“Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right”- Isaac Asimov, Foundation
If you are a Nigerian, and have been following the trending scenario, you will agree that the imbroglio of the Kogi State House of Assembly has been on for a while.
Besides, it is bound to interest any student of history, political scientists as well as legal minds.
Then, the main issue was whether the impeachment of the Speaker, Mr. Momoh Jimoh Lawal was properly executed or not.
However, it took a new dimension the moment the House of Representatives decided to take over its functions and subsequently ordered the Inspector General of Police; Mr. Solomon Arase to seal up the House.
It again attained a higher pedestal as a national issue only when the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN gave a legal opinion that the circumstances that justify the taking over of the State House of Assembly must be such that affects the state and not the House as a unit;
And even at that, it has to be by law and not by a resolution.
And ever since the AGF’s legal opinion, the Kogi conundrum assumed a ‘frightening’ dimension in national discourse adorning the pages of the national dailies, the electronic and social media with some calling for constitutional interpretation on whether the circumstances calling for the taking over of the State House of Assembly by the National Assembly should be those presumably prevailing in the State as a whole or prevailing in the State House of Assembly as a unit.
However, the National Assembly defended its seal order to the IGP saying that it decided to invoke Section 11(4) of the 1999 Constitution by taking over the affairs of the Kogi legislature.
Ditto, Malami through a correspondence to the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase with reference number: HAGF/NPF/2016/Vol.1 gave a counter directive based on his opinion that the general security situation in the state was insufficient for the National Assembly to order a seal up.
Comments have also been rife that the Chief Law Officer of the nation is throwing his weighty behind the impeachment of the Speaker of the Kogi Assembly by five members and in support of Governor Yahaya Bello as against the 15 others sympathetic to the embattled ex-Speaker.
Yet, none have shown proof that Malami either through his action or statement is working in tandem with the governor to justify their allegation.
Whilst it has reached this level, the House decided to summon the Minister to appear before its 22-member strong Adhoc Committee on the Kogi Assembly crisis.
So, on Monday, 25th April, Malami was face-to-face with the federal lawmakers and after over two hours of deliberations, the two parties could not find a common ground and further discussions over it was postponed to Monday, 2nd May, due to its inconclusiveness.
At that interface, the various parties canvassed respective opinions, the Minister was fundamentally on the point of discourse of both the Attorney General and the Representatives and which borders on constitutional stand on whose onus the responsibility falls on the status of the Kogi House and realising that there was a new trend to the matter which the meeting with the Minister afforded them, it was resolved they adjourned the meeting for eventual conclusion on the contentious issue.
Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila who doubles as chairman of the Adhoc Committee on the Kogi House of Assembly crisis led the legislators into the meeting initially slated for Room 301, Conference Room of the House, but later relocated elsewhere without any of the HAGF’s aides allowed to attend to have a closed-door meeting due to the power outage that occurred at the National Assembly complex between 2.30pm-5.20pm.
It would be recalled that on Thursday, 21st April, 2016 the Special Assistant to the HAGF and Minister of Justice on Research and Special Projects, Mr. Sylvester Imhanobe had represented him when the Minister was summoned alongside the IGP to appear before the committee which did not go down well with the Committee members, not minding that the HAGF was already slated for an official trip.
In his response to questions on the outcome posed to him by the National Assembly correspondents, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila had replied that discussions were still in progress.
To quote him, he said, “The outcome of the meeting?
Well, we are making steady progress. What we have is an ongoing discussion. There are a lot of issues to be resolved and hopefully, we will be able to resolve them next week.
On whether the Committee requested the HAGF to revert to status quo in line with the directive of the National Assembly, the House Leader quipped:
“No, no, we didn’t go in there to come to an agreement.
“We went in there to discuss the issues, to unravel all the legal and factual issues.
“And this is still ongoing and by next week, we will resolve all the issues”, he added, stressing that no agreement have been reached.
In addition, the lawmaker also emphasized that there were a lot of constitutional issues between the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and the legislative arm that must be resolved quickly to avoid further clash between them.
He insisted that, “We have found out that there are lot of constitutional issues between the AGF’s office and the National Assembly that we need to look into them not just at face value.”
For the purpose of hindsight, in a letter dated Friday, 22nd, 2016 and signed by the Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila addressed to the HAGF/MOJ and titled, ‘Invitation to Appear-in-Person Before the Adhoc Committee on the Kogi State House of Assembly Crisis’ reads inter alia, “The above Adhoc Committee received your verbal apology through your representatives present at yesterday’s briefing.
“However, due to the importance of the issue at hand, the Committee resolved to extend another opportunity to you so as to enable you appear in person on Monday, 25th April, 2016 before reporting back to the House at plenary on Tuesday, 26th April, 2016.”, the letter concluded.
It would be recalled that in reversing the closure of the Kogi House of Assembly, the HAGF’s opinion is justified in the light of Bryan A. Garner, writer of the BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY which in its Seventh Edition on page 1313; defined resolution as a formal expression of an opinion, intention, or decision by an official body or assembly (especially a legislature).
He went further to state that concurrent resolution (which is what we have in the context of the action by the House of Representatives) is a resolution passed by one house and agreed to by the other. It expresses the legislature’s opinion on a subject but does not have the force of law.
In the same vein, Garner described joint resolution as a legislative resolution passed by both houses. It has the force of law and is subject to executive veto.
The constitution, as nation’s guiding statute document permits the HAGF/MOJ to advise the government upon all matters of law connected with legislative enactments and upon all matters of law referred to him or her by the government; and shall advise government upon all matters of a legislative nature and superintends all government measures of a legislative nature.
Also, the Attorney General shall advise heads of ministries and agencies of government upon all matters of law connected with such ministries and agencies. So, going by the position of the constitution and Garner’s Black’s Law Dictionary, Malami as the Attorney General of the Federation has all the powers to unlock the doors of Kogi House of Assembly shut on the orders of the House of Representatives claiming to have relied on Section 11(4) of the 1999 Constitution.
The update of this saga that have persisted however, assumed an intriguing dimension as the Kogi State House of Assembly and the Solicitor General of the State has dragged the National Assembly and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to the Supreme Court seeking for the interpretation of the contentious Section from where the federal legislature drew its strength to order the sealing of the Assembly.
They are seeking for an order nullifying the resolution by the Federal House to take over the legislative functions of the Kogi legislative arm of government.
Isn’t it funny enough that Malami, the same Chief Law Officer of the nation who has been variously accused of backing Governor Yahaya Bello and the five minority Assembly members has been joined in the suit as co-defender?
The suit was filed under Order 3 Rule 5 of the apex court on April 29, 2016.
Perhaps, if we are to approach this Kogi Assembly conundrum on moral grounds, we have witnessed several time how some of the crisis in the legislative arms of various governments at both national, state and local levels have snowballed into fisticuffs even to the extent of blood splitting, such legislatures were not sealed.
The latest being the Nasarawa and Edo State Houses of Assembly.
The fisticuffs on the floor of the Nasarawa legislature were on national network, online portals and on the pages of some newspapers.
Ditto the Edo State House of Assembly which flushed out its Speaker to install its first ever female leader, but after their disagreements, peace has now prevailed.
This is not unexpected in political evolutions and struggles as in all other facets of human endeavour.
So why the hurry to seal up Kogi’s’ without exploring full potentials to reach political solution to restore normalcy?
In conclusion, let me summarise with the Albert Einstein’s postulation that, “any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
And in a situation of this nature, only wise counsel should prevail, therefore it is not late for the National Assembly to do the needful.
Salihu Othman Isah is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.