Senate on a collision course with Buhari …over Perm Sec’s refusal to honour invitation

THERE were indications, on Sunday, of an imminent clash between the Presidency and the Senate over an alleged attempt by the Presidency to rubbish the senate president.

Pro-Saraki senators are accusing the Presidency of instigating the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Mrs. Anastacia Nwaobia, not to honour an invitation by the upper chamber.

Nwaobia had communicated to the Senate that she could not honour its invitation without an approval by her supervisors to do so but the Saraki loyalists said the Senate had the constitutional power to invite Nwaobia and that her refusal constituted an affront to the legitimacy of the senate president.

The Saraki loyalists’ belief apparently rested on the alleged ‘non-acceptance’ of his presidency by the All Progressives Congress and President Muhammadu Buhari.

“It will not augur well for our democracy if the Presidency will not allow civil servants to do their jobs. We should not carry the crisis in the APC to the Senate,” a pro-Saraki senator told one of our correspondents in Abuja on Sunday.

Both Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, had spurned the party’s directive on who to lead the National Assembly and had ridden on the back of an alleged alliance with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party members to clinch the leadership posts in both chambers.

The APC had preferred Ahmad Lawan, a Senator from Yobe State, as the president of the Senate.

The Lawan group in the Senate on Sunday said it supported Nwaobia because Saraki was said to lack both legitimacy and the moral right to invite the permanent secretary to brief the senate on the state of the economy.

The Saraki group said the ‘offending’ permanent secretary failed to honour the Senate’s invitation because she did not get clearance from the Presidency.

Investigations by one of our correspondents revealed that as of Friday the permanent secretary had yet to neither appear before the Senate leadership nor respond to the letters from the National Assembly management.

It was learnt that senators loyal to the Senate President were angry that the Presidency could encourage the civil servants to disobey the Senate.

The PUNCH had on Thursday reported that the Senate ad hoc committee on Finance, in a letter dated June 29, 2015, had invited Nwaobia and some officials of the finance ministry to appear before the committee on July 8.

But when the permanent secretary did not honour the invitation at 11am on July 8, the Clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, wrote another letter to her the same day, restating the invitation.

The permanent secretary was said to have sent a text message to the Senate on July 7, explaining why she could not come.

But the clerk’s letter, a copy of which was sent to the Head of Service of the Federation, read, “I refer to our letter Ref. No. NASS/S//SP/ COS/CORRP/15/1/06 of June 29, 2015 on the above subject matter and your text message of July 7, 2015 to the Chief of Staff to the Senate President, signifying your inability to honour the invitation.

“Your action is a deliberate violation of the provisions of Section 67(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended).

“You are, therefore, requested to appear before the Senate leadership as contained in your aforementioned letter on Wednesday July 8, 2015 at 2.00pm prompt.”

The third letter to the Permanent Secretary, written by the Chief of Staff to the Senate President, Issa Galaudu, also stressed the importance of the meeting. It read, “Please note that your text message of yesterday, Tuesday, July 7, 2015, which I received by hours of 20:02 pm, suggesting that you would not make today’s meeting, is unacceptable.

“This is an affront to the President of the Senate and its leadership. The provision of Section 67(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), is very clear and unambiguous in this regard. Hence, you do not need the permission of any official before you attend or appear before the Senate.

“Consequently, I have the instructions of the President of the Senate and leadership that you do appear before them on the date and time earlier communicated to you, Wednesday, July 8, 2015 by 11am prompt. It is my belief that you will comply unconditionally.”

As of the close of work on Friday, the permanent secretary, our correspondents learnt, had not appeared before the Senate.

When contacted, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, on Sunday declined comment on the matter.

Efforts to get Nwaobia to comment on the issue were not successful as calls sent to her mobile phone did not connect.

Similarly, text message sent to her line was not acknowledged as of the time of this report.

Attempts to also get the spokesperson for the Ministry, Mr. Marshal Gundu, were also not successful as calls made to his mobile phone did not connect.

But a source in the ministry confided in our correspondent that, based on civil service procedures, it would be wrong for the permanent secretary to honour the invitation without first getting the approval of the Head of Service of the Federation.

The source said since the permanent secretary reports directly to the HoS and not the Senate, it would amount to a breach of protocol for her to appear before the lawmakers without getting the consent of the HoS.

To pro-Saraki loyalists, such explanation did not jell.

But Lawan’s supporters in the Senate, under the aegis of the Senate Unity Forum, supported Nwaobia’s shunning of the Senate invitation.

The group, in a statement by its spokesman, Senator Kabir Marafa, on Sunday, said that since Saraki had allegedly violated some sections of the Constitution to emerge as senate president, he could not accuse another person of committing the same offence.

The senator said, “I read with open mouth amazement, the letter written by both the Chief of Staff to the Senate President and that of the Clerk to the National Assembly on the refusal or inability of a government functionary to honour the invitation of the “leadership” of the senate.

“They were saying the refusal violates section 67(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Can somebody please tell them that they are guilty of similar, if not higher offence?

“They, in fact, not only violated the Constitution to ascend to the Senate leadership, they murdered it.”

Marafa alleged that the leadership and management of the National Assembly, “murdered section 60 of the Constitution that gives the Senate, and not any individual or group of persons, the powers to conduct the business of the Senate on the 9th of June 2015 using the forged document”

He also alleged that the Saraki group violated section 65 (2b) of the Constitution that “recognises the supremacy of the political party in favour of the unmentioned, unrecognised and unknown zonal caucuses.”

He alleged that Saraki violated Order 3(2) of the Senate standing order 2011, as amended, which he said put ranking above all other considerations in nominating senators to serve as presiding or principal officers of the Senate and it’s committees.

Marafa added that Saraki’s decision to announce Senators Ali Ndume and Bala Na’ Allah as senate leader and deputy leader respectively flouted the rule of ranking because Senators Ahmed Lawan and Bukar Abba Ibrahim, who were nominated by the party for the positions, were seniors to Ndume and Na’Allah.

He said, “The presiding officer did not hit the gavel after announcing the names of the Senate leader and his deputy, this is required to give the announcement legislative authority.

“From the foregoing it is clear that the leadership and indeed the Senate itself are not properly and legally constituted.”

The Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to the Senate President, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, declined comments when contacted while efforts to get the spokesperson for the Saraki loyalists under the aegis of Senators of Like Minds, Dino Melaye, were unsuccessful as calls to his mobile phone were not answered.

Copyright PUNCH.

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