The House of Representatives yesterday faulted the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), for querying its power to summon President Muhammadu Buhari.
It fired back at the minister that contrary to his claim, the constitution empowers it to invite the president.
The president, who was earlier scheduled to appear before the House yesterday to brief lawmakers on efforts by his administration to check the worsening insecurity in the country, expectedly failed to turn up.
Nesmen had reported that Buhari would no longer honour the House’s invitation, which he had earlier committed himself to do last week when House Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, led a delegation to brief him on the invite, on account of pressure from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its governors.
However, presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, while responding to inquiry on whether or not the president will honour the invitation had cited a statement by Malami, in which he challenged the power of the House to invite the president, as the reason for Buhari’s volte-face.
But Gbajabiamila yesterday downplayed the president’s refusal to honour the invitation, saying the House is still awaiting official communication from the presidency to know why the president backtracked after agreeing to appear before the House.
The president’s walk-back drew the ire of the nation’s foremost socio-cultural groups, Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Ohanaeze and Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), which expressed concerns about the matter.
Meanwhile, 46 prominent Nigerians, including senior lawyers, the clergy and businessmen, drawn from the academia and other professions, yesterday demanded the resignation of all the service chiefs as a prelude to combating insecurity.
But countering Malami, House spokesman, Hon. Ben Kalu, told reporters yesterday in Abuja that the legislature did not act in error to have invited the president.
He recalled that when that motion was passed last week, it was rowdy because some members wanted the president to appear before the House while some felt otherwise.
Kalu noted that majority of the lawmakers took the mandate of their constituents and moved a resolution even against the position of the speaker, adding that the decision of the parliament overrides the presiding officer’s because to do otherwise would be biased, undemocratic.
He explained that in deference to Buhari’s office, the House leadership sent a delegation, which included the speaker; Deputy Speaker, Hon. Ahmed Wase; and House Leader, Hon. Alhassan Doguwa, to engage the president beyond the resolution of the House.
Kalu said: “When they met with Mr. President, he assured them that he will visit and address Nigerians. As the days went by, it was narrowed to Thursday. There was official communication from the presidency committing to the position of Mr. Speaker that the president has accepted to come. So, the speaker and deputy were not operating on the frolic of their own; it was backed up by the president.
“As you know, what we operate is a democracy that hinges on party supremacy. Beyond the president lies the supremacy of the party. The president answers to the party. He’s there as president on the platform of the APC, given to him by the party. So, if he took a position as the president and his political party asks him to alter his position, if he’s truly a party man, he must oblige his party while the discussion goes on.”
Reacting to Malami’s statement, Kalu stated that the AGF’s position is not that of the court, adding that he is neither a judge nor the spokesperson of APC.
He said: “Regarding whether it is constitutional to invite the president, somehow I would have said let’s leave the judicial interpretation of the provisions of the constitution to be in the hands of the judiciary, but as a lawyer, I can assure you the parliament did not act in error and this I say based on the constitution.
“There’s a mandate and that mandate is well expressed in Sections 88, 89. The position of the law says that granted by Section four of the Armed Forces Act, the president is the chairman of the Security Council. The Armed Forces Act is a piece of legislation made by the parliament.
“It is the provision of Section 89 that we have the right to investigate issues bordering on anything we have the capacity to legislate on. We have legislative competence to legislate on all this and, therefore, if there are things we need to find out in such areas, the law in Section 89 empowers us to invite anybody for the purposes of obtaining pieces of evidence, either in oral or documentary form and that includes everybody.
“There’s also a part of the law, which is the power to arrest and command the president. That particular one, because of Section 308 of the constitution that gives immunity to the president, you cannot exercise that.”
Kalu also stated that the House has not received any formal communication from the presidency that the appointment has been cancelled or shifted.
He added: “Our channel of communication is not with the attorney-general; he’s not part of the presidency, neither is he a judge. His position cannot be seen as the position of the APC. I insist that no official communication from the presidency to counter the initial position. Until we receive a contrary position in a formal form where the reasons why they will not be coming will be explained, it will be difficult for me to jump the gun at this point. Wait until you receive formal communication from the presidency. If he’s not coming, the reasons will be highlighted and we will communicate that to you.”
Earlier at plenary yesterday, Hon. Solomon Bob had demanded that the speaker should address the House on why the president refused to honour the invitation after he had initially agreed to it.
Bob, relying on the order of privileges, said: “If this House can pass a resolution and we have a situation where such a resolution is abused, it means our very existence is being questioned. I think that the speaker should address us on the current situation. The entire country is watching. It bothers me.”
Responding, Gbajabiamila said: ”Honourable, your point of privilege is well noted. We wait for official communication from Mr. President as opposed to newspaper publications.”
However, speaking with newsmen in a telephone interview yesterday, the Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, said it was unfortunate that some people were playing politics with the issue of security.
He said: “If you recall, even during the 7th Assembly, we had a PDP speaker, Governor Aminu Tambuwal. President Jonathan increased pump price of fuel- a PDP president; we convened the House on a Sunday, we sat and condemned it regardless of the argument they put forward from the party’s angle and we said no, that this is unfair to Nigerians and we asked that it should be reversed.
“Today, the pump price is increased almost every other month, if we talk about it; they say you are playing politics. Now to the extent that people are being slaughtered like chicken, their heads placed on their chests and the president is not even making any statement to Nigerians.”
Hon. Ben Igbaka said the president missed a golden opportunity to tell his side of the story when he refused to appear before the House as Nigerians believed that he was doing nothing on the issue of security.
Also, Hon. Aniekan Umanah, while responding to newsmen enquiry stated that the constitution empowers the parliament to invite any Nigerian to appear before it and offer explanations to any issue of public interest.
“The cancellation of the visit to the parliament without any strong reason, in my opinion, represents a lost opportunity for the emboldening of our democratic culture and ethos, particularly in a parliament controlled by the ruling party,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere; the ACF; Ohanaeze and PANDEF yesterday reacted to the president’s last-minute decision to ignore the House’s invitation.
Afenifere said it was not surprising that Buhari refused to honour the invitation, adding that his decision is consistent with the character of his administration.
“The Boko Haram that is opposed to western civilisation is more like it for people who have that jurisprudence. And such people can never imbibe democratic virtues in 10 lifetimes. So, we should not do as if he did the unusual,” its spokesman, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, berated Buhari for refusing to honour the House invitation.
The organisation’s Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Chuks Ibegbu, described the president’s action as an insult to not just the lawmakers but to Nigerians.
He said: “It’s very unfortunate that the president refused to honour their invitation. This is a huge disrespect for the lawmakers; it’s also an insult to the entire country.”
The organisation said such a situation could snowball to a constitutional crisis as well as a crisis of confidence in governance.
The ACF said the country might be heading for a constitutional crisis following Buhari’s decision not to honour the invitation of the House.
Spokesman of the forum, Mr. Emmanuel Yawe, told newsmen in a telephone interview yesterday that since both the House and the president based their actions on the provision of the constitution, the matter should be left to the judiciary for interpretation.
He added that Nigeria has security and economic problems to contend with and a constitutional crisis will further compound the situation.
“Here we have two interpretations of the same constitution. The executive says they are not under any compulsion by the constitution for the president to appear before the House and explain the security situation in the country; that is what the Attorney-General of the Federation said.
“He quoted some sections of the constitution to support his position.
“The House of Representatives also based their decision to invite the president on the basis of the constitution.
“The constitution provides that they have a supervisory role over the executive,” he said.
He appealed to the two arms of government “to be civil and follow the constitutional way of resolving issues so that we do not have another problem.
PANDEF, however, said yesterday that it was not surprising that Buhari failed to honour the invitation by the House.
National spokesman of PANDEF, Mr. Ken Robinson, in a telephone interview, wondered why the president is finding it difficult to explain whatever challenges he might be having in tackling insecurity.
“It is not surprising that he decided not to honour the summon by the National Assembly. It’s very unbecoming and unacceptable,” he stated.
Also, forty-six prominent Nigerians, including senior lawyers, the clergy, businessmen, academics and other professions yesterday demanded the resignation of all the service chiefs to pave the way for tackling the worsening insecurity in the country.
They urged the federal government to draw redline from the recent killing of farmers in Zabarmari, Borno State and secure the country.
In a statement signed on behalf of the 46 by Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, the group called on Buhari, as the Commander- in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to take charge and halt the unbridled violence in the country.
Other members of the group are: Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), Mr. Abubakar Mohammed, Mr. Adeyemi Candide-Johnson (SAN), Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, Mr. Salisu Mohammed, Mr. Dayo Olaide, Mr. Danlami Nmodu, Dr. Chris Kwaja, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Dr. Dipo Fashina, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, Dr. Udo Jude, Dr. Innocent Chukwuma, Dr. Kole Shettima, Dr Usman Bugaje, Mr. Ene Obi and father George Ehusani.
Also listed were: Mrs. Funke Adekoya (SAN), Ms. Idayat Hassan, Hon. Rima Shawulu, Mallam Yusuf Ali (SAN), Mallam Kabiru Yusuf, Mallam Hamza Ibrahim, Mallam Y.Z. Yau, Mr. Ledum Mitee, Mr. Chino Obiagwu (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Mr. John Odah, Ms. Ngozi Iwere, Ms. Amina Salisu, Prof. Auwalu Yadudu, Prof. Attahiru Jega, Prof. Adele Jinadu and Prof. Godini Darah.
Prof. Joy Ezeilo, Prof. Mohammed Tabiu (SAN), Prof. Pat Utomi, Prof. Rufai Alkali, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie and Prof. Konyinsola Ajayi (SAN) are also members of the group.
They stated: “What we see, like others, is incompetence in governance demonstrated by a lack of ideas on how to tackle insecurity, a poor understanding of the situation and a clear failure in the pursuit of government engagement to address these problems.
“The Zabarmari incident is a grave indictment of the government. At the minimum what we should have seen is the honourable exit of the persons responsible for the defence and security of our country.
“In spite of numerous calls on the president to sack his service chiefs, the president has persisted in his policy of guaranteeing them longevity in their positions.
“His message to Nigerians appears to be that he is not ready to sanction his security chiefs for failure. The president must therefore take responsibility for the failure as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.”
The group expressed concern about the worsening insecurity and urged the federal government to stop what it described as “senseless killings.”
It reiterated its belief in the freedom of all Nigerians to exercise the rights guaranteed by the constitution, including the right to life, dignity, personal liberty, freedom of speech, right to freedom of association and to participate in peaceful protests and in processions without harassment or intimidation from any person or authority.
It accused the federal government if deploying force to end the #EndSARS protest.
The group also deplored the unlawful detention and blocking of bank accounts of innocent protesters; the unceasing attempt to delegitimise #EndSARS, presenting it as a move to initiate regime change; and inconsistent, high handed treatment of the people by the federal government.
It expressed concern about the security situation in the country and called on the federal government to remedy it.