The Senate on Sunday described the charges of forgery of the Senate Rules brought against its principal officers by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), as a coup against the legislature.
SEE ALSO: FG Files Fresh Charges Against Saraki, Ekweremadu
The federal government has filed fresh charges against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki; his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu; former Clerk to the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa and his deputy, Benedict Efeturi.
The two-count criminal charges include offence of conspiracy punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Law; and offence of forgery with “fraudulent intent” punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code Law.
The case, which was filed on June 10, 2015 at the Federal High Court in Abuja, has been assigned to Justice Yusuf Haliru.
The Senate accused the executive and some unnamed party leaders of instituting the case to ensure that Messrs. Saraki and Ekweremadu were remanded in prison and prevented from presiding over the affairs of the Senate.
In a statement by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, the upper legislative chamber described the forgery case as unconstitutional and a violation of the principles of separation of powers, checks and balances.
It warned that the prosecution of the principal officers, which it alleged was a ploy to effect leadership change in red chamber, was capable of plunging the country into anarchy and constitutional crisis, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to caution Malami.
The statement said, “We are compelled to alert the good people of Nigeria and the international community, that our democracy is in danger and that the attempt by the executive arm of the Federal Government to muzzle the legislature and criminalise legislative processes in order to cause leadership change in the National Assembly is a return to the era of impunity and lack of respect for due process, which we all fought to abolish.
“We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to please caution his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami.
“It is clear that the Attorney General and party leaders behind this action either lack the understanding of the underlining principles of constitutional democracy, the concept of separation of powers, checks and balances and parliamentary convention or they just simply do not care if the present democracy in the country survives or collapses in their blinded determination to get Saraki and Ekweremadu by all means necessary, including abuse of office and sacking the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
The Senate said it believed other national issues deserving the attention of all levels of government at this critical time should have been the priority of the Buhari administration instead of initiating plots capable of destabilizing the National Assembly.
The statement added, “We are in a state of economic emergency such that what the National Assembly needs at this time are executive bills and proposals aimed at resolving the crises of unemployment, currency depreciation, inflation, crime and insecurity.
“What the National Assembly needs now are executive bills to build and strengthen institutions to earn revenues, fight corruption and eliminate waste. Instead, we are getting hostile actions aimed at destabilising the National Assembly, distracting senators from their oversight functions and ensuring good and accountable governance.
“We must make it clear here to the individuals in the executive arm and party leadership behind these plot not to mistake the maturity and hand of cooperation being extended to the Presidency by the legislature as a sign of weakness.
“The National Assembly bent backwards to accommodate various infractions and inefficiencies in pursuit of inter-arms cooperation and national interest. We did not follow up the various infractions because we believe there are bigger issues which the government has to attend to in order to ensure that every Nigerian has food on his table and live comfortably in a secure environment”.
The Senate spokesperson noted that the alleged forgery case was a strategy to send Saraki and Ekweremadu to prison and prevent them from performing their constitutional roles.
It stated, “This latest plot is directed at forcing a change of leadership in the Senate or, in the extreme case, ground the red chamber of the National Assembly. Or how do one interpret a move in which the two presiding officers are being set up to be remanded in Kuje Prison or incapacitated from sitting at plenary through a day-to-day trial on a matter that is purely an internal affair of the Senate.
“This obviously 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 the judicial process.
“To now take a 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 imagination of free thinking men all over the world.
“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.
“This 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. It runs counter to the principle outlined by the Supreme Court in Adesanya Vs Senate case, where it was held that nobody should seek to use the courts to achieve what he or she has failed to push through on the floor of the National Assembly.
“This present effort, therefore, is clearly a coup against the legislature with the ignoble aim to undermine its independence and subject the law making institution to the whims and caprices of the executive. It is a plan to return Nigeria to the dictatorial era which we have, as a nation, voted to reject.
“It is a dangerous trend with grave implications for the survival of our democracy and the integrity of the component institutions.
“This rule of men as against the rule of law is also the reason why the war against corruption, one of the cardinal objectives of the present administration, is losing credibility because people perceive it to be selective and, in most cases, aimed at settling political or partisan scores”.
It added that the Rules of the Senate and how the institution elected its leadership were internal affairs, not subject to external interference.
It said, “The Rules of a new Senate are provided by the National Assembly bureaucracy. It has always been so since 1999. After the inauguration of the Senate, if Senators have objections to any part of the Rules, they can follow the procedure for changing it.
“Senators of the Eighth Senate have no control on the rules applied in the elections of June 9, 2015, because until after their inauguration, they were only senators-elect and therefore mere bystanders in the affairs of the Senate”.
The Senate urged Nigerians and the international community to condemn what it called “this blatant attempt to subject the legislature to the control, whims and caprices of the executive”.
The red chamber added, “If the legislative branch falls, democracy fails as there will be no other institution empowered by the constitution to check and balance the enormous powers of the executive branch”.
“We also call on the judiciary as the last hope to save our constitutional democracy and stand up for the rule of law, by doing that which is right in this case”.