James Emejo in Abuja
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, thursday warned that it could resort to disobeying court injunctions issued against the lower chamber if the judiciary continues to interfere with the activities of parliament.
He said: “We are not obligated to obey if they continue.”
The Speaker said Nigeria is not a “Banana Republic” but operates a constitutional democracy where the rule of law and separation of powers among the arms of government are upheld under the constitution.
He said the legislature has shown a lot of respect for the judiciary and intended to “continue to work together” but added that parliament must rise to the “big challenge” whereby the former appears to usurp legislative powers contrary to the constitution.
Dogara added: “We’ll have to part ways if they insist they want to continue this way.”
He said unless urgent steps are taken to address the trend, the judiciary may someday grant an injunction to bar lawmakers from entering the National Assembly.
“Lack of courage will make us subsume this parliment under the judiciary,” he said.
He accused the judiciary of trying to gag the legislature, wondering if the courts will be comfortable with a situation where the House challenges their powers to pass judgement.
The speaker further said the judiciary lacks powers to dictate what should be agenda of legislature but rather, wait until laws have been made to warrant their interprettation as the constitution clearly spelt out.
“To tell us what to debate or what not to debate is not democracy,” he said.
Dogara’s vituperation came as the green chamber overwhelmingly passed a resolution to write the Chief Justice of the Nigeria (CJN) to take immediate steps to ensure judges respect and preserve the sanctity and sovereignty of the parliament.
It further approved the setting up of an ad-hoc committee to be headed by the Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabilamila, to take the issue up with the CJN.
The resolution was consequent upon a motion on Breach of Privilege of the House which was moved by Hon. Razak Atunwa (APC, Kwara) who said the collective privilege of the House has been breached by Justice A. I. Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja, who recently granted an interlocutory injunction restraining the House Committees on Justice and Judiciary from proceeding with an investigative public hearing to investigate the denial by the Council of Legal Education (Law School) of Ms Amasa Firdausa being called to Bar on account of her wearing a hijab.
Atunwa, who chairs the Committee on Justice, said he was dumbfounded at the injunction granted by the judge given that the country operates a constitutional democracy where the tenets of the sovereignty of parliament, rule of law and separation of powers are incontrovertible.
He said the judge who granted the restraining order had no regard for any of the fundamental pillars of democracy currently being practiced.
He said: “I have never heard anywhere in a civilised democracy where a court will issue an injunction against a sovereign parliament…an injunction that parliament cannot hear views of members of the public. An injunction that parliament cannot oversight an authority for which it makes laws and appropriates money for. In short, an injunction that parliament should not do its job.”
The lawmaker added that the unwarranted assault on the House by the judge was indeed a contempt of parliament.
Among other things, Atunwa said: “A further breach of the Privileges Act was perpetrated when the said lawyers came to this very House within the precincts of this hallowed chamber to serve the Clerk with the injunction. This is in clear violation of Section 23(a) of the Act which states that ‘Notwithstanding the provision of any law, court processes or orders shall not be served or executed in the chamber or precincts of a legislative House.’”
He said the development signalled an “Ill-wind blowing from the judiciary,” warning that if allowed unrestrained, it had the potential to put democracy in imminent danger.
On his part, the Chief Whip of the House, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano), said the issue had to do with the integrity of the parliament coupled with the legal implications.
He expressed concern that the development is playing out as elections are fast-approaching.
He said the House must oppose the judiciary and restrict it to interpretation of the law.
Doguwa said: “If we don’t fight this usurpation as we head to elections, every thing will be in shambles because everyone can go to court and get ridiculous judgment. We can’t do our job again without the judiciary coming in. We must not take nonsense.”
Hon. Aminu Shehu Shagari said the House should interface with highest authority to resolve the issue.
However, Hon. Ken Chikere (PDP, Rivers) who is the husband of Justice Chikere was initially advised by the Speaker not to contribute to the topic because of his vested interest but he insisted he would like to make some clarification which the latter obliged him.
He said though the judge is his wife, he didn’t see anything wrong with prayers of the motion.
Chikere said: “I also believe this place should be protected. But preempting judgment is wrong. The right thing to do is appeal not writing a petition. There should be no prejudgment.”
On March 14, a rights group, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) protested a decision by House of Representatives Joint Committee on Justice and Judiciary, chaired by Atunwa not to proceed with a public hearing on the need to interview the hijab controversy between the Nigerian Law School and a law graduate, Amasa Firdusa, because of an interlocutory injunction secured from a Federal High Court by the Body of Benchers which is against the intervention by the parliament.
The Nigerian Law School had also written to notify the committee that a panel had been constituted by the body to review the case within two months.
But Atunwa, who expressed worry that Justice A. Chikere had granted the interim injunction to stay action on the hearing organised at the instance of a House resolution, nonetheless, stressed the need to respect the court ruling as a responsible legislature.
Also, a member of the committee, Hon. Bode Ayorinde, a lawyer himself, quoting relevant laws said a court doesn’t have powers to interfere with debates in parliament, adding that discussions and debates in parliament can’t be questioned.
Atunwa, however, appealed to the Muslim group which had mobilised resources towards the hearing to exercise patience as a new date will be communicated after the judge must have vacated the injunction.
But, as the chairman was announcing the adjournment, the President of MURIC, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, forcibly stood up and insisted the hearing must continue in spite of the court order.
He said an earlier invitation had been extended to the group for the hearing which was slated for February 6 but which was also cancelled.
He said: “Then, thursday we got another invite for today and we massively mobilised and came today and they said postponed.
He described the development frustrating, nauseating and a travesty of justice, rape and subversion of justice.
He said the ban on the use of hijab by the law school was unlawful, especially where the constitution grants religious freedom.
He said the ensuing development was an “invitation to religious war” adding that “You ban one Muslim you bar all Nigerian Muslims.”
The renowned Muslim cleric said the next move for the group is to jettison further invitation for public hearing on the matter.
He said the committee should review the memoranda already submitted to it by stakeholders and take a position without public any further hearing.
He insisted Firdusa must be called to bar at all cost.