Many reasons forced President Muhammadu Buhari to make a U-turn on his planned appearance before members of the House of Representatives today, Daily Trust reports.
Initially, there were insinuations that the president will address a joint session of the National Assembly over the deteriorating security situation in the country even though the invitation was extended to him by the lower chamber.
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But when it emerged on Wednesday that Buhari will not honour the invitation, the Senate said it was not part of the invitation at the first instance.
Daily Trust learnt that besides the lack of common ground between the House of Representatives and the Senate on the matter, the fear of being booed by opposition lawmakers and some aggrieved ones from the ruling APC made the president change his mind in facing the lawmakers.
The second reason was governors of the ruling party had urged him not to honour the invitation for fear of a ripple effect.
The third reason according to sources was the “trumped-up” security implication dummy sold to Buhari that some of his loyalists might attempt to checkmate those against him in the hallowed chamber, a development that might lead to security breaches.
The fourth and most important reason, according to them was that the president is being misled by some of his handlers who anchor almost everything from political, rather than nationalistic perspective.
But experts said none of the reasons given should have dissuaded the president from facing the members of the National Assembly if truly he wanted to speak to them and by extension the over 200 million Nigerians.
The last-minute retreat
President Buhari had indicated interest to appear before the lawmakers when the leadership of the House of Representatives, led by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, met with him last week.
The speaker had at the end of the meeting said Buhari had assured that he will address them.
“He (Buhari) was willing to listen as it is typical of Mr President and the usual democrat he is. And what we basically sought is to convey the resolution of the House and to fix a date, which we did not fix out of respect for him,” he said.
It was gathered that the idea took a new turn during Buhari’s meeting with governors when they told him that he should not face the legislators because the aftermath would be disastrous and that members of state Houses of Assembly would also follow suit “at the slightest provocation.”
We didn’t summon Buhari – Senate
The Senate said it did not at any time passed a resolution asking President Buhari to address the lawmakers on the issue of national security.
The Red Chamber also said it had not received official communication that the National Assembly was expecting the president.
In an interview, Senate spokesperson, Ajibola Basiru said there was no joint resolution of the National Assembly on the issue and that the Senate had not summoned the president.
He said the resolution of the upper legislative chamber was that the president should replace the service chiefs.
“There was no resolution of the Nigerian Senate that the president should come and address it on the issue of national security. I expect that every enquiry as to the summoning and coming of the president should be directed to the House of Representatives.
“We operate a bi-cameral legislature. That is why our rules and procedures are different and that is why also we need concurrence from the two houses on the passing of legislation,” he said.
They’ve no power to summon president – Malami
Daily Trust learnt that besides the reasons that were given and the fear of a backlash, top government sources resolved that the decision should be given legal backing.
This, according to sources, prompted the Attorney General of the Federation (AAGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, to say that the National Assembly has no constitutional power to summon President Buhari over the spate of insecurity in the country.
According to Malami in a statement, “The management and control of the security sector is exclusively vested in the President by Section 218 (1) of the Constitution as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces including the power to determine the operational use of the armed forces.
“An invitation that seeks to put the operational use of the armed forces to a public interrogation is indeed taking the constitutional rights of law-making beyond bounds.
“As the commander-in-chief, the president has exclusivity on security and has confidentiality over security. These powers and rights he does not share.
“So, by summoning the president on national security operational matters, the House of Representative operated outside constitutional bounds.
“President’s exclusivity of constitutional confidentiality investiture within the context of the constitution remains sacrosanct,” Malami said.
Speaking afterwards, Malami’s spokesman, Dr Umar Gwandu, said, “It is within the discretion of the president to attend any session of the National Assembly if he so wishes. It is the duty of those who arrange the schedules of the president to know if the president will attend the National Assembly or otherwise.”
Reacting to the development, the Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Toby Okechukwu, faulted the reasons advanced by Malami.
Okechukwu, a senior lawyer, while appearing on Channels Television described the AGF’s position as “strange”.
According to him, the invitation was a prudent effort on the part of the legislature to find a lasting solution to the worsening insecurity in the country, adding that the president’s willingness to appear was evident in his interaction with the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
He said, “Without making undue efforts to win an argument, Section 89 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended clearly empowers the Senate or the House of Representatives or a committee appointed in accordance with Section 62 of the Constitution to procure evidence, written or oral and to summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place.
“Therefore, the attempt to pressurize Mr President not to appear clearly shows that some highly placed political actors in the ruling party are placing politics over the protection of the lives of Nigerians. The APC is evidently fiddling with propaganda and politics while Nigeria burns.
“It is evident from APC’s position as made public by the AGF that the safety of Nigerian citizens would take a back seat in the next few days, while the argument over who is right or wrong unfortunately takes the front seat,” he said.
However, the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege backed the submission of the AGF.
He told journalists on the sidelines of a meeting of Senate Committee on Constitutional Review that he would not support any resolution summoning the President to the National Assembly.
He said: “We have three equal arms of government. The framers of our constitution did not envisage that one arm of government will be summoning the head of another co-equal arm of government to come and offer an explanation on the floor.
“I think those of you who are familiar with the constitutional process, I don’t think you have ever heard that the US parliament had ever invited their president to appear before the US House of Representatives or the US Senate unless for the purpose of budget or to address the state of the nation.
“In any event, we also have the concept of executive privilege. The executive arm of government has the power to claim executive privilege at any time any of such invitation is extended.
“It is not envisaged by the framers of the constitution that a day will come where the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who heads the executive arm would be asked to come and testify in the House of Representatives or the Senate. I do not also support that. I don’t believe that the President should come,” he said.
Rep. Solomon Maren (PDP, Plateau), said: “We are hearing that he is not coming as a rumour. We have not gotten it officially. As far as we are concerned, what was resolved was a parliament decision which is a law on itself.
“So, if the president communicates to us, we can act on his communication. But if the communication is coming from an unknown source, as far as we are concerned, it is not our concern.
An APC lawmaker who craved anonymity told one of our correspondents that the president would not go to the National Assembly.
The lawmaker said a meeting was held Tuesday night where the president visit was discussed. “You can report it. The president is not coming,” he said.
But Spokesperson for the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu (APC, Abia) did not explicitly disclose whether the president will honour their invitation or not.
Kalu who in an earlier press briefing assured that the President will honour their invitation, saying they did not receive any official correspondent on whether the president will go or not.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), through its National Secretary, Peter Ameh, lamented that while Nigerians were waiting for Buhari to honour the invitation and use it to address the world, some people gave the president the wrong advice.
AGF’s interpretation of constitution 90% political
Reacting, Ahmed Raji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the interpretation of the particular section of the constitution by the AGF was “more politics than law. It is 90 per cent politics and 10 per cent law”.
He said the parliament has the right to invite the president on issues affecting the citizens they represent, adding that the best thing the president could do in such a situation was to request for a private session with the lawmakers.
“I do need to think he (AGF) is right,” he added.
On his part, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Kano, Barrister Aminu Gadanya said he disagreed with the position of the AGF because Sub-Section 4 of Section 281(1) quoted by Malami also gave the National Assembly the powers to make laws that will regulate the powers given to the president in Sub-Section 1.
He added as much as the National Assembly had the power to invite the president on any matter, the president was not duty-bound to disclose sensitive security issues but may give a briefing on issues.
Salihu Yusuf, a public affairs commentator said those handling the affairs of the president were clever by half.
“They should have advised the president to ask the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly to meet him in the Villa instead. In the alternative, they should hold a closed session and then give the president the option of either meeting them in person or talking to them virtually.
“It is deceptive to bring the issue of politics here. It is also deceptive to say they don’t want the president to be booed. Remember that powerful presidents around the world have been booed by members of their parliaments, including those from the same party with the leader and nothing happened to them,” he said.
AGF speaks our mind – Presidency
When contacted on phone, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said: “The statement issued by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice is the legal and current position.”