The docking of the two presiding officers of the Senate was the high point of the intrigues that shadowed allegations of the reported forging of the Standing Rules of the legislative body.
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
It was the unmistakable signal of the faceoff between the legislative and executive branches of government which brought to focus the ambiguous definition of the separation of powers between the two arms of government.
The trial of the two presiding officers of the Senate; Senate President Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, however, was not the first acrimonious matter between the Senate and the executive branch.
The docking in September, 2015 of Senator Saraki over sundry allegations of relating to alleged improper declaration of assets had shown to all that executive – legislative relations between the Muhammadu Buhari administration and the legislature would be rocky. Saraki’s arraignment had been traced to the fallout from the Senate leadership election in which the candidate allegedly supported by Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress, APC had been bested by Saraki with the help of opposition members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The president, according to sources was even more embarrassed that Ekweremadu from the PDP was a fixture in the new leadership.
Given that the administration’s goons initially could only establish the assets declaration case against Saraki, further efforts were put into finding a case to entrap Ekweremadu too.
The goons eventually put its efforts on a petition filed by members of the Senate Unity Forum which alleged that the Standing Orders used to conduct the leadership election that brought Saraki and Ekweremadu to office in 015 was forged.
The petition filed by Saraki’s rivals who lost the election had to do with the fact that the 2015 Senate Standing Rules as printed by the management was not approved by the preceding 2011 Senate.
A police investigation into the petition filed in June 2015 by Saraki’s rivals, however, come to a dead end. While the 13 page report authored by a Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG Dan‘Azumi Doma noted that mistakes were made in not following the procedures of the Senate in producing the rule book, noting that the action could be criminal, it however, noted that advise should be sought from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation to determine whether the action really lied within the normal legislative affairs of the Senate.
In his deposition to the Police team, the then National Assembly Clerk, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa who conducted the election affirmed that he did not use the Standing Rules for the election as according to him, he did not have to. Mr. Ben Efeturie, the then Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly and Clerk of the Senate owned up to the amendments saying that it was done according to the normal process which he said led up to production of the 2003, 2007 and 2011 Standing Orders.
The police team, however, discountenanced Mr. Efeturi’s submission. That, report, however, did not indict any person. Even more remarkable, Senators Saraki and Ekweremadu who were repeatedly mentioned in the media over the issue through alleged leakages from the police were not once questioned over the issue.
The conclusion of the report submitted in July 2015 that the case file be returned to the Attorney General for advise looked like a fitting political solution to an intractable political problem.
However, as the faceoff between the Senate and the administration worsened through the first half of 2016, unknown figures in the presidency again stirred the hornet’s nest.
Sometime around June 2016 it emerged that the office of the Attorney General was preparing to dock Saraki and Ekweremadu over the issue. The two men interestingly up to that time had not been questioned on the issue, though there were reports in the media that they were evading the police.
By June the administration had apparently made up its mind to file the charges of forgery against Saraki and Ekweremadu. The charge sheet dated June 10, 2016 was backed with affidavits of claims including among others that investigations into the case had been concluded.
The two men alongside Maikasuwa and Efeturi were eventually arraigned on June 27 before Justice Yusuf Haliru in Abuja on a two-count charge on forgery. All men pleaded not guilty and were granted bail.
Following the arraignment, Senator Ekweremadu issued a statement in which he alleged that the judiciary was being used by the judiciary to antagonise those not agreeing with it.
“It is deeply troubling to note that people in high places who swore to uphold the law have dwindled into purveyors of falsehood and rumours who seek to smear and tarnish the reputation of law abiding and responsible citizens as well as cripple the hallowed institutions of democracy. It is all the more disheartening that people who should know better use the colour of their office to pursue private vendetta against people they disagree with,” Ekweremadu said.
Ekweremadu who just before that time had been invited to deliver the United States Library of Congress annual Constitution Day lecture also fired a shot to the United States ambassador in Nigeria in which he deposed that though he was not for once mentioned in the petition, he had become the object of the prosecution by the Federal Government.
Even before the next arraignment of the two men could be done, superior counsel within the Office of the Attorney General began to see loopholes that could easily defeat the case. Among the loopholes was the tongue lashing given by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court against the AGF over the institution of a criminal matter on the alleged forgery when a civil action to challenge the propriety of the police report on the alleged forgery was still pending. Remarkably, the AGF and the police were defendants in that suit.
A letter written from the IGP’s office dated August 25, 2016 to the Clerk of the Senate seeking fresh information was meant to tighten the case against the four men preparatory to the handover of the case to the new prosecution case.
Preparation for the handover
Meanwhile, the AGF in a letter to the IGP also asked for the reopening of the case saying that from its review the investigation had not been concluded. The request was apparently in preparation for the handover of the case to a special prosecutor who had been recruited by the AGF to handle the prosecution.
However, whatever it was, as the new prosecutor, took over the case on his first date in court applied to drop the charges against all four persons in light of the fact that the civil case was already proceeding before Justice Kolawole. That in effect brought to an end what many saw as a court circus that pushed the tendons separating the powers of the two arms of government to an extreme.