No legislative house has the power to suspend a member – Femi Falana
*Dino Melaye benefitted from previous court orders on this
Mr Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), has stated that no legislative House by the 1999 Constitution has the power to suspend a member even for a single day.
He made the comment while addressing the Senate’s recent suspension of one of its members, Senator Ali Ndume, for allegedly bringing the Senate to disrepute, as well as the investigation and summoning of some of its members.
The Senate spokesman was quoted to have said that although the 1999 Constitution does not exactly state that the Senate has the power to suspend a member, they have the power to do so based on the internal House rules.
In reaction to this, the senior lawyer stated that: “The Senate labours under the very erroneous impression that it can do anything, whether allowed by law or not; particularly when it purports to exercising its oversight functions.
“Allegations of crime, certificate forgery, allegations regarding under-payment of Customs duties, are criminal offences that can only be investigated by the appropriate authorities such as the Police.”
According to Mr Femi Falana, “Section 88, which the Senate always relies on, begins with the phrase: “subject to the provisions of this constitution”, which means the powers of the Police, the powers of the Auditor General of the Federation, the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation, the powers of the President, take precedence over the powers of the Senate to carry out an investigation.
“The Senate with profound respect, the House of Representatives with profound respect, cannot investigate allegations of crime. That is within the constitutional province of the Police.
“In matters regarding some of the distinguished Senators, the court has made definitive judicial pronouncements. Take for instance, no legislative House in Nigeria, can suspend a member for one single day and we have a plethora of authorities on this,” he stressed.
Recalling a similar situation that occurred in 2010, Mr Falana said: “As a member of the House of Representatives, Senator Dino Melaye and 10 others, out of frustration, submitted a petition to the EFCC, alleging criminal diversion of funds by the Dimeji Bankole-led leadership of the House.”
According to Femi Falana, the Senators had claimed that the House had been terrorised and scandalised and despite the advice given by lawyers to allow the law take its course, as a petition had been sent to the appropriate agency of government, they still refused to take their hands off the case.
“Dino Melaye and 10 others were suspended indefinitely. I went to court for them and the court said: “Under your own rules, you cannot suspend a member for more than 14 days – Under what law did you suspend these 11 members of the House of Representatives for an indefinitely period of time?”
Mr Falana said subsequently, the court ordered an immediate reversal as well as the reinstatement of the members. He gave another instance involving the indefinite suspension of a member of the Bauchi House in 2012.
According to him, she was the only female and Christian in the House, consisting of 31 members and her suspension came as a result of a contribution she made, which the men considered as an ‘infra dignitatem’.
The case was however raised in court after a letter written to the House was ignored and the law was properly examined by the High court as well as the Court of Appeal.
“Relevant constitutional provisions were now determined by the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal ruled that no legislative House has the power to suspend a member even for a single day,” he stated.