After the docking of the country’s number three citizen and President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, for allegedly doctoring his asset declaration last September, the sight of his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu in the dock would not be a surprise for a nation now beholden to the new sheriff in town.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s almost single-minded focus on clearing the system of corruption is, however, this time, about to be fully tested for its political or apolitical intentions in the high-profile case that is a direct offshoot from last year’s Senate leadership contest.
In docking two presiding officers over issues arising from the internal affairs of the Senate, the presidency has inevitably put in motion a potential clash between the two institutions.
Saraki and Ekweremadu are being docked for allegedly forging the 2015 Senate Standing Rules, the operational manual of the Senate. The two men alongside the immediate past clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, and his deputy, Mr. Ben Efeturi, are alleged to have altered the rule book.
The case arose from the victory of Senator Saraki in the June 9 Senate leadership election.At what time the alleged alteration occurred has not been disclosed, and the role of the two presiding officers have also not been formally disclosed.
He was elected after 57 of the 108 senators-elect present in the Senate chambers elected him in the absence of 51 others who were at the International Conference Centre, ICC, also in Abuja, waiting in vain for a reconciliation meeting of the APC senators-elect supposedly called by President Buhari.
The meeting did not hold and while the 51 senators waited, a few APC senators who boycotted the meeting teamed up with the PDP senators to elect Saraki.
Senator Ekweremadu of the PDP on his part defeated Senator Ali Ndume of the APC to resurface as the Deputy President of the Senate.
The substance of the case against the four men is that the Senate Rule Book was altered in Sections 2(iv), 3(3)E, I, ii, iii, G and H, 5 and 7.
One of the consequences of the changes is that voting for the election of presiding officers was changed from open balloting to secret ballot. Whether happenstance or crooked, the change was to the advantage of Senator Saraki, who was running against the choice of his party leadership, Senator Ahmad Lawan for the post of Senate President.
By allowing secret voting, the consequence was that those APC senators-elect who were willing to join the rebellion against the choice of Lawan would not be known and hence be to the advantage of Saraki.
Following the June 9 leadership contest, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, APC, Kaduna North had on behalf of the Senate Unity Forum, SUF petitioned the police alleging that the 2015 Standing Order had been forged.
Remarkably, his petition did not mention Senator Saraki or Senator Ekweremadu.
So despite repeated media attention on the two men, the police investigative team led by DIG Dan‘Azumi Doma did not once interface with Saraki or Ekweremadu but restricted itself to submissions from mainly rivals of Senator Saraki in the SUF camp.
Maikasuwa and Efeturi were, however, quizzed. Maikasuwa, who conducted the election that led to the emergence of Saraki, is quoted in the police report on the case as affirming “that he did not refer to any Senate Standing Order/Rules but used the normal procedures for the opening of a new parliament.”
Efeturi, one of the National Assembly’s most experienced legislative hands with experience drawing from the Second Republic, however, claimed that the production of the 2015 Standing Rules was in line with convention. Mr. Efeturi, who has since 1999 been in one way or the other involved in the production of the different Standing Orders of the different Senates, said the same procedure used in producing the 2015 Standing Order was what was used in the production of the standing rules in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
The police report on Efeturi, read in part: “He emphasised that in the parliament, amendment of Standing Orders is by practice and not necessarily by procedure. He further stated that the ruling of the Senate President on the June 24, 2015, that the Senate Standing Orders of the Senate 2015 is authentic is final, relevant and cannot be challenged. He attached a copy of the debates of the Senate on Wednesday, June 24 24 where the Senate President ruled that the Senate Standing Order 2015 was the authentic Standing Orders of the 8th Senate.”
The 13-page report which was written in July 2015, however, disagreed with Efeturi and submitted that the alteration was criminal. The police, however, shied away from pursuing a criminal prosecution as it threw the ball into the court of the Attorney General to determine whether what was done was within the internal affairs of the Senate.
When the issue was raised in the Senate last June, the president of the Senate who was not in the preceding leadership, ruled that the 2015 Standing Order as circulated was genuine. Ordinarily by the rules and convention of the Senate, that dictates that the ruling of the President of the Senate shall not be challenged unless through a substantive motion that should have been the end of the matter.
On the other hand, Senator Hunkuyi should have come by substantive motion to declare the Standing Order illegal, but he rather went to the police.
Indeed, when the issue came up as a civil matter last year at an Abuja Federal High Court, presided over by Justice G. O Kolawole, the jurist had settled the issue as an internal affair of the Senate.
In his ruling, he said: “My view is that in relation to the instant suit, the allegation which relates to alleged forgery of the Rules of the National Assembly is not an ordinary allegation in which the Court can approach with a pedantic mind set. It is so because, the issues as relating to the Senate Rules or Standing Orders are firstly, a purely domestic legislative matter, where allegation of forgery is made, it is for the Court to reflect deeply whether it is not an allegation which the Senate Committees on Rules and of its Ethics, can validly investigate and to take steps within its own internal proceedings to nullify any of its Standing Orders found to be irregular and to also sanction any of its members that may be found culpable.”
The Senate through a statement last Sunday also affirmed that its standing order was not forged, teasingly affirming that if the rules were forged, then that would mean that all the actions it carried out for the executive including appointments using the standing rule were also void.
The Senate statement issued by its spokesman Senator Aliyu Abdullahi saw the action of the executive as a threat and possibly a coup against the Senate and a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.
The political hue to the development is tied to claims that all four persons to be arraigned tomorrow for one reason or the other are in the bad books of the political class presently in control of the country. Saraki, who is presently undergoing trial for alleged acts of corruption, has claimed that he is being targeted because he contested the office of Senate President. Ekweremadu, who belongs to the PDP, is allegedly being targeted for fouling the victory of the APC by emerging as deputy president of the Senate.
Maikasuwa, the immediate past clerk of the National Assembly according to some, was an accomplice to the emergence of Saraki as he conducted the election despite the absence of some senators who were gathered at the ICC. Even more, it is alleged that a high-ranking senator close to a prominent APC leader had visited him in his residence as early as 3.00 a.m. on June 9, 2015, and warned him not to go ahead with the election. Mr. Efeturi, the deputy clerk of the National Assembly, is reportedly on the hook for allegedly being the facilitator. It is also claimed that Mr. Efeturi who ordinarily should have stepped in as Clerk of the National Assembly with the retirement of Maikasuwa was denied the opportunity by high influence forces on account of this.
Meanwhile, there had been insinuations that the four men could be slapped with difficult bail conditions when they are arraigned tomorrow. It is suggested in some quarters that the aim would be to keep them away from circulation for the purpose of forcing the election of a new set of presiding officers. However, the prospect of that was immediately checked last Thursday when the Senate proceeded on holidays till July 12 supposedly for the Ramadan Break.
The relations between the two arms of government has nosedived to the lowest point since the advent of the Buhari administration with the significant PDP caucus vowing to stop cooperation with the APC-led administration.
Reflective of that, the Senate has vowed not to let go the mistakes of the executive branch. Last week it put a hold to further consideration of the president’s nominees for ambassadorial position on the fact that it did not reflect federal character.
Many such legislative proposals are bound to suffer similar fate, putting to practice the axiom that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Which in the case at point is the Nigerian economy, security situation, power and all that is presently at deficit for a nation state. And into this dangerous mix is the activities of some wrong-headed militants in the Niger Delta.