National dailies reported that the House of Representatives passed a resolution summoning the president over the rising insecurity in the country. The president in response scheduled to appear before the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation, Learned Silk Malami interpreted the constitution and held the opinion that it was outside the constitutional powers of the National Assembly to summon the president over what he described as “his operational use of the armed forces”
The Learned Silk before his interpretation sang praises of the President and in endearing fashion, the AGF stated; “President Muhamamdu Buhari of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has recorded tremendous success in containing the hitherto incessant bombing, colossal killings, wanton destruction of lives and property that bedevilled the country before attaining the helm of affairs of the country in 2015,”.
He stated further that;
“The confidentiality of strategies employed by the President as the commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not open for public exposore in view of security implications in probable undermining of the war against terror…”
The AGF implied that the decision to appear before the National Assembly is one that the President can exercise whimsically – depending solely on his mood upon service of the summons.
In the chilling words of the statement, the AGF stated that;
“The right of the President to engage the National Assembly and appear before it is INHERENTLY discretionary in the President and not at the behest of the National Assembly,”.
No statement in our constitutional history has undermined our democracy more — but what would follow is an interpretation that not only misleads but pre-empts the scrutiny that is to happen at the Assembly.
The AGF stated that;
“The management and control of the security sector is exclusively vested in the President by Section 218 (1) of the Constitution as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces including the power to determine the operational use of the Armed Forces. An invitation that seeks to put the operational use of the Armed Forces to a public interrogation is indeed taking the constitutional rights of law making beyond bounds.
“As the Commander in Chief, the President has exclusivity on security and has confidentiality over security. These powers and rights he does not share. So, by summoning the President on National Security operational Matters, the House of Representative operated outside constitutional bounds.”
Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) give powers of investigation of ANY PERSON within the bounds set up in the grundnorm in those two Sections.
It follows logic that the unambiguous phrase “Any Person” contemplates “Any person”, human or not, bound by the constitution to be investigated by the Assembly.
There are those who like the silk hold the opinion that Sections 88 and 89 collectively give the National Assembly the powers to investigate, take evidence from anyone, summon and arrest anyone who refuses to appear. They question that if the president cannot be compelled to appear before anyone or body in the country in view of Section 308 of the Constitution, can that section be said to apply to him since the president cannot be arrested if he refuses to obey the summons? That Section 67(1) of the grund norm gives the President the right to attend the Joint session of the National Assembly and address it on important issues affecting the nation and that same being left at the whims of the President is available for whimsical application.
To those we must firmly reiterate the provisions of Section 89 of the grundnorm and it has become imperative to reproduce same now;
“(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;
(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…”
The words of the Constitution are clear and unambiguous. The trite position is that where the literal rule of interpretation will suffice, we do not need to laden ourselves with further interpretation.
It stands logic on its head to refuse to take the issuance of the summons to appear as disjunctive from punishment for failure to appear as the former is no where in the grundnorm contemplated to draw breath from the latter.
The phrase “Any Person” conveys in its ordinary state the intent of the framers of the constitution; What remains to be resolved for us is a bit that can only be resolved by those who hold the opinion that the President cannot be summoned by the Legislature – Is President Muhammadu Buhari a person or not?