Malaming The National Assembly

Abubakar Malami straightnews
Abubakar Malami

By: Israel Umoh

Periwinkles are largely seafood and rich in protein. But it is still doubtful to many, particularly people who do not live near riverine areas why there are ‘Nigerian periwinkles.’ In a way, these species are peculiar to Nigeria. Nutritionists are quick to tell anyone that these periwinkles are used in cooking edikang ikong (fluted pumpkin leaves), afang, atama, among other delicacies common in Akwa Ibom and Cross River States and some of their neighbours. But the species are not common to other climes or may be alien to other countrymen, except Nigerians.

As there are Nigerian periwinkles, so there are Nigerian laws, which, perhaps, are mooted to suit the rulers and the ruled. These laws are peculiar to Nigeria in that they suit the caprices of the rulers and are inapplicable to the less privileged or those seen as lesser. The big man’s law can allow him to steal the nation’s treasury and the law will close its eyes and he walks free and unperturbed. There is another one if an orphan steals a fowl, he is slammed 10 years or life imprisonment. The case is given accelerated hearing and judgment is readily passed and implemented before appeal is made.

Take, for example, the 2010 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). There are certain constitutional provisions that could be applied to suit the powers-that-be, while others are seen as ‘no-go-areas’ when other Nigerians are involved.  The constitution is expected to be a bible in the land that does not need any inflected interpretation or application to suit any person or interest, either the ruler’s or the ruled’s. Everybody is expected to be equal before the law. That is the spirit and letter of the constitution.

Few days ago, Abubakar Malami (SAN), Nigerian Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, demystified and boldly told the revered House of Representatives that it lacks constitutional power to invite the President Muhammadu Buhari  to speak on security matters.

In his statement entitled, ‘Buhari’s Summon: NASS Operates Outside Constitutional Bounds’ on Wednesday, he explained, “The management and control of the security sector is exclusively vested in the President by Section 218 (1) of the Constitution as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces including the power to determine the operational use of the Armed Forces. An invitation that seeks to put the operational use of the Armed Forces to a public interrogation is indeed taking the constitutional rights of law-making beyond bounds.

But when a law or its interpretation is turned upside down to suit the rhythm or an office, then it is Malaming. In other word, it is Nigerianising the law to suit the drumming of operators called cabal. Permit the use of the coinage used in the writing. Malaming is not English word but it is coined from the name: Malami, the Attorney-General. It is a Nigerian word coined by a Nigerian (the writer) for Nigerians and for the Nigerian society. Malaming, in this case, also means emasculation, or belittling the constitutional powers of the National Assembly.

As soon Malami dropped the bomb, some legal experts unleashed arsenals on him. From Femi Falana to Mike Ozekhome, the barrage of guns released many resounding bullets that the Nigeria’s number one legal man had erred from the point of law, not from the barrel of politics. A constitutional lawyer, Chief Ozekhome, SAN, argued that the National Assembly (NASS) has the constitutional right to be briefed by Buhari over the security situation in the country. Falana cited sections 88 and 89 of the constitution and adumbrated that the National Assembly has power to invite the President or any other person for questioning on any matter.

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It is alleged that the House of Representatives did so not in consultation and concurrence with the Senate. In short, it acted alone and Senate had to dissociate itself from the invitation. Some legal luminaries have argued that the President did no wrong in turning down the invitation because the House did not involve Senate and could not invite President to address them on security strategies. It is their argument that Falana and Ozekhome spoke as activists, saying that the law is different from activism. It is also argued that even in established democracies, congress cannot summon or invite President to answer security strategies, though the President could address them on state of the union.

The arguments kept raging. The issue is simple that Nigerian Constitution is not written in Aramaic language or ancient Greek but in English Language, which is the lingua Franca of Nigeria. Lawyers could be divided because it is given to men to agree to disagree. Constitutional lawyers could speak authoritatively by telling others how vested they are in interpretation. In other words, other lawyers of non-lawyers turn to unlearned and can be undivided in the matter. Such is life!

However, the issue is simple. Was Mr. President not invited to brief National Assembly by extension the entire country how he has handled the nitty gritty of security in the country? Would it not be foolish to trivialize the matter that Mr. President was invited to divulge the plans and strategies of security to the world? Since Mr. President has his plans and strategies used over the years, are security infractions things of the past?  Did the All Progressives Congress’ Governors not shoot themselves in the legs and fronted them as emperors by asking President to dishonour the invitation? Have they forgotten easily that National Assembly – Senate or House of Representatives- is their final retirement room from politics?

Expectedly, some lawyers have zeroed their argument to House of Representatives now. But, Malami used National Assembly in his statement. This was where the confusion crept in to nail the House presided over by Femi Gbajabiamila, a seasoned lawyer. Agreed that Section 218(1) suits the Attorney-General in plying his servantness, did such interpretation support his stewardship to his fatherland? As a corollary to the quoted portion, sub-section 4(a,b) of the same section subsumes his cloudy interpretation on the power of National Assembly. How about section 219(a,b)? Can the nation’s lawgiver and interpreter give a better alibi to the sub-sections?

Unfortunately, the National Assembly looks like a lame duck. In a Presidential system of government where separation of power is supposed to be adhered by different arms of government, can a member in the executive arm school those in the legislature their functions? Doing so means telling them that the 360 in the House of Representatives do not know their constitutional roles and of course why they were elected or re-elected. It is an aberration.

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President Buhari gave his words to honour the invitation and later reneged. A spokesperson for National Assembly called Kalu came to the public glare to explain that they did not invite Buhari to ridicule him. In this case, the Assembly fails to realize and apply its constitutional powers. To ridicule is a personal observation lacking in constitutionally in substance. Can you imagine a government appointee denigrating the people’s representatives and the people are wont to throw a party for Malami? Oh! What a changing society that men are no longer men and women are not won by those who deserved them (courtesy of novelist Cyprian Ekwensi)? If the President who had sworn to uphold the constitution and the assemblymen had sworn to uphold same are driving on two opposite directions, then there is a problem reducing their roles to mere traditional. As long as the National Assembly is oblivious of its constitutional weapons in dealing with aberrant situation, then the country is heading towards a cataclysmic cliff.

For long, the National Assembly (bicameral in nature) looks like money waste bin. Much money is spent to maintain the members, yet the masses whose money from a common patrimony is being lavished, are at the receiving ends of ‘obnoxious and recalcitrant’ policies and programmes of the government. For nine months, the Academic Staff Union of Universities is on strike and undergraduates of public universities are roaming the streets or are sitting at home, what serious effort has the National Assembly made to stop the deadlock by intervening for the reopening of universities?

Again, the Federal Government has hiked the prices of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and electricity tariffs, has the assembly barked and bitten? Has the Petroleum Industry Bill seen the light of the day? Is the National Assembly after failing to stamp Ruga Settlement Bill into law now not championing National Water Resources Bill, despite public uproar against it?  In short, many pro-people policies are sacrificed on the altar called National Assembly.  Let President send an executive bill with an ‘annexure to them,’ the bill will be given an accelerated hearing and quick passage into law.

In the both houses, bipartisanship among political parties is chequered; patriotism is sacrificed on the altar of primordial interest while religion and ethnicity are the guiding principles and ethos of the National Assembly. Let the Assemblymen put on their thinking caps and return to the table of unity and patriotism in churning out laws that will greatly affect and positively influenced the masses. Let them in unison amend the present constitution to reflect national interest, justice and equity. Long live Nigeria!