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Saraki In The Eye Of The Storm

The Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, recently withdrew his earlier tweet response on the newly appointed service chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari, writes Francis Moses

Senate President Bukola Saraki, recently displayed what many describe as naivety while reacting to the appointment of service chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari. According to Saraki, the Senate on resumption next week would still confirm the appointment of the service chiefs. It was reported that a tweet question had been sent to Saraki, requesting to know when the Senate would reconvene to confirm their appointments. But the Senate President said that the “Appointment of service chiefs is an exclusive function of Mr. President. Senate can only approve ministerial, parastatals etc”.

Saraki’s response, however, put him in the eye of the storm with attendant barrage of attacks by social media users, who condemned his ignorance of constitutional responsibility of the Senate in that respect. Many of the online commentators, who attacked him, wondered why, as a senator in the 7th Senate, where such confirmation was first done in January 2014, would display such ignorance.

The intensity of the attacks prompted the media office of the Senate President to issue two separate statements to water it down. The first statement issued by the Special Assistant to the Senate President on Social Media, Bamikole Omishore, alleged that Saraki’s tweet on the subject matter was not up to date. Another one issued by the Chief Press Secretary, Sanni Onogu, said that his tweet was completely misinterpreted. “This is to clarify the earlier position which was not up to date and does not represent the position of the Senate President on the issue of screening of the newly appointed service chiefs.

The Senate will perform its constitutional duty when it receives communication from the President on the appointments,” Omishore’s statement read. But the second statement, which was signed by the Chief Press Secretary, however, went further to widen the scope of the controversy. It stated that Saraki’s response was based on two fold of enquiries tweeted to him. The statement read, “The attention of the Media Office of the Senate President has been drawn to a story making the rounds to the effect that the Senate does not need to screen or confirm the new Service Chiefs appointed by   President Muhammadu Buhari.

“However, we want to make it abundantly clear that based on inquiries made to the Senate President, Dr. Saraki on whether the Senate was consulted before the appointment of new Service Chiefs was announced, he had in response tweeted that the appointment of Service Chiefs is the exclusive function of the President as stipulated by the Constitution. “Let it be known that his comment is now being misinterpreted to say the Senate will neither screen nor confirm the new Service Chiefs. This is far from the truth.

For the avoidance of doubt, Saraki has said his comment is without prejudice to extant laws and court pronouncements on the issue and therefore that the Senate will do the needful when the list of the new Service Chiefs is sent to it by Mr. President.” Similarly according to Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC, Zamfara), there was no way the service chiefs could be confirmed because “the Senate is not legally constituted.” The National Assembly reconvenes Tuesday but the crisis that forced it to adjourn for one month seems to have deepened.

“The real issue is the Senate is not properly constituted to confirm them now. Nigerians are all aware of how the Senate was inaugurated using forged document. We are lawmakers and we must be seen to be protecting the law. If some people can sit down and change the Senate rules, then one day somebody will just insert something in the constitution and they’ll say it comes to stand,” he said.

In 2013, an Abuja Federal High Court judge, Justice Adamu Bello, declared the appointment of all the service chiefs in the country as unconstitutional, illegal, and null and void. The service chiefs then were the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika; Chief of Air Staff, Air vice Marshal Alex Badeh; and Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Dele Ezeoba. Justice Bello then restrained the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, from appointing service chiefs without the approval of the Senate. The judge made the declaration while ruling in a case instituted in 2008 by a lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, who asked the court to determine whether the President had the powers to unilaterally appoint service chiefs.

In the suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/611/2008, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation and all the service chiefs were listed as the defendants. Keyamo had asked the court to determine whether, by the combined interpretation of the provisions of Section 218 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Section 18 of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A.20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, the President could appoint the service   Constitution that the President, may, by Order, modify its text, to bring it into conformity with the provisions of the Constitution. In his judgment in the matter, Justice Bello answered both questions in favour of the plaintiff and as a result granted all the orders sought by the suit.

He made a declaration that the appointment of service chiefs for the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the President, without the confirmation of the National Assembly was illegal, unconstitutional, and null and void. In the same vein, the judge declared that section 18 (1) and (2) of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A.20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, was in conformity with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution so as not to fall within the category of existing laws under Section 315 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, that the President, may, by order, modify its text, to bring it into conformity with the provisions of the Constitution.

Justice Bello also granted an order restraining the President from henceforth appointing service chiefs without first obtaining the confirmation of the National Assembly. It could be recalled that in the 7th Assembly, Keyamo threatened to return to the court to force the former President Goodluck Jonathan, and the National Assembly to comply with an earlier judgment in respect of the appointment of service chiefs, if the federal legislature failed to do so within 14 days. In a letter to former President Jonathan, and the former Senate President, David Mark, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal now the governor of Sokoto state, Mr. Keyamo, noted that since the judgment was delivered, no appealed against it was filed; neither did the National Assembly take any step to confirm the appointments of the service chiefs.

The lawyer stressed that the appointments of service chiefs, which are political appointments, could not be different from other political appointments that require the confirmation of the National Assembly such as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), ministers, and so on. Mr. Keyamo contended that all official actions taken by the service chiefs since last July were null, void and of no effect in the eyes of the law. “In the circumstance, and the spirit of compliance with court judgments, obedience to and respect for the rule of law, I would humbly require that you direct, advice and enforce compliance with the judgment of the Federal High Court given on the 1st of July, 2013.

If within fourteen days of the receipt of this letter you all fail to act, I, as a patriot and free citizen of this country, will have no option but to head back to the court to compel compliance. The ball is in your court,” he warned. Mr. Keyamo lamented that by its action, the National Assembly had embarrassingly portrayed the military as being above the law. Keyamo’s letter read, “Kindly recall that on the 1st day of July, 2013, I obtained a court judgment in the case of FESTUS KEYAMO V. PRESIDENT & 4 ORS, delivered by the Honourable Justice A. Bello of the Federal High Court, Abuja wherein he declared that the appointments of Service Chiefs (The Chief of Air Staff, the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Naval Staff) without the approval of both the Senate and the House of Representatives is null and void in line with Section 18(1) and (2) of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. For the avoidance of doubt, I enclose herewith a copy of the Judgment.” Political pundits argue that the current crisis rocking the APC has distracted the party leadership not to do their job very well.

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