Eniola Akinkuotu, Ade Adesomoju, Leke Baiyewu and Olaleye Aluko, Abuja
The Senate has protested against the retention of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission despite the rejection of his nomination by the lawmakers.
Several senators, at the plenary on Tuesday, spoke against the consideration of a letter from the Presidency requesting legislative approval for the nomination of 27 Resident Electoral Commissioners for the Independent National Electoral Commission.
They insisted that the process be abandoned until Magu was removed.
But the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), described the Senate’s action, calling on Buhari to sack Magu in two weeks, as childish and irresponsible.
Sagay told one of our correspondents in a telephone interview that the Senate was filled with people of questionable character, who put their personal interest ahead of that of the nation.
Senate President Bukola Saraki had, last Thursday, read a letter from Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, while he was Acting President, in which he sought legislative approval for the REC-nominees.
Osinbajo transmitted the nominations to the Senate in February when President Muhammadu Buhari was on medical vacation in the United Kingdom.
The letter was dated February 27, 2017.
But on Tuesday, the lawmakers rejected the consideration of the request, insisting that their earlier decision on Magu be effected by the Executive.
Raising a point of order when the session got to the consideration of the request, Senator Peter Nwabaoshi urged the lawmakers to consider the example of the United States of America where, recently, the National Security Adviser was sent to the Senate but due to his belief in Russia, he was disqualified.
He said, “Here are we again today, now being given a list to confirm and we ‘merely confirm.’ Look at the list here, we have eight of them here out of 27 for reappointment, which means they are acting already; they are already working and they are still in position.
“Prof. Itse Sagay will cite, again, Section 171 of the Constitution. You can imagine the kind of advice that this kind of persons are giving to Mr. President. They are telling Mr. President to disregard and disrespect the institution of the legislature.
“Let us not set such precedent. This country does not belong to them; this country belongs to the Nigerian people. The Nigerian people have elected us; they have given the power to look into those names sent to us for confirmation; to look into their credentials.”
Also, Senator Matthew Uroghide said apart from being a constitutional requirement that the Senate had to confirm nominations by the executive, the act establishing agencies of government also specified the role of the Senate in the appointment of their heads clearly.
He said, “But, it must be that the Senate too must be properly informed on what has happened after a confirmation process, either the one that has been upheld or the one that has been turned down by the Senate. We deserve the right to know.
“We cannot keep confirming names or turning down names of nominees of Mr. President, particularly the one that happened recently, we don’t know what has happened. These persons cannot keep acting even when we have turned them down because, as it is now, they are acting and their names have been sent in for confirmation and we don’t know what has happened in the case of the EFCC.”
But Senator Adamu Aliero opposed Nwabaoshi and Urhoghide on the grounds that there was an impression that INEC was not prepared for the 2019 polls.
“The election is very crucial to us, and part of the preparations for the conduct of the 2019 elections is the submission of RECs to the Senate for screening and approval,” he stated.
Opposing Aliero, Senator Francis Alimikhena said, “It is better to do something and do it well.”
“The EFCC chairman that we disqualified in this hall, is he acting? Magu is terrorising us because we disqualified him, and we cannot hide it.
“We disqualified Magu and he is terrorising our people because we disqualified him. And he is still acting and they (Presidency) are still bringing in nominations for us to confirm. If they know they can do it alone, let them do it.”
In his submission, the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Na’Allah, described the debate as “a defining moment in our journey to nationhood.”
Saraki, who presided over the plenary, suggested that the request for confirmation be suspended for one week but the lawmakers, again, chorused their disagreement with the proposal.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, however, urged the lawmakers to suspend the consideration of the request by two weeks, which he said was enough to send a signal to the executive.
Saraki, thereafter, put the prayer to voice vote and the lawmakers approved it.
The Senate had held an executive session before the plenary on Tuesday.
At the opening of the session, Saraki said the lawmakers, at the closed-door session, agreed to protect the Senate from “attacks.”
He said, “The Senate, in a closed session on the various attacks on the National Assembly, especially on the Senate, for performing its constitutional duties, resolved to defend the integrity of the Senate against such attacks and will not be intimidated from carrying out our constitutional duties at all times.”
The upper chamber of the National Assembly had, on March 15, 2017, rejected Magu’s nomination based on a report on him by the DSS.
Senate’s action childish, irresponsible –Sagay
Sagay, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, stated that Buhari would not be cowed by the Senate’s action which he described as an affront to the Presidency.
He said, “That action is childish and irresponsible. Do they think Buhari is a man that can easily be threatened? My God! How can people of such character occupy the highest legislative office in the country? Nigeria is finished.
“It is a great mistake and they will regret it.”
When asked what appropriate action Buhari could take, Sagay explained that Buhari could continue to appoint people in acting capacity where necessary.
He said the refusal to confirm the RECs was of no effect since officials of the INEC had been acting as RECs for over a year.
Sagay added, “Where the Senate is required to approve a person for a particular position and they refuse to do it, the person could continue to act depending on the nature of the appointment.
“However, if the nominee is coming from another sector, just like in the case of the RECs, it means they cannot act. However, people below that rank in INEC can continue to act as RECs all over the country as it has been done.”
He added, “What this action means is that the Senate is being occupied by the most unserious set of Nigerians in history. Nigeria is currently at its lowest level because we have people who have no sense of responsibility, who have no feeling and are there for just vanity and are ready to bring down the country in order to feel important, it is the worst case of abuse ever.
“Let them do what they want, they will regret it.”
Senate action amounts to blackmail, arm-twisting –SANs
Also,a former Chairman, Lagos Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Chijioke Okoli (SAN), said the decision by the Senate amounted to a blackmail of the Presidency.
“When they now say that they would not do something except certain things are done amounts to blackmail and straying into judicial function,” Okoli told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Tuesday.
Okoli stated that the refusal to screen the RECs except the President sacked the Magu constituted an act of legislative impertinence.
He said the legislature lacked the power to compel the executive to sack an appointee, adding that the Senate’s conduct in the recent past could be described as a clog in the wheel of democracy.
He said, “I will say that the Senate, with all due sense of responsibility and as a senior member of the bar and a leader in the community that the Senate is making itself, wittingly or otherwise, a cog in the wheel of our democratic process.
“Their (members) conduct, especially in this 8th Senate, by and large, especially in the last few months, does not suggest the presence of sagacity and wisdom that ordinarily should be expected from a legislative chamber that is historically supposed to be comprised by very wise persons.
“There has been a disturbing lack of restraint in the use of their powers. Even if we say lawyers in the Senate are not in practice, they can, at best, if they so wish, provide guidance.
“For the Senate to come out openly to tell the President that he must sack Magu, for me, is legislative impertinence.
“In my own view, they have done their duties, rightly or wrongly, whether or not to confirm Magu, it does not lie with them to tell the President who to sack or not to sack.
“The only power recognised by the constitution to make such definitive pronouncement would be the court of law.
“In one moment, they move from their position as legislators to the realm of the judiciary and also somersault their way into the domain of executive powers.”
In his reaction, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Emega Ngige, said the action of the Senate appeared to be meant to arm-twist the Presidency.
Urging the Presidency to consider the grievances of the Senate against Magu, the legal practitioner added that the constitution was silent on whether the Senate had the constitutional power to pressurise the Presidency on Magu or not.
He said, “What the Senate has done is a demonstration aimed at arms-twisting the President. The issue they (members) raised should be considered by the Presidency.
“So, you cannot say it is not constitutional or it is. The importance of RECs confirmation cannot be over-emphasised and I wish that the Senate does not tie that confirmation to Magu.”
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