Can the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) sustain allegation of treasonable felony against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara for failure to reconvene the National Assembly? FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE writes
Although it has opened debate on election budget following its meeting with Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Yakubu Mahmood, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has accused leadership of the National Assembly of a treasonable felony, threatening to press criminal charge against its principal officers for failure to reconvene the National Assembly to deliberate on the INEC’s budget of N242 billion.
Specifically, APC said the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Dogara Yakubu must face treason charges for ‘’dangerously delaying INEC 2019 budget.”
Expectation was high when Mahmood, after a meeting with Saraki, Dogara and other leaders of the National Assembly last week, said the National Assembly will reconvene on 12th August to consider the budget of N242 billion before it within one week.
But the expectation was cut short following a statement jointly issued by Saraki and Dogara postponing the already fixed date to reconvene the National Assembly.
According to the statement, Senators, members and the public will no longer sit as a date had not been set for the reconvening of the Senate and the House of Representatives to consider the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) 2019 elections’ budget request forwarded by President Muhammadu Buhari on 17th July, 2018.
But the ruling APC fired back. It said such action was nothing but a treasonable offence and sabotage against the Federal Government.
Its acting National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena said “clearly, Saraki’s actions as Senate President now bother on high treason.
“As Chairman of the 8th National Assembly, Saraki’s decision not to reconvene the National Assembly done with the support of the Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara further buttresses our position that Saraki is ever ready to pursue his selfish interests over national interest.
“This is another brazen display of his penchant for abuse of powers and sabotage of government, however, the cost and implication.
“While Saraki and his cohorts continue to postpone their doomsday regarding the imminent Senate leadership change, the yet-to-be considered 2019 budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is dangerously delayed.”
Can a mere shift of resumption date for the senate amount to treason? Or, can alleged refusal to reconvene the National Assembly by Saraki and Dogara an act of sabotage against the federal government especially when the leadership of the Assembly had offered explanations?
Its explanation as contained in a statement said “the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, have directed that we inform all Senators, Honorable members and the public that a date has not been set for the reconvening of the Senate and the House of Representatives to consider the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) 2019 elections budget request forwarded by President Muhammadu Buhari on July 17, 2018.
“The leadership of the two chambers had met and agreed to reconvene to consider the proposal this week before which a meeting between the Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Electoral Matters and officials of the INEC must have held on or before Monday August 13, 2018.
“The joint committees were also expected to meet with the joint Senate and House Committees on Appropriations, Loans and Debts on the Eurobond loan request after which two reports would have been ready for presentation in the two chambers.
“However, no such meeting had taken place yet as a result of which both Senate and House of Representatives cannot reconvene as there is no report to consider.
“Until the Committees have a ready report for the consideration of the two chambers, it will be most irresponsible to recall members from recess especially those that may have travelled to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj.”
Notwithstanding, the APC believed a criminal offence had been committed by Saraki and Dogara, insisting that the due will face criminal prosecution.
But lawyers differed. According to them, Section 77 of the Criminal Procedure Act clearly stipulated what a reasonable offence constituted as not reconvening the House would never be termed as treason.
Besides, they said it was wrong to criminalise that failure of the National Assembly leaders to reconvene the House amounted to treason as no individual can be guilty of an offence not clearly stated in a written law.
Frontline rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome said offence of treason as spelt out in the nation’s criminal code and the penal code had no bearing with the failure by the leadership of the National Assembly to reconvene the House.
Ozekhome simply said “treason is defined in the Criminal Code and the Penal Code and not reconvening the National Assembly is not one of them.”
He was echoed by another Senior Advocate, Hakeem Afolabi, who said that failure to reconvene the National Assembly cannot in any way fit into what constituted a treasonable offence under the law.
Afolabi said: “The offence of treason is codified in our criminal law as to what amounts to treason. It involves someone waging war against the sovereignty of the nation, trying to kill it or do anything to bring fear to it.
“Therefore, I don’t see in what way the refusal of Saraki and Dogara to reconvene the National Assembly amounts to treason. It cannot fit into what is treasonable under our law by whatever expression; there is no way one can qualify failure to reconvene the House as a treasonable act.
“An individual can only be guilty of an offence clearly stated in a written law. If what is said to be treasonable in Nigeria does not envisage what is happening in the National Assembly, by implication, it cannot be concluded that failure of the National Assembly leaders to reconvene the house amounts to treason.
“There is no way it can fit into treasonable offences created by Nigerian law.”
Monday Ubani, an NBA Vice-President also not differed.
He said: “How can the failure to reconvene the National Assembly by Saraki and Dogara amount to a treasonable offence?
“The National Assembly usually goes on break around this time. So, I don’t understand where the allegation of treason is coming from. Under the lawmakers’ rule, if they are supposed to go on break around this time and they are on break, then, we can’t be talking of treasonable felony.
“The legislators are on break and the matter to be discussed is already before the committee on INEC. Are they not supposed to perform their functions? Why is the federal government bringing the budget of INEC in August? Why was it not included in the 2018 budget that was passed in June? The lawmakers should have looked into all the issues from the onset. Are we not aware that election is taking place next year? So, why was the issue of INEC budget not included in the 2018 budget? What the president is even requesting for is a virement when he knows that the budget in which some of these constituency projects were included has been passed. I hope this will not create unnecessary crisis.
“Let the government in no way put us into a situation of crisis where election will not hold next year. Everything to be done must be with the consideration of the country’s interest. This is very key. I also want to urge the lawmakers to do everything in the interest of Nigeria but I don’t want us to heat up the polity.”
National President of the Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, said Saraki and Dogara had not committed any capital offence against the nation by their action, and as such the issue of treason did not arise.
“How is it a treasonable offence? Treason and treasonable felony is a capital offence against the state. An offence is not a crime except it is expressly defined in a criminal legislation and punishment thereof prescribed. That is what distinguishes a crime from whatever you think. So, in that wise, we know what treason meant and its elements.
“It has far more specific dimensions than mere conjecture around the activities of principal officers of the state who have refused to reconvene the parliament for the purpose of passing laws that will assist and drive the democratic process.
“It would only amount to treason when there is a direct aggression against the state in a manner in which the nation’s territorial integrity is threatened.
Another lawyer, Dr. Kayode Ajulo said “the rules of both houses are authority on this. Once the house through a duly passed motion adjourned, it is proper that is sacrosanct and could not amount to treason as no law is violated.”
To Dr. Fred Ogola, the leadership of National Assembly cannot be charged for treason as “treason has been defined by the Black’s law dictionary 9th editions as “the offense of attempting to overthrow the government of the state to which one owes allegiance, either by making war against the state or by materially supporting its enemies.
“According to the provision of the Criminal Code, anyone who levies war against the state in order to intimidate or overawe the president or governor of a state is guilty of treason and should be punished by death.
“The Criminal Code also categorises as treason anyone who conspires with others, either within or outside Nigeria, to levy war against Nigeria. It is also treason to instigate a foreigner to invade Nigeria with an armed force. See Enahoro vs. Queen.
“It should be noted that if any person who is under the age of 18 is involved in treason, such person would not be executed but would be detained on the pleasure of the president.
“Similarly, Section 39(2) of the Criminal Code provides that if a pregnant woman participates in treason, the procedure stated in Section 376 of the Criminal Procedure Act should be followed.
“Whether or not the persons involved in act of treason are military personnel is immaterial.
“Also, the number of persons carrying out the act is not a factor in determining the offence. The essence of waging the war must be for general or public purpose, if it just for private reasons, it would best be regarded as a riot or public disturbance.
“No person can be convicted of treason unless he pleads guilty or there are more than two witnesses to attest to the fact that he committed the offence.
“Having said this, to my mind, the refusal of both Saraki and Dogara to reconvene the House cannot in any way amount to treason.
“It should be noted that the sitting of the House was properly adjourned and if there is need for a reconvening, such should properly be done.
“The National Assembly has its Act governing the conduct of its operations.”
Johnson Kigbara said “we should not allow politics to blindfold us to provisions of law and its definitions.
“Section 77 of Criminal Procedure Act, defines what a reasonable offence is and to my understanding not reconvening the House cannot amount to treason.
“My problem with Nigeria is that we politicise everything. We should have gone beyond this and learn to face fact and reality and treat them as such.
“I have taken time to follow the trend of happenings. I have discovered that it is not even the Federal Government making the allegation, but a political party.
“That should not be so as there are laid down rules and regulations for things to be done.”
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