Members of the House of Representatives have described as ‘highly unacceptable’, the recent comment credited to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, that the appointment of Ibrahim Magu as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) did not need the approval of the Senate.
The lawmakers said the comment from Osinbajo was made in clear disregard of the doctrine of the separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution.
The House, in adopting a motion on the need to prevent the erosion of the doctrine of the separation of powers in the nation’s democratic practice, sponsored Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, called on the Executive to adhere to the country’s laws by approaching the courts for judicial interpretation if it disagreed with any law, rather than make utterances that point to a negation of the doctrine contained in Sections 4(2), 5 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The House further called on the Executive to approach the court for interpretation of any conflict in the EFCC Act as it was an existing law in the country. This was even as the committee on Legislative Compliance was mandated to ensure the implementation of yesterday’s resolution.
The Senate had rejected Magu on two occasions based on the report submitted to it by the Department of State Security (DSS), but Osinbajo inferring that legislative approval was not necessary, backed the position of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, that President Muhammdu Buhari did not need the confirmation of the Senate to retain Magu.
The Vice President and Falana premised their position on the matter on Section 171 of the Constitution.
But in his lead debate, Ogor maintained that the argument made by Osinbajo, which he described as a major error, had negative implications on democracy as it was capable of weakening the doctrine of the separation of powers.
Citing Sections 2(3) of the EFCC Act which states that chairman of the agency shall be nominated by the president, subject to the confirmation of Senate, Ogor warned that by failing to seek legal interpretation from the courts, if it needed clarification on the law, the Vice-President had usurped the power of the judiciary.
” I brought this motion clearly in defence of our democracy and in defence of the doctrine of the separation of power. Our democracy stands on tripod which must be protected”, he said.
Speaking in support of the motion, a member Simon Arabo said as a lawyer he disagreed with other legal practitioners who opined that Magu can remain in office without Senate’s confirmation.
He cautioned that should the process of appointing certain agency heads such that of chairman of the EFCC and the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria be abused, it could lead to confusion.
Another lawmaker Lawal Abubakar who stated his support for the motion pointed out that though Sections 171 could be interpreted differently by lawyers, any interpretation that doesn’t uphold the separation of powers must be discouraged.
Sunday Karimi and Kingsley Chinda during their submissions urged that Osinbajo and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, be invited by the House to explain if the Federal Government adopted the opinion of the Vice President as its official position on Magu.
However, Chinda’s push for Osinbajo and Malami to be summoned to the House did not scale though.
On his part, Hon. Sani Zorro pleaded for caution saying that the House should not make a decision on the matter until it verifies the authenticity of the comment ascribed to the Vice President. But the lawmakers rejected his suggestion even voting against an amendment of the motion based on his argument.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara, in his intervention, stressed the need for members to understand that the interpretation of Section 171 with regard to the confirmation of the Acting EFCC chairman was the main objective of the motion raised by the Minority Leader.
Following the extensive debate on the motion, the Speaker put it up to voice vote with the louder response of ‘ayes’ carrying the day.