If things had gone well, the process should not have generated acrimony. But long before the June 9 inauguration of the Senate, its members were already divided. The division was and still is over the filling of its top positions, especially the Senate presidency. As the majority party, which is expected, to produce the presiding officers, the All Progressives Congress (APC) settled for Senators Ahmed Lawan and George Akume as Senate president and deputy Senate president (DSP).
The party’s choice did not go down well with a group of senators rooting for Senator Bukola Saraki. The battle line was thus drawn between the Like Minds comprising Saraki’s loyalists and the Unity Forum, to which Lawan and Akume belong. It became a game of wheeler dealing and the sort ahead of the June 9 inauguration. On the inauguration day, the Unity Forum members were not in the Senate chamber, making it easy for Saraki to emerge Senate president unopposed with the support of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) whose senators were there in full force. PDP through Senator Ike Ekweremadu got the DSP to the bargain.
Since then, the Senate has not known peace. The Lawan group has refused to recognise Saraki’s leadership, insisting that he came to office through a ‘’forged Senate Rules’’, which stipulate how the Senate president should be elected. The Saraki group counters that the Rules were not forged. According to the Like Minds, the Rules were amended by the last Senate before it wound up last June 4. The question that arises from the group’s submission is : can outgoing senators set rules for incoming senators, many of who will be coming to the Senate for the first time?
Assuming that all the old senators will be returning to the Senate does it make sense for them to set rules for a Senate, which life had not yet begun? The matter eventually landed in court. Rather than address the matter, the court resolved to play the ostrich by burying its head in the sand. The court said it could not look into the matter because it is an internal affair of the Senate, which could be addressed by its Ethic and Privileges Committee.
It is not debatable that the Senate is an arm of government which has its own regulations. But under the doctrine of Separation of Power, the judiciary can look into whatever the executive and legislature do to ensure that it is within the purview of the law. The judiciary cannot shirk this responsibility under the guise that it would amount to ‘’undue interference” in either the executive’s or legislature’s ‘’internal affairs’’. What the court cannot do, in my lay man understanding, is to undo what has been properly done by these institutions. But where they appear to have done wrong, it is the judiciary’s duty to whip them back into line.
Not to do so will amount to condoning illegality and enthroning lawlessness. If the court cannot look into an allegation of forgery because it happened on the floor of the Senate isn’t that saying any offence can be committed there and the suspect will go scot free because he is a lawmaker? As powerful as the Senate is, it cannot try criminal cases; only the courts can. The question then arises, is forgery a crime?
According to the ninth edition of Black’s Law Dictionary, forgery is a crime. It states : In essence, the crime of forgery involves the making, altering, or completing of an instrument by someone other than the ostensible maker or drawer or an agent of the ostensible maker or drawer. It added: Though forgery was a misdemeanour at common law, modern statutes typically make it a felony.
Thus, the courts cannot and should not close their eyes to certain developments in the legislature under the pretence of non-interference. If they do, they will be paving the way for our lawmakers to get away with anything, including murder. What did the court make of the police report that the Senate Rules were forged? Nothing, it dismissed offhand the report, which should have aided it in reaching a considered decision on the matter.
The court missed the opportunity to pronounce on the matter judiciously and judicially when it threw away the baby with the bath water. But the police are not keeping quiet; they are fighting back. In a preliminary objection to a case filed by Senator Gilbert Nnaji, they are insisting on their right to investigate the forgery allegation and bring the perpetrators to justice. The police, in a counter affidavit, notes that the forgery allegation borders on ‘’issue of criminality, and not simply an issue on the floor of the Senate”. Investigating the allegation, the police claim, cannot be undue interference in the Senate’s affair. To the police, every Nigerian can be investigated for crime. How true and one only hopes that the police will live up to this averment always.
The police made valid claims in their deposition. This case is of public interest because it involves the second arm of government, which is charged with making laws for the country. But when lawmakers become lawbreakers, the law should be applied against them like any other person caught in a compromised position.
Since senators occupy an exalted position, they should not do anything unbecoming of their office, which could bring them to public ridicule. But if they do, they should be ready to pay the price. The law, they say, is no respecter of persons. So. these artful forgers should be brought to book.
Their leaders’ sins
On Monday, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) released the May/June 2015 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) results. Those who passed have been rejoicing, but not so those with poor results. But what do you say of those whose fate is hanging in the balance? They do not know whether they passed or failed because their results were not released. Their results were withheld for no fault of theirs. They were not involved in examination malpractice; no they were not. Their results were withheld because their states are owing WAEC.
To avoid this kind of embarrassment, WAEC warned before it released the results that it would withhold those of candidates from the 13 debtor-states if the debts were not defrayed. The states probably thought that WAEC was joking as they pretended not to hear the warning, even after they had been written to pay up. Must these pupils be made to suffer for the sins of their leaders whose children may not be schooling in the country. How much is the WAEC fee compared to the millions of dollars they pay on their own children abroad? It will be unfortunate if these pupils miss entering the university this year because of this problem. If these pupils were their children, will they abandon them like this? May God touch the hearts of the chief executives of these debtor-states to do what is necessary and needful before it is too late.