By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
The APC has come alive. It barks endlessly these days. That is some consolation for many of its disillusioned supporters. They can begin to hope again. That this enthusiasm and energy would yield a strong party with firm democratic traditions.
Time will tell if the party can bite, and chew and grow. Time will also tell if it can infuse the government with sense of party politics. The APC must, whenever it finds the opportunity, defend the principles of democracy vigorously. And an opportunity has presented.
The APC claims 57 senators. So why does it wait for Saraki and Ekweremmadu to reconvene the Senate. There is an urgent reason for reconvening the Senate. The Independent National Electoral commission (INEC) needs funds for an imminent major democratic assignment. It doesn’t matter that the executive may have been less than diligent and didn’t make the request for appropriation in time. The party cannot fold its hands and moan helplessness. The law is, after all, not such an ass.
The law in any situation lies somewhere between the letters, the spirit and the underpinning legal philosophy of relevant statutes, case law and political morality. Those who drafted the constitution had objectives. Their intentions and overall interest of the country become especially important when a literal interpretation of the law doesn’t cure a grave unforeseen malady.
Imagine that Saraki retains his current position. And elopes to Gambia with Ekweremmadu in tow. The drafters of the constitution could not have anticipated that level of self centredness and cynicism. They couldn’t have therefore allocated the power to reconvene the Senate to only its presiding officer to bestow ‘Obaship’ on them.
The Senate cannot foreseeably wait until Saraki and his comrade return from their anxiety neurosis and decide to reconvene the Senate. What if Saraki and Ekweremmadu choose an extended holiday in Seychelles rather than pay attention to national issues of urgent importance. It couldn’t have been the intention of the drafters of the constitution to hand over to a Saraki and an Ekweremmad the balls of the Senate and of the nation. It couldn’t have been.
The constitution is clear about the status of the presiding officers. Saraki is a mere first amongst equals. He can only break ties. His votes in any senate resolutions have same weight as those of any individual senator. Any exclusive rights extended to him by the constitution must be to serve order and co ordination and not to make him a super senator. Therefore, such a right should never be construed as capable of defeating the wishes of the majority of senators at any time. No such rights and privileges accruing to the presiding officers must be read to make fellow senators their inferiors, subjects or houseboys.
A sufficient number of senators acting in unison with an equivalent number of members of the House of Representatives can cause a political earthquake at the centre. They can bring down the presidency. If 73 senators can breach the sacred wall that separates the executive and legislature and set the executive asunder then it can smash open any locked doors of the of the national assembly. A holistic reading of the constitution then must mean that a sufficient number of senators can easily override the Senate president on any single decision.
But what could the actual deciding numerical threshold be?
Seventy three senators are needed to remove Saraki. That is my reading of the constitution. I think that that constitutional requirement is stiff considering that less than half of the number can make a senate president. But it could have been so couched to enthrone stability and discourage frivolity. But let’s leave that aside. Let’s concede that the number for removal is 73. 73 can remove him even if he decides to run into a cave in Timbuktu to avoid an impeachment. If 73 have to wait for him to reconvene the Senate once he declares a recess, then an unscrupulous senate president and his deputy can stave off impeachment indefinitely by refusing to reconvene a state they have thrown into an abrupt recess. That cannot be the right reading of the constitution.
In a regular plenary, a majority of senators always speaks for the Senate. The majority has its way regardless of how the senate president feels. If that is the case then a majority of the whole house must be able to override Saraki and recall the Senate. Fifty seven senators acting in unison can reconvene the Senate without Saraki and Ekweremmadu’s co operation. A majority of the whole house would make the need for every single senator’s presence irrelevant. It is an unassailable majority. It must be the intention of the drafters of the constitution that a majority of the members, 55 senators, can override the intransigence of a Saraki and Ekweremadu, and the insouciance of other holidaying senators and reconvene the Senate.
If the APC can muster the support of all of its senators then they should forward a signed resolution to the Senate president and the clerk. If the Senate president fails to recognize the resolution as binding because he prefers the beach then the majority should have its way and throw open the doors of the chambers. By so doing the party would be deepening our practice of democracy. Saraki and the members of the opposition would be welcome to challenge the action not by calling on the European Union to revoke visas but by approaching our courts for judicial interpretation of the relevant statutes and a review of that action.
It is my submission that no judge would preserve the Obaship of Saraki over the majority of senators.