The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, on Thursday, walked out the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, who was in the upper chamber to represent the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami.
Malami was summoned by the red chamber following its resolution that the nation’s chief law officer should be asked to explain the rationale by his office to prosecute Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, and two others for the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Order 2015.
Obviously not satisfied with the decision of the AGF to shun its invitation for the second time, the Senate panel wondered why Malami should send a representative when he was aware that his attention was physically required to defend his actions.
They expressed fears that Malami, by his action, was threatening the nation’s democracy and that something should be done urgently to save the situation.
Efforts by Obono-Obla to deliver the message of the AGF were frustrated by the committee chairman, Senator David Umaru, who said they were only interested in meeting Malami or no one else.
He explained that the committee would report to the senate-in-plenary on resumption from its current recess and would take the necessary action against Malami.
Umaru said, “Mr. Obla, this is the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and this invitation is for the Justice Minister to appear in person; hence, we cannot interact with you on this matter.”
A member of the Committee, Senator Joshua Lidani, who was visibly angry, told his colleagues that the action of the AGF undermined the Senate.
The committee chairman adjourned the meeting pending the decision of the Senate after considering the panel’s report at plenary.
Obono-Obla, who said he was appointed by Buhari and attached to the Ministry of Justice, told journalists outside the committee room that the position of the AGF was that the panel lacked justification to open any discussion over the matter.
Obono-Obla said, “The AG has not done anything wrong. The AGF has not undermined democracy. He acted pursuant to the powers vested in him by the constitution. Section 174 (1) says he can prosecute anybody. And he has done that.
“The Senate is not on trial. He has not taken the Senate to court. He has taken four persons to court. They are not the Senate. Being President of the Senate does not make you the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The matter was investigated by the police and a prima facie case was established and the AG invoked his powers under Section 174 (1) to initiate criminal proceedings against those persons.
“This matter is now before a court of law. There is separation of powers in Nigeria. It is not the position of the Senate to constitute itself to a court of law.
“What is the duty of the police? To investigate crime! And they investigated. A DIG, a very experienced police officer, carried out forensic investigation.
“It doesn’t matter whether Saraki was invited by the police or not. So, let him go and tell that to the court. That is why he should take his hands off and allow the court to hear this matter.
“At the end of the day, if it is established that this charge is frivolous, the court will discharge him but not to take the position that the AG has committed any crime.”
He insisted that the AGF was not answerable to the Senate, adding that by virtue of the principles of Separation of Powers, he is answerable to the President, who appointed him.
Asked why the Attorney General did not personally honour the invitation, Obono-Obla stated, “He’s on national duty, he’s outside the country. You cannot be a judge in your own case. We don’t have confidence in the committee.”
Umaru said whatever action would be taken against the AGF for shunning the invitation of the Senate would be taken by the Senate-at-plenary.
He said, “Our job as a committee is to carry out the assignment given to us by the entire Senate after passing a resolution on a motion.
“We will report back to the Senate. That is when the entire house would collectively take a joint decision on the next line of action.”
Meanwhile, Malami on Thursday faulted the description of his inability to personally appear before the Senate committee as a slap on the Senate.
His Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Salihu Isah, who spoke on his behalf, said the minister was outside the country on Thursday.
Isah said the minister had been scheduled to embark on the trip long before the Senate committee fixed its proceedings for Thursday.
“So how can the minister’s action constitute a slap on the Senate? He was already scheduled to travel out long before the invitation and the minister did the right thing by sending a representative there,” he said.