By Mohammed Abdulrazaq
OUR democracy is under attack and it at risk unless Nigerians rise up to defend it. Democracy should not just be a white elephant, where those entrusted with leadership positions hide to perpetuate illegality and acts injurious to the people. The historic event that took place in Britain last week comes to mind, as one ponders the type and manner of democracy we have chosen to practise in this country. The British people have just voted to be independent of the European Union (EU) after 43 years of membership. Giving effect to democracy and expressed wish of the people, Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned his position and fixed his exit date for October, in deference to the finer principles of democracy, which overwhelms every other opinion under the expressed wish of the majority.
However, there is much ado in our country even though we pretend to practise democracy. Institutions are not allowed to work but the selfish machinations of those holding the levers of power. Why is it that our governance is always coloured and seen through the prism of individual leaders rather than being sustained by the modern ethos and ethics of democratic governance? Why is it so difficult for the executive to allow the other arms of government to operate independently, as granted them by the Constitution? Why has the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), chosen to prefer criminal charges against the presiding officers of the 8th Senate on a matter that is wholly internal to the Senate? Why has the executive invaded the arena of the Senate, apparently to forcefully dismantle the leadership the Senators elected to lead it at their inauguration? Why is the executive out to enfeeble the institution of the legislature and the judiciary by constantly harassing and intimidating them? There are instances where judicial officers have been blackmailed through online publications so that they can rule in a particular way.
The plot to arraign Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, falls squarely within this new template of executive impunity and using the judiciary to settle political scores. The facts of the case to me are clear enough, even though I am not a lawyer. Nigerians and members of the international community know that some lawmakers, on behalf of the Senate Unity Forum (SUF), who championed the failed bid of Senator Ahmed Lawan to emerge Senate President, petitioned the police, alleging forgery of the Senate Standing Rules 2015 that produced Saraki and Ekweremadu. Following the petition, the police in July 2015, invited former Senate President, David Mark, his former deputy, Ekweremadu, ex-Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, Chairman of the Rules and Business Committee in the 7th Senate and now Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, former Clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, Deputy Clerk to the National Assembly, Benedict Efeturi, and one other person for questioning. It is worthy of note that both the presiding and principal officers of the 7th Senate so invited never honoured the invitation of the police, save for the public servants in the person of Maikasuwa and Efeturi, who honoured the invitation and made statements to the police. The police concluded its investigation and sent it to the AGF to determine whether what happened in the chambers of the National Assembly on June 9, 2015, was subject to prosecution.
One thing is clear. The present case of forgery is a new phase in the unholy crusade to cow the National Assembly and make it of no effect, even though the institution represents the livewire of our democracy. This is because there is no denying the fact that the emergence of Saraki, as Senate President of the 8th Senate is the raison d’etat for his ongoing persecution cum prosecution over alleged false asset declaration or forged Senate rules. It must be noted that the AGF cannot deny being an interested party in the instant case for which he is the Prosecutor-in-Chief, by virtue of his being one of the counsels to the members of the Senate Unity Forum that petitioned the police and also instituted a case before he was appointed minister.
Again, before the AGF was appointed, the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) ‘suddenly discovered discrepancies’ in the asset declaration forms filed by Saraki about 13 years ago for which he is currently undergoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Besides, the executive and certain elements in the APC, who are apparently miffed by the revelations emanating from the CCT, which clearly underscores the claims of the Senate President that he is being persecuted for political reasons, have now made a detour and dusted a report, which had been with the AGF for over a year, and suddenly got busy with plans to arraign Saraki, Ekweremadu and a select few at an FCT High Court over allegations of forgery.
Apparently sensing that the allegations against the Senate President to the effect that there were irregularities in his asset declaration forms, have continued to cave in, as the prosecution witness is being cross-examined, the executive has again brought another allegation against the Senate President to the effect that he partook in forging the Senate Standing Orders by which the 8th Senate was inaugurated. To make it credible, it has decided to join Ekweremadu, Maikasuwa and Efeturi in the suit.
If not, is it not curious that some of the officials of the 7th Senate expressly mentioned in the police invitation are missing in the current charge before the FCT High Court? Do we need to consult a stargazer to know that David Mark was the Senate President of the 7th Senate? Even kindergarten pupils know that Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba was the Senate Leader of the 7th Senate and that Senator Ita Enang was the Chairman, Business and Rules Committee in the 7th Senate. Why are these names missing in the forgery charge for which trial is billed to commence.
To show the eagerness, which the executive wants to get at Saraki by initiating this trial, it is pertinent to note that never a time was the name of Saraki mentioned in the report of the police that purportedly investigated a matter they were not legally competent to investigate being that they are direct agents of the executive and further precluded from interfering in the internal matters of any other arm of government, that is, in climes where the sanctity of the doctrine of separation of powers is respected and given effect. I think Nigerians and world leaders must also interrogate why Saraki was never invited by the police to make a statement before the charges were filed. Yet the police swore to an affidavit that it had concluded investigation on the matter. The proposed trial, by all intent and purposes, is a clear violation of the Constitution and Section 379 (1) (a) (iv) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which stipulates that for a competent charge to be filed, it SHALL contain copies of the statements of the defendants. However, Nigerians are watching to see if Saraki and Ekweremadu would be forced to make statements to the police after they might have been arraigned?
For the avoidance of doubt, the Police buttressed the argument that the case against Saraki and Ekweremadu was meant to achieve political ends, albeit, through the back door, in its letter dated June 7, 2016 and addressed to the Clerk of the National Assembly. The letter, among others, put a capital lie to claims by the AGF and his hirelings that the Senate President and others are to be arraigned over allegations of forgery of Senate Rules. The letter signed by an Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) James O. Caulrick, with the title: “1st reminder, Letter of invitation, Re: Forgeries/Fraudulent use of the Senate Standing Order/Rules 2015 (As Amended) by the 8th Senate” read as follows: “I refer to the Deputy Inspector-General of Police’s letter no. CR:3000/X/FHQ/ABJ/VOL.185/98, dated 1st July, 2015 requesting the under-listed officials of the 7th Senate (emphasis mine) to report to the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department for the purpose of conducting investigation on the above subject matter: i. Senate President ii. Deputy Senate President iii. Majority Leader of the Senate iv. Clerk of the National Assembly v. Clerk of the Senate vi. Chairman, Business and Rules Committee and vii. Secretary, Business and Rules Committee. As at the time of writing this letter, none of the officials in the above 7th Senate list honoured the invitation to respond to the allegations, except the Clerks of the National Assembly and that of the Senate. Consequent upon the above, you are kindly requested to inform the listed officials yet to respond to report to the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department on 9th June, 2016 for the purpose of further investigation on the matter.”
How did the AGF put the name of Saraki into the charge while the main actors of the 7th Senate were either left out completely or made prosecution witnesses? Many Nigerians have insisted that the trial billed to commence on Monday is a direct assault against democracy and a criminal subversion of the rule of law, which the present administration swore to protect. I cannot agree with them less. President Muhammadu Buhari owes Nigerians the obligation to ensure that the other arms of government are allowed to function unencumbered. He owes Nigerians the obligation to ensure that its cherished democracy is not subverted by a few in position of power. Let him act to safeguard democracy and immediately order the AGF to withdraw the charges against Saraki and Ekweremadu.
- Abdulrazaq wrote in from Anyigba, Kogi State