A constitutional crisis may be in the offing as Attorney-General Abubakar Malami, yesterday, gave an indication that President Muhammadu Buhari could renege on his promise to appear before the House of Representatives to explain the country’s security challenges.
The President had opted to speak to a joint session of the National Assembly (the Senate and House of Representatives) after he was summoned by the House in the wake of Boko Haram’s beheading of scores of rice farmers in Zarbamari Village, Borno State. The House had, after a rowdy session on December 1, passed a unanimous resolution to summon President Buhari to render an account of his effort to tackle the spate of insecurity in the polity.
Following the invitation, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila had visited President Buhari in Aso Villa and announced that the President was ready to appear before House members to answer crucial questions on the Federal Government’s anti-insurgency war, considering yearly budget approvals for defence.
Considering his subsequent communication with the National Assembly, President Buhari was scheduled to address the joint session today (Thursday) but Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice issued a statement yesterday saying that the National Assembly had no constitutional power to summon President Buhari on the operational use of the Armed Forces.
Already, the sudden change of position by the Executive arm of government, as announced by AGF Malami, has torn the Legislature apart, with the Senate distancing itself from the invitation.
According to Malami, the right of the President to engage the National Assembly and appear before it is inherently discretionary and not at the behest of the National Assembly.
Malami noted that the management and control of the security sector were 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 lawmaking beyond bounds.
“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 Representatives operated outside constitutional bounds. President’s exclusivity of constitutional confidentiality, investiture within the context of the constitution remains sacrosanct,” he said.
While condoling with the bereaved and sympathising with victims of the associated insecurity in the country, Malami maintained that national security is not about publicity and that the nation’s security architecture could not be exposed for the sake of getting publicity.
He stated that Buhari had enjoyed constitutional privileges attached to the office of the President, including exclusivity and confidentiality in security operational matters, which remains sacrosanct.
THE indication that Buhari might not be appearing before the lawmakers became rife yesterday, after Speaker Gbajabiamila, who presided over plenary of the House of Representatives deliberately skipped the issue relating to the admittance of President Buhari as listed in the Order Paper of the House.
The issue as listed on the order paper reads: “Admittance into the Chamber: Hon. Garba Alhassan Ado: “That the House, pursuant to Order 19, Rule 8 (1) and (2) of the Standing Orders, do admit into the Chamber, the Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Service Chiefs and other dignitaries for the purpose of receiving an Address by the President and Commander–In –Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the Security situation in the country.”
The Speaker did not offer an explanation as to why he skipped the issue, which required the endorsement of the 360-member lower legislative chamber.
When contacted, the Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Aniekan Umanah, feigned ignorance of the last-minute decision by the President not to appear before the National Assembly.
“I am hearing the news just like you. I am not aware of the story. We wait and see as events unfold,” he said
It was learnt that the decision was to shield the President from any form of embarrassment from the ranks of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the House.
THE Senate said that it was not concerned about whether, or not, President Buhari appeared before the House of Representatives because it never invited him.
The Upper legislative chamber also said that it would respond to claims by the Attorney General of the Federation Malami claiming that the National Assembly lacked powers to invite the President after it would have fully reviewed the statement.
Senate spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru, in an interview with journalists on Wednesday said 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,” he said.
According to Basiru, “we operate a bi-cameral legislature. That’s why our rules and procedures are different and that is why also we need concurrence from the two houses on the passing of legislation.”
He said, “There has not been an issue of the joint resolution. What you have is the 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.”
Two members of the opposition (PDP), Kingsley Chinda and Mark Gbillah, yesterday, faulted Malami’s defence of President Buhari’s refusal to appear before the lawmakers. Chinda (PDP: Rivers) insisted that Malami acted in error.
“See Section.88 & 89 of the Constitution. Note the difference between an invitation and a summons. The AGF’s argument is placed on a very wrong foundation and another circus show.”
Gbillah (PDP: Benue) described Malami’s explanation as an affront on the 1999 Constitution. “We have already done what the Constitution specifies. The President is not above the law. The Constitution makes it very clear in section 88 that, by resolution (which was what was taken last week), we have the power to direct, to investigate and to invite.
“ The legislative powers and privileges Act also gives us the power to summon anybody to the House or Committee of the House. So, it is unfortunate that somebody like the Attorney General can issue such a shameful statement referring to certain provisions of the Constitution and ignoring others to give a defence as to why the President is not going to appear.
Efforts to reach the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Ben Kalu, failed to yield results, as he declined to respond to calls and text messages sent to his mobile telephone.
Kalu, who hails from Abia State, is a member of the ruling All progressives Congress (APC) in the lower legislative chamber.
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