• Lawmakers express fears Malami may restrain Buhari from signing controversial bills into law

From Fred Itua, Abuja 

With barely four months to the end of the current administration, the cordial relationship that exists between the Executive and the Legislative Arms, may be headed for the rocks if President Muhammadu Buhari fails to give assent to some controversial bills recently forwarded to him by the National Assembly. 

Before embarking on a one month break last week, the Senate and the House of Representatives, forwarded 35 bills passed by both chambers and endorsed by at least 24 out of the 36 state Houses of Assembly to President Buhari for assent.

The three most coveted bills on financial and administrative autonomy for local governments and financial autonomy for state Houses of Assembly, were rejected by state legislatures.

However, two controversial bills received concurrence by the National Assembly and their state counterparts.  

For instance, a bill on Separation of the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and of the State from the office of the Minister or Commissioner for Justice scaled through and was  forwarded to the  President for assent.  The bill seeks to establish the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and of the State separate from the Office of the Minister of Justice, or Commissioner for Justice in order to make the office of Attorney-General independent and insulated from partisanship.

Similarly, another controversial bill to empower the National Assembly and State Assemblies to summon the President and state governors to answer questions bordering on security or other issues on which the National and State Houses of Assembly have powers to make laws, has been sent to Buhari too for assent.

 The bill seeks alteration to Section 67 of the Principal Act by inserting after subsection (3), a new subsection (4). The new subsection (4) provides: “Nothing in this section shall preclude the National Assembly from summoning the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to attend a joint session of the National Assembly to answer questions on national security or any issue whatsoever, over which the National Assembly has powers to make laws.”

The bill further seeks to alter Section 108 of the Principal Act to insert a new subsection (4) to provide: “Nothing in this section shall preclude the House of Assembly of the State from summoning the Governor of the State to attend a sitting of the House of Assembly to answer questions on security or on any issue whatsoever, over which the House of Assembly has powers to male laws.”

Despite the relative success in pushing the bills through, some senators who spoke to Daily Sun in confidence, said the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, may prevail on President Buhari to decline assent to the controversial bills on summons and separation of his office.  It is a move the lawmakers fear would pit the Executive against the Legislature and strain existing  peaceful and cordial relationship. 

As the chief law enforcement officer of the federation, Malami is considered to be the most powerful minister and the closest to the president. 

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Before bills passed by the National Assembly are signed into law, President Buhari defers to Malami for legal advice and guidance. 

It is often touted that whenever Malami opposes any bill, Buhari seldom signs, no matter the lobbying by the leadership of the National Assembly. 

One of the senators who is a member of the Constitution Review Committee, told Daily Sun that Malami’s alleged abuse of the office informed the National Assembly’s decision to initiate the move.

He claimed many actions taken against serving members of the National Assembly since 2015 were initiated by Malami, who doubles as Attorney-General of Federation and Minister of Justice. 

He cited the cases against Bukola Saraki, Ike Ekweremadu and other lawmakers jailed since the beginning of President Buhari’s administration in 2015.

The senator argued that if the two offices are separated, the abuse will be minimal and the Attorney-General will be insulated from any political influence. 

On summons of the president and state governors by the National Assembly and their state counterparts, the lawmaker urged Buhari to give assent to the bill in order to elevate the practice of checks and balances.

The senator noted: “President has promised to conduct a free and fair election. From all indications, the National Assembly believes that he means that actually. That will be his biggest achievement. 

“The second most important achievement of the President will be to sign the Bills forwarded to him into law, especially the ones on separation of the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; and powers by the National and State Assemblies to summon the President and State Governors. 

“But we’ve our doubts because of Malami. Like he has always done in the past, he may advice President Buhari not to give any assent to these two important bills. If President Buhari listens to him, that will be unfortunate.  

“If the country must move forward, some reforms need to be carried out and these two important bills will guarantee that. So, I urge the President to sign them as soon as possible.”