The House of Representatives Thursday faulted the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. AbubakarMalami (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 Thursday to brief lawmakers on efforts by his administration to check the worsening insecurity in the country, expectedly failed to turn up.
THISDAY, in its major story in Thursday’s edition of the newspaper, had exclusively 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 THISDAY 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 on Thursday 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 on Thursday, 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 THISDAY in a telephone interview Thursday, 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 THISDAY 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.
Adedayo Akinwale, Udora Orizu, Emmanuel Addeh, John Shiklam, Christopher Isiguzo, Sylvester Idowu