TAIYE ODEWALE examines the ensuing legal tango between the Senate and Chairman, Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar, over Senate’s power to investigate him or otherwise
Genesis of the tango
As widely reported in the media, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar, allegedly assaulted a security man, Clement Sargwak, at one of his visits to the Bannex Plaza in Wuse 2 on March 29, 2021 in Abuja.
The video of the alleged physical assaults inflicted on Sargwak by the CCT boss and his orderly, went viral on social and electronic media for several days without any rebuttal from Mr Danladi Umar.
Apparently as a poor Nigerian, the assaulted man approached the Senate in April, seeking for redress through a petition submitted on his behalf by Senator Istifanus Gyang (PDP Plateau North) which in line with provisions of section 88 of the 1999 constitution, was forwarded to its Commitee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions for investigation.
Provisions of section 88
Power to conduct investigations
(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the official gazette of the government of the federation to direct or cause to be directed investigation into – (a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws, and (b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for –(i) executing or administering laws enacted by National Assembly, and (ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.
(2) The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to – (a) make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and (b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.
Commencement of investigation
Expectedly, the Commitee led by Senator Ayo Akinyelure (PDP Ondo Central), had swung into action in the third week of April with first session of its investigation which was attended by both the petitioner and the CCT Chairman, who sought for time from the committee to study the petitions filed against him by the security man through his lawyers.
Though the CCT boss sought for a week to study the petition but the committee chairman with consent of other members, gave him three weeks to study the petitions thoroughly for expected defensive submissions from him later.
Twist of events
However, after about a month, precisely in the last week of May, when the committee sat again, the CCT boss did not attend but sent a representative who told the committee members that he was indisposed just as was the case in June when the committee sat for the third time.
However, Tuesday, July 13, 2021 at the fourth sitting of the committee for the investigation, a scenario of the hunted turning to be the hunter set in with an attorney from the CCT boss informing the committee that the matter has been taken to court.
Pointedly, the attorney to Danladi Umar, Barrister Toluwa Odekhe, said, “Distinguished Chairman of this committee and other members, I most respectfully on behalf of my client, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), inform you that the matter scheduled for discuss here, is already in court and any move to continue any form of proceedings on it, is sub-judice.”
Angered by his submission, the Chairman of the committee, fired back by saying, “this is a clear ambush which will not work because as provided for in the 1999 Constitution, no arm of government can stop another arm from doing its constitutionally mandated work.
“From repeated excuses of indisposition given within the last two months, you are now coming up with sub-judice to frustrate the committee from forging ahead with investigation on assault your client visited on another fellow Nigerian.
“This committee will not be cowed by the purported originating summons because none of the parties went to court before it started its investigation on petition bordering on assaults.
“Therefore, Danladi Umar, wherever you are on your sick bed, you must appear before this committee in two weeks time unfailingly to avoid invocation of section 89 of the 1999 Constitution which borders on warrant of arrest.”
Provisions of section 89
Power as to matters of evidence
(1) For the purposes of any investigation under section 88 of this Constitution and subject to the provisions thereof, the Senate or the House of Representatives or a committee appointed in accordance with section 62 of this Constitution shall have power to – (a) procure all such evidence, written or oral, direct or circumstantial, as it may think necessary or desirable, and examine all persons as witnesses whose evidence may be material or relevant to the subject matter; (b) require such evidence to be given on oath; (c) summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, subject to all just exceptions; and (d) issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so and does not excuse such failure, refusal or neglect to the satisfaction of the House or the committee in question, and order him to pay all costs which may have been occasioned in compelling his attendance or by reason of his failure, refusal or neglect to obey the summons, and also to impose such fine as may be prescribed for any such failure, refused or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable in the same manner
as a fine imposed by a court of law.
(2) A summons or warrant issued under this section may be served or executed by any member of the Nigeria Police Force or by any person authorised in that behalf by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may require.
Reality of the legal ambushing
Apparently after reading the originating summons slammed on it, the Senate and the Attorney General of the Federation by attorneys to the CCT Chairman, the Committee on July 27, chickened out of the investigation by setting it aside sine die, let alone , issuing warrant of arrest against a defendant turned plaintiff.
Instructively, Danladi in the originating summons, challenged the powers of the National Assembly on Investigation as provided for in section 88 of the Constitution whether it covers Assault, which to him, falls within the constitutionally empowered duties of the police and competent courts of jurisdiction.
The legal questions
“Whether the purported case of assault which allegedly took place at Banex Plaza on 29th March, 2021, forms part of the matters the 1st defendant is constitutionally empowered to investigate.
“Whether the 1st defendant and its Committee, that is, the 3rd defendant, are competent to investigate and/ or invite the plaintiff in relation to the investigation of the allegation of assault levelled against him.
“Whether the powers of the 1st defendant to conduct investigation are not by and or subject to provisions of sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and are not exercisable for the purposes of making law and exposing corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution of administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by the 1st defendant.
“Whether the 1st defendant’s move to conduct investigative hearing on the petition before it is not unconstitutional and does not amount to an unwarranted usurpation of the functions of the Police and of the Courts of competent jurisdiction”.
Further taking the matter off the table of the Senate Commitee, Danladi’ s Attorneys added: “We write to inform you that the case between our client and Clement Sargwak is now before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (suit no FCT /HC/ CV/ 1544/2021 Mr Danladi Umar vs Clement Sargwak) and the issue as to whether or not Clement Sargwak had discontinued and / or withdrawn his petition before your Honourable Committee is equally sub judice.
“We trust that Senate, as the upper chamber of the National Assembly, will respect due process and refrain from delving into a matter that is before a court of competent jurisdiction”.
Importance of the legal tussle
Though since the beginning of the fourth republic, similar litigations against committee of either of the two chambers of the National Assembly, have always been used by litigants to stop investigations as empowered by Section 88 but never challenged like the current one between the Senate and the CCT boss.
One of such legal ambushing was instituted by the former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, against an Ad – hoc Committee of the Senate in 2017.
Outcome of the ongoing legal tussle between the Senate and the CCT Chairman on the scope of power of investigation granted to the National Assembly by section 88 of the 1999 constitution, will no doubt, help the public and the legislature, to determine what and what matter can be entertained there.