…Says it’s in S’Court with legislative arm over summons, invitations
…Mum’s the word from NASS
By Tunde Opalana, Ukpono Ukpong, Tom Okpe
Suffocating under choking conditions, the Organized Private Sector in Nigeria (OPSN) has pointed accusing fingers at a surprising direction: the National Assembly NASS.
It said the incessant invitations and summons of organized businesses for investigative hearings by the federal legislature which, it noted, often hid under Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), was a major destabilizer and dampener.
The body claimed that the unfortunate situation was ”seriously impacting negatively” on private businesses as well as affecting Direct Foreign Investment (DFI).
Spokesmen of both the Senate and House of Representatives kept mum to The Daily Times’ requests for their reaction, as of press time last night.
OPSN comprising Manufactures Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Nigeria Association of Small-Scale Industries (NASSI) and Nigeria Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME), expressed the concern yesterday in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
Addressing journalists on behalf of OPSN, the Director General (DG), MAN, Segun Ajayi-Kadir, alleged that they have been inundated with several letters of invitations and summons for different investigative hearings by various Committees and Ad-hoc Committees of the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) premised on Section 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
What the 1999 Constitution stipulates
The Daily Times notes that Section 88 says:
”(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed investigation into –
”(a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws, and
”(b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for –
”(i) executing or administering laws enacted by National Assembly, and
”(ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.
”(2) The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to –
”(a) make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and
”(b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.”
Section 89 says: ” Section 89 (1)
”For the purposes of any investigation under section 88 of this Constitution and subject to the provisions thereof, the Senate or the House of Representatives or a committee appointed in accordance with section 62 of this Constitution shall have power to- (In order to exercise their power to conduct investigations given to the National Assembly under Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly or a Committee which has been duly created under Section 62 of the 1999 Constitution shall have the power to do the following:-
”Procure all such evidence, written or oral, direct or circumstantial, as it may think necessary or desirable, and examine all persons as witnesses whose evidence may be material or relevant to the subject matter;
”(The National Assembly has the power to collect evidence in whatever form as long as it believes such evidence to be necessary and desirable. It also has the power to examine witnesses who they believe will be important to an investigation.
Section 89 (1)(b)”Require such evidence to be given on oath; ”(The National Assembly also has the power to ask whomever gives evidence to give such on oath.)
”Section 89 (1)(c)
”Summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, subject to all just exceptions; and ”(They also have the power to summon anyone in Nigeria to give evidence in an investigation conducted by them at any place and to also produce documents or other things which they possess or are under the control of the person being summoned. They also have the power to examine a person as a witness and require such witness to produce any document or thing under his control. This sub section is however guided by just exceptions.)
”Section 89 (1)(d)
”Issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so and does not excuse such failure, refusal or neglect to the satisfaction of the House or the committee in question, and order him to pay all costs which may have been occasioned in compelling his attendance or by reason of his failure, refusal or neglect to obey the summons, and also to impose such fine as may be prescribed for any such failure, refused or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable in the same manner as a fine imposed by a court of law.
”(The National Assembly has the power to issue a warrant in order to force a person who has ignored or refused to answer to a summons by the House without a good enough excuse for such refusal. The House can also compel such person to pay whatever expenses incurred by the House in forcing such person to answer a summons and they can also fine such person for such refusal. Such fines issued by the House will be recovered like fines issued by Courts. Bottom line: If the National Assembly summons you, just answer the summons so you won’t be forced, made to pay cost or fined for refusal.)
”Section 89 (2)
”A summons or warrant issued under this section may be served or executed by any member of the Nigeria Police Force or by any person authorised in that behalf by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may require.
”(The execution of a summons or warrant mentioned in this section can be done by any member of the Nigerian Police Force or by any person who has been authorized by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House depending on the situations.)
Organized Private Sector in S’Court versus NASS
OPSN stated that: “This has been a notable challenge since the 7th National Assembly, from year 2012.
”Recently, several letters were received by our members-companies from the Ad-hoc committee on Non-Remittance to the National Housing Fund and Utilisation of the Fund from 2011 to date, and Ad-hoc Committee to investigate the compliance of Ministry, Departments and Agencies of government and corporate bodies with the Industrial Training Fund Act, amongst other Committees.
“While we appreciate the efforts of the National Assembly and its various Committees and Ad-hoc Committees to investigate and carry out oversight functions on Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government, we are of the opinion that Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution, relied upon by the the Committees of the National Assembly, is not applicable to businesses in the private sector.
“The continuous invitation from the Committees of the National Assembly compelled us to institute an action in 2012 for the determination of the constitutionality, scope and extent of Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution on businesses and private sector. The matter is currently at the Supreme Court with suit no/SC/734/2017.
“Being parties in the suit did not deter the various committees of the National Assembly from continually inviting our members for interrogation.
”Thus, it appears that the continuous invitations and related activities by the various Committees and Ad-hoc Committees are at variance and unmindful of the proceedings in court and Supreme Court itself. We expect that the National Assembly will stay further action as a proof of respect for the principle of separation of powers, pending the decision of the Court.
“In our letters (earlier referred to above), we had severally, referred the Committees to DHL International Nigeria Limited vs. Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria & Ors in (FHC/ABJ/SC/261/2018. The judgement was delivered by Hon. Justice I.L. Ojukwu in May 2019, and is to the effect that private companies do not fall within the purview of persons envisaged under Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution.”
OPSN added that the body was surprised that the lawmakers are now imposing penalties on companies.
“At one of the hearings at the Ad-hoc committee to investigate the compliance of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government and corporate bodies with Industrial Training Fund Act, last week, we were shocked at the development and manner in which the Committees imposed financial deficit/liabilities and penalties against many companies and thereafter commenced negotiation.
“These, by law, are not within the purview of the Lawmakers. We are anxious that, if this trend remains unchecked, other Committees may adopt the same practice and the situation may degenerate into a bedlam.” OPSN warned.
‘How NASS scares foreign investors’
Stopping short of accusing the National Assembly of lack of patriotism, the body said that the lawmakers’ action was pushing direct foreign investors to other countries.
“It should be noted that the various invitations, summons and threats of arrests have the potential to further dampen the interest of foreign direct investors in the Nigerian economy. Also, it should interest you to note that many businesses have relocated out of the country and many others are rounding off their exit plan because of the inhospitable business environment,” OPSN stated.
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On the heels of the accusations, The Daily Times called and forwarded Whatsapp message to Senate spokesperson, Sen. Yemi Adaramodu, and Hon. Eseme Eyiboh,Special Assistant (Media) to Senate President Godswill Akpabio, but there was no response from them.
Also contacted was Special Assistant (Print Media) to the Senate President, Jackson Udom, who simply directed the paper to the Senate spokesperson.
In the House of Representatives, efforts made to reach the House spokesman, Hon. Rotimi Akin, failed as his MTN phone number rang several times without response. Messages also sent were not responded to.