By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA— House of Representatives threatened, yesterday, to invoke section 89 of the 1999 Constitution to arrest some senior officials of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
The officials include Senior Adviser to the President on Prosecution, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla. who doubles as the Chairman of Special Presidential Investigation Panel, SPIP, on Public Assets Recovery; Office of the Vice President; Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha.
Others are the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita; Inspector-General of Police, IGP, Ibrahim Idris; Account-General of the Federation; Auditor General of the Federation and all relevant stakeholders in the legal and financial administrations of the country.
Others invited also are the Budget Office of the Federation, Code of Conduct Bureau, National Human Rights Commission and Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.
Reasons for the proposed arrest was their failure to honour the invitation of the House Adhoc Committee investigating the legality and modus operandi of the special presidential panel to a public hearing, which commenced, yesterday, at the National Assembly complex in Abuja.
While the chairman of the panel appeared by proxy in the person of the Head, Legal Unit, Mr. Celcus Ukpong, most of the agencies sent either a director or deputy director as representatives.
Others completely boycotted the hearing without either sending a representative or an explanatory note.
The development infuriated chairman of the Adhoc Committee, Aliyu Pategi, and his members who lambasted the officials for treating their invitations with levity and by extension, disregarding the people of Nigeria who they represent.
Making his remarks, Pategi said the hearing was not to witch-hunt anyone but to ascertain in line with best practices, how and the panel got its monetary appropriations, since the panel was not known to the Parliament.
According to him, the adhoc committee was set up sequel to a motion considered by the House on March 2, 2018.
He said: “We must do things with decorum in line with global practices. No expenditure can be carried except in the manner described by the National Assembly. Our effort is not to witch hunt. The public hearing is meant to gather information on the issue.
“We must get to all seizures and locations to ensure that SPIP is operating under the constitution of the federal Republican of Nigeria. A holistic oversight will be conducted. We checked our entire appropriation act, and we have not seen anywhere money has been appropriated by the Parliament from 2016”.
Vexed by the boycott and the representation of many principal heads of parastatals and agencies by some directors, the chairman lambasted the executive arm of government for treating the legislature with such disdain.
He said: “As a Parliament, we have been complaining about the frosty relationship between the legislature and the executive. We have always been accused of not passing the budget early but you are not up and doing. I am telling you that all of you were late in your submissions apart from Human Rights Commission.
“The chairman (Presidential panel) is not here. We don’t take representation in parliament. No body is above the law. You said that the chairman traveled, traveled to where? He is responsible to the people. We are going to insist on probity, accountability as well as legislative oversight.”
Committee members react
Yielding the floor to his colleagues, Hon. Pategi asked for their opinions on the matter.
The first to speak was Ayo Oyerinde (Ondo). Who carpeted the chairman of the panel, saying he had wasted the time of the committee by not showing up for the hearing.
According to him, the chairman was among the critical stakeholders whose presence and presentation was vital to the investigation.
He said: “It is not proper. The whole essence of our being here is to investigate the activities of the panel. None of the members is here. It is an affront to the Nigeria people. We are supposed to be in plenary, none of the supposedly 7 members is here. None if them is here.’’
Also speaking, Aliyu Madaki (Kano) stated that if the Chairman of the panel and the members could flout the law, the import was that they were not qualified to hold public office.
He urged the Committee to adjourn the hearing to a further date.
“This has clearly shown the lackadaisical attitude to national assembly by the MDAs. I don’t know what Nigeria has become. In any case, my advise is to postpone today’s meeting. What else can we do? I am not convinced that those people can’t be be here. If a person disobeys the laws, I think the person is unfit to hold a public office,’’ he said.
In his input, another member of the committee, Kingsley Chinda (Rivers) suggested that the committee should invoke section 89 of the constitution to summon the heads.
“Mr. Chairman, all the agencies are represented. I don’t think that there is anyone whose head is here. Mr. Chairman, I simply apply that we summon these head under section 89 of the constitution and where they fail, we know what to do. And let’s sound this as a warning. It is not done anywhere. The UK Parliament cannot invite a citizen and he fails to come. Mr. Chairman, I apply we issue a summon. Ordinarily, I would say they remain here until their heads come,” he said.
Aggregating the opinions of his colleagues, Pategi who read section 89 of the constitution to the hearing of all present, further lambasted the absentee heads, saying the Parliament had the constitutional powers to even impeach the President who appointed them.
He warned against a repeat of such action by heads of agencies, threatening that the National Assembly could suspend their budgets should they continue to err in law.
He said: “We as a Parliament intend to take our assignments serious. We will start aacnting executive agencies that refuse to honour our summons from president Buhari himself to those he has appointed. When some big-headed appointees feel they won’t answer our invitations, they are wasting public money. They display such arrogance like people that never saw the four walls of a school. I will take the advise of my colleague and read it (Constitution) to you. We are worried about the level of ineptitude they exhibit.’’
Declaring the public hearing open earlier, speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, who was represented by the Deputy Minority Whip, Binta Bello, said the investigation was necessary to prevent Nigerians from facing different laws on the same subject matter.
“It is undeniable that it is the responsibility of the judiciary to give final interpretation on the legality or otherwise on any question of law.
‘’However, it is also the constitutional responsibility of the National Assembly to make laws or to plug the defects in any existing law or to amend any law as it deems fit especially to protect Nigerians from the possibility of double jeopardy of facing different laws and different judicial and executive agencies on the same subject matter,” he said.