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Laws For Suspension In Senate Conflicting With Constitution

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On January 26 this year, President Muhammadu Buhari signed one of the monstrous bill into law. The law now known as ‘’Legislative Houses (Power and Privileges), Act 2018’’,  grants members of Legislative Houses in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly immunity from litigation for actions taken in plenary or committee proceedings of the House or committee.

The law which ceded some powers of Judiciary and the Executive functions for the Legislature authorizes the lawmakers to summon any person to appear before her, give evidence, including power of an officer of the legislative House to arrest any person who commits an offence against the Act.

Legislative Houses (Power and Privileges) Act 2018, also known as ‘’An Act to declare and define certain powers, privileges and immunities of the Legislative Houses established under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and of the members of such Legislative Houses; to regulate the conduct of members and other persons connected with the proceedings thereof and for matters concerned therewith’’.

The two sections of Legislative Houses (Power and Privileges) Act, 2018 which now seemingly give credence to the gale of suspensions in the senate and House of Representatives are as follows

Section 21 is titled ‘’Contempt of a Legislative House by members’’

 

(1) Any member of a Legislative House who-

(a)  being a member of a committee of the House, publishes to any person not being a member of such committee any evidence taken by the committee before it has been reported to the House; or

(b) assaults or obstructs a member of the Legislative House within the Chamber or precincts of the House; or

(c) assaults or obstructs any officer of the Legislative House while in the execution of his duty; or

(d) is convicted of any offence under this Act, shall be guilty of contempt of the Legislative House.

(2) Where any member is guilty of contempt of a Legislative House, the House, may by resolution, reprimand such member or suspend him from the service of the House for such period as it may determine:

Provided that such period shall not extend beyond the last day of the meeting next following that in which the resolution is passed, or of the session in which the resolution is passed, whichever shall first occur.

(3) No salary or allowance payable to a member of a Legislative House for his service as such shall be paid in respect of any period during which he is suspended from the service of the House under the provisions of this section.

(4) Nothing in this section contained shall be construed to preclude the bringing of proceedings, civil or criminal, against any member in respect of any act or thing done contrary to paragraph (b) or (c) of subsection (1) of this section.

Section 22 further says that, ‘’Suspended member excluded from Chamber and precincts

‘’A member of a Legislative House who has been suspended from the service of that House shall not enter or remain within the Chamber or precincts of the House while such suspension remains in force, and, if any such member is found within the Chamber or precincts of the House in contravention of this section, he may be forcibly removed therefrom by any officer of the House and no proceedings shall lie in any court against such officer in respect of such removal’’.

 

Constitutional Provisions, Legislative Houses (Power And Privileges) Act 2018 In Conflict

Section 6 vests judicial powers on the courts and Section 6 (6) (b) specifically states that the said judicial powers ‘’shall extend, to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person’’.

Yet, Section 21 (2) states that ‘’where any member is guilty of contempt of a Legislative House, the House, may by resolution, reprimand such member or suspend him from the service of the House for such period as it may determine’’.

  1. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance
  2. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference
  3. Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests:

The communities of the three foregoing provisions of the 1999 Constitution can no longer afford any senator the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of belief, just as Senator was suspended for expressing legislative view contrary to collective resolve of the senate. The pro-Buhari association in the senate was forcibly disbanded by senate resolution on April 12, 2018.The Legislative Houses (Power and Privileges) Act 2018 also make it contempt of a Legislative House by members to so exercise freedom of expression and association as such acts are punishable by suspension even for a session.

Section 48 of the 1999 Constitution states that ‘’the Senate shall consist of three Senators from each State and one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja

And Section 60 of the Constitution says, ‘’Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have power to regulate its own procedure, including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House

And Section 69 of the Constitution says, ‘’A member of the Senate or of the House Representatives may be recalled as such a member if (a) there is presented to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission a petition in that behalf signed by more than one-half of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency alleging their loss of confidence in that member; and

And that ‘’(b) the petition is thereafter, in a referendum conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission within ninety days of the date of receipt of the petition, approved by a simple majority of the votes of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency

The senate however are at liberty to exercise the power of removal of a senator whether his or her constituents like it or not, for such a period as long as even a whole session of the senate.

HE 1999 Constitution proudly proclaims its supremacy in section 1(1), in the following words: “This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.

Section 1(3) then goes on to state most unambiguously: “If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void”

The Supreme Court of Nigeria has upheld the supremacy of the Constitution in a plethora of cases, including: ABACHA VS FAWEHINMI (2000) 4 SC (PT.  11), PAGE 1. AG ABIA STATE VS AG FED.  (2002) 6 NWLR (PT.  763) 204; AG ONDO VS AG FED. (2002) 1 NWLR (PT.  772) 222; BALONWU VS GOV.  ANARMBRA STATE (2009) 18 NWLR (PT.  1172) 13.

The Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act was sponsored by a member representing Okpe,Sapele,Uvwie (Delta state) Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Evelyn Omavowan Oboro.

Evelyn is from the same senatorial district with Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, the first casualty under the execution of this law in the senate. He was suspended on April 12, 2018 for 90 legislative days by the senate over unproven allegations against his colleagues that the new amendment to the Electoral Act regarding election sequence in the 2019 general elections was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.

Evelyn is even aspiring to unseat Senator Omo-Agege as a senator representing Delta Central senatorial district in 2019 general elections.

President Buhari was particularly less circumspect by signing into law Sections 21 and 22 of the Consolidated Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, Cap, Ll2 LFN, 2004 by extending Legislative Powers and Privileges to members of the Local Government Legislative Assemblies and for Other Related Matters (HB, 367). It is like giving daggers to some ‘’mad men’’ loosen onto crowded street of a city. The terror being unleashed in the Federal Legislative chambers can only be likened to the reign of terror in France in the 18th century.

‘’The Reign of Terror’’ in France at about 1793 led to the passing of a ‘’Law of Suspect’’ which was so loosely worded that even those only ‘’guilty’’ of a lack of enthusiasm for the Revolution could be brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal. In these months, many thousands were guillotined in Paris and the provinces. The Terror was even day after the other carried to the ruthless extreme, to the extent of attempts to destroy Christianity. New non-Christian calendar, which did away with saints’ days, Sundays and religious festivals of various kinds were introduced. On November 10, 1793, the Cathedral of Notre Dame became a Temple of Reason, and a special ceremony took place in which a dance from the Opera sat in the Cathedral as the Goddess of Reason in the place formerly occupied by the statute of the Virgin Mary. Many churches in France became at this time Temple of Reason.





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