The forgery scandal rocking the 8th Senate in the aftermath of the leadership tussle that smeared its inauguration has seen its President, Bukola Saraki, and deputy, Ike Ekweremadu docked today, June 27, 2016.
Saraki, Ekweremadu, the outgoing clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa and the deputy clerk to the National Assembly, Mr. Ben Efeturi, were all arraigned today and they all pleaded not guilty to the charges
It will be recalled that two groups of Senators, the ‘Unity Forum’ and the ‘Like Minds’ fought hard for the Presidency before Saraki’s ‘smart’ emergence and the Unity Forum led by Ahmed Lawan who lost out is unrelenting in its bid to unseat Saraki.
Here are 9 things to note about the Saraki, Ekweremadu forgery case.
- Saraki as Senate President: The whole crisis could be traced to June 9, 2015 when Saraki contested against his party, the APC’s preferred candidate, Ahmed Lawan and won through a power sharing deal with the PDP that also saw Ekweremadu (PDP) emerge as Deputy.
- Allegations of Forged Senate Standing Rules: Still reeling from Saraki’s unexpected emergence especially with a PDP man as deputy, the Unity group fought back soon after alleging that Saraki’s camp; the Likeminds, conspired with bureaucrats in the National Assembly to “illegally alter the Senate rule with the intent of dubiously” ensuring his emergence.
- Police Investigation: The Police was soon invited by Senators of the Lawan-led Unity Forum to investigate the alleged forgery of the Standing Rules. The Police was told that Saraki and Ekweremadu were elected based on the Senate Standing Orders 2015 as amended, which contains provisions that differ from the 2011 Orders submitted to the 8th Senate. In a letter to the police, signed by the secretary to the Forum, Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi (APC, Kaduna North), the group stated, “The Senate Standing Order 2015 as amended and used by the Clerk of the National Assembly and Clerk of the Senate to inaugurate the 8th Senate on June 9, 2015, was fraudulently produced as the 7th Senate did not, at any time during its tenure, amend the Senate Standing Rule.”
However, in his statement to the Police, the Clerk to the 7th Senate, Mr. Benedict Efeturi, said there was nothing wrong with the amendments. “The leadership of the 7th Senate ordered the 2015 Standing Rules as amended by their convention and practice. The Senate Standing Orders 2003, 2007 and 2011 followed the same procedure as that of 2015. In the parliament, amendment of standing orders is by practice and not necessarily by procedure,” he said.
- Illegal Ammendment: After conducting its investigations, the Police concluded that the amendment to the Senate Standing Rules was illegal and that it failed to follow laid down procedures provided by Section 110 as amended. The police report stated, “The allusion by the Clerk of the Senate, Benedict Efeturi, to the procedure of amending the Standing Orders of Parliament through ‘practice and not necessarily by procedure’ is a misplaced analogy and undemocratic because the Nigerian Senate has a clear procedure to be adopted in amending its standing orders.”
In its recommendations, the police stated, “The Senate Standing Order 2015, which was used to inaugurate the 8th Senate on June 9, 2015 was ordered by the leadership of the 7th Senate without following Section 110 of the Senate Standing Rules 2011 as amended, which requires that any amendment to the rules must be debated and approved by senators on the floor of the Senate. This practice where some senators amend the rules of the Senate without following legal procedures is not only criminal but portends danger for our growing democracy. It should be discouraged.
- AGF Charges Four: Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, Ben Efeturi, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu were, based on the recommendation of the police investigation report dated July 14, 2015, sued before a Federal High Court in Abuja on charges of conspiracy and forgery, actions contrary to sections 97 and 362 of the Penal Code law by the the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on behalf of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The charge against the quartet, signed by the principal state counsel, Federal Ministry of Justice, D. E. Kaswe, reads, “That you, on or about June 9, 2015, with fraudulent intent, forged the Senate Standing Orders 2011 (as amended) causing it to be believed as the genuine Standing Orders 2015 and circulated same for use during the inauguration of the 8th Senate when you knew that the said order was not made in compliance with the procedure for the amendment of the Senate orders. You thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code laws.”
- The Amendment 1: The amended section of the Standing Order responsible for the crisis borders on the mode of election of the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President. While the Senate Orders 2011 provides an election process where all senators are required to openly declare support for the candidate of their choice, the amended 2015 version provides for secret voting.
The 2011 Standing Orders provides in section 3 (3e) that “When only two senators-elect are nominated and seconded as presidents of the Senate, the election shall be conducted as follows; (i) the Senate shall divide with proposers and seconders as Tellers; (ii) voting shall be conducted by the clerk-at-the-table using Division List of the Senate with the Tellers in attendance. The Clerk of the Senate shall submit the result of the division to the Clerk of the National Assembly; (iii) the clerk shall then declare the senator-elect who has received the greater number of votes elected as President of Senate.”
However, the Standing Orders 2015 as amended introduced electronic voting and secret ballot system. It provides in section 3(3e) that “when two or more senators-elect are nominated and seconded as Senate President, the election shall be conducted as follows; (i) by electronic voting, or (ii) voting by secret ballot which shall be conducted by the clerks-at-table using the list of the senators-elect of the Senate, who shall each be given a ballot paper to cast his vote, with proposers and seconders as Tellers.
“(iii) The Clerk of the Senate shall submit the result of the voting to the Clerk of the National Assembly, who shall then declare the senator-elect who has received the highest number of votes as Senate President-elect.”
- The Amendment 2. Another amended section that miffed the Unity group was the requirement that all senators-elect shall participate in the voting for the President and his Deputy. Section 3(3k) of the Standing Rule 2011 provides that “all senators-elect shall participate in the nomination and voting for the president and deputy president of the Senate.” But the 2015 amended version provides in its Section 3(i) that “all senators-elect are entitled to participate in the voting for Senate President and Deputy Senate President.”
It is noteworthy that Senator Ahmed Lawan and several other APC senators were at the International Conference Centre (ICC) for a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari thereby missing the moment when Saraki was elected unopposed by PDP Senators and few APC Senators loyal to him.
- Saraki, Ekweremadu Optimistic: Both leaders of the Senate released separate statements via their spokesperson expressing confidence in their chances of scaling the challenge unscathed.
“Those who decided to smuggle the name of the Senate President into the charge sheet know perfectly well that only the leadership of the 7th Senate were invited for investigation. But they needed to implicate him in keeping with their declared vow to ensure that even if their current efforts to nail him through the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) fail, they would find other ways to carry out their vendetta. This so-called forgery case is another wanton abuse of the judicial process and making a mockery of the institution of justice. As the Senate earlier stated, the sponsors of this plot are not only gunning for Dr. Saraki, what they have just launched with this latest antics is a grand onslaught on the foremost institution of our democracy. Therefore, by seeking to cripple the National Assembly, they have declared a war on our hard-won democracy and aimed for the very jugular of our freedom,” Saraki’s media aide, Yusuph Olaniyonu stated.
Also, Ekweremadu’s special adviser on media, Uche Anichukwu stated, “So far, everything is in the realm of the onslaught to malign, bully, intimidate, and divert attention from the real challenges presently confronting the nation. However, when the bird jerks in the air, we can fathom where it would perch.”
- Failed Peace Moves: Attempts were made by the Senate leadership to reconcile both groups and to make the Unity Forum withdraw the forgery case from court to no avail. The peace and reconciliation committee was constituted in May facilitate the withdrawal of the forgery suit failed as the Unity Forum stood its ground.