an institution, and, indeed, the National Assembly, has spoken about their understanding of the present assault on their independence by the executive.
“We maintain that this trial is a design by the executive to criminalize the internal affairs of the Senate to create a distraction for the leadership of the Senate, force a leadership change and cow the legislators.
“Those behind this plot find this trial more expedient and important than finding tangible solutions to the multi-farious socio-economic problems bedeviling the country. However, we are sure they will fail in this attempt. We only hope they will allow the judiciary to truly and creditably perform its duties and give independent verdict on the case.”