One reason Britain stands pole tall above other democracies throughout the world is that the country has no written constitution and yet remains about the most politically stable. In place of a written document, Britain is governed through a set of conventions piled up over centuries. Still administered through separation of powers – executive, parliament and judiciary, the prevailing tranquility is due to the integrity and civilised conduct of one set of operators after another.
Let’s stop for a moment and imagine Nigeria without a written constitution. What would have been the situation in the current circumstances in which National Assembly members are deliberately inflaming tension in a desperate attempt to cover up alleged crime of forgery of official documents.
Fortunately, we have a written and almost over-interpreted constitution. Whether we value it or not, we must thank God for the document and therefore do not need National Assembly members to educate us on the separation of powers among the executive, the judiciary and the National Assembly. In fact, if any group needs proper education on separation of powers under our constitution, National Assembly members must march forward for the tutoring.
These lucky fellows are in a privileged position of making laws for the good governance of the country and their fellow citizens. Instead of good conduct accordingly, they also constitute themselves over and over again into situations of putting the country on edge. If Nigeria was wobbling in poor financial situation in which it was virtually impossible to pay workers salaries/pensions at state and federal levels, our National Assembly members would busy themselves fixing their allowances and outrageous salaries. If government at federal and state levels kept appealing to ordinary Nigerians to make sacrifices in view of Nigeria’s poor economic situation, our National Assembly members would be considering pensions and increased allowances for themselves.
The latest in the series of their reckless ventures is the apparent subterfuge to put themselves above the law failing which they are intimidating Nigerians with prospects of democracy getting scuttled. By whom if not themselves? If they care to know, National Assembly members will be the biggest (and only?) losers if democracy collapses because so far, they are the only beneficiaries feeding fat while other fellow Nigerians are suffering, so to speak.
Under the illusion of taking their case to the public, they only succeeded in convicting themselves. Some members of the National Assembly (specifically the Senate) were faulted for allegedly forging official documents and were subjected to due process of law. Police were invited to carry out necessary investigation and those alleged to be liable were to be tried in a court of law. That is completely in line with provisions of Nigerian constitution especially under the spurious separation of powers the senators, obviously ignorantly, were flaunting.
These chaps arrogantly aim at constituting themselves into a special breed enjoying privileges exclusive to themselves. The law in Nigeria is unambiguous and applies to everybody. But according to the senators, “this is a dangerous case of violation of the independence of the legislature, undue and unnecessary interference in the internal affairs of the Senate and blatant abuse of judicial process. To now take the matter that was resolved on the floor of the Senate to the police and then make it form the subject of a criminal prosecution of freely elected legislators beats all inauguration of free thinking men all over the world. The current move clearly runs contrary to the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances, which are fundamental to the successful operation of the presidential system of government… The implication is that any matter that fails on the floor of the National Assembly will now be taken to the police, thereby endangering every senator and House member.”
Regretfully, with their long-winding “big turenci,” all these senators have succeeded in doing is to exhibit their ignorance of the provisions of Nigerian constitution on matters of separation of powers. By the admission or claim of the senators quoted above, a matter was resolved on the floor of the Senate etc. Which matter? A criminal offence of forging of official documents. Which Nigerian law or section of Nigerian constitution confers on the National Assembly the judicial authority to resolve a criminal matter? If a criminal offence at the National Assembly could be investigated and prosecuted with final ruling on the floor of National Assembly, why couldn’t or shouldn’t a similar criminal offence at Ministry of Agriculture be tried and resolved in that department?
Unless he or she endangers himself, any senator who does not commit a criminal offence stands no risk of being arraigned or prosecuted in a court of law.
So far, prosecuting any senator for alleged forgery of official document does not violate the independence of the National Assembly. Independence does not mean immunity against prosecution for forgery or criminal offences generally.
Except in the wrong reasoning of our senators, the purpose of the doctrine of separation of powers or independence of the National Assembly begins and ends only on matters of legislating for the country, no more than the independence of the judiciary to interpret laws and the executive to ENFORCE laws which, exactly is what the Federal Attorney-General is performing in prosecuting criminal offences committed on the floor of National Assembly. That is the separation of powers.
If Nigerian constitution is not being read upside down, how could senators commit criminal forgery and the same senators took it on themselves to investigate or proceed to pass judgment on the same matter? It is the sole authority of law courts to interpret the law whether senators committed forgery or not.
Even on matters of electing presiding officers, there is nothing absolute in the independence of National Assembly except to the extent that such elections took place in strict adherence to subsisting regulations.
In the instant case, the Senate elected its leaders but the election was thereafter faulted for alleged forgery of the rules and regulations, especially following complaints of some fellow senators. If true, should law enforcement agencies (police) to which complaints were lodged, have endorsed the criminal offence of alleged forgery?
Here is another hypothesis. Suppose in the process of electing their leaders or to ensure majority on their part, senators shot a couple of their colleagues, would such a capital offence, in violation of Nigerian laws have been allowed to pass without law enforcement agents performing their duty as to who, how, why and when the murders were committed? Or would the Senate have asserted its much-flaunted independence under a bogus separation of powers to cover up the crime?
If rape were committed in the Senate, would the National Assembly wave its so-called separation of powers to resolve the crime or police would commence investigations to nab the culprit? Or would the Senate resist the subsequent necessary prosecution? Neither separation of power nor independence of the legislature can ever be a shield to cover up alleged crimes by high-profile Nigerians.
A few years back, some members of British House of Commons were faulted for fraudulent claims in their allowances. Despite the fact that the crime spread across all party lines, the Attorney General directed office of public prosecutions to try all those involved. Those found guilty were either jailed or ordered to refund, which was still a form of conviction. There was no blackmail that the Attorney-General or the executive was violating the independence of parliament.
In clear blackmail to avoid prosecution of some of its members for the crime of forgery of official documents, the National Assembly (or a section of it) also announced non-co-operation with the executive. Nigerians can only be happy at the disagreement between two conspirators. For the past one year, National Assembly members were taking care of themselves while the executive looked the other way. What have ordinary Nigerians benefitted? Increased taxes and tariffs right, left and centre. Breakdown of their co-operation is for the advantage of ordinary Nigerians.
Still on the matter of the coming trial for alleged forgery. The crime was either committed or not committed, and only a court of law, rather than the National Assembly is empowered by the constitution to interpret the law under which the suspects are to be tried.