Last Tuesday’s controversial summon of President Goodluck Jonathan by the House of Representatives has been greeted with diverse reactions. EDEGBE ODEMWINGIE in this report highlights varying positions on the invitation federal lawmakers say is meant to interface with Jonathan on checking rising terrorism.
Flowing from strict interpretation of constitutional provisions, last Tuesday’s resolution of Nigeria’s House of Representatives to summon President Goodluck Jonathan to address a closed-door sitting of federal lawmakers over rising terrorism has been trailed with a cocktail of reactions, chiefly on the propriety of the invitation.
Representatives say they are guided by section 89 (c) of the constitution which empowers the National Assembly to summon anyone to appear before it for purpose of helping with the duties of the legislature. “Section 89(c) of the 1999 constitution as amended states that the House can summon anybody; anybody does not have exemptions, to explain issues bothering the House.
We are in no way overcrowding our bounds,” The Lower House spokesman, Zakari Mohammed told newsmen at Thursday’s scheduled briefing on its state of affairs.
With federal lawmakers calling for marching orders on Jonathan to nip Nigeria’s worsening security situation in the bud and the subsequent invitation, Representatives queried the president’s decision to proceed on his scheduled trip to Brazil for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Rio+20) when according to them, Nigeria was “on fire”.
The Lower House’s invitation was also extended to Jonathan’s security advisers as well as sweeping summons to Nigeria’s security chiefs. The lawmakers were however silent on the specific date Jonathan and security chiefs are expected to appear before the Lower House.
Zakari who chairs the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs said the date omission was intentionally done to accommodate Jonathan’s schedule in honouring the invitation.
At Tuesday’s plenary session, Representative Yakubu Barde (Kaduna/PDP) came under matters of urgent national importance when he raised alarm on worsening insecurity in Kaduna State.
Nigeria has witnessed brazen, sustained and somewhat routine terror campaigns chiefly by local extremist Islamic sect, Boko Haram in many parts of the North including bombings of high profile outfits in the country’s capital, Abuja - the United Nations building and the Nigerian Police headquarters arguably topping the list.
Last Sunday, multiple blasts hit at least three churches in Zaria and Kaduna towns. State rescue officials reported many deaths and injuries among surviving persons. To follow were deadly reprisal attacks which security operatives still battle to contain.
Also, a gun battle between Boko Haram and security operatives in Damaturu, Yobe State also left in its wake many deaths.
Barde’s motion which initially sought a resolution condemning the attacks and urging the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to provide relief materials to affected and displaced persons in Kaduna state was however amended to include Jonathan’s summon along with his advisers and Nigeria’s security chiefs.
Minority Leader, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos/ACN) made the amendments which was unanimously adopted by members when it was put to a voice vote. “The security situation has infringed on the fundamental rights of Nigerians to religion, peaceful assembly, freedom of movement and right to life.” The minority leader told lawmakers.
According to minority leader, the Lower House oversight powers over the executive arm of government can be extended to the office of the President as Nigeria’s Chief Security Officer. “We are not castigating him (referring to Jonathan) but let us exchange ideas” Gbajabiamila attempted to clarify.
Following wide ranging debates, lawmakers lambasted the executive on its inability to contain the rife insecurity affecting parts of northern Nigeria.
“Is Mr. President scared? Is the Inspector General of Police scared? Are there some people that cannot be arrested?” Jerry Manwe (Taraba/PDP), queried in his debate. “If Mr. President knows who is behind Boko Haram, he should go after them, otherwise, nobody should come and tell us that they are on top of the situation”, Manwe fired.
In similar vein, Jumoke Okoya (Lagos/ACN) urged the Lower House to issue marching orders on Jonathan to contain the worsening insecurity. She said, “If Mr President knows that he cannot handle the situation, he should step down.”
Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti/ACN) however called for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) which he said will discuss Nigeria’s coexistence. However, Representative Emmanuel Jime (Benue/PDP) saw the situation from a different angle, arguing that “calculations regarding 2015 is also at play”, pointing to a political undertone to the upsurge of violence following the emergence of Jonathan in 2011.
Criticisms trail summon…
The unprecedented summon critics say goes against the spirit and letters of the doctrine of separation of powers, checks and balances, which underpin the 1999 Constitution.
Some say the summon is reflective of the frosty relationship between the Lower House and the presidency, subsequent on the $3million bribery tale involving the suspended House Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee on the Monitoring of Fuel Subsidy, Hon. Farouk Lawan.
The media has been awash with alleged sinister moves by the presidency to use the bribery scandal to unseat the Lower House leadership. Well, a monitored report (June 22, 2012) states that Jonathan will not honour the Lower House’s summons. The report quoted a presidency official as saying that the summons was not based on any point of law.
The presidency official said the lawmakers did not have any right under the nation’s constitution to summon the President under such a condition since the country was not practicing a parliamentary system of government.
He said under the presidential system of government which Nigeria practises, the President has an exclusive power that places him above such summons by the House of Representatives.
The source reportedly said, “Nigeria is not practicing a parliamentary system of government like it is obtainable in Britain where the Prime Minister is a member of the Parliament; and he is just the first among equals.
“We practice a presidential system of government which gives an executive power to the President. He cannot be summoned in such manner by the House.
Again, a resolution of the National Assembly is an opinion that is not binding on the executive arm of government. It will interest you to know that the National Assembly under former President Olusegun Obasanjo passed similar resolutions summoning him like about four times. It is on record that he did not honour anyof the invitations and nothing happened. Their resolutions are mere opinion or advisory.”
There is still no official presidency statement whether Jonathan would honour the invitation or not.
An Abuja based lawyer, Jude Okpara insists that federal lawmakers move is in consonance with constitutional provisions. Hear him, “The National Assembly has the power to invite anybody. You don’t need to have it expressly stated that Mr. President, Mr. Vice president can be invited. Jonathan is a Nigerian, so he can invited to come and answer questions regarding the management of public funds.
“In the 2012 budget, you will know that the National Assembly appropriated over a trillion Naira on security, so if you go to section 88, what is it saying? On any matter, on any person, on any office for which the National Assembly can appropriate funds, it also has the powers to invite anybody in that office to come and explain how he is spending that money.
“Section 89 has even elaborated on the powers of the National Assembly to summon anyone to the extent of even compelling appearance. It will interest Nigerians to know that the president also has the powers to initiate a meeting with the National Assembly.
It is a matter of separation of powers. That provision also says when the initiates, either of the chambers can also say no, I don’t want to see you.
So as the debate on whether the National Assembly have constitutional powers to summon a sitting president rages, Nigerians can only patiently wait and see if the president honours or not.