The quest for extension of emergency rule by President Goodluck Jonathan has remained a cotroversial subject in the Senate, Omololu Ogunmade writes
Perhaps for the first time since the inception of the seventh Assembly, the Senate took the back seat last week while the House of Representatives took the lead, when the latter endorsed the extension of emergency rule sought by President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday.
Jonathan had on May 14, 2013 proclaimed a state of emergency in three North-east states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, citing Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which he said conferred on him the power to make such a declaration. According to him, the continuous insecurity in the affected areas, orchestrated by the activities of the Boko Haram terrorist group, threatened the existence of the federation.
While the declaration was approved by the National Assembly, it was again extended by the president in November last year and again approved by the federal legislature. Last Tuesday’s letter therefore marked the third time the proclamation would be made in the three states.
However, while the Senate is still undecided on the request, the House of Representatives treated it with dispatch. It is uncommon for Jonathan’s request to be so expeditiously treated by members of the lower chamber of the National Assembly, as relentless opposition to government operations has been a norm in the House since 2011. Thus at the last presidential media chat, Jonathan did not fail to portray the House as an institution marred by dictatorship as a result of its frequent stiff opposition to his administration’s activities.
But the House altered this perception on Thursday when it beat the Senate, which had always been at the forefront of issues pertaining to peace and progress of the nation, by passing the president’s request for extension of emergency rule barely two days after it was sent to it whereas Senate is still sitting on the fence.
Upon the arrival of the letter on May 13, the House in an unusual manner immediately resolved to deliberate on it and promptly pass resolution within 24 hours. And accordingly, it opened the matter for debate on May 14 and would have approved it same day but for eventual necessity to interface with service chiefs before drawing its conclusion on the matter.
Indeed, having had a satisfactory deliberation with the service chiefs on Thursday, the chamber proceeded to approve the request, a sheer departure from its tradition in the last three years; a move described by some critics as a renewed effort to salvage its image.
But in the Senate, there has been a dramatic irony of sort as the upper chamber, which hitherto had no room for embellishments on matters of urgent national importance, has not been forthcoming and appears confused on what to do.
It began from the first day the request was received when, unlike the House which immediately resolved to treat the matter, the Senate did not take any decision on when it would be treated. And eventually when it opted to list it on its Notice Paper for deliberation on Wednesday, the Senate reeled out excuses to shut down debate on it. The excuses were two. First, it must be briefed by service chiefs on the current state of emergency before taking decision on the extension move. Second, the request must be gazetted as required by law. Although these excuses seemed to be germane but close watchers of events in the Senate felt that the parliament was only embarking on a window-dressing adventure.
While advancing these factors, Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba who was duty bound to lead the debate on the matter, said until the two issues were addressed, the status quo would remain.
Hear him: “This proclamation according to the requirement of the Constitution must be gazetted and we must circulate the gazette before we can debate it. Secondly, it is the tradition of this Senate that we appraise and assess the performance of the state of emergency before we debate.
“So, I will move that this distinguished Senate do invite the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Air Staff and Inspector General of Police to brief this distinguished Senate at 10 am tomorrow in a closed session to enable us commence debate on the president’s request.”
Expectedly, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who must have been privy to Ndoma-Egba’s motion ahead of its presentation, described deliberation on the extension move as a very serious business which must be supported by all.
“It is a very serious business which borders on the security of a part of this country and we need to be well informed of the situation on ground and the efficiency or the effectiveness of the state of emergency in the past 12 months to enable us take a proper decision. I therefore appeal that in accordance with the motion moved by the Senate leader, we should step it down till another legislative day,” Ekweremadu pleaded. Accordingly, senators unanimously resolved that the motion be adopted.
But three and half hours later, indications began to emerge on why Senate might have taken the decision. It was suspected that the leadership of the Senate had foreseen moves by Northern senators to stop the proposed extension and therefore thought it was necessary that machinery be put in place to avert any hasty decision that could jeopardise the search for peace in the land.
This perception was strengthened by the decision of Northern senators under the aegis of Northern Senators’ Forum to immediately dissolve into a three-hour closed door meeting after the day’s plenary, during which they resolved to shut down the proposal whenever it is brought up for debate.
Briefing journalists at the end of the meeting, Chairman of the Forum, Senator Umaru Dahiru (Sokoto South), said the Forum, having reviewed the emergency rule declaration so far, including its merits and demerits, resolved not to allow its further extension.
He, however, added that since a two-third majority was required to pass the resolution on the extension, they would be left with no option than to accept the output, if they are eventually outwitted during the voting exercise.
Dahiru had said: “Our meeting this afternoon discussed basically, the issue of emergency rule in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States. Everybody in attendance made contributions and a lot was said. The majority position is basically that we are not going with the state of emergency. That is our categorical position because we are not convinced that it is only the issue of emergency rule that could make the security personnel to achieve success in the area.
“We believe a lot of things ought to be addressed in order to conquer the issue of insurgency. So, our own position is that we are not going to support extension of the emergency rule in the area. We are going to engage the three governors in the affected states; we want to know what went wrong to be able to come up with the best way to tackle the crisis. However, the government must work for the benefits of its citizens.
“The leadership of the affected states and our forum here are saying no to emergency rule. The constitution requires two-third majority in terms of voting. Of course, we are going to vote on the issue. If they can out-number us during the voting, fine, but of course, our position is that we are going to vote against it. Technically, Section 304 sub-section six, states the requirements of how the state of emergency should be declared and our own position is against it and obviously, we are going to stand by it”, he declared.
The threat is however not automatic as some of the Northern senators had distanced themselves from it, especially those who were not present in the meeting while others affirmed it. This brief analysis shows that the threat may fail: Of the 109 senators in the chamber, 57 are from the 19 northern states, 51 from the South while one represents the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). If the entire northern senators oppose the extension, then the proposal is dead on arrival.
However, it is clear that the entire Northern senators cannot oppose the move as the major opposition will come only from North-east and North-west, while North-central comprising 18 senators with the exception of Niger State, will gladly support the extension. But there will be divided votes in Kwara and Nasarawa States where some senators had defected to APC while others remained in PDP.
But in Kogi, Benue and Plateau States, it may be block votes in support of the extension as senators from these states seem not to be opposed to the move. Opposition in North-east and North-west will also not be automatic as some of the senators from these areas are loyal supporters of Senate President David Mark and will gladly support his wish. Also in Kaduna, in North-west, the home state of Vice President Namadi Sambo, senators from this state may not oppose emergency rule. So, the threat to stop emergency rule by Northern senators appear destined to fail.
Nevertheless, the Senate had a three-hour closed door session with the service chiefs on Thursday. The meeting was presided over by Ekweremadu.
Present at the meeting were Chief of Army Staff, Major General Kenneth Minimah; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin; Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall Adesola Amosu; Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, and the Director General, State Security Services (SSS), Mr. Ekpeyong Nsah.
After the session, the Senate had another executive session, yet it showed no courage to decide on whether to approve the extension of emergency rule in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa or not. Instead, the Red Chamber came up with another excuse – it had to consult widely before deciding on what to do. This excuse again appeared to insinuate that the Senate was afraid of something which it could not announce. While announcing the outcome of the closed door session, Ekweremadu described it as a fruitful deliberation with an argument that the Senate had resolved to look at the matter from a diverse perspective and hence, the resolve to make further consultations before commencing debate on it.
“As responsible and patriotic Nigerians, we are looking at it from very diverse angles to ensure that the security situation in those states improve in the shortest possible time. Apart from that, the Senate also agreed to do further consultation with all the necessary stakeholders to ensure that everybody could buy into whatever is needed to be done to secure those states and defeat insurgency there. This is what transpired at our closed-door session. So, by Tuesday, we will continue our deliberation on the state of emergency and insurgency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States,” Ekweremadu had said.
Although there were also insinuations that the Senate might have opted to play around the issue because its President, Mark, was out of the country and would have preferred to defer the matter till his arrival, one factor that is clear is that the Senate cannot defer decision on the matter beyond Wednesday this week.
This is moreso that emergency rule in the affected states will formally expire on Monday, May 19 and Section 305 (6b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that the National Assembly must approve or reject emergency proclamation within two days when it is in session and 10 days when it is not in session. By this provision, Senate is bound to take its decision on the matter on or before May 21.
Letter from the President
In his extension letter addressed to Senate President, Mark, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, on Tuesday, the president said security in the three states remained daunting in view of persistent attacks by members of Boko Haram sect, which, he said, had continued to unleash terror on both the civilians and the military. He therefore urged the lawmakers to expeditiously approve the request.
The letter read: “May I respectfully draw your attention to the state of emergency proclamation 2013, in respect of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, which was approved by the National Assembly. By virtue of the provisions of Section 305(6)(c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, the proclamation aforementioned would have elapsed after six months from the date of approval of the National Assembly.
“However, after due consideration of the representations made to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the effect that, while substantial progress had been made to contain the situation and restore normalcy in the affected states, the security situation that necessitated the proclamation of a state of emergency was yet to abate.
“It would be recalled that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had upon consideration of the realities of the security situation in the affected states that had been placed before it, graciously approved by resolution, the extension of the state of emergency for a further term of six months from the date of expiration of the subsisting period.
“Distinguished senators, the security situation in the three states remains daunting, albeit to varying degrees, in the face of persistent attacks by members of the Boko Haram sect on civilian and military targets with alarming casualty rates. In view of the foregoing, I most respectfully request distinguished senators to consider and approve by resolution, the extension of the proclamation of the state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States by a further term of six months from the date of expiration of the current term.
“I look forward, Distinguished Senate President, to the usual kind of expeditious consideration of this request by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Please accept, as always, the assurances of my highest consideration and esteem”, the president wrote.
Reform of Criminal Justice System
A bill seeking to overhaul Nigeria’s criminal justice system also scaled second reading on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, with senators applauding its initiation as the dawn of a new era in the administration of the nation’s justice system.
Leading debate on the bill, Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, described the nation’s current criminal justice administration as archaic, unproductive, slow and open to abuse, noting that the bill which emanated from the House of Representatives sets out to address the menace. Among others, the bill seeks to establish guidelines for the implementation of plea bargain, which Ndoma-Egba says, is being haphazardly applied in the courts now as a result of lack of enabling law.
He said bill put measures in place to avoid its abuse and as well prohibits the arrest of family members or associates of a person suspected to have committed a crime. It also prohibits torture and inhuman treatments of arrested persons as the new law authorises the police to electronically record or video wherever confessional statements are made, generate full record of arrest with dates and photographs of the person arrested for proper documentation. It also authorises any security agency which has the power of arrest to submit quarterly report to the attorney general of the federation while it also seeks to decongest the prisons.
Ndoma-Egba said: “A key element of the bill is the inclusion of measures for checking prison congestion including monthly visits to police stations and other detention facilities by chief magistrates to ensure that suspects were not detained for periods longer than necessary,” adding: “The nation’s system of criminal justice administration is archaic and largely unproductive. The conduct of criminal prosecution in Nigeria is still too slow and weak. The subsisting system is therefore overdue for reforms if it must cope with the challenges posed by the dynamics of the 21st century.”
Ndoma-Egba also noted that criminal cases take unduly long time in Nigeria despite the common prism that justice delayed is justice denied, adding that the bill also provides “mechanism for the improvement of the standard of prosecution by ensuring that only legally trained minds prosecute; it also provides an improved regime for the protection of victims of rape and other sexual offences as well as giving special consideration to convicted pregnant women.”
In his contribution, Senator Solomon Ewuga (Nasarawa North), who said laws are made for the society and not for individuals, added that the bill was timely, noting that “it is good that we apply ourselves to see administration of criminal justice that will affect our standard in the comity of nations.”
Also speaking on the bill, Senator Babajide Omoworare (Osun East), said with the bill, plea bargain would no longer be at the discretion of the judge having provided the best standard for its application. He also expressed pleasure on the revolution that the bill will bring to prisons which he said currently accommodate over 70 per of inmates without trial.
In the same vein, Senator Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West) observed that plea bargain is hitherto being abused with influential people taking advantage of it to evade justice, adding that nobody should be seen to be above the law but the same standard should rather apply to all.