The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said this on Sunday in an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja.
Shehu said Buhari believed in the rule of law and would not do anything that would derail any judicial process, stressing that those who were constitutionally saddled with the process did not need the President’s clearance to do their job.
He said, “They do not need the President’s clearance to prosecute anybody found guilty of any investigation. President Muhammadu Buhari, as all Nigerians know, believes very strongly in the rule of law.
“The President will therefore not do anything that will stop the judicial process. He won’t stop it (the trial of suspects in the Senate forgery case).”
There were reports on Sunday that the police investigation had confirmed that the Senate standing order was forged and that the police had recommended that some staff of the National Assembly should be prosecuted.
The police had invited the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and some other National Assembly officials over a petition alleging that the Senate standing rules were tampered with in the conduct of the election of Senate President Bukola Saraki, Ekweremadu and other principal officers on June 9.
Though the Director (Information), Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Charles Nwodo, could not confirm to The PUNCH if the report had been submitted to the ministry for prosecution to begin, some lawyers on Sunday said the alleged offence was criminal and that culprits would be made to face the wrath of the law.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, said considering the enormity of the alleged crime, government should go ahead to take the appropriate action on the report regardless of any political interpretation given to it.
Ogunye said, “The release of the report vindicates the widely held view that what took place in the National Assembly towards June 9 and in particular the election in the Senate on that day following the proclamation of the National Assembly was a sham.
“This report tells us that a lot of ugliness is going on in our public life. Because we are not talking about Students’ Union parliament or a private document, we are talking about the National Assembly of Nigeria.
“So if the bureaucracy of the National Assembly can be enmeshed in lawmaking forgery, the implication of that is that Nigeria is a nation of forgers. That would then mean that these people can also forge laws.
“With the report, the law should take its course whether you are a clerk of the National Assembly or a senator of the National Assembly.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Norrison Quakers, said, “First of all, it is a criminal offence. And the law has to take its course. The penalty is a fine and a term of imprisonment; either or both. Any lawmaker who is involved in the forgery allegation, that has now been substantiated that indeed the document was forged, will have to answer criminal allegations and face prosecution.
“What the law prescribes as penalty for the offence of forgery is a minimum of four years imprisonment; it is about four or more.”
Another Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Wahab Shittu, said, “First of all, I want to believe that no lawmaker would be involved in such a shameful act; but if it is proven that any lawmaker is involved, it is a criminal offence.
“Depending on the legislation under which they are arraigned, there is an element of forgery scattered in all our legislations. We have forgery under the EFCC Act; we have forgery under the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act; we have forgery under the Criminal Code. It (the punishment) depends on the enabling legislation under which they are charged.”
Meanwhile, some anti – Saraki senators, who spoke with The PUNCH on Sunday, asked the senate president and his deputy to step aside since the police investigation had established that the senate rules used for their election had been forged.
Senator Kabir Marafa, spokesperson for the Senate Unity Forum, a group of Senators loyal to Senator Ahmad Lawal, the APC’s choice for the senate presidency outwitted by Saraki, expressed satisfaction at the report.
“I have not seen a copy of the report and I don’t know the details but if a case of forgery has been established as being claimed in the media, I think the ideal thing is for the presiding officers who benefitted from the illegal amendments to resign their positions,” Marafa said.
Marafa, an APC Senator from Zamfara Central, asked both the police and the justice ministry to do the right thing by taking necessary steps to ensure justice.
“On our part, we are resuming on Tuesday and our demand on the floor of the Senate is that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, must ensure that the chamber is run according to its rules,” he said.
But the Senate President challenged the Senators calling for his resignation to articulate their position on the floor of the Senate instead of resorting to media propaganda.
In a statement by his spokesperson, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki said, “I am not going to respond to speculations based on a report which the police has not confirmed or which no one had seen a copy; so I don’t think it will be proper for me to react to what does not exist.
“As for those calling on the presiding officers to resign, why are they making their call on the pages of newspapers? They should go to the floor of the Senate to articulate their views. There is no point drawing unnecessary public attention to issues that can be treated in-house”
A Peoples Democratic Party senator from Ekiti South, Abiodun Olujimi, said the issue would be discussed on the floor on Tuesday with a view to condemning a situation whereby “some people would be externalising the affairs of the chamber”
“We will definitely study the report and debate it dispassionately to look at the issues involved but we are going to condemn the idea whereby some people, by their action, would be threatening the legislative immunity by involving outsiders in the internal affairs of the chamber, “ she said.
Attempts to speak with the Clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, over the development were unsuccessful on Sunday as calls to his mobile phone did not connect while text messages also sent did not deliver.
Sources in Abuja on Sunday indicated that Senators were billed for a showdown when they resume on Tuesday (tomorrow)as rival factions were poised to take on each other over the police report alleging forgery in the Senate standing order.
The PUNCH reliably learnt that the pro-Lawan group were considering two options, including a call on Saraki and his deputy, Ekweremadu, to resign.
It was also learnt that the group was planning to obtain the report and submit it to a Federal High Court that is already hearing a suit on the matter in Abuja.
Senators Barnabas Gemade; Abu Ibrahim, Lawan, Geore Akume, Kabir Marafa, Sulaiman Hunkuyi and Gbenga Ashafa had asked the court to declare the inauguration of the 8th Senate as strange and irregular.
They are also asking the court to declare the Senate Standing Orders 2015 used for Saraki and Ekweremadu’s elections as inoperative, null and lack of legislative process.