By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
For the first time since he was jabbed by Jibrin Abdulmmumin, Speaker Yakubu Dogara on Thursday spoke out on the crisis centred around the alleged padding of the budget of the Federal Government. The platform was provided by the Policy Legislative Advocacy Centre, PLAC, the non-governmental body which is one of several bodies involved in building the capacity of the legislature.
Mr. Dogara had been accused by Jibrin of leading about 12 other men to pad the budget, whatever that term meant. Speaking on that occasion, Mr. Dogara said he refused to offer himself for interrogation on the basis of the principle of separation of powers which guaranteed the independence of the legislative arm of government.
Speaker Dogara said that the legislative business of the House: “Cannot be grounds for any investigation or any procedure or proceeding to be commenced in court against a member of parliament, either the Speaker or even the Senate President, once they are done in exercise of their proper function.”
The assertions of the speaker underpin the strength of the legislature, which besides lawmaking is to act as a check on the executive arm of government.
The stir over the alleged padding of the budget was of special concern to some legislators and friends of the legislature as it was viewed as another step in what they perceived as the gradual attacks to weaken the institution that defines democracy.
The concern flows from the crisis that first arose in the Senate where the presiding officers of the Senate, Senators Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu were arraigned in court on the allegation that they forged the 2015 Standing Rules of the Senate.
That Speaker Dogara came out to make the assertion of the independence of the legislature was significant. In the recent past, some in the National Assembly, especially in the Senate had started thinking of him as one who wanted to paint and position himself as the good boy in the legislature with an apparent hesitation to openly condemn what some senators saw as the persecution of Saraki and Ekweremadu.
Echoes of Ekweremadu’s travails and triumph
Meanwhile, Ekweremadu who is on bail is bound to cause anxiety for Buhari administration officials in the next few weeks.
In an unprecedented move, it was announced last weekend that the Library of Congress in the United States had invited Senator Ekweremadu to deliver this year’s edition of the United States of America (USA) Constitution Day Lecture entitled the, “Influence of the U.S Constitution on African Democracies.”
The invitation to be crystallised in September is significant in two respects. One, it underpins Ekweremadu’s remarkable role in the progressive evolution of the Nigerian Constitution. Since 2007 he has chaired the Senate Committee on Constitution Review and it was under his guidance that the first alterations of the 1999 Constitution were achieved. It is even more significant that Ekweremadu would be the first non-United States citizen to deliver the lecture.
Second, it also gives a lie to the seeming impression by his political traducers to paint him as a criminal, forger or whatever. The window given Ekweremadu who is the highest political office holder in the ranks of the opposition would offer him opportunity to exchange views with the United States officials and give the perspective of the opposition.
Ekweremadu should not go and paint the country bad in the sight of U.S. administration officials or before senior congress officials that are bound to interact with him. However, it would be foolhardy of anyone to expect him to plead the innocence of the Nigerian administration officials who drafted the forgery charges against him or those who have been so diligent in what has been described as the progressive whittling of the independence of the legislature.
The seemingly hostile approach of the administration towards the legislature in Nigeria calls for concern. The invitation to Ekweremadu shows that other democracies apparently do not buy into the schemes and should be a signal to the administration to repair what it can before it is too late.