By Emmanuel Aziken
When Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila penultimate Friday vowed to report the country’s service chiefs to President Muhammadu Buhari over their failure to personally honour a meeting, he raised questions about the competence and capacity of the federal legislature.
Speaking after the aborted meeting, Speaker Gbajabiamila said:
“I am almost embarrassed to tell you the truth. There was no call placed to my office to explain why just sending accountants and representatives.”
“We will postpone this meeting till Monday morning; I will personally see the president myself because we are supposed to work as one.”
His threat to report them to the president came after the deputy president of the Senate; Senator Ovie Omo-Agege affirmed that the Senate would not in any way trouble President Buhari.
The development immediately triggered questions as to the independence of the 9th National Assembly.
At the next adjourned meeting the Speaker called after he went public with his threat, all but one of the service chiefs with the notable exception of the army chief honoured the rescheduled meeting last Monday. The army chief was represented by the next in rank, Lt. Gen. Adeosun.
Saturday Vanguard could not confirm as at press time if the Speaker was able to meet the president personally as he vowed before the president’s departure last weekend for the 74th United Nations General Assembly. But apparently, something was done, a close associate of Speaker Gbajabiamila told Saturday Vanguard.
However, the senior official said that actions were taken that inevitably convened the seriousness the Speaker regarded the issue.
“For them to have come, it means that contact was made,” the senior official told Saturday Vanguard.
He, however, said that nothing formal in writing or in the form of a delegation meeting the president was made.
“They could have been called. The point is, was something done? Since all of them came, some time was done,” the official said.
Noting the power of the purse available to the legislature, he said:
“The next available option was to use the power of the purse, but that was a long term shot. So who is their head, and that is the president.
“We had this situation last year when the ministers were refusing to come for budget defence, but after a FEC meeting, we heard how they were instructed to make themselves available to the National Assembly.
“Should he have said it (report them to the president) or not is another thing, but they have somebody that they report to and it looked like wisdom for the Speaker to take that route.”
The Speaker’s threat some argued was, however, reflective of the repeated assertions of loyalty by the presiding officers of the National Assembly to the president.
The night he was elected deputy president of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege who was particularly remembered for his role in pushing the agenda of the presidency in the preceding Senate, presented himself to Buhari where he knelt for him in traditional Urhobo custom of greeting.
Following that, both him and Senate President Ahmad Lawan made submissions of loyalty to the president.
A former legislator and chairman of the Cross River State River Basin Authority, Eseme Eyiboh, however, saw the Speaker’s threat of reporting the service chiefs as an issue taken out of context.
“We have always talked about constructive engagement, so I think the Speaker may have been quoted out of context because if he says reporting that would sound as if the House is subservient or it lacks the constitutional power to summon the service chiefs,” Eyiboh said.
“What he meant was official communication with the presidency, not president per se. what he means is official communication between the Speaker and the president, it is an official communication. But when you say reporting it means that the House of Representatives is helpless which is not.
“When it is said that the deputy Senate president said he will never anything to hurt the president that is not to mean that they would disrupt or undermine their legislative responsibilities on the altar of personal relationship with the president.”
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, however, saw Speaker Gbajabiamila’s threat as melodrama meant for showmanship.
HURIWA in a response to Saturday Vanguard said: “Unhealthy squabbles and media showmanship from political actors targeting military chiefs are big distractions which must be avoided at this material point in time because these are very unusual and abnormal times and during war times the entire leadership structures must bury the hatchet and superiority complexes so the central enemy of the Republic is dealt with decisively “.
HURIWA said that in as much as it supports the healthy coexistence of all segments of government and also in as much as it supports the adherence to the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution regarding the principles of checks and balances which gives the national parliament the power of constitutional oversight over all national institutions, but the Rights group cautioned against any political distraction and sensationalisation that could send the wrong signals to enemies of Nigeria and the terrorists that the leadership of Nigeria and the hierarchies of the nation’s military are divided and therefore try to hit back at the territorial platform of Nigeria.”
However, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, saw the Speaker’s assertion as beggarly and one that diminishes the institution of parliament.
“Under our constitution, the service chiefs must submit them selves to a legislative oversight and democratic control , this development of disregarding the invite of the legislature is diminishing and disrespectful of our legislature.
“Therefore our legislators must rise up to improve on their image and restore integrity of National Assembly and respect themselves by conducting their affairs in line with our constitution and avoid doing anything that is capable of losing their respect from any government institutions in Nigeria ?ðÿŸÿ‡ÿ¬ÿ. They have power that must be used in line with our constitution so no one must disrespect the legislature as long as it operates within the constitutional provisions.
Given the legislative powers of the National Assembly to act as a check on the president the question on who the National Assembly will report the president to in the event of a breach is one that Speaker Gbajabiamila may have to respond to one day.