The crisis rocking the Senate over alleged forgery of the 2015 Standing Order yesterday took another dimension as the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters walked out the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution, Okoi Obono- Oblo.
The committee also noted that failure of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, to appear was not only a slap on the Senate, but also insultive.
The AGF, for the second time yesterday, shunned the summon of Senate to explain why he dragged the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and two others to court over alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Order.
Soon after Oblo, who appeared before the committee, headed by Senator David Umaru, APC Niger East, introduced himself as the Special Assistant to President Buhari who is attached to the office of the Minister, the Committee members dismissed his presence insisting on seeing the AGF and not the President.
Umaru told Mr. Obono-obla that the committee did not invite President Muhammadu Buhari, but the Justice Minister, adding that since the Minister failed to honour the invitation, he did not respond to the committee.
Umaru, who noted that the Minister had initially requested that the committee grant him time to study the issues, stressed that there was an imminent threat to democracy because of the action of the AGF. “Our democracy is seriously under threat because the AGF who had asked for time to prepare has now refused to appear.
We cannot hear you, I am sorry,’’ he said. Corroborating the Committee Chairman, one of the members of the Committee, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, said the committee never invited the President, but the Attorney General and since he has failed to honour the invitation, it thus means that the Minister did not respond to the invitation of the committee.
Senator Utazi, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti- Corruption, said: “We did not invite the president to appear before us, so since the AGF is not here, we deem it that he did not respond to our invitation. This (failure of AGF to appear before the senate) is a slap on this arm of government.
The AGF had refused to appear before us, leaving us to decide what to do. According to him, the senate committee is only interested in asking the AGF questions on his decision to initiate the prosecution of the principal officers of the Senate, despite ongoing cases in courts of coordinate jurisdiction, challenging the case against the leaders of the Senate. Soon after the senators said they will not hear him, Okoi Obono-Oblo stormed out of the venue, the Senate Meeting Room 313, 3rd Floor, New Senate Building, National Assembly Complex.
After the exit of Okoi Obono – Oblo from the meeting room, Chairman of the Committee, David Umaru, noted that the action of the AGF showed total lack of respect for the parliament, especially the Senate,. He said the committee would report back to the entire Senate at plenary where an action would then be taken. Senator Umaru said: “ Having invited the AGF twice to appear before us as mandated by the Senate without him responding to the summons.
This committee will surely report the matter to the Senate at plenary for appropriate action.” But speaking with journalists outside the meeting room, the Special Assistant to President Buhari on Prosecution, said it was unconstitutional for the Senate to summon the Attorney General because the red chambers couldn’t be a judge in its own case, just as he said that the Presidency had no confidence in the Senate Committee.
Defending the Minister of Justice for dragging Senate President Saraki, his Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and others to court, Oblo noted that the Attorney General had the right to do that.
He said those allegedly involved should go and defend themselves in court, adding that being the Senate President did not make Saraki bigger than the laws of the land. Okoi Obono- Oblo said: “The AGF has not done anything wrong. The AGF has not undermined democracy.
He acted pursuant to the powers vested in him by the Constitution. Section 174 (1) says he can prosecute anybody. And he has done that. ‘’The Senate is not on trial. He has not taken the Senate to court. He has taken four persons to court. They are not the Senate. Being President of the Senate does not make you the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The matter was investigated by the police and a prima facie case was established and the AG invoked his powers under Section 174 (1) to initiate criminal proceedings against those persons. And this matter is now before a court of law. There is separation of powers in Nigeria. It is not position of the Senate to constitute themselves into a court of law.
“ On the issues raised by Saraki that what was happening was an infringement on their powers, the Presidential aide said: “It is not. How does it? When asked that the matter was simply an internal affair of the Senate, he said: “It is not true. If I go to the chambers of the National Assembly to shoot you, would it be an internal affair? The Senate Rule is a law and somebody allegedly forged the rules.”
Asked how he knew the standing Order was forged, Oblo answered thus, “the police investigation.” On whether the police wrote the rules in the first place, he said: “That question is neither here nor there. They don’t need to write the rules. If I forge a certificate, will you say that the police did not give me the certificate?”