From Willy Eya, Magnus Eze, Enugu, Ndubuisi Orji, Fred Itua, Abuja, Chinelo Obogo, Sunday Ani and Romanus Okoye
There was uncertainty, yesterday, over the appearance of President Muhammadu Buhari before a joint session of the National Assembly today.
President Buhari is scheduled to appear to brief lawmakers on efforts by government to address rising security challenges across the country.
However, at plenary, yesterday, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, skipped a motion in the Order Paper, which sought the permission to admit ministers, service chiefs and others, who were expected to accompany the president into the legislative chamber.
The motion, which was in the name of the House Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, and entitled “Admittance into the Chamber” read: “That the House pursuant to Order 19, Rule 8(1) and (2) of the Standing Orders, do admit into the Chamber, the Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Service Chiefs and other dignitaries for the purpose of receiving an Address by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the security situation in the country.”
Gbajabiamila neither gave any reason for not taking the motion nor offer any information on the scheduled appearance of President Buhari.
The House had last week summoned the president to appear before it over rising insecurity after 43 farmers were killed in Borno State by suspected Boko Haram insurgents.
Barely 24 hours to the scheduled appearnce, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the House, Taiwo Oluga, said it was too early to say if the president would honour the summon or not.
In his reaction, Senate spokesman, Ajibola Bashiru, said the summon did not emanate from the upper legislative chamber.
When contacted, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, said there is no official communication from the Presidency on whether or not President Buhari would appear before a joint session as earlier scheduled.
“No official communication yet,” he said in a WhatsApp message to Daily Sun.
The lawmaker had told journalists in Abuja last week that the president has no reason not to honour the invitation of the House.
But amidst speculations, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) declared that the National Assembly has no constitutional powers to summon President Buhari on issues pertaining to the operational use of the armed forces.
In the statement signed by his spokesperson, Dr. Umar Gwandu, Malami added: “As the Commander-in-Chief, the president has exclusivity on security and has confidentiality over security. These powers and rights he does not share. So, by summoning the president on national security operational matters, the House of Representative operated outside constitutional bounds. President’s exclusivity of constitutional confidentiality investiture within the context of the constitution remains sacrosanct.”
Reps Dep. Minority Leader, lawyers, others disagree
Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Toby Okechukwu, in a statement, said the position of the AGF was “strange” as the invitation of President Buhari was a prudent effort on the part of the legislature to find a lasting solution to the worsening insecurity in the country.
He said President Buhari willingness to appear before the House was evident in his interaction with Gbajabiamila.
“Without making undue to efforts to win an argument, Section 89 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended clearly empowers the Senate or the House of Representatives or a committee appointed in accordance with Section 62 of the Constitution to procure evidence, written or oral and to ‘summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place.
“Therefore, the attempt to pressurise Mr. President not to appear clearly shows that some highly placed political actors in the ruling party are placing politics over the protection of lives of Nigerians. The APC is evidently fiddling with propaganda and politics while Nigeria burns.”
Okechukwu expressed sadness that every invitation by a branch of government to another branch to interact towards addressing any national challenges was considered as demeaning, thereby triggering unnecessary flexing of muscles.
“it is evident from APC’s position as made public by the AGF that the safety of Nigerian citizens would take a back sit in the next few days, while the argument over who is right or wrong unfortunately takes the front seat.”
The lawmaker charged President Buhari to rise above the legalese and political fray to show leadership in order to rally the Nigerian people and their parliament to find lasting solutions to the growing insecurity in the country.
But Senior Advocates Dr. Olisa Agbakoba and Chief Paul Ananaba as well as elder statesman, Junaid Mohammed agreed with Malami that NASS lacked powers to summon President Buhari.
Agbakoba, however, said the question whether the NASS could summon the president remained difficult and may require judicial interpretation of the scope of oversight powers of NASS.
“I doubt that the president can be summoned and the only officially prescribed visit the president may make to the National Assembly is to lay the budget estimates.”
Chief Ananaba also agreed with the AGF to the extent that NASS has no power to ‘summon’ the president.
Junaid Mohammed, second republic member of the House of Representatives told Daily Sun said it was more of a moral issue that the president responds to a summon from the National Assembly. He said it was wrong for the minister of justice to dismiss the summon as outrightly unconstitutional.
The former lawmaker added that the National Assembly should have invited the president on other issues, since the administration has proven that it lacked the competence to tackle insecurity.
Former member of the House of Representatives and Senator for Kano Central, Rufai Hanga, said the legislature has the constitutional right to summon anyone to appear before it.
Hanga, who was first national chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), told Daily Sun that the legislators are direct representatives of the people and whatever they do or say, it is the Nigerian people who are doing it.
However, he said Buhari would not be the first executive to rebuff NASS and faced no repercussions. He advised the legislature to put their acts together and act responsibly so that they would be respected.
A lawyer and former presidential candidate of Citizens Popular Party (CPP), Chief Maxi Okwu, agreed that “technically”, NASS has no powers to summon the president.
He observed, however, that the lawmaking body could summon any person, authority, ministry or government department once it is confirmed that the matter over which they are investigating is within their powers to make law.
Rights lawyer, Ugochukwu Ezekiel-Hank, Enugu-based activist, Olu Omotayo and Chairman, Board of Trustees of International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (INTERSOCIETY), Emeka Umeagbalasi, expressed shock that a SAN and number one law officer in Nigeria could make such statement.
According to Ezekiel-Hanks, Section 88(1) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended) clearly empowers the National Assembly to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged or intended to be charged, with the duty or responsibility for executing or administering laws made by the National Assembly or disbursing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly.
Also faulting the AGF, Executive Director of Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAN), Olu Omotayo, said there was nothing wrong about the lawmakers’ invitation to the president to address them on the deteriorating security situation in the country.
In his reaction, immediate past president of the Inter Party Advisory Council of Nigeria (IPAC), Chief Peter Ameh, said Buhari would have bungled an opportunity to win back the hearts of Nigerians if he refused to appear before the National Assembly to defend the war he is fighting against insecurity in the country.
“The issue with democracy is that it is government of representation and when you have opportunity to appear before the legislative chamber, comprising all various units of our society, powerfully representing the country and diving you this platform to talk to the Nigerian people, especially on how much you have done as it regards security, he would not have bungled it.”