Tentacles from the presidency on Wednesday indicated that President muhammadu Buhari may not comply with The house of representatives ‘ invitation to address it due to the growing wave of instability in the country.
A presidency source told Newsmen the planned meeting is “not on the president’s itinerary”.
Also, the Chief Whip of the House, Muhammed Monguno, confirmed this in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
He said the president’s change of mind may not be unconnected to alleged plot by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) caucus in the Green Chamber to embarrass him.
The caucus met Tuesday night behind closed doors but the outcome of the meeting was not made public.
Though the president had earlier given Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, his words, it was gathered that governors elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had urged him to shelve his scheduled appearance.
The APC governors prevailed on the president not to visit the National Assembly as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the actions of the PDP lawmakers who had earlier declared the president incapacitated and called for his impeachment.
The governors were also said to be concerned because their state Houses of Assembly may want to take the opportunity to harass them by seeking frequent appearances.
Nigerians were on Wednesday divided over the position of the executive arm of government that the National Assembly lacks the powers to summon President Buhari to appear before it to answer questions on the state of the nation.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had said the National Assembly lacks the power to invite President Buhari to speak on security matters, arguing that the right of the president to engage the National Assembly and appear before it is “inherently discretionary in the president and not at the behest of the National Assembly.”
However, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, said the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria empowers the National Assembly to summon President Buhari to address them over the state of the nation.
Speaking with Daily Independent, Ozekhome said the constitution in Section 88 and 89 empowers the National Assembly to compel the president as a public officer to appear before it.
He said, “It depends on the angle you are looking at it. If it is from the angle of presenting a national budget, the constitution requires the president to lay the budget directly before the National Assembly, which will be sitting as a joint House presided over by the Senate President who is the chairman of the National Assembly. In such a case, the president must come directly and present his budget.
“In America, once every year, the president is compelled to give a State of the Union address to the American people. We do not have such a provision in Nigeria. But in Nigeria, under Section 88 and 89 of the constitution, the National Assembly has oversight function on matters having to do with the well-being and security of the country.
“If the National Assembly feels that the security of the country has become so parlous and the economy has become so poor that we have entered a second recession, then they can use their powers in Section 88 and 89 because the constitution says ‘any public officer’. It did not mention that the president is excluded.
They can also use Section 4 of the constitution, which mandates them for the peace and order of Nigeria, they can summon him that they want to know the state of insecurity or the economy or why corruption is increasing. They can say that they need his appearance so as to get his information to enable them make laws for the peace, order and stability of the country.
“In addition to this, even if it is constitutionally provided for, is it not moral and ethical for the president who has only appeared before the National Assembly few times since he became president six years ago to appear before them to explain to them why the country is in topsy-turvy, upside down and why things have become so poor, why prices of petroleum (products) have gone up three times in less than six months”.
Prince Tony Momoh, a former Minister of Information, said while the National Assembly has the powers to invite the president, it will be unwise for the president to be briefing them publicly on steps being taken to address security challenges in the country.
According to Momoh, “It goes beyond just summoning the president to come and start talking with cameras all over the place. That is not the best way to address insecurity challenges. Well, they can invite anybody to explain certain things they want clarification on.
But I don’t know how the president can come to them and in front of the cameras start to explain anything to them, especially on security matters. I don’t know how regular it is for the president to go to one of the two chambers. The president goes to meet the National Assembly, that is the Senate and House of Representatives in joint sitting. He does that more regularly during budget presentations.
“If you have a situation like what we have on our hands now, which is the issue of security, and it gets to a stage when there should be briefing from the president, it is either the president goes there and brief the lawmakers in joint session without public glare or the leadership of the National Assembly go to the president for briefing, including the heads of security agencies”.
Also speaking, Chief Sunny Onuesoke, a chieftain of the PDP and former Delta State governorship aspirant, faulted claim by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami that the National Assembly lacks the power to invite President Muhammadu Buhari to speak on security matters.
Onuesoke, in a statement he personally signed, noted that if National Assembly lacks the constitutional power to summon the president as interpreted by Malami that means Nigeria is not practising a democratic system of government which brought both the president and other elected office holder to office.
“Honestly, I cannot believe what I am reading. Which constitution grants Malami and his boss the right not to appear before a National Assembly, especially on matters that affect the people they represent, when people’s lives are lost on daily basis. Morally speaking, do they even need to summon anybody that has human feelings before such a person begins to request for appearance and give situation reports to the entire nation,” he disclosed.
Onuesoke argued that the defence of Malami has no basis because the legislators represent the people and the president is answerable to the people.
He argued that a country cannot be practising democracy and her president is not answerable to the elected representatives of the people.
According to him, by his statement, Malami is telling Nigerians that the government they learnt in secondary school about check and balance in democratic state like Nigeria is fake and scam.
“Malami should tell Nigerians what provision or section of the constitution bar the NASS from inviting a president, or direct us to a ruling of the Supreme Court preventing a president from honouring the invitation of the legislative arm of government.”
Confusion As Senate Berates Reps Over Summoning Buhari
Meanwhile, there was confusion on Wednesday as the Senate distanced itself from the invitation extended by the House of Representatives to President Muhammadu Buhari to address it on the rising spate of insecurity in the country.
This is even as the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, said it is unconstitutional and an aberration for any arm of the National Assembly to summon President Buhari to appear before it.
The upper chamber through the Chairman of its Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun Central), told reporters in Abuja that the Senate has nothing to do with the invitation of the president by the House.
He said that since the Senate did not summon the president, it would not want to be dragged into any controversy as to whether the president will appear before a joint session of the National Assembly or not.
Basiru said: “I’m a spokesperson of the Nigerian Senate. 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.
“We operate a bi-camera 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.
“On this matter, there has not been an issue of a 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 tomorrow (today).”
On his part, Omo-Agege insisted that the framers of the nation’s constitution did not envisage a situation where one arm of government would summon the head of another arm of government to appear before it.
The Deputy Senate President who is also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, made these assertions while answering questions from reporters after a meeting of his Committee at the National Assembly, Abuja.
He said that he cannot support that the president should honour such an invitation.
Omo-Agege said: “I am a constitutionalist. I believe that we are operating a presidential system of government.
“I believe in the concept of the separation of power. We have three equal arms of government.
“The framers of our constitution did not envisage that one arm of government will be summoning the head of another co-equal arm of government to come and offer an explanation on the floor.
“I think those of you who are familiar with the constitutional process, I don’t think you’ve ever heard that the US parliament had ever invited their president to appear before the House of Representatives or the US Senate, unless for the purpose of budget or to give an address on the state of the nation.
“In any event, we also have the concept of executive privilege. The executive arm of government has the power to claim executive privilege at any time any of such invitation is extended.
“It is not envisaged by the framers of the constitution that a day will come where the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who heads the executive arm, would be asked to come and testify in the House of Representatives or the Senate. I do not also support that. I don’t believe that the president should come.”
Recall that the House had, on December 1, reached a resolution via a motion to invite the president to the National Assembly over rising insecurity in the country.
The invitation followed the killing of 43 rice farmers in Zarbamari village, Borno State, penultimate Saturday.
The presidency had, last week, agreed that the president would honour the invitation of the parliament.
On Monday, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus led by Kingsley Chinda from Rivers State, in a statement, asked Nigerians to prevail on their representatives to commence impeachment proceedings against the president, saying he had failed on his constitutional obligation to protect lives and property.
But events took a dramatic twist Tuesday night with a series of meetings of different camps of lawmakers and some governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the National Assembly.
Sources told Daily Independent that the PDP caucus met somewhere on the second floor of the House of Representatives (New Building) on Tuesday night to strategise.
Their agenda, it was learnt, was to pose some questions and actions that may appear embarrassing to the president should their plan to kick-start an impeachment process fail.
While they were meeting, this reporter gathered that another meeting that involved Governors Aminu Masari of Katsina State and Hope Uzodinma of Imo State with Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, the Speaker, House of Reps, Femi Gbajabiamila, and some of the APC principal officers in the House held at Room 028, the same night.
It was learnt that APC governors advised against the president’s coming for fear of being embarrassed.
They expressed shock that many APC lawmakers were in cahoots with their PDP counterparts in the embarrassment plot.
Daily Independent learnt from the House spokesman, Benjamin Kalu, that there had been no official or formal communication from the president regarding his coming or alleged change of mind.
Gbajabiamila, while adjourning plenary, ruled that “the House is adjourned to normal plenary session on Thursday”, suggesting that there may not be any joint session involving the president.