Barring any last minute change in his travel plans, President Muhammadu Buhari would arrive his hometown, Daura, Katsina state today(Friday), even as his absence at the National Assembly Thursday has sparked fresh rows among major actors.
Although this is yet to be officially announced, Blueprint gathered that the president’s advance team left for Daura Thursday ahead of his arrival.
The president, who had not visited his hometown for a long time since COVID-19 broke out, said a source, “is expected to be away for one week to have a deserved rest.”
Last week, President Buhari was invited by the House of Representatives to brief members over the killing of some 67 rice farmers in Zabarmari in Jere local government area of Borno state.
The decision followed the motion by all the lawmakers from the North-east state, that the president should among other things address the Green House on the nation’s security challenge.
Consequent upon this, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and the entire leadership of the House visited the president after which he told journalists the president gave his words to honour the invite.
However, a new twist was introduced to the controversy Wednesday, barely 24 hours to the president’s scheduled appearance , when Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami(SAN), faulted the lawmakers’ position that the president was not duty-bound to appear before the lawmakers.
Similar position was held by the Senate, through Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, who said such summons were never issued to the president even in the United States of America, where the lawmaker said he lived for years.
Reps to Malami
Speaking to journalists Thursday after plenary, the representatives said they still believed in the credibility and integrity of President Buhari’s words.
House’ spokesman and Chairman of the Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, said since the House was yet to receive any official communication from the president that he was no longer honouring its invitation, it was too early to assume that he had backed out.
He faulted the minority caucus for saying the AGF’s position was that of the APC, saying Malami was neither president’s spokesman nor that of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and can’t therefore be said to have spoken for the party.
He acknowledged party supremacy in a democratic setting, adding that if the president takes a position and his party decides that he should change that position, as a democrat, he is expected to respect the position of the party.
“When that motion was passed last week, the House was rowdy. It was rowdy because some people wanted the president to be here and others felt otherwise. But majority of members, through the mandate of their constituents, moved the resolution even against the position of the Speaker.
“If you were there, you will discover that the Speaker tried to ensure that the House towed the line of using diplomatic approach to it. But the position of the parliament overrides the presiding officer because to do otherwise is to be biased. At the end of the day, it is the opinion of the people that matters and the Speaker respects the people’s opinion as expressed through their representatives.
“As a mark of honour, the leadership of the House sent a delegation made up of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and the Majority Leader to engage the President beyond the resolution of the House which was not compelling him or summoning him to come as many put it. It was an invitation.
“The House invited Mr. President. There is a difference between compelling and inviting and the ability to resolve this will enable us to know the true picture of the House resolution. The president assured them and we believe in the integrity of the words of the president having shown commitment to address Nigerians. But the date was not specified.
“To that extent, we felt very honoured by the president having communicated his desire to engage with Nigerians, especially when his aide made it more obvious that he has shown interest to address the parliament,” Kalu stated.
The lawmaker however, clarified that the House had “not received any formal or official communication from the Presidency.”
On the AGF’s position, the House said: “On whether we have the power, let’s leave the interpretation to be in the hands of the judiciary, but as a trained constitutional lawyer, I can assure you that the parliament did not act in error. There is a mandate, and that mandate is well expressed in sections 88, 89 (of the 1999 Constitution), which is t be read in conjunction, so the answer is yes.” The lawmaker further said the Armed Forces Act, the Police Act and laws establishing the security forces were all creation of the parliament.
“We have the right to investigate any issue which we have power to legislate on, therefore if there are things we need to get answers to, for the purpose of getting evidence, we can invite and that includes everybody”, he noted. Minority Caucus kicks
Expressing its angst over the president’s absence at the NASS, the minority caucus of the House described the action as a disservice to the nation.
In a statement Thursday, House Minority Leader Ndudi Elumelu said the president’s decision not to honour the invitation had placed him in a bad light before Nigerians and the rest of the world.
Elumelu said: “Mr. President’s apparent backward steps on the invitation just because handlers like Abubakar Malami, are afraid of the people, puts him in very bad light before Nigerians and the world.
“Section 89 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended clearly empowers the Senate or the House of Representatives or a committee appointed in accordance with Section 62 of the Constitution, to procure evidence, written or oral, and to ‘summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place.”
He said: “It is therefore sad and a great disservice to the nation and the president that the only opportunity Mr. President had to remedy his name by addressing Nigerians through their elected representatives is being thwarted by individuals pursuing their selfish interest not the interest of Mr. President or that of the Nigerians people.
“Indeed, as lawmakers, we are surprised that an individual who calls himself a Senior Advocate of Nigerian and who sits in office as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation can reason in such manner.”
‘Buhari is right’
However, arguing in favour of the president’s decision, a former federal lawmaker, Hon. Farouk Aliyu, said the Service Chiefs were better placed to address the National Assembly on the lingering insecurity in the country.
He said the president is not an orator and should therefore not be saddled with such a responsibility.
Aliyu, a former minority leader and currently member of the ruling APC contended that since the Service Chiefs were the ones at the theater of operations, they would do a better job of addressing the National Assembly and they should have been the ones to be summoned to address the issue.
Aliyu said: “There are so many things that the president may divulge and people will say, ‘Why did he even go? He shouldn’t have gone.’
“President Buhari is not an orator. There are orators, people who can talk and talk. People are different.
“If I were to advise Mr. President, I will tell him not to go. He should probably allow the Service Chiefs to go and explain things because there are certain details that should probably be explained in camera.
“As a former minority leader in the House, I don’t think the president should appear, not at this time when things are so difficult and the country is going through challenges.
“Is the president going to appear there to tell the National Assembly the strategies being taken by the government?
“Is he going there for an interactive session? Not even the Speaker can assure the president or his party that Mr. President may not be embarrassed.”
We‘re waiting -Gbajabiamila
Amidst all the controversies, Speaker Gbajabiamila has said the House was still waiting on Mr. President to communicate his decision to honour their invitation or not to the Green Chamber.
The speaker said this at the plenary Thursday following a point of order raised under matters of privilege by a member of the opposition PDP from Rivers state, Hon. Solomon Bob.
Demanding an explanation from the speaker on why the president was absent, Bob said: “Last week, I recall that this House passed a resolution. Subsequently, I read that the president has considered our request.” In his response however, Gbajabiamila said: “Honourable, your point of privilege is well noted. We wait for official communications from Mr. President as opposed to newspaper publications.”
Consequently, the speaker hit the gavel and moved on with the day’s proceedings.