On Sunday, there seemed to be an imminent clash between the Presidency and the Senate over an alleged attempt by the Presidency to disrespect the senate president.
Pro-Saraki senators are accusing the Presidency of asking the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Mrs. Anastacia Nwaobia, to ignore an invitation by the upper chamber.
Nwaobia had informed the Senate that she could not honour its invitation without an approval by her supervisors but 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.
Saraki loyalists said:
“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.
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 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.
The senate said:
“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.”
A source in the ministry said 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.
A pro Lawan 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.”
The Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to the Senate President, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, declined to comment.