The Senate/AGF face off
An avoidable face-off which accentuated the on-going war of attrition between the Presidency and the National Assembly was recently kindled when Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Malam Abubakar Malami, SAN turned down an invitation by the Senate to appear before it. The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters had invited him in respect of the arraignment of its President and Deputy President, Senators Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu respectively. They had been arraigned along with the former Clerk to the National Assembly Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa and Deputy Clerk to the National Assembly Mr Ben Efeture over the alleged forgery of Senate Rules during the election of that chamber’s presiding officers in June last year.
Rather than honour the invitation, the AGF sent the Assistant to the President on Prosecution Mr Okoi Obono-Obla to represent him. According to Obla, the Senate had no powers to summon the AGF to its chambers since the latter was neither appointed by them nor reports to them. The Senate on its part promptly sent Mr Obla away and prepared the grounds for the arrest of the AGF by the Inspector General of Police. Such an ugly situation was averted when some well-meaning individuals intervened to pacify the warring parties.
The AGF’s refusal to obey the Senate’s summons was not easy to understand because being the country’s highest law officer, he is expected to have the fullest understanding of the Constitution and the law. His claim that the Senate lacked the powers to summon him stood on shaky legal grounds. Section 88 of the Constitution clearly defines the absolute powers of the Senate to summon any person before it on matters that border on public interest. Both the AGF and Obla’s insistence that the Senate cannot summon Malami are therefore faulty, to say the least. Besides, the Minister of Justice is a public officer who was first screened and cleared by the Senate before he was appointed. However, it is the Constitution that gives the Attorney General absolute discretion to decide which case to prosecute or to terminate prosecution under the provision of the nolle prosequi. While these powers are absolute, they are expected to be exercised with the utmost discretion and with due regard for the facts of a case and also considerations of the public good.
The AGF was right to nurse reservations over the purpose for which the Senate was summoning him, since it has a vested interest in the prosecution of its presiding officers. The thing to do was not to disobey the summons but to appear before the Senate and use the opportunity to make whatever point he had for the express purpose of availing Nigerians the fuller benefit of clarification of the issues surrounding the subject matter. He could also say that he will not discuss the details of the case because it is already subjudice.
The arraignment of the calibre of public officers in the case under consideration is under not a casual affair and it enjoys wide spread attention among Nigerians. Against the strained relationship between the Presidency and the National Assembly, the development has suffered serial distortions in the public space, leaving many Nigerians unable to separate the truth from the untruth. It was therefore binding on the AGF in the public interest, to exploit every opportunity that offers itself to edify the Nigerian public on the issue. By declining the invitation the AGF has denied such deserving citizens fuller insights into the matter.
As at yesterday, the Senate was demanding that the AGF appears before it within 48 hours or it will ask the police to arrest him. We urge that matters should not be allowed to degenerate to that level. A warrant for the AGF’s arrest will put the police in an awkward position and if earlier episodes were any guide, the police tend to obey the AGF’s orders over those of the National Assembly, as was the case over the Kogi State House of Assembly. Sanity should prevail in this matter. The constitution is a sufficient guide for public officers’ actions.