The Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, yesterday faulted the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) intervention in the selection of the 9th National Assembly’s leadership, saying it is capable of undermining the independence of the legislature, which he argued is non-negotiable in a democratic society.
Consequently, he contended that the business of selecting the President of the Senate, the Deputy Senate President, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives rests squarely on the shoulders of members of the respective chambers of the National Assembly that would be inaugurated in June.
The APC National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, after a meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and senators-elect of the party, had said the party had selected the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, as its preferred candidate for Senate president.
That decision has since become controversial as former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, objected to it as an unconstitutionality that would not stand.
Intervening on the side of the party, the APC National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, a couple of days ago told opposing senators to toe the party line or leave the party.
But speaking at the orientation programme organised by the National Assembly management for its members-elect in Abuja yesterday, Saraki delivered a comprehensive rebuke of the APC leadership’s intervention, declaring that it was within the prerogative of senators-elect to vote for a leader they believe can represent their interest well.
“The point I am making is that we should not make too much news on the process of electing presiding officers, what is important is for the members of the Senate to decide who is the best to lead them so that they can have stability,” he said.
He stated that on the day of inauguration the elected lawmakers would not need anybody to dictate to them who they should elect as their presiding officer.
The Senate president, however, advised the lawmakers not to be distracted on the day to be announced for inauguration of the 9th Senate.
Apparently referring to the scenario that played out and led to his emergence as Senate president in June 2015, Saraki warned the legislators: “Don’t go for any meeting on your day of inauguration and please have it at the back of your mind that the inauguration will be on the floor of the National Assembly and no other place.”
Speaking on the constitutional powers of the Senate, he explained that the upper chamber has the right to confirm or reject nominees of the executive, adding that according to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, it is clearly the role of the Senate to confirm nominees of the executive.
Responding to questions asked by three legislators-elect over the non-confirmation of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Senate president explained: “The truth really is that the issue of confirmation whether ministerial or other appointments, is done by the entire Senate.
“Generally, we have an unwritten practice that we would get the input of senators from the state where the appointee hails from before we start the screening process in the Senate. By the powers of the Senate if such a nominee is rejected, then it is upon the executive to find a new replacement. The issue really is that the Senate has the powers to reject a ministerial nominee.
“In the case of the appointment of the Chairman of the EFCC, the powers of the Senate are very clear in the Constitution. For any nominee, we are guided by the Constitution. It is an appointment made by Mr. President, subject to the confirmation of the Senate, which means the Senate has the powers to either say yes or say no.
“In a situation where the Senate rejects, it is up to the executive at that time to send in a replacement, or in some cases, when we have appointment rejected and the executive will re-present before the Senate. But if the senators again, take a decision to reject the nominee, the appointment stands rejected.”
On getting judicial interpretations of Senate roles in appointment confirmation, Saraki said that the Senate had filed 13 cases in court, and have been on now for two years. And that for one reason or the other, those cases have not moved.
He said: “I cannot explain what happened. They are cases that have to deal with asking the courts to give judicial interpretations to who has the powers to do one thing or the other. I am sure by the time the judiciary gives the interpretations, there is no doubt about it that it will be clear that it is the Senate that has the powers.
”In things like this in a democracy, there must be a political solution, there must be dialogue. I think that is the most important thing. The Senate has the power of confirmation. It is how to manage those issues that are the challenges. There will be many like that in the 9th Assembly.
“The question is how the executive and the legislature will work together and find a solution. Most of the decisions especially confirmation, is usually taken by the members. In other countries the executive there are seen to be lobbying the legislators. When they have a candidate, they will go and lobby to get in their preferred candidate through but that seems to be lacking here.”
Saraki expressed concern about the negative perception of the National Assembly by the public and also stressed the need to improve the relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government.
He said: “Take for example the annual budget proposal which should have input of National Assembly through its committee chairmen and others so as to have all conclusive budget but alas the reverse is the case and at the end they will be talking of budget padding and what have you.”
The Senate president, however, stressed that the 9th National Assembly must ensure that the independence of the legislature remains non-negotiable
According to him, “In its constitutional role, the National Assembly carries out oversight, makes laws and ensures constituency representation. In carrying out constitutional functions, lawmakers must always recognise that the independence of the legislature is non-negotiable. It is an independent and co-equal arm of government. “Therefore, it behoves members of the National Assembly to lead the way in asserting the principle of separation of powers, thus ensuring accountability in governance. To achieve that, it is expected that members will carry out their duties in a manner that commands that respect from other arms of government as well as the people you represent.”