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‘Hon. Jibrin’s Suspension is a Constitutional Breach’

By Onikepo Braithwaite and Tobi Soniyi

Again the National Assembly is in the news, even as the nation battles to wriggle out of the present economic recession. The climax of the budget padding allegations and counter-allegations was the suspension last week of the whistle-blower, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin.

In a chat with Onikepo Braithwaite and Tobi Soniyi, Femi Gbajabiamila, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives gives an insight into the inner workings of the National Assembly and why he holds the view that Jibrin’s suspension is a breach of his constituency’s right to be represented at the National Assembly, despite their personal differences.

We are aware that you are a lawyer. Did you ever engage in the practice of law before becoming a member of the House of Representatives? Does the fact that you are a lawyer assist you in your role as a member of the House? Do you think that giving members of the House some form of basic training in the Constitution will assist them in performing better?

Yes, I am a lawyer and have been for over 30 years. I practiced both in Nigeria and United States, being licensed in both jurisdictions. Certainly, it gives you an added advantage when it comes to legislative drafting and interpretation of the law. The languages of law and legislation are similar and the basic training and background, gives you a firmer understanding of what you are doing. That is not to say you have to be a lawyer, to be a good legislator. Indeed there are many of my colleagues who are vastly experienced in the art of law making and I dare say are superior to some of us lawyers in the House in terms of their capacity. A lot depends on your dedication, commitment, intellect, and capacity for hard work.

Kindly, define the phrase “Budget Padding”. What is your stand on the allegations by House of Representatives member, Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin, accusing the House leadership of padding the 2016 budget?

Budget Padding has been described by many people to mean many different things. For me, all definitions work. However, whether a crime is committed, ultimately depends on the procedure and at what stage insertions are made, assuming that there are indeed insertions.

Abdulmumin Jibrin’s allegations aside, do you think that the House of Representatives did a thorough job in passing the 2016 Appropriation Bill or are there lessons to be learnt from the process to improve on for the future?

I think the House did the best it could under the circumstances and with the little time it had in passing the budget. Look in more advanced democracies, say for instance, the United States, budget presentation has to be by February, and passage is not until I believe, July or August, when their fiscal year starts. So Congress has at least 6 months to work on it and thoroughly scrutinise it. They also have a functional Congressional Budget Office, which is independent and helps the Congress in analysing the budget presented by the President. Yes, we have a similar office here in NASS, but it hardly meets the standard required, in terms of its functionality. So to answer your question, we are not there yet and a lot still needs to be done. There are lessons to be learnt from what has happened and I trust and hope those lessons will be learnt and the system will be improved. For me, the budget process cannot be straight jacketed into the period of presentation and passage. The process really goes beyond that. It is a whole cycle, which starts immediately the last budget is passed, all through oversight, implementation, and preparation of the next budget. It is arguably one of the most important, if not the most important piece of legislation, to be passed by any government. It is the economic blue print everyone has been asking to see. It flaunts the direction and policy tilt of the government. If you pick up the budget of any country, you should be able to see its policy direction. It is the literature that encompasses its socio-economic mindset, and should therefore never be treated with levity. This is the reason why I proposed an amendment to the Constitution, a couple of years ago, making it mandatory that the budget be presented to NASS by Sept. 30th. The amendment was passed, but suffered the fate of non-signage, by the last administration.

However, I believe it will soon become law, when the Constitutional Review Committee represents it to the Executive. Hitherto, if you recollect, the budget would be presented in the middle of December, for a fiscal year that begins on January 1st. How on earth, is that supposed to happen? Which serious country does that? So you see, apart from the problem being attitudinal, it is also systematic, because as it stands, the Constitution says the President can present the budget anytime before the fiscal year runs out, which is December 31st.

To avoid the delay that characterised the passing of the 2016 Appropriation Bill, the Executive has started the process for 2017 quite early. Are we likely to get the 2017 budget passed early enough, or are there issues that you have already identified that are likely to cause delay?

I believe that the next budget will be passed early enough, and the process will be more seamless, if lessons have been learnt.

What is your opinion of the recent call by Honourable Jibrin, that Senate pass a resolution, relying on the doctrine of necessity, to exercise the powers of the National Assembly until the matter of the budget padding is resolved. Is there any constitutional provision for this?

I am not aware of that call and if it was made, I disagree. Passage of the budget is as enshrined in the Constitution, and you cannot amend the Constitution by resolution of the Senate.

Now that Nigeria is in a recession, what role can the House of Representatives play to assist the country in getting out of its present predicament?

First, I want to make it abundantly clear, that the situation in Nigeria, is not restricted to Nigeria alone and it is not unique to us. In fact, more than half of the oil producing countries are worse off than Nigeria, because of their over-dependence on oil and their monolithic economy. What however, compounded our problem in Nigeria, was the spendthrift culture and flagrant rape of our collective wealth. Having said that, there is now a responsibility on the government of the day, to do all it can to get us out of this situation. When I say government of the day, I cast my net to include the 3 arms of government horizontally and vertically, meaning the Federal, State and Local Governments. Indeed, the Nigerian people also have a role of understanding to play. Specifically, as it relates NASS, it is time to roll up our sleeves, put on our thinking caps, begin to think outside the box and work round the clock, lest we all be consumed by this recession and before it slides into a far worse case of depression. Desperate situations call for desperate measures. Hence, for example, the proposed Emergency Bill is a desperate measure, and that is why it’s called Emergency. We are in an emergency, and we must think like we are in one. If ever, there was a time for symbols and collaboration between the Executive and the Legislature, the time is now. Even where we may not agree with all the provisions in the Emergency Bill, we should be able to meet somewhere in the middle. Call it another doctrine of necessity moment.

Nigerians are shocked with so many revelations of wrongdoing during the previous regime. You were a member of the House of Representatives during this period of serious allegations of huge und unprecedented looting of funds. Why did the House fail to exercise its oversight functions?

As the Leader of the Opposition, whose responsibility it was to hold the government of the day accountable to the Nigerian people, I played my role and I am quite satisfied with how I played it. However, we need to understand that the PDP then had super majority in the House, and as the elections drew close, it was almost impossible to hold the government to account with the chambers. Our only recourse was to the Public. This is the danger inherent, in a one party state, which was almost what we had then. A multi-party democracy and a strong virile opposition, is an essential ingredient, in any democracy. It is gratifying however, that the looting is now being exposed, and the government of President Buhari is delivering on the anti-corruption promises he made to the Nigerian people.

How are we sure that the House of Representatives is not also shying away from its responsibility to ensure compliance with the Appropriation Act under this present regime?

The House will be faithful to its oath and will ensure strict compliance with the Appropriation Act.

It appears that the President’s Economic Management Team has agreed to the suggestion that some of the national assets be sold, to raise funds to extricate Nigeria from the recession. Do you agree with the suggestion? If yes, how do we determine which assets should be sold and what should be the method of sale?

I disagree with the Sale of National Assets. There is a difference between sale of national assets, and privatisation and commercialisation. However, I will want to wait and see the full details of the proposal, if the government decides to go ahead. Right now, the details are a bit sketchy, and I cannot give a complete thought, without knowing the full details. As you know, the devil they say, is always in the details.

The House of Representatives set a Legislative Agenda for itself, which includes amongst other things, anti-corruption, reduction of the cost of governance and constitution reform process. It does not seem as if the House has made much progress in achieving any of these goals. Why?

It is a process. Slow and steady wins the race.

With the current economic woes being faced by Nigeria, coupled with the afore-mentioned Legislative Agenda, to reduce the cost of governance, should the House of Representatives not start with itself, by taking a pay cut. Saudi Arabia, who is not facing the type of economic crisis that Nigeria is, seems to have commenced austerity measures, reducing its cost of governance by slashing Ministers salaries

The National Assembly’s budget has been slashed twice in the last 4 years. My position for years, has always been, rather than the speculations that we have, NASS should publish details of its expenditure and allowances of members. Once that is done, the public can now fully engage in an informed manner, as to whether those allowances are too much or too little. Not doing this, is what has allowed the rumours, innuendoes and speculations on salaries and allowances. I encourage my colleagues to consider the opening of the books. I suspect that the public may be very surprised.

What is your opinion of the fifth schedule to the 1999 Constitution, that is, Code of Conduct for Public Officers, as regards retired public servants like ex-Governors who receive over-robust pensions as well as over-robust salaries in their new positions as Senators, Ministers etc. If the House was really serious and sincere about achieving the afore-mentioned goals set out in its Legislative Agenda, should this not be one of the first issues that it should have tackled.

Interesting that you bring this up. I believe that it is wrong, and just as double taxation is wrong, so also should be double or triple compensation, especially when you are drawing down from taxpayers and government coffers. It is interesting because I have just a week ago proposed a law making this illegal, and I believe it should come up for debate soon.

What is your opinion regarding zoning. Is it contained in the constitution?

It has its merits and demerits. Personally, I disagree with it because, it offends the provisions of Chapter 4 of the Constitution, I believe Section 41 or so, which prohibits discrimination, because if you tell me that I cannot contest or fill a particular office, because of where I come from, you have effectively discriminated against me. This is different from the Federal Character provision in the Constitution, as erroneously argued by many. It also has the tendency to sacrifice merit. It has also been taken to ridiculous lengths, like senatorial districts, local government rotation, even political wards. Today, we have all sorts of zoning formulas, senatorial, local government, religious zoning etc. One cannot however, discard the fact that, we are so heterogeneous, that zoning to many, has its attraction.

It will interest you to know that some of the laws passed and assented to by the President, are being printed and sold on the streets, by people who are not well educated, thereby resulting in lawyers being constrained to purchase these copies, which may not be the exact representation of the laws passed by the National Assembly. Whose duty is it to print and circulate these laws? Is there anything that the House of Representatives can do to ensure that only the body designated to carry out the duties of printing and circulating laws, performs these functions?

That is a strain of plagiarism. I believe that there was a motion against this in the 7th Assembly, but the level of compliance remains low.

The Nigerian Law Reform Commission has reviewed many obsolete Nigerian laws. But the law establishing the Commission states that such reviews should be submitted to the Attorney-General of the Federation for further action. Today, many of these reviews are simply gathering dust in the office of the AGF. In our view, these reviews would be extremely helpful to the House of Representatives. Why can’t the House request that the Commission forward the reviews to it and draft the amendments proposed by the reviews?

I believe that such a request has been made. On its own part, the House commissioned and received the review of our laws, from the Nigerian Institute of Legislative Studies. Over 500 laws are being reviewed and we have received the first batch from them and are awaiting the second batch. So I think we are on track.

Some analysts have argued that Nigeria is not suffering from a lack of laws but rather, a lack of implementation of existing laws, thereby hindering the country’s progress. Do you share this view? What can the House of Representatives do to make sure that existing laws are implemented for the benefit of the society?

I agree. What we need to do as a House is to double down on our oversight responsibility.

Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin was suspended by the House of Representatives for a period of 180 Legislative Days. What are the reasons for his suspension? By virtue of which laws was he suspended? Jibrin has stated that his suspension constitutes contempt of court. Kindly, enlighten us on this issue.

Yes, the House voted for Abdulmumin’s suspension. Personally, I would have preferred that the matter be dealt with, in a more transparent manner, or for that matter, not even dealt with at all. I made this clear when we had our last principal officer’s meeting, and gave my reasons for this. Sometimes silence is golden, and you can take the moral high ground and just leave this alone. This however, contended with the need, on principle, that a clear message needed to be sent to other members, that there are laid down procedures to follow, when a member is aggrieved. The fear of other principal officers, was that, if this message was not sent, a bad precedent would have been set, and there would be no basis for disciplining any member, in the future. So my argument was less superior. I was not on the floor, when the decision was taken, as I was in the back room in the Clerk’s office with the Speaker, trying to see if we could rethink the issue and suspend consideration, for the moment. My concern on the suspension, is the same that I always had, even when Dino Melaye and others, were suspended in the 6th Assembly. More so, as this was a one year suspension. Now what is this concern? I find it difficult as a Constitutional Lawyer, to accept that our rules can actually pass constitutional muster, if put to test. If you suspend a member for a year, you are effectively suspending his constituency and the people he represents, from participation in participatory democracy. This, in my own personal opinion, violates the constitution which delineates the country into Federal Constituencies for effective representation, at the centre. For every constituency, it is a right to be represented in the national assembly, not a privilege that can be taken away. The constitution says clearly that, all Federal Constituencies must be represented for 4 years, and lists, I believe, only 1 or 2 circumstances under which such a constituency can be unrepresented. e.g. by process of recall etc. Even at that, the vacancy is to be filled immediately. Our constitution does not envisage a situation where a Federal Constituency is unrepresented or underrepresented. If, for instance, an issue comes up in a member’s constituency, that requires federal attention or legislative address, who do they go to? We cannot take away a mandate, given by the people or short change a constituency. In law, the seat of a representative is held in trust for the constituency. It is an in rem matter, not a personam matter. This is why when a member gets up to speak, he goes through the formality of announcing his name and the constituency he represents. In fact, in other democracies and Legislatures, when a Speaker wants to recognise a Representative to speak, he addresses him or her not even by name, but as for instance, “the gentleman from so so constituency”. That is the pre-eminence given to a constituency in a democratic setting. So it is not about Honourable Jibrin, it is about Beweji Constituency. I do not stand in the gap for Jibrin, or is this in any way a defence on his behalf. You may not know this, but Jibrin and I stopped relating as friends and colleagues, since March or thereabout. However, I am not one to shy away from the truth and the rule of law. I believe that there are other ways that would be constitutional, if the House wants to discipline any member. On whether this was contempt of court, I believe that you are speaking about the Federal High Court decision in the Melaye case, when the Court said that the House lacked the powers to suspend the members. I do not remember the basis upon which the Court made its decision, but I will definitely look at it again. I suspect it was on the basis of fair hearing, as provided in the Constitution.

What is your opinion of Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution. In your opinion is Nigeria a secular country?

Nigeria is a secular state, both by virtue of Section 10 and by virtue of its religious realities. Section 10 is very clear and unambiguous. It prohibits the government State or Federal, from adopting a religion as its own. In other words, a person must be allowed to worship his or her God, as he or she deems fit and without compulsion. To this extent, my argument would be that, the enforcement of Sharia law, to the extent that it is only applicable to Muslims, and Christians in same states are also allowed to practice their religion, does not offend the Constitution.
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‘Hon. Jibrin’s Suspension is a Constitutional Breach’

Again the National Assembly is in the news, even as the nation battles to wriggle out of the present economic recession. The climax of the budget padding allegations and counter-allegations was the suspension last week of the whistle-blower, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin. In a chat with Onikepo Braithwaite and Tobi Soniyi, Femi Gbajabiamila, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives gives an insight into the inner workings of the National Assembly and why he holds the view that Jibrin’s suspension is a breach of his constituency’s right to be represented at the National Assembly, despite their personal differences.

We are aware that you are a lawyer. Did you ever engage in the practice of law before becoming a member of the House of Representatives? Does the fact that you are a lawyer assist you in your role as a member of the House? Do you think that giving members of the House some form of basic training in the Constitution will assist them in performing better?

Yes, I am a lawyer and have been for over 30 years. I practiced both in Nigeria and United States, being licensed in both jurisdictions. Certainly, it gives you an added advantage when it comes to legislative drafting and interpretation of the law. The languages of law and legislation are similar and the basic training and background, gives you a firmer understanding of what you are doing. That is not to say you have to be a lawyer, to be a good legislator. Indeed there are many of my colleagues who are vastly experienced in the art of law making and I dare say are superior to some of us lawyers in the House in terms of their capacity. A lot depends on your dedication, commitment, intellect, and capacity for hard work.

Kindly, define the phrase “Budget Padding”. What is your stand on the allegations by House of Representatives member, Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin, accusing the House leadership of padding the 2016 budget?

Budget Padding has been described by many people to mean many different things. For me, all definitions work. However, whether a crime is committed, ultimately depends on the procedure and at what stage insertions are made, assuming that there are indeed insertions.

Abdulmumin Jibrin’s allegations aside, do you think that the House of Representatives did a thorough job in passing the 2016 Appropriation Bill or are there lessons to be learnt from the process to improve on for the future?

I think the House did the best it could under the circumstances and with the little time it had in passing the budget. Look in more advanced democracies, say for instance, the United States, budget presentation has to be by February, and passage is not until I believe, July or August, when their fiscal year starts. So Congress has at least 6 months to work on it and thoroughly scrutinise it. They also have a functional Congressional Budget Office, which is independent and helps the Congress in analysing the budget presented by the President. Yes, we have a similar office here in NASS, but it hardly meets the standard required, in terms of its functionality. So to answer your question, we are not there yet and a lot still needs to be done. There are lessons to be learnt from what has happened and I trust and hope those lessons will be learnt and the system will be improved. For me, the budget process cannot be straight jacketed into the period of presentation and passage. The process really goes beyond that. It is a whole cycle, which starts immediately the last budget is passed, all through oversight, implementation, and preparation of the next budget. It is arguably one of the most important, if not the most important piece of legislation, to be passed by any government. It is the economic blue print everyone has been asking to see. It flaunts the direction and policy tilt of the government. If you pick up the budget of any country, you should be able to see its policy direction. It is the literature that encompasses its socio-economic mindset, and should therefore never be treated with levity. This is the reason why I proposed an amendment to the Constitution, a couple of years ago, making it mandatory that the budget be presented to NASS by Sept. 30th. The amendment was passed, but suffered the fate of non-signage, by the last administration.

However, I believe it will soon become law, when the Constitutional Review Committee represents it to the Executive. Hitherto, if you recollect, the budget would be presented in the middle of December, for a fiscal year that begins on January 1st. How on earth, is that supposed to happen? Which serious country does that? So you see, apart from the problem being attitudinal, it is also systematic, because as it stands, the Constitution says the President can present the budget anytime before the fiscal year runs out, which is December 31st.

To avoid the delay that characterised the passing of the 2016 Appropriation Bill, the Executive has started the process for 2017 quite early. Are we likely to get the 2017 budget passed early enough, or are there issues that you have already identified that are likely to cause delay?

I believe that the next budget will be passed early enough, and the process will be more seamless, if lessons have been learnt.

What is your opinion of the recent call by Honourable Jibrin, that Senate pass a resolution, relying on the doctrine of necessity, to exercise the powers of the National Assembly until the matter of the budget padding is resolved. Is there any constitutional provision for this?

I am not aware of that call and if it was made, I disagree. Passage of the budget is as enshrined in the Constitution, and you cannot amend the Constitution by resolution of the Senate.

Now that Nigeria is in a recession, what role can the House of Representatives play to assist the country in getting out of its present predicament?

First, I want to make it abundantly clear, that the situation in Nigeria, is not restricted to Nigeria alone and it is not unique to us. In fact, more than half of the oil producing countries are worse off than Nigeria, because of their over-dependence on oil and their monolithic economy. What however, compounded our problem in Nigeria, was the spendthrift culture and flagrant rape of our collective wealth. Having said that, there is now a responsibility on the government of the day, to do all it can to get us out of this situation. When I say government of the day, I cast my net to include the 3 arms of government horizontally and vertically, meaning the Federal, State and Local Governments. Indeed, the Nigerian people also have a role of understanding to play. Specifically, as it relates NASS, it is time to roll up our sleeves, put on our thinking caps, begin to think outside the box and work round the clock, lest we all be consumed by this recession and before it slides into a far worse case of depression. Desperate situations call for desperate measures. Hence, for example, the proposed Emergency Bill is a desperate measure, and that is why it’s called Emergency. We are in an emergency, and we must think like we are in one. If ever, there was a time for symbols and collaboration between the Executive and the Legislature, the time is now. Even where we may not agree with all the provisions in the Emergency Bill, we should be able to meet somewhere in the middle. Call it another doctrine of necessity moment.

Nigerians are shocked with so many revelations of wrongdoing during the previous regime. You were a member of the House of Representatives during this period of serious allegations of huge und unprecedented looting of funds. Why did the House fail to exercise its oversight functions?

As the Leader of the Opposition, whose responsibility it was to hold the government of the day accountable to the Nigerian people, I played my role and I am quite satisfied with how I played it. However, we need to understand that the PDP then had super majority in the House, and as the elections drew close, it was almost impossible to hold the government to account with the chambers. Our only recourse was to the Public. This is the danger inherent, in a one party state, which was almost what we had then. A multi-party democracy and a strong virile opposition, is an essential ingredient, in any democracy. It is gratifying however, that the looting is now being exposed, and the government of President Buhari is delivering on the anti-corruption promises he made to the Nigerian people.

How are we sure that the House of Representatives is not also shying away from its responsibility to ensure compliance with the Appropriation Act under this present regime?

The House will be faithful to its oath and will ensure strict compliance with the Appropriation Act.

It appears that the President’s Economic Management Team has agreed to the suggestion that some of the national assets be sold, to raise funds to extricate Nigeria from the recession. Do you agree with the suggestion? If yes, how do we determine which assets should be sold and what should be the method of sale?

I disagree with the Sale of National Assets. There is a difference between sale of national assets, and privatisation and commercialisation. However, I will want to wait and see the full details of the proposal, if the government decides to go ahead. Right now, the details are a bit sketchy, and I cannot give a complete thought, without knowing the full details. As you know, the devil they say, is always in the details.

The House of Representatives set a Legislative Agenda for itself, which includes amongst other things, anti-corruption, reduction of the cost of governance and constitution reform process. It does not seem as if the House has made much progress in achieving any of these goals. Why?

It is a process. Slow and steady wins the race.

With the current economic woes being faced by Nigeria, coupled with the afore-mentioned Legislative Agenda, to reduce the cost of governance, should the House of Representatives not start with itself, by taking a pay cut. Saudi Arabia, who is not facing the type of economic crisis that Nigeria is, seems to have commenced austerity measures, reducing its cost of governance by slashing Ministers salaries

The National Assembly’s budget has been slashed twice in the last 4 years. My position for years, has always been, rather than the speculations that we have, NASS should publish details of its expenditure and allowances of members. Once that is done, the public can now fully engage in an informed manner, as to whether those allowances are too much or too little. Not doing this, is what has allowed the rumours, innuendoes and speculations on salaries and allowances. I encourage my colleagues to consider the opening of the books. I suspect that the public may be very surprised.

What is your opinion of the fifth schedule to the 1999 Constitution, that is, Code of Conduct for Public Officers, as regards retired public servants like ex-Governors who receive over-robust pensions as well as over-robust salaries in their new positions as Senators, Ministers etc. If the House was really serious and sincere about achieving the afore-mentioned goals set out in its Legislative Agenda, should this not be one of the first issues that it should have tackled.

Interesting that you bring this up. I believe that it is wrong, and just as double taxation is wrong, so also should be double or triple compensation, especially when you are drawing down from taxpayers and government coffers. It is interesting because I have just a week ago proposed a law making this illegal, and I believe it should come up for debate soon.

What is your opinion regarding zoning. Is it contained in the constitution?

It has its merits and demerits. Personally, I disagree with it because, it offends the provisions of Chapter 4 of the Constitution, I believe Section 41 or so, which prohibits discrimination, because if you tell me that I cannot contest or fill a particular office, because of where I come from, you have effectively discriminated against me. This is different from the Federal Character provision in the Constitution, as erroneously argued by many. It also has the tendency to sacrifice merit. It has also been taken to ridiculous lengths, like senatorial districts, local government rotation, even political wards. Today, we have all sorts of zoning formulas, senatorial, local government, religious zoning etc. One cannot however, discard the fact that, we are so heterogeneous, that zoning to many, has its attraction.

It will interest you to know that some of the laws passed and assented to by the President, are being printed and sold on the streets, by people who are not well educated, thereby resulting in lawyers being constrained to purchase these copies, which may not be the exact representation of the laws passed by the National Assembly. Whose duty is it to print and circulate these laws? Is there anything that the House of Representatives can do to ensure that only the body designated to carry out the duties of printing and circulating laws, performs these functions?

That is a strain of plagiarism. I believe that there was a motion against this in the 7th Assembly, but the level of compliance remains low.

The Nigerian Law Reform Commission has reviewed many obsolete Nigerian laws. But the law establishing the Commission states that such reviews should be submitted to the Attorney-General of the Federation for further action. Today, many of these reviews are simply gathering dust in the office of the AGF. In our view, these reviews would be extremely helpful to the House of Representatives. Why can’t the House request that the Commission forward the reviews to it and draft the amendments proposed by the reviews?

I believe that such a request has been made. On its own part, the House commissioned and received the review of our laws, from the Nigerian Institute of Legislative Studies. Over 500 laws are being reviewed and we have received the first batch from them and are awaiting the second batch. So I think we are on track.

Some analysts have argued that Nigeria is not suffering from a lack of laws but rather, a lack of implementation of existing laws, thereby hindering the country’s progress. Do you share this view? What can the House of Representatives do to make sure that existing laws are implemented for the benefit of the society?

I agree. What we need to do as a House is to double down on our oversight responsibility.

Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin was suspended by the House of Representatives for a period of 180 Legislative Days. What are the reasons for his suspension? By virtue of which laws was he suspended? Jibrin has stated that his suspension constitutes contempt of court. Kindly, enlighten us on this issue.

Yes, the House voted for Abdulmumin’s suspension. Personally, I would have preferred that the matter be dealt with, in a more transparent manner, or for that matter, not even dealt with at all. I made this clear when we had our last principal officer’s meeting, and gave my reasons for this. Sometimes silence is golden, and you can take the moral high ground and just leave this alone. This however, contended with the need, on principle, that a clear message needed to be sent to other members, that there are laid down procedures to follow, when a member is aggrieved. The fear of other principal officers, was that, if this message was not sent, a bad precedent would have been set, and there would be no basis for disciplining any member, in the future. So my argument was less superior. I was not on the floor, when the decision was taken, as I was in the back room in the Clerk’s office with the Speaker, trying to see if we could rethink the issue and suspend consideration, for the moment. My concern on the suspension, is the same that I always had, even when Dino Melaye and others, were suspended in the 6th Assembly. More so, as this was a one year suspension. Now what is this concern? I find it difficult as a Constitutional Lawyer, to accept that our rules can actually pass constitutional muster, if put to test. If you suspend a member for a year, you are effectively suspending his constituency and the people he represents, from participation in participatory democracy. This, in my own personal opinion, violates the constitution which delineates the country into Federal Constituencies for effective representation, at the centre. For every constituency, it is a right to be represented in the national assembly, not a privilege that can be taken away. The constitution says clearly that, all Federal Constituencies must be represented for 4 years, and lists, I believe, only 1 or 2 circumstances under which such a constituency can be unrepresented. e.g. by process of recall etc. Even at that, the vacancy is to be filled immediately. Our constitution does not envisage a situation where a Federal Constituency is unrepresented or underrepresented. If, for instance, an issue comes up in a member’s constituency, that requires federal attention or legislative address, who do they go to? We cannot take away a mandate, given by the people or short change a constituency. In law, the seat of a representative is held in trust for the constituency. It is an in rem matter, not a personam matter. This is why when a member gets up to speak, he goes through the formality of announcing his name and the constituency he represents. In fact, in other democracies and Legislatures, when a Speaker wants to recognise a Representative to speak, he addresses him or her not even by name, but as for instance, “the gentleman from so so constituency”. That is the pre-eminence given to a constituency in a democratic setting. So it is not about Honourable Jibrin, it is about Beweji Constituency. I do not stand in the gap for Jibrin, or is this in any way a defence on his behalf. You may not know this, but Jibrin and I stopped relating as friends and colleagues, since March or thereabout. However, I am not one to shy away from the truth and the rule of law. I believe that there are other ways that would be constitutional, if the House wants to discipline any member. On whether this was contempt of court, I believe that you are speaking about the Federal High Court decision in the Melaye case, when the Court said that the House lacked the powers to suspend the members. I do not remember the basis upon which the Court made its decision, but I will definitely look at it again. I suspect it was on the basis of fair hearing, as provided in the Constitution.

What is your opinion of Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution. In your opinion is Nigeria a secular country?

Nigeria is a secular state, both by virtue of Section 10 and by virtue of its religious realities. Section 10 is very clear and unambiguous. It prohibits the government State or Federal, from adopting a religion as its own. In other words, a person must be allowed to worship his or her God, as he or she deems fit and without compulsion. To this extent, my argument would be that, the enforcement of Sharia law, to the extent that it is only applicable to Muslims, and Christians in same states are also allowed to practice their religion, does not offend the Constitution.

SOURCE: http://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2016/10/04/hon-jibrins-suspension-is-a-constitutional-breach/

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