Ahuraka Isah, Bode Gbadebo, Adebiyi Adedapo, Igho Oyoyo |
Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), has described as unconstitutional the National Assembly’s invitation of President Muhamamdu Buhari to brief it on the state of insecurity in the North East.
According to him, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) did not give power to the National Assembly to summon the president over operational use of the Armed Forces.
The president, Malami said, can only out of his own volition or discretion decide to engage the National Assembly and appear before it and not at the behest of the National Assembly.
In a statement he personally signed, the AGF said, “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.’’
Citing worsening insecurity in the country, the House of Representatives had on December 1, 2020 summoned President Buhari over the cold-blooded murder of about 47 farmers on November 28, 2020 by Boko Haram terrorists in Zabarmari village, Jere local government area of Borno State.
Adopting a motion under urgent matters of national importance sponsored by Hon. Satomi Ahmed at the plenary presided by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, the lawmakers insisted that President Buhari be made to appear and brief them on the true state of the security of the nation.
But barely 24 hours to the date billed for the president to address a joint session of the National Assembly, Malami said such summon wasn’t contemplated by the framers of the nation’s constitution.
He also contended that the confidentiality of strategies employed by the president as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not open for public exposure in view of security implications and possibility of undermining the war against terror.
He stated: “President Buhari has recorded tremendous success in containing the hitherto incessant bombing, colossal killings, wanton destruction of lives and property that bedeviled the country before attaining the helm of affairs of the country in 2015.
“The fact that President Muhammadu Buhari was instrumental to the reclaiming of over 14 Local Governments previously controlled by the Boko Haram in North East is an open secret, the strategies for such achievement are not open for public expose.
“While condoling the bereaved and sympathising with the victims of the associated insecurity in the country, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN maintained that national security is not about publicity and the nation’s security architecture cannot be exposed for the sake of getting publicity.
“Mr. President has enjoyed constitutional privileges attached to the Office of the President including exclusivity and confidentiality investiture in security operational matters, which remains sacrosanct.
“The National Assembly has no Constitutional Power to envisage or contemplate a situation where the President would be summoned by the National Assembly on operational use of the Armed Forces.
“The right of the President to engage the National Assembly and appear before it is inherently discretionary in the President and not at the behest of the National Assembly.
“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”.
Section 218 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that, “the powers of the President as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation shall include power to determine the operational use of the armed forces of the Federation.’’
LEADERSHIP recalls that while speaking at the opening ceremony of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference on August 26, 2018, President Buhari had said it was a settled law that national security should always override the rule of law.
“Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest,” the president told the gathering of lawyers,’’ he said.
His statement came weeks after the AGF had given a similar reason for the government’s decision to ignore court orders for the release of Sambo Dasuki, a former National Security Adviser, who has been detained since 2015 for alleged arms possession and misappropriation of funds.
House Suspends President’s Visit
Apparently suspicious that President Buhari may not address it, the House of Representatives was yesterday silent on the planned visit of the president to the National Assembly.
There was no announcement to that effect to members of the House at plenary, contrary to the assurance earlier given to State House correspondents by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila that Buhari had agreed to honour the invitation by the House.
Efforts to get the spokesperson of the House, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, to respond to the position of the minister of Justice and
Attorney-General of the Federation, Malami, proved abortive as Kalu didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to his known telephone line.
Meanwhile, leader of the People Democratic Party (PDP) Caucus in the House of Representatives, Hon Kingsley Chinda, while responding to inquiries from our correspondent noted that Malami’s position was wrong.
Also, the deputy minority leader of the House, Hon Toby Okechukwu, faulted the minister on the powers of the National Assembly to summon the president, saying the AGF was only airing the position of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Chinda, in a telephone chat, made reference to sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“The AGF’s argument is placed on a very wrong foundation and circus show, sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)” he said.
For his own part, Okechukwu who is a senior lawyer disagreed with Malami, describing the AGF’s position as “strange”.
He said that 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, Gbajabiamila.
He stated: “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 pressurise Mr President not to appear clearly shows that some highly placed political actors in the ruling party are placing politics over the protection of lives of Nigerians.
The APC is evidently fiddling with propaganda and politics while Nigeria burns”.
The lawmaker, who represents Aninri/Awgu/Oji River Federal Constituency of Enugu State, described as unfortunate a situation where every invitation by a branch of government to another branch to interact towards addressing any national challenges was considered as demeaning, thereby triggering unnecessary flexing of muscles.
“It is evident from APC’s position as made public by the AGF that the safety of Nigerian citizens would take a back sit in the next few days, while the argument over who is right or wrong unfortunately takes the front seat,” he added.
He, therefore, called on President Buhari to rise above the legalese and political fray to show leadership in order to rally the Nigerian people and their parliament to find lasting solutions to the growing insecurity in the country.
We’re Not Part Of The Resolution – Senate
Meanwhile, as the controversy over the propriety or otherwise of President Buhari honouring the summon of the House of Representatives to appear before a joint session of the National Assembly rages, the Senate has distanced itself from the invitation.
Both chambers of the National Assembly had last week Tuesday debated the worsening insecurity in the country in the wake of the killing of 47 rice farmers by Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State penultimate weekend.
While the Senate had asked President Buhari to disengage his Service Chiefs, among other far-reaching resolutions, the House of Representatives on its part resolved to summon the President to come and address it over the matter.
Speaker Gbajabiamila, who had visited the Aso Rock Villa to deliver the House resolution, told journalists that Buhari had agreed to honour the lawmakers’ invitation.
Social media aides of the president had also announced that Buhari was billed to address a joint session of the National Assembly today Thursday.
But the position taken by the minister of Justice, Malami, yesterday, saying the National Assembly lacks the constitutional power to summon the President has cast doubt about the readiness of Buhari to appear before the lawmakers today.
The Senate spokesman, Senator Ajibola Basiru, told journalists yesterday that the Senate was not part of the resolution to invite the president initially.
He said, “I’m a spokesperson of the Nigerian Senate. 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 bicamera legislature. That’s why our rules and procedures are different and that is why also we need concurrence from the two houses on passing of legislation.
“On this matter, there has not been an issue of a joint resolution. What you have is a resolution of the House of Representatives. And I believe the House of Representatives should be able to tell you why the resolution was passed, and what will happen to that resolution.
“As far as the Senate is concerned we have not summoned the president and we don’t want to get ourselves involved in any controversy as to whether the president will appear or not. To the best of my knowledge, I’m not aware of any planned joint session of the National Assembly tomorrow”.
On AGF Malami’s statement that the National Assembly has no power to summon the president, the Senate spokesman said, “I’m a legal practitioner; I have not read what Malami has said. When I read it, if it affects the Nigerian Senate, I will make response. I can’t be responding to hearsay.
“Secondly, there has not been any communication as to the National Assembly expecting the president as far as the Senate is concerned. Our resolution still remains, that the president should hear the voice of the Nigerian Senate that the Service Chiefs should be dropped so that we can have re-energised security architecture in the country,” he added.