Daniel Bwala, a lawyer and a member of the of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is famed for his courage at speaking truth to power. As guest of the Arise Television programme, The Morning Show, on Thursday, the day the President was expected in the House, Bwala bares his mind on the happenings in his party and why things are the way they are.
What do you make of the invitation to President Muhammadu Buhari to appear before the House of Representatives over the security situation in the country?
Maybe we have trouble with the use of words as to whether the National Assembly summoned the President or invited him. The National Assembly can invite the President to address the country on the state of the union. This is common and the constitution is clear. He may elect to go because they are the true representatives of the people. But the National Assembly cannot summon the President because power of summon as provided in the constitution is power to investigate, interrogate and power to probe corruption and it is not within the powers of the National Assembly to do so. So if the House of Reps summons him, they do not have the legal or constitutional right to do that but they have the constitutional right to invite the President in the spirit of espirit de corps to come and address Nigerians on matters of national security.
And the point that the President is avoiding to go because he does not want to divulge national security matters is a baseless argument because the President is not in a nursery school. Even people who are elementary know when to discuss privilege matters and when not to. Secondly, I don’t think that in the spirit and letter of their invitation, it is of a nature that the President will come to the National Assembly to answer questions. If you look at other climes like the US, when the President comes to speak on the state of the union, it is just to address the country on the state of affairs of the country after which he takes a bow and goes.
So if the President is avoiding to go because of the questions, he doesn’t even need to entertain questions. What ought to have been done to avoid this friction would have been for the House to send questionnaire on areas of concern to them they wanted the President to address the nation about. They can summon any agent of the federation like the Chief of Defence Staff, NSA, or any other officer of the government of the federation that manages any security architecture.
Secondly, because the President had given his word, it was imperative that the President did go to display his honesty and integrity that he is known for, to say that I gave my word and I would go. Because if he doesn’t go, and the excuse is that the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF issued a declaration or legal opinion, it will give a bad impression on the government because the impression it will be sending to the masses is that when the President agreed to be present, was he not advised? That means he was ill-advised and that was why he could make a hasty decision and then changed his mind.
That leads us to the issue of whether it is within the purview of the AGF to issue legal opinion in respect of this matter. Over a period of time, by convention, we have adopted certain principles that are very inimical to the polity. The office of the AGF as provided in Section 174 of the Constitution is quite explicit. In matters of criminal law, he is to take over criminal matters and decide whether to continue or discontinue. In matters of administration, he is to represent the government of the federation in international treaties, international agreements. He is not the Attorney General of the President.
He must not be seen giving opinion or speaking on behalf of the President. To do that means we are partisanising the office of the AGF because the way it is constructed from the constitutional standpoint, the office of the AGF can even investigate the President even though he is an appointee of the President.
Here is the missing link: May be, we do not have in the Villa the President legal adviser whose duty will be to speak on matters of law, legality and executive decisions of the President in his capacity as the President of the Federal Republic.
I think going forward; the Presidency should have a legal adviser to the President or a State House Counsel that will speak on matters of law concerning the President in his capacity as the President in his engagement with the National Assembly, the judiciary or the masses while the Attorney General will speak on matters of sovereignty of the nation in its relationship with other nations of the world.
The 8th Assembly had been heavily criticised as non-cooperative which was the reason the executive arm was hostile in its responses to their demands. The 9th Assembly is largely seen rightly or wrongly as a “rubber stamp,” because of its willingness to cooperate with the President. One good turn deserves another. If in one breath, the National Assembly is demonstrating to the President its willingness to help him achieve his agenda, it is not out of place for the National Assembly to invite the President.
It is a representative democracy and every member of the National Assembly represents a constituency. It is a good thing that the National Assembly had a bi-partisan resolution to invite the President to address Nigerians on matters of national security. In my opinion, the reason the President could evade is to avoid answering question on the age-long question of why the service chiefs have not been sacked. I have not seen any part of the country where somebody is not calling for the replacement of the service chiefs. He is not answering the question and probably, he is not prepared to rejig the security architecture.
Why are meetings of the APC held in the secret chambers of the Presidency?
The business of the party just as in company registration, the resolution of the board, the venue of the meeting are as important as the resolution itself. In political party processes, the business of the party are conducted in party secretariat. It means that these National Executive Committee, NEC meetings which have been held in Villa are very wrong because they ought to be held in national secretariat. Where the national secretariat is not expansive to contain everyone, they are to rent any building available for rent. The villa is the seat of power, the seat of government and whatever is said at the villa should be something that is of interest to the generality of the people. The precedence we are laying is going to be bad.
Tomorrow, if our party is not in power, another party comes into power and begins to host dinner and everything in the villa, we are going to raise eyebrows because every facility and asset that is used in the villa for the purposes of executing party activity is an act of corruption because if drinks are served, they served them from the budget of the Presidency for entertaining guests. I don’t think we are buying drinks and water from outside to bring to the villa to hold meetings there or we are paying a rent for that purpose.
However, there is an excuse for the President. The excuse is that since COVID-19, there have been lots of changes. They will argue that the meetings were not actually held in the villa but virtually with a few officers around the President because whatever discussion that was done that requires signing, it has to be done by those around him.