*Senators threaten Buhari with impeachment
*Senators Tinubu, Melaye in shouting match
*Legislatures not immune anywhere in the world – Gbajabiamila
*Immunity for presiding officers overdue —Tsav
By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor, Henry Umoru, Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu, Gbenga Oke, Joseph Erunke & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA — STRONG indications emerged, yesterday, that the alleged forgery case of 2015 Standing Order involving the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, has taken a different dimension as the Senate reportedly threatened President Muhammadu Buhari with impeachment.
Consequently, the executive session of the Senate went rowdy as it almost became a free for all between the chairman, Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Dino Melaye (APC,Kogi West), and the Chairman, Committee on Women Affairs, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, APC, Lagos Central.
A similar situation was equally underway in the House of Representatives, where a row broke out over the amendment of the constitution to provide immunity for presiding officers of the National Assembly and state legislatures.
The row was ignited following the decision of the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, to refer the issue to the Constitution Amendment Committee for deliberation, instead of being debated on the floor of the House.
Senate in closed-door session
Soon after resumption from its two weeks break, the Senate went into a closed door session which lasted for an hour to discuss, among others, how to move the red chambers forward, devoid of crisis.
The meeting was designed to get senators with court cases against the Senate leadership to withdraw the cases and return peace to the Upper Chamber.
At the meeting, yesterday, the mood of well over 90 percent of the senators was to suspend those ‘ erring’ members in the Senate Unity Forum, SUF, who dragged the Senate President, Senator Saraki, his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and others to court over alleged forgery of the 2015 Senate Standing Order.
A senator, who spoke with Vanguard, said the mood of the Senate was to suspend those senators and for the upper chambers to prove the supremacy of the legislature and teach the Presidency and the executive a lesson that the National Assembly and the Senate, in particular, be left to carry out its legislative duties effectively without any interference.
According to the senator, the Upper Chamber resolved that there is no case of forgery of the Standing Orders and asked that those involved should withdraw the case from the court.
The source told Vanguard that the move to suspend the senators was arrived at on Monday, preparatory to yesterday’s resumption.
According to the senator who pleaded anonymity, shortly after commencement of the executive session, some senators called on their colleagues, led by Senators Suleiman Hunkuyi (APC, Kaduna North) and Kabir Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central), to sheathe their swords and withdraw the petition that led to the criminal prosecution of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.
The senator said: “Senate resolved today (yesterday) to suspend those who dragged the Senate President and others to court over alleged forgery of the 2015 Standing Order.
‘’The Senate moved to suspend the erring senators and resolved that there was nothing like forgery. The mood of the Senate was to suspend them and 90 percent of the senators, both of PDP and APC, agreed to suspend them. Senators wanted to prove the supremacy of the legislature. “
Following their refusal to adhere strictly to the report of the senate Committee on Peace and Reconciliation, led by Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta South), there was a motion by Senator Dino Melaye that they should be suspended.
Senator Manager’s report which urged senators in court to withdraw their lawsuits for the sake of peace and unity in the Senate, had also recommended that all factional groups in the Senate be disbanded forthwith.
Those billed for suspension, it was gathered, include Senators Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa West); Suleiman Hunkuyi (APC, Kaduna North); Kabir Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central); Abu Ibrahim (APC, Katsina South), as well as other members of Senate Unity Forum, SUF.
According to the source, the executive session, which was chaired by Saraki, also reminded the Senate that a committee, led by former Senate President, David Mark, had been set up to “reconcile” members.
Curiously, Mr. Mark stood and said he was not informed that he chaired such a committee and that he didn’t know any of the members. He was simply told to do his “work”.
Melaye, Tinubu in shouting match
According to the source, the shouting match between Senators Melaye and Tinubu ensued when the former called on the senators to fight the Presidency to a standstill and was said to have issued threats.
It was at this point that Senator Tinubu asked Melaye why he should call for the suspension of the senators and confront the President.
Senator Tinubu was said to have warned the Senate to guard against being reduced to a kindergarten court where senators could just issue childish threats, and called on senators to close ranks and seek reconciliation among themselves. That was when Melaye flew into a rage.
“You can’t talk to me the way you talk to other people; you must respect yourself,’’ Melaye was said to have roared.
The statement caused a commotion on the floor as senators in her support gathered to protect her.
The source further told Vanguard that Senator Barnabas Gemade (APC, Benue North-East), who sensed that he would be affected if the suspension move sailed through, stepped in to plead with his colleagues to embrace peace.
The source told Vanguard that senators were, however, not happy with Senate President who reportedly begged and called for peace, against the decision of the senators to suspend those with cases in court.
Row in House of Reps
Away from the Senate, the House of Representatives rowed, yesterday, over the amendment of the constitution to provide immunity for presiding officers of the National Assembly and state legislature.
The row was ignited following decision of the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, to refer the issue to the Constitution Amendment Committee for deliberation, instead of being debated on the floor of the House.
Like the lawmakers, a host of eminent Nigerians were also sharply divided on whether or not the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, House of Representatives Speaker and his deputy as well as speakers and deputy speakers of the state Houses of Assembly should enjoy immunity as the President, Vice president, Governor and Deputy governor.
Those who spoke on the issue, yesterday, included Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN; former Nigerian Bar Association President, Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav; Senators Magnus Abe and Lee Maeba; Mr Kayode Ajulo and the Pan-Yoruba Socio-Political Organisation, Afenifere.
Ogor’s amendment bill
Minority Leader of the House, Leo Ogor, had in the Bill for an Act to alter the 1999 Constitution (as amended) canvassed the inclusion of the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President, the Speaker and his deputy in the immunity clause.
He called for the amendment of Section 308 of the Constitution, which only gives immunity to the President, Vice President, Governors and their deputies, to also include the presiding officers of the National Assembly.
Ogor, who represents Isoko Federal Constituency of Delta State, in the bill, which passed through second reading, though in a ‘controversial’ manner, wants an enactment by the National Assembly of the Constitution, Cap C23, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, referred to as the Principal Act.
The bill proposes the alteration of Section 308, Subsection 3 of the Principal Act to add the Senate President, Speaker, Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker after the Vice President as well as the speakers and deputy speakers of state Houses of Assembly immediately after the word, deputy governor.
He further explained that by providing immunity for the leadership of the National Assembly, the independence of the legislature would be guaranteed.
According to him, “the amendment is straight forward but it needs clear explanation; the amendment seeks to strengthen the National Assembly, they (leadership) should be protected in the period they are in office.”
Exemption from criminal offences
He said the presiding officers, which the bill sought to include in the immunity clause, should be exempted from criminal offences during the period of the four years they serve in office, but should answer for their offences immediately they step down from their positions.
Legislatures don’t enjoy immunity anywhere in the world — Gbajabiamila
But Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, opposed the idea, saying there was no democracy in the world where heads of the legislature enjoyed immunity, adding that even if it would work, the timing was wrong, especially now that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was facing trials.
He said they (lawmakers) were in the chamber to legislate because of the support of the people and that from reactions of the people, Nigerians did not support the bill because of the timing.
He further stated that the assumption was that the National Assembly embarked on the amendment because of what was happening in the Senate as regards the prosecution of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu over allegations of forgery of the Senate Standing Rules for the election of presiding officers of the Senate.
Recall also that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, is being tried at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged false assets declaration.
Gbajabiamila said there was no country in the world where the legislature was shielded from prosecution by immunity.
He said: “We must feel the pulse of the people we represent. Timing in any piece of legislation is very important. There are issues in the Senate and I pray it is resolved so that we don’t send wrong signals or message to the public.
“I don’t know any democracy in the world where the head of the legislature has immunity. I am not aware that the Chief Justice of Nigeria is under any immunity by constitutional provision.”
The constitution must protect the legislature—Ossai
Supporting the bill, Ossai Nicholas Ossai, who represents Ndokwa/Ukwuani Federal Constituency of Delta State, said the constitution, as it was currently, only protected the executive.
He said: “We have to include the National Assembly. The legislators need protection to do their work. When you protect the legislature, you protect the people.”
The House went rowdy when the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, abruptly ended debate on the matter, as he referred it to the Special Ad-hoc Committee on Constitutional Amendment, headed by the Deputy Speaker, Yusuff Lasun.
Some members, who had complained of not being paid their June salary and had planned to shun the plenary, found an opportunity to express their anger.
They told the speaker that the immunity issue should be discussed on the floor, rather than by the ad-hoc committee.
The confusion, which lasted for about 30 minutes, nearly divided the House along party lines between members of All Progressives Congress, APC, who made spirited efforts to kill the bill and those of the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who wanted the bill debated.
The majority leader had a herculean task convincing Obinna Chidoka, representing Idemili Federal Constituency of Anambra State, who had a contrary view to the position of the leader.
When calm was finally restored to the House, Dogara said the bill would be sent to the special committee on constitution review, in accordance with the House rules, even as he explained that “the bill can die even at the committee.”
Guiding the House, Ayorinde Olabode, Deputy Chairman, Rules and Business, cited Order 8, Rule 98 of the House rules, which provides that any bill that seeks to alter the constitution must be sent to the special committee.
It’s grossly improper — Sagay
Kicking against the agitation, Professor Itse Sagay said the move was grossly improper.
He said: “I have said it before that it is grossly improper because if you are not planning to commit crime, why are you anxious to be protected against your crime?
“So, immunity must not be increased by one inch and those who currently have immunity should be the only ones to enjoy it, there should be no expansion. For once, the Senate should go and sit down and plan something beneficial for Nigerians, instead of always promoting personal interest of themselves and their leadership.”
Immunity for presiding officers is overdue —Tsav
However, a retired Police Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, said: “What is happening in the country now regarding the trial of the Senate President and his deputy suggests that those offices should be protected.
“It is not because of them that we need immunity, it is because of the importance of the offices. It will be wrong if those offices are rubbished for political reasons.
“The lawmakers should have done this a long time ago because those positions are important to our democracy. The experience we are having now is very bad and if those offices are not protected, it would not mean well for our democracy.
“If there can be immunity for those offices, the nation must always ensure that credible people occupy those positions.”
It’s massive impunity —Agbakoba
Former NBA president, Dr Olisa Agbakoba, pooh-poohed the moves and urged the lawmakers to retrace their steps.
According to him, immunity for presiding officers of the legislature is “wrong and massive impunity.”
Lawmakers are proposing anarchy — Ajulo
A legal practitioner, Mr Kayode Ajulo, said the move would only lead to anarchy, adding that it would not augur well for the country.
Ajulo said: “Immunity all over the world is only enjoyed by the executive. For the legislature to claim and to ask and to be contemplating immunity means that they are contemplating that they are sovereign.
“The kind of constitution we operate never envisaged that legislators will ever have immunity. What they are proposing is anarchy.
“What lies ahead now is anarchy because the legislators are not thinking about the people, they are only representing themselves.
“For the past one year, we are yet to see any people-oriented legislation. If they are not fighting for allowance, they will be fighting for offices.”
We abhor it —Afenifere
The Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, said it abhorred the clamour for immunity, saying the National Assembly would only pitch itself against Nigerians.
Its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “The National Assembly should forget about having immunity. In fact, we are canvassing that the immunity clause should be removed.
“We abhor what they are trying to do. They should forget about immunity because they can only pitch themselves against the people by talking about immunity.”
Immunity should not cover criminal acts —Abe
Senator Magnus Abe said the issue of immunity for National Assembly’s presiding officers was something Nigerians needed to look at very critically because the National Assembly already enjoyed immunity that enables lawmakers to do their job and on the floor of the National Assembly.
“But to be looking for immunity to cover any other criminal activity outside of this is something that should not be considered,” he said.
Members should be answerable for their acts — Maeba
Senator Lee Maeba said National Assembly members should be answerable for their acts while in office.
He said: “I am not an apostle of immunity because immunity makes people to be above the law. I believe everybody should be answerable for their deeds while in office and the only way you can be accountable to the people you represent is when you don’t try to be above the law.”