Omo-Agege’s suspension: Saraki, Melaye, others under attack

Stakeholders of All Progressives Congress (APC) from Delta state on Tuesday slammed the Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Kogi Central senator, Dino Melaye and other lawmakers who were parts of the moves to suspend the Senator representing Delta Central, Ovie Omo-Agege.

The leader of the team, Chief Great Ogboru, who addressed newsmen at a press briefing at the Party’s National secretariat in Abuja told journalists that senate has no mandate to suspend a fellow colleague for airing his views at the red chamber.

It will be recalled that the Delta senator had been suspended following his role in the amendment of 2019 electoral sequence.

According to the party, the Senate cannot compel a Senator to vacate his seat and, as a consequence, deny his people their constitutionally guaranteed right of representation. A Senator can only vacate his seat by the reason of death, a recall by his constituents or if, without a division in the Party on whose platform he was elected, he decamps from that Party, or otherwise by an appropriate judicial pronouncement. None of these is the case at hand.

Read the detailed speech at the press briefing below:

We are Elders, Leaders and Stakeholders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Delta State. We called this press conference to address the world on the recent action of the Senate under Senator Bukola Saraki (APC, Kwara) in purportedly suspending our Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (The Obarisi of Urhoboland) from the Senate for 90 legislative days.

Without much ado, we wish to and hereby state that we totally, firmly and unequivocally reject the so-called suspension action for being unconstitutional, lawless, anti-democratic, disrespectful, oppressive and ultra vires the powers of the Senate. May we adumbrate further:

By the letters and spirit of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the Senate cannot nullify, tinker with, or suspend the election of a Senator of our Republic.

The Senate cannot compel a Senator to vacate his seat and, as a consequence, deny his people their constitutionally guaranteed right of representation. A Senator can only vacate his seat by the reason of death, a recall by his constituents or if, without a division in the Party on whose platform he was elected, he decamps from that Party, or otherwise by an appropriate judicial pronouncement. None of these is the case at hand.

It now seems to be the norm for the Saraki Senate Presidency to arbitrarily suspend or threaten to suspend Senators, particularly those of the APC. First, it was the former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno) who was suspended for 90 legislative days.

Now, it is our Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta). Also, there are reported threats to suspend other APC Senators, particularly Senator Abdullahi Adamu and others in the Parliamentary Support Group (PSG) for President Muhammadu Buhari. And those presiding over these suspensions are dyed-in-the-wool People Democratic Party (PDP) ideologues! This must stop.

The Saraki Senate Presidency may have decidedly become a clear and present danger to the interests of the APC as a Party, APC’s Senators, the APC Federal Government led by His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari, President Buhari as a person and our democracy. If so, then it is necessary to apply proper and strategic measures to end its dangers and threats, urgently and finally.

It is extremely offensive that the Distinguished Senator Omo-Agege was purportedly suspended for his opinions on a controversial amendment to the Electoral Act regarding the sequence of general elections. The senator did not break any law of the land.

Rather, his only alleged fault is that he said, ‘there is a perception out there that the proposed amendment is targeted at Mr. President (Buhari)’. But many share the truth, thoughts or sentiments expressed by our Senator. Indeed, just two days ago, Thisday noted that “the target of the reordering of the (election) sequence was the presidency…”

So, we must ask: Why ‘suspend’ Senator Omo-Agege and deny our people their constitutional right of representation in the Senate just because he merely alluded to an obvious public perception?

If that is such a huge offence, then it should also be just right to insist that persons on trial for allegedly committing weighty crimes and other offences should themselves be suspended or banned from the Senate. These persons know themselves.

In any case, it is a matter of public knowledge that as a man of impeccable character and courage, Senator Omo-Agege accepted his Party’s advice and promptly apologised to his colleagues when he realized that on ground of ethics and personal privilege, some of his colleagues were offended by his comments. It was a question of honour and good friendships; not that he violated any law.

Indeed, although he apologized as a matter of courtesy, Senator Omo-Agege clearly spoke within the ambit of Section 39(1) of the Constitution which grants “every person … freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

His views were also within the purport of Article 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act which says, “Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.” The Senate has no powers to “punish” a Senator who expresses opinions in consonance with the law. If at all, that must be the duty of our courts, not the Senate.

But here we are with a Senate Presidency that thrives in vicious warfare against ‘freedom of expression’. Hence, we must now call on the Federal Government of Nigeria ably led by His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari to rise up to its bounden constitutional duty by ensuring that this strange reign of legislative tyranny is brought to an immediate end. It should no longer be tolerated.

We must add that by the legal principle of judgment in rem with respect to judicial decisions and declarations in the cases of Bauchi State House of Assembly v. Hon. Samson Danna, Usman v. Kaduna State House of Assembly, Senator Ali Ndume v The Senate, and Hon. Dino Melaye v. House of Representatives, it is clear to us that the current state of the law is that a lawmaker cannot be suspended by a Legislative House. For a brief guide, in the Hon. Danna case, the Court of Appeal noted that, “If derogatory remarks or comments are not permissible or tolerated in the Bauchi State House of Assembly (or any Legislative House), that, in itself, is a violation of the freedom of expression, to hold opinion, to receive and impact ideas, etc, under section 39 (1) of the constitution.

What the appellant (Legislative House) did (suspension of Hon. Danna) also constituted an unwarranted attack on freedom to disseminate information, idea and opinions.

The Speaker and members of the Bauchi State House of Assembly ought not to have slammed indefinite suspension on the respondent in this circumstance where the constituency had an interest to protect. In a democracy, conscientious objectors must be tolerated.

Their right must not be trampled upon. The majority may not always be right. For example, in courts, dissenting judgments at times lay the foundation for amendment to the constitution, status or rules by the legislature. For democracy to be nurtured in Nigeria, the opposition must be heard.”

Flowing from the above, it is safe to conclude that the Saraki Senate Presidency is in manifest violation of the law by ‘suspending’ Senator Omo-Agege. Until it is shown that there are judicial decisions which have upturned the fine legal points in the judgments in the above cases and more, the Senate cannot validly claim to have acted lawfully or validly in purporting to suspend our Senator.

We will never accept such impunity. After all, lawmaking ought to be an instrument for curtailing tyranny rather than creating one and promoting self-help. It cannot be an instrument for ignoring case law. It should never be an instrument for denying almost 4 million people representation in the people’s assembly.

Therefore, to avoid a possible break down of law and order in this matter, we call upon the AGF, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), the Director-General (DG) of the Directorate of State Security (DSS) and all relevant security agencies to promptly move in to enforce the law of the land by allowing Senator Omo-Agege to peacefully resume the work our people elected him to do for them.

Ours is a nation under the Rule of Law, not the ‘Rule of Men’. As Elders and Leaders, we have been laboring to control our youths over the great anger being generated across the land because of this oppressive and draconian ‘suspension’.

Equally concerning to us as leaders who fully support President Buhari is Senator Saraki’s declaration that the PSG for President Muhammadu Buhari should be “disbanded”! This is quite audacious, insulting, petty, and we must add, ominous.

How can an APC Senate President make such a declaration that frontally attacks the President’s re-election bid? Whose interest is such a declaration designed to serve? Is the Senate President not openly abusing his office by advocating a gross violation of Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution that guarantees every person the right to “assemble freely and associate with other persons …”?

Is this not an open war on his co-equal colleagues for freely assembling to support the President? Doesn’t the Senate President know that he is just a first among equals? What is unlawful about forming a political group to support President Buhari’s re-election? Something is very wrong, definitely!

In all, we condemn in the strongest terms, the gross violation of the Constitution in this matter by the Saraki Senate Presidency. The only path of honour is an immediate reversal of all acts of impunity and shame.

The Senate Presidency is not a Supreme Imperial throne. Such has no place in our democracy. The ‘order’ to disband the PSG must be rescinded without preconditions. It is an obviously provocative impunity for which the PSG itself should give appropriate responses.

Our firm position is that Senator Omo-Agege cannot be and was not suspended. He must continue his exceptional representation and excellent work in the 8th Senate for our good people who appreciate and insist no one should trouble The Obarisi of Urhoboland.

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