By Onwuka Nzeshi
Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emordi, yesterday faulted the recent resolution of the House of Representatives summoning President Goodluck Jonathan over the growing spate of insecurity in the country.
Emordi said the House erred when it summoned the President and insisted that he appears before them in person. She observed that by using the term summon, the lower chamber of the National Assembly created the impression that it could issue a warrant of arrest on the President should he fail to abide by the resolution.
She explained that under the 1999 Constitution, the President does not only enjoy immunity from arrests, but has powers to delegate certain functions to his ministers and special aides.
“They can’t summon Mr President. They can only invite him and he has the right to delegate any of his aides or ministers in the specific area in question to brief the legislature. As far as I am concerned, it is not really a big issue and you could also see the way Mr President reacted to the matter during his recent chat with media executives.
“The only concern is their choice of word and the impression they created. I would have preferred the term ‘invite’ rather than ‘summon’ because you use summon when it involves somebody upon whom you can issue a warrant of arrest if he does not respond to your summon. Assuming the President fails to attend what are they going to do?
“Mr President is covered by immunity and there is no law that compels him to appear before them in person if his schedule does not permit him to do so. You don’t make a law that is not backed by sanctions,” Emordi said.
She however commended the leadership of the House for restraining its members from proceeding further in the error and halting the move to give the President a date in which they expect him to honour the summon.
THISDAY however gathered that the fact the House has been silent on the issue is an indication it may be considering a review of its resolution.
Although the resolution was adopted one week ago, Emordi said her office had yet to receive a copy of the resolution.
The resolution seems to have taken aback stage following the recent retreat by the Senate during which legislators brainstormed on the security situation in the country. President Goodluck Jonathan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal , were in attendance.
The House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 19, passed a resolution summoning President Jonathan after triple bomb explosions that claimed several lives in Kaduna led to violent clashes that spilled into Damaturu.
The resolution followed a motion of urgent national importance which Hon. Yakubu Barde (PDP/Kaduna) brought before the House.
In the lead debate, Barde recalled the attack on three churches in Zaria and Kaduna as well as similar bomb attacks in Kaduna metropolis during the Easter holidays and urged the parliament to summon President Jonathan to brief it on measures taken to tackle terrorism and other forms of insecurity decisively.
But some lawyers have noted that the House of Representatives actually acted within its powers in its decision to summon the president to appear before it. However, they expressed somewhat divergent views with regard to how such powers could be exercised.
Throwing his weight behind the House summons, lawyer and human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana, (SAN) deplored insinuations that the House lacked the powers to do so.
“This is not a military dictatorship; this is a constitutional rule. If someone is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and under section 88 the law says any force or authority can be invited, is the president not a person?”
The House on Tuesday summoned President Goodluck Jonathan to brief its members on what steps his administration was taking to curb insecurity in the country. The summons was issued few days after clashes broke out in some northern states following suicide bomb attacks at three churches in Kaduna.
But another lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, explained that whereas the House actually has the powers to ask anyone to appear before it on any issue, such summon must be backed by a bill. “My own argument has always been that unless the National Assembly, the House of Representatives in this case is trying to make laws or amend laws and also expose corruption they cannot just be inviting anybody indiscriminately.
“In other words, the powers of the House of Representatives or the Senate to investigate any person are not at large. But, they have been behaving as if they can launch investigation into any conduct without limiting themselves to the confines of section 88. If the National Assembly passed a resolution to investigate any conduct of the president or officials of any of the security agencies in Nigeria, they must have a bill that they are trying to pass or an existing law that are trying to amend.
“Where that is non-existent then the National Assembly lacks the powers to summon not just the President but to summon anybody in Nigeria as they have been doing. But if they have passed a resolution in their journal and their official gazette and they have a pending bill to either make a new law on security issues in Nigeria or amend an existing law or expose corruption, then they would have the right to summon Mr. President or anybody to appear before it because section 89 proceeds further to state that for the purpose of any investigations under section 88, the House of Representatives or Senate or any committee appointed by them can summon any person in Nigeria.”
“It used the words ‘summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession’.
So the National Assembly can summon the president but there is a problem when it comes to the question of the president because of section 308. So my own answer is to put it very clear to you that yes House of representatives and the Senate have undoubted powers under sections 88 and 89 of the constitution to investigate the conduct of any person or any official in the federal Republic of Nigeria and that also includes the President. But that power can only be exercised between the confines of section 88 by which I mean there must be a resolution of the National Assembly published in their journal or gazette, and there must also be in existence a bill seeking to make a law or amend a law because that is what it says.
“I think that they don’t have a bill pending and what they need to do now is get their act together. You cannot just wake up one morning because you think the president didn’t do well and say Mr. President ‘come to the National Assembly tomorrow to come and answer query’. That will be trivializing the office of the President and also trivializing the functions of the House of Representatives and also showing a disregard for the law.”
While conceding that the constitution does not exclude any person including the president from being summoned by the National Assembly, Mr. Festus Keyamo said the House can not compel the president to appear before it.
“In this case, the subject matter of the inquiry relates to the peace, order and good government of the country which is the primary responsibility of the National Assembly by virtue of section 4(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Therefore, the House of Representatives has acted purely within the scope of its powers in inviting the President to appear before it.
“This is only how far the House of Representatives can go in respect of this matter. This is because Section 308 (1) & (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides as follows: ‘Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section; no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office; no process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued’.
“The conclusion of the matter, therefore, is that whilst the National Assembly can summon the President, it cannot enforce such summons. However, such action of the President in refusing to honour such summons may amount to ‘gross misconduct’ which can trigger impeachment proceedings against the President by the National Assembly.
In one sentence, the National Assembly can summon the President, but the President is not bound to honour such summons.”
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