House of Representatives has vehemently refuted the claims by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami that the National Assembly lacked powers to invite the President for questioning.
The House said it did not act in error by inviting President Muhammadu Buhari, saying that the House had the right to investigate issues bothering the country.
House spokesman and chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, told journalists after plenary that since the House was yet to receive any official communication from the president that he was no longer honouring the invitation, it would be wrong for them to assume that he would not honour the invitation.
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had said on Wednesday that the National Assembly operated outside constitutional bounds by summoning President Muhammadu Buhari to appear before it to answer questions on worsening national security.
Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, had also on Wednesday said it was unconstitutional and an aberration for any arm of the National Assembly to summon President Buhari to appear before it.
The House spokesman said they believed in the credibility and integrity of President Buhari’s words when he assured the leadership of the House that he would honour the invitation to address the House on the security situation in the country.
Kalu dismissed the position of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice that the House lacked the constitutional power to invite the president.
He added that Section 89 of the constitution empowered the parliament to invite anybody to provide it with information from time to time on matters it legislates on.
He said even though the constitution provides for discretion of the president, the constitution, which empowers the parliament to make laws, also gives it the power of invitation.
He stated that the constitution also allows the parliament to order the arrest of anyone, adding that this power was not being exercised in the case of the president because of the immunity clause as contained in Section 308.
Reacting to a statement from the minority caucus which said the position of the minister was that of the APC, Kalu said the Attorney General of the Federation was neither a spokesman of the president nor the spokesman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and, therefore, could not be said to have spoken for the party.
He acknowledged the position of party supremacy in a democratic setting, adding that if the president takes a position and his party decides that he should change that position, as a democrat, he is expected to respect the position of the party.
He said: “When that motion was passed last week, the House was rowdy. It was rowdy because some people wanted the president to be here and others felt otherwise.
“But majority of members, through the mandate of their constituents, moved the resolution even against the position of the speaker.
“If you were there, you will discover that the speaker tried to ensure that the House towed the line of using diplomatic approach to it.
“But the position of the parliament overrides the presiding officer because to do otherwise is to be biased.
“At the end of the day, it is the opinion of the people that matters and the speaker respects the people’s opinion as expressed through their representatives.
“As a mark of honour, the leadership of the House sent a delegation, made up of the speaker, deputy speaker, and the majority leader, to engage the president beyond the resolution of the House, which was not compelling him or summoning him to come as many put it. It was an invitation.
“The House invited Mr. President. There is a difference between compelling and inviting and the ability to resolve this will enable us to know the true picture of the House resolution.
“The president assured them and we believe in the integrity of the words of the president, having shown commitment to address Nigerians. But the date was not specified.
“There was official communication from the president committing to the position of the speaker that the president has accepted to come, which was a confirmation that the speaker and his delegation were not acting on their own.
“To that extent, we felt very honoured by the president, having communicated his desire to engage with Nigerians, especially when his aide made it more obvious that he had shown interest to address the parliament.
“We have not received any formal or official communication from the presidency.
“The time now is past One o’clock, Thursday, December 10, we are yet to receive a formal communication from the Office of the President stating that the appointment is cancelled or shifted.
“We have not received any communication from the president, saying, ‘I am no more coming’. All you have heard are from unofficial sources.”
He noted that the position canvassed by the speaker for the declaration of state of emergency on insecurity still remains the best approach to resolving the incessant killing in the country.
Speaking on the position of the Minister of Justice, Kalu said: “I would have said let us leave the judicial and legal interpretation of the constitution to the judiciary.
“But as a lawyer, I can assure you that the parliament did not act in error.
“I say this based on the provisions of the constitution that established us, even the smallest committee of the House has a mandate which is expressed in section 88 and 89.
“If you want to address the question on whether the House as a committee of the whole is investigating insecurity, money appropriated for security, inefficiency in security or any petition around insecurity, if the House has the power to look into that, the answer is yes.
“The position of the law as contained in section 4 of the Armed Forces Act, the president is chairman of the Security Council.
“The Armed Forces Act is a legislation made by the parliament. It is the provision of section 89 that we have the right to investigate issues bordering on anything that we have power to legislate on.
“It is called legislative competence. We have the competence to legislate on all these.
“Therefore, if there are things that we need to find out in those areas, the grand norm empowers us to invite any person for the purpose of obtaining any evidence or information.
“Is the president under investigation? Or did we invite the president for investigation? The answer is no.
“We invited him to have an engagement that will help us review a few things and to know whether the strategies we are using now are in order or not, and get feedback. We cannot command the president to attend, but we can invite him.”
Meanwhile, following the disagreement between the Senate and House of Representatives over the invitation to President Muhammadu Buhari to address lawmakers on what his administration was doing to combat rising insecurity, the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly have resolved to meet the president next week on the issue.
Speaking in a chat Daily Independent on Thursday, one of the principal officers of the National Assembly said the disagreement arose from the failure of both chambers to harmonise on the invitation to the president.
He, however, said the president’s failure to honour the summons would not signal the end of the matter as the leadership of the National Assembly would soon meet him on how to address the raging insecurity challenges.
“I think the disagreement was because both chambers failed to harmonise before the summons was issued out.
“It would have carried a lot of weight if the Senate and House of Reps were on the same page on the invitation of the president. He would have addressed a joint sitting of the chamber.
“But what if the president addresses the Reps on Thursday and next week the Senate also summons him? That is the issue.
“But I believe they are on the same page on the state of the nation and the security challenges.
The failure of the president to honour the summons doesn’t imply that the issue is dead. If the mountain does not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the Mountain.
“I believe, by next week, the leadership of both chambers would meet the president on the issue and a lasting solution would be reached,” he said.
Also speaking, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), threw his weight behind the position of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, noting that the National Assembly lacked the constitutional powers to summon the president.
Sagay said that the president was higher than every other person in the country.
He said the National Assembly could not equate the president with ministers and heads of agencies that they could summon.
Sagay, who said summoning Buhari amounted to denigrating the sovereignty of Nigeria, also reminded the lawmakers that the British parliament cannot summon the Queen to respond to any issue.
He said: “Well, my view is that I totally support the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
“One, the president is not just executive head of government, he is also the head of state.
“He represents the sovereignty of Nigeria, so he is not somebody you can give orders and say ‘come and address us, whether you like it or not!’
“They don’t have the powers to do that. The provisions of the constitution state clearly when he has to go to the National Assembly, and that is when he is presenting a budget.
“They can afford to call Ministers, Comptroller General of Customs, Inspector-General of Police, Permanent Secretaries to the National Assembly.
“These are people who are implementing various projects for which the National Assembly has voted money.
“But the President is the Head of State, higher than every other person in the country and a symbol of our statehood. They don’t have the powers to summon him.”
He also added that he supported the decision of the president to shun the invitation because the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers were waiting to boo and humiliate him.
“Secondly, we all know that those PDP lawmakers are looking for every opportunity to boo and humiliate the president.
“They did it when he went to present the budget when Saraki was Senate President.
“They booed, shouted at him and embarrassed him but he showed so much personal composure, presented the budget and left with dignity.
“Now they are frustrated and are looking for ways to humiliate the president again.
“So, from purely practical commonsense and from pure constitutional law, there is no reason why the president should go there.
“So, I agree with Malami on this even though I don’t agree with the reasons he gave.
“There is no constitutional provision that empowers the lawmakers to do that.
“The British parliament cannot summon the Queen to come and address them on any issue. So, let them just forget about it.
“The best thing they can do is to organise themselves and allow the leadership of both chambers to go to Aso Villa to see the president and then he can tell them what he has to say on security.
“They will then come back and tell their colleagues what he said. If what he said is a security issue, they can go into an executive session where no journalist is present and discuss it.
“By summoning him, they are trying to denigrate the sovereignty of this country and they don’t have the powers to do so.”
Also speaking, Jimi Agbaje, former Lagos governorship candidate of PDP, said President Buhari’s refusal to honour the summons by the National Assembly on the issue of insecurity in the country was a total disregard for the people of Nigeria.
Agbaje said the president ought to have honoured the invitation of the lawmakers since they were the representatives of the people.
According to him, President Buhari owed Nigerians explanations on the raging insecurity in the country which has become a national emergency.
“I am not a lawyer, so will not get into the constitutionality or otherwise of their powers.
“My position is that in our democracy, the National Assembly represents the people.
“In matters of national emergency like we presently have on insecurity, the president owes the people an explanation.
“Refusal to meet the National Assembly is disregard for the people on this matter of national importance,” he said.
On its part, Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, said the National Assembly does not have the balls to discipline the president for failing to honour its summons.
Yinka Odumakin, the organisation’s National Publicity Secretary, said: “The Senate President once admitted that they are stooges and that they are rubber stamps.
“So, there is nothing they can do. It is only those who have balls that can impose sanctions on the president.
“Don’t forget that it was the same president that went abroad and said that democracy is a hindrance to him and it is limiting what he can do as a military president. So, give him 10 lifetimes, he cannot like democracy.”