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Buhari, Saraki On Collision Course Over Appointments

An imminent test of wills brews between President Buhari and Senate President Saraki with the refusal of a ministry of finance permanent secretary to honour summons by the Upper Chamber, reports Francis Moses

The effect of delayed appointment of ministers by President Muhammadu Buhari is beginning to rear its head in the brewing test of strength between the President and Senate President, Bukola Saraki over the refusal of Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Mrs. Anastacia Nwaobia, not to honour an invitation by the upper chamber. There were indications, over the weekend, of an imminent clash between the Presidency and the Senate over an alleged attempt by the Presidency to rubbish the senate president.

At the top of the is the decision of the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Finance and other top officials to decline an invitation extended to them by the leadership of the National Assembly for a briefing on the state of the nation’s economy last week. The Chief of Staff to the Senate President, Senator Issa Galaudu, and the Clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, wrote separate letters to the permanent secretary but were both allegedly ignored.

The permanent secretary, according to sources close to the leadership of the Senate, was said to have shunned the meeting because there was no clearance from the Presidency to honour the briefing. The Clerk’s letter, which was copied the Head of Service of the Federation said, “I refer to our letter Ref. No. NASS/S//SP/ COS/ CORRP/15/1/06 of June 29, 2015 on the above subject matter and your text message of July 7, 2015, to the Chief of Staff to the Senate President, signifying your inability to honour the invitation. “Your action is a deliberate violation of the provisions of Section 67(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended).

“You are, therefore, requested to appear before the Senate Leadership as contained in your aforementioned letter on Wednesday July 8, 2015 at 2.00pm prompt. “This is an affront to the President of the Senate and its leadership. The provision of Section 67(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), is very clear and unambiguous in this regard. Hence, you do not need the permission of any official before you attend or appear before the Senate. “Consequently, I have the instructions of the President of the Senate and leadership that you do spear before them on the date and time earlier communicated to you, Wednesday, July 8, 2015 by 11am prompt. It is my belief that you will comply unconditionally.”

Rather than honour the invitation, the Permanent Secretary reportedly sent a test message to the clerk, stating she would not honour the invitation. The clerk asked her to respond in writing, which she is yet to do. Investigation shows that the permanent Secretary, being a civil servant, is understandably hiding behind the statutory escape route that she has to have a formal permission from the Head of Service in the case of unavailability of a substantive minister. Pro-Saraki senators are accusing the Presidency of instigating the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Mrs. Anastacia Nwaobia, not to honour an invitation by the upper chamber.

Nwaobia had communicated to the Senate that she could not honour its invitation without an approval by her supervisors to do so but the Saraki loyalists said the Senate had the constitutional power to invite Nwaobia and that her refusal constituted an affront to the legitimacy of the senate president. The Saraki loyalists’ belief apparently rested on the alleged ‘non-acceptance’   of his presidency by the All Progressives Congress and President Buhari. “It will not augur well for our democracy if the Presidency will not allow civil servants to do their jobs.

We should not carry the crisis in the APC to the Senate,” a pro-Saraki senator told some journalist in Abuja on over the weekend. However one of the Senators representing Zamfara Central Senatorial District, Kabir Marafa, recently said that the Senate President lacked both moral and constitutional rights to summon the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Finance, for briefing on the state of the economy.

Marafa, is the spokesperson for the Senate Unity Forum, who stated this in a statement issued in Abuja over the weekend, noted that since Saraki had allegedly violated some sections of the constitution to emerge as senate president on June 9, he cannot accuse another person of committing the same offence he had committed. However Marafa, in his statement, accused Saraki of violating the same constitution which he claimed the permanent secretary had run afoul of. The senator said, “I read with open-mouth amazement, the letter written by both the Chief of Staff to the Senate President and that of the Clerk to the National Assembly on the refusal or inability of a government functionary to honour the invitation of the leadership of the senate. “They were saying the refusal violates section 67(2) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Can somebody please tell them that they are guilty of similar, if not higher, offence? His words “They, in fact, not only violated the constitution to ascend to the Senate leadership, they murdered it”.

On June 9 Saraki was elected the Senate president and Dogara was voted speaker of the House of Representatives. Meanwhile the APC, which had Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila as preferred candidates, categorically rejected the results in an official post-election statement. The APC defined this election as “unacceptable” and vowed to sanction members who disobeyed its directives. President Buhari’s reaction was also not long in arriving. Speaking through his media aide Femi Adesina, the president simply said he “noted the outcome of the just-concluded election of leaders of the National Assembly”. Buhari added, however, that it was important for the process of leader’s election to be duly followed as initiated by the party. Nonetheless, the president took the view that a constitutional process had somewhat occurred.

“President Buhari had said in an earlier statement that he did not have any preferred candidate for the Senate and the House of Representatives, and that he was willing to work with whoever the lawmakers elected. “That sentiment still stands. Though he would have preferred the new leaders to have emerged through the process established by the party.” In conclusion, Buhari urged all the elected representatives to focus on bringing the positive change to the lives of Nigerians. Earlier Saraki in his acceptance speech thanked his colleagues for choosing him and promised to protect the independence of the legislature. In particular, he hailed President Buhari for remaining steadfast in his defence of the right of the National Assembly to choose its own leadership. But all that seems in the past as the impending showdown may tell where the new relationship is going.

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