By Abdul-Rahman Abubakar, Ismail Mudashir & Adelanwa Bamgboye; DailyTrust;
The 8th Senate led by Senate President Bukola Saraki is enmeshed in a protracted crisis that has divided the chamber since inauguration on June 9, 2015. The two groups that fought hard to secure leadership of the Senate last year have remained at loggerheads over allegations of illegal amendments to the Standing Rules that purportedly aided the emergence of Saraki as President of Senate and Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy President. Daily Trust on Sunday brings you an in-depth report on major alterations to the Senate Rules and the controversies that trailed the amendments.
Reports of alteration to sections of the Senate Standing Rules have been causing ripples in the Nigerian political landscape since June 9, 2015. The replacement of ‘open’ with the ‘secret’ voting system, among other amendments to the rules, have set the stage for the prosecution of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, on allegations of conspiracy and forgery.
The forgery suit against Saraki, Ekweremadu, the outgoing clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa and the deputy clerk to the National Assembly, Mr. Ben Efeturi, is slated for tomorrow at a Federal High Court in Abuja.
The charge preferred against the quad, signed by the principal state counsel, Federal Ministry of Justice, D. E. Kaswe, reads thus, “That you, on or about June 9, 2015, with fraudulent intent, forged the Senate Standing Orders 2011 (as amended) causing it to be believed as the genuine Standing Orders 2015 and circulated same for use during the inauguration of the 8th Senate when you knew that the said order was not made in compliance with the procedure for the amendment of the Senate orders. You thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code laws.”
The 8th Senate has not known peace since its inauguration on June 9, 2015. The crisis rocking the Senate originated from the bitterly contested leadership tussle between the camps of Senate President Bukola Saraki and Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan. Following the controversial emergence of Saraki as president, the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate Unity Forum alleged that Saraki’s camp; the Likeminds, conspired with bureaucrats in the National Assembly to “illegally alter the Senate rule with the intent of dubiously” ensuring his emergence.
Soon after the election, the Unity Forum reported the alleged forgery of the rule to the police for investigation. The present leadership of the Senate was elected based on the Senate Standing Orders 2015 as amended, which contains provisions that differ from the 2011 Orders submitted to the 8th Senate.
The contentious amendments
A comparison of the two documents by Daily Trust on Sunday shows amendments to the main provisions regarding the mode of election of the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President. A fundamental amendment to the rule is on the method of voting provided in sections 3 (3e) (i & ii), (f) and (k). The 2011 Standing Orders provides in section 3 (3e) that “When only two senators-elect are nominated and seconded as presidents of the Senate, the election shall be conducted as follows; (i) the Senate shall divide with proposers and seconders as Tellers; (ii) voting shall be conducted by the clerk-at-the-table using Division List of the Senate with the Tellers in attendance. The Clerk of the Senate shall submit the result of the division to the Clerk of the National Assembly; (iii) the clerk shall then declare the senator-elect who has received the greater number of votes elected as President of Senate.”
But the controversial Senate Standing Orders 2015 as amended introduced electronic voting and secret ballot system to the procedure.
The document provides in section 3(3e) that “when two or more senators-elect are nominated and seconded as Senate President, the election shall be conducted as follows; (i) by electronic voting, or (ii) voting by secret ballot which shall be conducted by the clerks-at-table using the list of the senators-elect of the Senate, who shall each be given a ballot paper to cast his vote, with proposers and seconders as Tellers.
“(iii) The Clerk of the Senate shall submit the result of the voting to the Clerk of the National Assembly, who shall then declare the senator-elect who has received the highest number of votes as Senate President-elect.”
The voting pattern proposed by the Senate Orders 2011 provides an election process where all senators are required to openly declare support for the candidate of their choice, while the allegedly forged 2015 version provides for secrecy in the voting procedure.
Another contentious amendment is the right of all senators-elect to vote during the inauguration sitting. Section 3(3k) of the Standing Rule 2011 provides that “all senators-elect shall participate in the nomination and voting for the president and deputy president of the Senate.”
But the 2015 amended version provides in its Section 3(i) that “all senators-elect are entitled to participate in the voting for Senate President and Deputy Senate President.” This provision is another major point of disagreement in the 8th Senate as some of its members did not attend the inauguration session. It would be recalled that Saraki emerged as the Senate President unopposed as his main rival, Senator Ahmed Lawan and several other APC senators were at the International Conference Centre (ICC) for a purported meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari when the Upper Chamber was inaugurated. They did not take part in the elections that produced Saraki and Ekweremadu as presiding officers.
Police investigation report
In the letter to the police, challenging the amendments to the rules, members of the Unity Forum contended that at no time was the Senate Standing Rule 2011 amended during the 7th Senate. In the letter, signed by the secretary to the Forum, Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi (APC, Kaduna North), the group stated, “The Senate Standing Order 2015 as amended and used by the Clerk of the National Assembly and Clerk of the Senate to inaugurate the 8th Senate on June 9, 2015, was fraudulently produced as the 7th Senate did not, at any time during its tenure, amend the Senate Standing Rule.”
The police, after conducting its investigations, concluded that the amendment to the Senate Standing Rules was illegal as it failed to follow laid down procedures provided by Section 110 as amended. The police investigation report on the matter stated, “The allusion by the Clerk of the Senate, Benedict Efeturi, to the procedure of amending the Standing Orders of Parliament through ‘practice and not necessarily by procedure’ is a misplaced analogy and undemocratic because the Nigerian Senate has a clear procedure to be adopted in amending its standing orders.”
In his statement to the police, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business in the 7th Senate, Senator Ita Enang, said the standing order was not amended. Enang told the police that the committee proposed the amendment of the 2011 standing order, but up to the expiration of their tenure, the proposal was not debated and approved or rejected at any sitting.
But in his statement, the Clerk to the 7th Senate, Mr. Benedict Efeturi, said there was nothing wrong with the amendments. He told the police that, “The leadership of the 7th Senate ordered the 2015 Standing Rules as amended by their convention and practice. The Senate Standing Orders 2003, 2007 and 2011 followed the same procedure as that of 2015. In the parliament, amendment of standing orders is by practice and not necessarily by procedure.”
Another prosecution witnesses, Senator Abdullahi A. Gumel said, “During the induction course of the National Assembly, he was given a copy of the Senate Standing Order 2011 (as amended) as the rules book to guide their conduct and working in the Senate. On resumption of the 8th Senate, a new standing order 2015 as amended was shared to them with which all the businesses of the Senate are being conducted.
“In one of the sittings of the 8th Senate, Senator Kabiru Marafa raised a point of order that the new Standing Order 2015 (as amended) produced and shared was never approved by the 7th Senate, as such, it is a fraudulent document. At that point, it came to his notice that all the activities conducted from June 9, 2015 are null and void.”
In its recommendations, the police stated, “From findings, especially from the statement of the Clerk of the Senate who doubles as the Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, the Senate Standing Orders 2015, which was used to inaugurate the 8th Senate on June 9, 2015 was ordered by the leadership of the 7th Senate without following Section 110 of the Senate Standing Rules 2011 as amended, which requires that any amendment to the rules must be debated and approved by senators on the floor of the Senate.
“This practice where some senators amend the rules of the Senate without following legal procedures is not only criminal but portends danger for our growing democracy. It should be discouraged.”
Procedure for amending the Senate Standing Orders Section 110 of the Senate Standing Order 2011 provides that “(i) any Senator desiring to amend any part of the rules or adding any new clause shall give a notice of such amendments in writing to the president of the Senate, giving details of proposed amendment; (ii) the president shall, within seven working days, cause the amendment to be printed and circulated to the members. Thereafter it shall be printed on the Order Paper; (iii) the mover or movers of the amendments shall be allowed to explain in details, the proposed amendments; thereafter the Senate shall decide by simple majority votes whether the amendment should be considered; (iv) if the decision is to consider the amendments, then another date shall be set aside by the Rules and Business Committee, whereby an opportunity would be given to senators to further propose amendments, but must strictly be confined to the original amendments; (v) two third majorities shall decide the amendments, and such amendments shall form part of the Rules of the Senate.”
However, speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday via telephone, the leader of the 7th Senate, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said that at no time did the 7th Senate amend the Standing Orders 2011. He said, “The Committee on Rules and Business proposed an amendment, but it was not debated.” He, however, declined further comment as the matter is already a subject of litigation.
Checks by Daily Trust on Sunday showed that the Senate Standing Orders was last amended on May 18, 2011, to provide, among others, Section 3(2) that introduced ranking to the process of electing presiding officers and other appointments in the chamber. The amendment was a sequel to a motion for the amendment to the Senate Standing Orders 2007, sponsored by then Senate Majority Leader, Teslim Folarin. It followed all the procedures of amendment laid down in Section 110 of the standing rules.
Based on the recommendation of the police investigation report dated July 14, 2015, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on behalf of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, sued the accused before a Federal High Court in Abuja. Former Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, outgoing Clerk of the Senate, Ben Efeturi, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, are charged with conspiracy and forgery, an action contrary to sections 97 and 362 of the Penal Code law.
According to court documents seen by Daily Trust on Sunday, the prosecution contends that, “It is a prosecution’s case against the defendants, that about June 9, 2015, the defendants (Saraki, Ekweremadu, Efeturi and Maikasuwa) conspired among themselves to forge the Senate Standing Order 2011 (as amended) and caused the said forged document to be circulated among the elected senators for use during the inauguration of the 8th Senate of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“It is the forged document that was used in the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly which paved the way for the election that ushered in the present leadership of the Senate.”
Punishment for forgery
The offence of forgery carries a penalty of a jail term of 14 years, lawyers said.
In a telephone interview with our reporter, Mr. Festus Okoye said that forgery was a serious offence, but added that its punishment would depend on the law in which the accused were charged – the Penal Code (PC) or the Criminal Code (CC).
According to him, the first consequence of being convicted of forgery would be a sentence to a jail term. Secondly, convicts will not be able to contest elections again. He added, however, that for someone already in the National Assembly, it will be different.
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said he would not want to comment on the matter.
Saraki’s camp threatens Ita Enang
Mixed reactions have continued to trail the disclosure of the list of witnesses in the forgery suit. It has created tension at the Upper Chamber.
Pasted alongside the court summons at the National Assembly on Tuesday was the list of witnesses which include the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly (Senate), Senator Ita Enang. The list of the witnesses, which include both serving and former senators, has Senator Sulaiman Hunkuyi; Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central); Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe North); Senator Robert Ajayi Boroffice (APC, Ondo North) and Senator Abu Ibrahim (APC, Katsina South). Others are Senator Solomon Ewuga, Senator Ojudu Babafemi, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Dan’Azumi J. Doma and a police investigator, David Igbodo.
In a phone interview, a senator in the camp of Saraki said the battle line had been drawn between them and Enang.
“You cannot be a liaison officer to the Senate and testify against us. If you are not with us, then you are against us. He cannot be against us and still be with us. There is a likelihood that he would be denied entry into the National Assembly in due time,” the senator said under condition of anonymity.
Efforts to get the reaction of Senator Enang yielded no result as he didn’t pick calls put through to him.
Senate mulls president pro-tempore
Another source in the Saraki camp told our reporter that they had commenced arrangements for a president pro-tempore.
The Senate rules made provision for a temporary Senate president in the absence of its president and his deputy. The provision is contained in Order 27, which reads: “In the absence of the president of the Senate and the deputy president, such senator as the Senate may elect for the purpose, shall be known as president pro-tempore.
In a phone interview, the senator, who did not want to be named, said that Saraki and Ekweremadu “with the overwhelming support they enjoy, will nominate anybody of their choice as president pro-tempore.
“If Saraki is going on trial, a president pro-tempore will be appointed if the need arises. Saraki can bring anybody of his choice from our camp. He can even bring Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West). You know that unlike the House of Representatives, there is no duration for a president pro-tempore at the Senate.
“In the Senate at the moment, our camp in the All Progressives Congress (APC) has 40 per cent majority, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) 40 per cent and the anti-Saraki senators only have 20 per cent. They only have the capacity to drag the leadership to trial. They have disruption ability, but they lack the capacity to effect leadership change. You know the battle is that of number,” he said.
Last minute peace moves collapse
Moves to make members of the Unity Forum who had gone to court over the forgery of the Senate rules to withdraw the case has failed. A peace and reconciliation committee was constituted in May this year to, among other things, facilitate the withdrawal of the forgery suit. The report of the Committee chaired by Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta South) was considered last Wednesday in a closed-door session that lasted about two hours.
At the end of the session chaired by Senate President Bukola Saraki, Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the various camps stood their grounds.
A senator who attended the session said there was no need to compel the members of the Unity Forum to withdraw the suit as a date had already been fixed for the case.
However, a report of the committee obtained by our correspondent recommended the review and adjustment of the membership of the Senate standing committees to reflect equity and fairness.
It also recommended that all vacant positions for chairmen and vice chairmen of committees be filled up forthwith and that no senator should be chairman or vice chairman of more than one committee.
The 12-man committee also stated, “Apparent discriminatory actions in choice of senators for overseas conferences, seminars and tours should be corrected.”
Reaction of the Unity Forum
In an interview on Thursday, the spokesperson of the Unity Forum, Senator Kabiru Marafa, said they had no regret instituting a legal action on the forgery. “I have no regret at all. At my age and status, do you think I will do something wrong and be reluctant to apologise? I am of the conviction that what I did was the right thing. And for your information, I am trained to speak the truth.’’
Saraki, Ekweremadu fault suit
In separate statements by their media officers, Saraki and Ekweremadu denied forging the Senate standing rules.
“Those who decided to smuggle the name of the Senate President into the charge sheet know perfectly well that only the leadership of the 7th Senate were invited for investigation. But they needed to implicate him in keeping with their declared vow to ensure that even if their current efforts to nail him through the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) fail, they would find other ways to carry out their vendetta.
“This so-called forgery case is another wanton abuse of the judicial process and making a mockery of the institution of justice. As the Senate earlier stated, the sponsors of this plot are not only gunning for Dr. Saraki, what they have just launched with this latest antics is a grand onslaught on the foremost institution of our democracy. Therefore, by seeking to cripple the National Assembly, they have declared a war on our hard-won democracy and aimed for the very jugular of our freedom,” Saraki’s media aide, Yusuph Olaniyonu stated.
Also, Ekweremadu’s special adviser on media, Uche Anichukwu stated, “So far, everything is in the realm of the onslaught to malign, bully, intimidate, and divert attention from the real challenges presently confronting the nation. However, when the bird jerks in the air, we can fathom where it would perch.”
Both media aides insisted that their principals were never interrogated by the police.
The Assistant Force Public Relations Officer (AFPRO), DSP Abayomi Shogunle, told newsmen at the Force Headquarters on July 6, 2015, that although the police team met Mr. Salisu Maikasuwa, they neither invited nor interrogated Ekweremadu.
Originally published in DailyTrust