Rule of law: Senators clash over anti-Buhari motion

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Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari

Senators on Wednesday clashed over a motion raised on the floor of the Senate accusing the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration of constitutional breaches and human rights abuses. The motion also alleged that the executive had usurped the powers of other arms of government.

The allegations were contained in a motion moved by Senator David Umaru (APC Niger-East), titled ‘Alarming rise in cases of alleged human rights violations and consistent assault on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution by the executive.’

Moving the motion, Umaru said in part, “The Senate is concerned that in the last few years, Nigeria’s democratic credentials have become questionable as a result of the alarming cases of alleged state-inspired human rights violations and consistent constitutional infractions perpetrated by agencies of government.”

Another issue raised in the motion was the alleged onslaught by security agencies against members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, also known as Shi’ites, as well as the continued detention of the leader of the sect, Sheik lbrahim El-Zakzaki, despite the bail granted to him by a court.

After Umaru moved the motion, the Deputy Majority Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi-South), cited Rule 5 of the Senate which forbids the Legislature from making reference to matters “on which a judicial decision is pending.” He urged the Senate not to entertain the motion as three of the matters raised in it were before courts.

He said, “I have looked at the content of this motion. I have a little problem with some of the content. The issue of Sambo Dasuki is in court. The issue of el-Zakzaky is equally in court. The issue that relates to the release of $496m has already been taken care of and this matter has been laid to rest. I have no problem with the content of the motion as it relates to other issues, but these are the issues that I felt that I should guide this Senate to see the way that we can avoid discussing them in compliance with Order 53(1)(IV).”

The Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu (PDP Enugu-North) who presided over the plenary, however, noted that the issues raised in the motion were not about the cases in court but about the general problem of disregard to the rule of law and human rights abuses.

In his contribution, Senator Shehu Sani (APC Kaduna-Central) said in part, “The content of this motion clearly narrates the state of affairs in our country. It is most unfortunate that 19 years since the return of democratic rule in Nigeria, we are still at the basics of calling on the actors in the position of power to respect fundamental human rights and guarantee our civil liberty and freedom.”

But Senator Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano-North) interjected, citing Order 53(7) which states that it is out of order to use certain words on the floor of the Senate.

Ruling, Ekweremadu stated that lawmakers should not be restricted in their contributions, pointing out it was the reason why legislative privilege was given to legislators. “This is the temple of democracy and if members of the Senate are not allowed to speak their mind, I wonder what we are doing here,” he said.

Also, Senator Abdullahi Yahaya (APC, Kebbi-North) expressed his “personal dissociation” from the motion.

“I want to dissociate myself from the letters, intendment and spirit of this motion. The spirit of this motion, to me, to be brief, I regard it as a salvo by the opposition and their supporters against and to discredit this government,” he said in part.

After the disagreement, the lawmakers unanimously granted its prayers.

The Senate urged the Federal Government “to urgently empanel a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate all cases of human rights abuse allegedly committed by the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Army and other security agencies in the course of discharging their duties, with a view to identifying the culprits and victims and offering redress where necessary.”

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