The Senate, has declared war with the Presidency over the retention of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission after the rejection of his nomination by the legislature.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly suspended the consideration and confirmation of appointments by President Muhammadu Buhari based on a comment credited to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo that the President was empowered to make some appointments without seeking legislative approval as provided in Section 171 of the Constitution.
The federal lawmakers unanimously resolved “that the Senate do suspend all issues relating to confirmation of nominees from the executive until the issues of confirmation as contained in the Constitution and laws of the National Assembly are adhered to.”
They also resolved that “the Acting President must respect the constitution and laws enacted by the National Assembly as they relate to confirmation of appointments; and the Acting President should immediately respect the rejection of nominees by the Senate.”
Also, the lawmakers asked Osinbajo to “withdraw without further delay” the statement credited to him that the Senate did not have the power to confirm certain executive appointments.
But in his response, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), said the Senate was confused and was beginning to forget its primary duty, which is to make laws for the benefit of Nigerians.
Also, two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Kehinde Eleja and Emeka Ngige, noted that the Senate was going too far with its threat to the acting President on Magu.
The Presidency, however, said it would resolve all areas of disagreement with the National Assembly.
Senate President Bukola Saraki said, “As a society, we cannot pass laws and see that the laws are not obeyed. It is very clear that these resolutions, as passed, must be acted upon by the Acting President and we ensure that we continue to respect our laws, democracy and the constitution.
“It is not for us to choose which laws to obey because we like them and which ones we should not obey. That is not the way any civilised society works.
“Based on that, we will take appropriate action in line with these resolutions.”
The Presidency and the Senate had clashed over the retention of Magu as the acting Chairman of EFCC after his nomination was rejected by the senators.
The Senate had protested against Magu’s non-removal and on March 28, 2017, suspended the consideration of 27 persons nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari as Resident Electoral Commissioners.
Fifteen of them were later confirmed on June 1, 2017.
But Osinbajo had ruled out the possibility of Buhari replacing Magu with another nominee.
He said the President did not find the DSS report, which was the basis for Magu’s rejection, as a strong reason to replace the EFCC boss.
At the plenary on Tuesday, the lawmakers protested when a letter from Osinbajo, asking the Senate to confirm the nomination of Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila as the Director-General, National Lottery Commission, was read by Saraki.
Senator Ahmed Yerima raised a point of order, which was converted into a motion, in which he criticised Osinbajo for seeking the confirmation of Gbajabiamila’s appointment after he had said it was not necessary to seek legislative approval for such.
Yerima said, “I recall that at one time a statement was issued by the same Acting President that the Senate has no power to confirm outside the provision of the Constitution.
“I want this hallowed chamber to discuss his matter before the continuation of action on this letter.”
Seconding the motion, Senator George Sekibo stated that a careful look at the current events in the country had indicated that “either they are trying to indirectly quieten the legislature or take (away) our responsibilities or directly disallow us to operate in full capacity.”
He said, “If the Acting President says we don’t have the power to confirm and, on the other hand, he is sending us document (letter) to confirm (an appointment), which one are we taking? Has he withdrawn from saying that we don’t have the power to confirm? Or is he now saying that indirectly he has withdrawn (the statement) and we should go on to confirm (appointments)?
“I think that the Senate should put a holiday or suspension on requests for confirmation until these issues are properly resolved.”
In his submission, Senator Isa Misau described the request for appointment confirmation as “a kind of double standards or hypocrisy.”
According to him, it has shown that the executive does not want the legislature to function properly.
Misau alleged that the National Assembly had been subjected to blackmail and intimidation by the executive, citing the example of the invasion of lawmakers’ homes by security agents and officials of the EFCC.
He added, “In the executive, how many ministers are ex-governors and have they ever been investigated? There are a lot of ministers now that we know who have high level corruption allegations against them; even the minister, who is now castigating the National Assembly on the Lagos-Ibadan road, there are allegations of corruption against him. It is time we checked this double standards.”
Senator Samuel Anyanwu equally said he was surprised that the Senate was accepting letters requesting confirmation of appointments from the Presidency.
He said, “Already, as a Senate, we have agreed that until the needful is done we are not going to do further the confirmation of anybody. I think we should stand on that.
“I must add this: if the leadership does not do anything on this matter within 48 hours, we will move against this leadership; I am serious about this. We must make sure that all those we have rejected are not working. I will also say that if anybody is invited by the EFCC, they should not go.”
Senator Dino Melaye stated that it was time for the Senate to tell the executive that it must stop “playing blues and dancing reggae” and to stop “approbation and reprobation.”
He said, “In this same chamber, we invited Magu. Magu came for a job interview and failed. As a result, he was rejected by the Senate. As I speak, Magu is still parading himself as the Chairman of EFCC despite his rejection by this Senate.
He added, “I am moving a motion that it becomes abominable for you, Mr. President, to even read another confirmation report from the executive. We don’t want to hear about any request for confirmation again until the integrity and position of this Senate is respected by the executive. They cannot do our job for us; we will not do their job for them.”
The Chief Whip, Senator Sola Adeyeye, asked the executive to approach the judiciary for the interpretation of the sections of the constitution on appointments and confirmation pending which the Senate would maintain its power to solely confirm presidential nominations.
He stated, “If there is any law, which has been passed by the legislature, signed by the President and gazetted into the laws of the republic, no one is given an exemption to dodge, bend, avoid or dance around that law.
“For the record, I want to say here that I voted yeah for Magu but this is not about my view; the Senate voted nay. I stand with the Nigerian Senate because if a republic must choose between strong leaders and strong institutions, it is wiser by far to choose strong institutions. We must not allow any branch of government to be weakened to an extent where the laws of the land can be fragrantly disregarded.”
The debate however took a dramatic turn when Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe said there was a vacuum in the Presidency as Buhari and Osinbajo were not in the country.
He said, “I simply want to bring to the attention of this chamber and all Nigerians and to ask the question: the Acting President is the person who is at the head of government now and to whom we assume that everything we say today will go to. But we have a serious problem in Nigeria today: we have nobody in Nigeria who is the head of the government. The laws and the procedures in Nigeria state that you cannot have a vacuum. Today, the Acting President is outside the county and, so, there is a vacuum.”
At that point, Senator Kabiru Marafa interrupted Abaribe to raise a point of order while the chamber became noisy.
Marafa cited Order 53(4) of the Senate Standing Rules, which restricts observations by lawmakers to the issue being debated.
“It is an abuse on our sensibilities and of Nigerians everywhere to make the assertion that there is no head of government in Nigeria and that there is a vacuum in the leadership of Nigeria today.
“The Constitution is very clear: If the President is out of the country, it is clear who will be the acting president. If the acting president, for whatever reason is not in the country, the Senate President is the next in the line of succession.”
Saraki agreed with Marafa and thereafter ruled Abaribe out of order.
Senate is confused, says Sagay
But Sagay, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, told one of our correspondents in a telephone interview on Tuesday that the senators were afraid because their hands were not clean.
He advised the Senate to remember that Magu was not a legislative aide who could be sacked by legislative pronouncement but an appointee of the executive arm of government.
The senior advocate stated, “Those who have profited from the corruption that has ravaged this country for years are the ones the Senate is trying to please. Magu is an executive official appointed by the executive arm and he has powers under the EFCC Act, and clearly, the constitution gives the President the power to appoint him.
“The Senate cannot be both legislature and executive. They cannot determine who should be sacked or not. They can do that for their legislative aides but not for members of agencies under the executive branch.
“This is a confused Senate which does not know whether it is a legislative body or an executive body. It wants to be co-executive with the Presidency which is not possible.”
Sagay asked the Senate to behave reasonably and not plunge the nation into crisis.
Senate going too far on Magu, SANs state
Two SANs, Kehinde Eleja and Emeka Ngige, condemned the threat by the Senate to the Presidency on the retention of Magu as the EFCC acting chairman.
Eleja and Ngige urged the Senate to approach the Supreme Court for the interpretation of Section 171 of the Constitution rather than issuing threats that could undermine national governance and growth.
They spoke on Tuesday in separate telephone interviews with one of our correspondents in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.
Eleja said the EFCC, as an institution, was a creation of the law and therefore, was more than the office and the person of EFCC chairman.
He explained that an invitation to anybody by the EFFC should not be seen as an invitation by the EFCC chairman.
Eleja added, “I think the Senate will appear to be going too far by saying that because the appointment of the chairman has not been confirmed, therefore the activities of EFCC must be grounded. I do not share that opinion.
“I think the best thing to do in this circumstance is to have a recourse to interpretation (of the law) by competent court of the law rather than running aground the administration of the country just because of the perception or duties and obligations of the executive and legislature on the simple issue of the clearance of the chairman of the EFCC.”
Ngige believed the present scenario was a good opportunity and golden moment for Section 171 of the constitution to be tested in the Supreme Court.
He said, “For me, the threats are unnecessary. What the Senate is doing, by issuing threats, is that the members are taking the law into their own hands. If they received a letter from the executive arm, asking them to confirm a nominee for National Lottery Board, is it not an indication to them that the executive now sees the need that notwithstanding Section 171, that they still have powers to confirm political appointees? That to me is the implication.
“For me, if they feel somehow about Magu still being in office without their confirmation, it is a matter for the Supreme Court (to interpret).”
We’re working to ensure amity with N’Assembly –Presidency
Meanwhile, the Presidency, on Tuesday, said it had started moves aimed at ensuring a cordial relationship with members of the National Assembly.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang, said this in an interview .
Enang was responding to enquiry on whether the Presidency would sack Magu to appease the federal lawmakers.
He however did not disclose the specific steps he was taking to address the matter.
“My duty and the responsibility before me now are to work more and speak little. So I will rather work on the matter to ensure amity rather than speaking on the matter,” he said.
When asked specifically if the Presidency would sack Magu as requested by the Senate, Enang said, “I am working. It is not wise to speak. It is better to work.”
The Senior Special Assistant to the Acting President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, did not return calls made to his mobile when one of our correspondents attempted to speak with him on the matter on Tuesday.
Another Presidency source, said that since Osinbajo openly declared government’s position on Magu, he was not sure that there could be a sudden change of position on the matter.