The Se­nate/AGF face off

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

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.

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