The recent summons issued to President Goodluck Jonathan by the House of Representatives to appear before it to explain the security situation in the country was obviously done in exercise of its power under section 89 (1) C-D of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which provides as follows:
(1) “For the purpose 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-
(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
(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 cost 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, refusal or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable in the same manner as a fine imposed by a court of law.
From the sections of the constitution quoted above what is clear is that the constitution does not exclude any person whosoever, including the President of the country from being summoned by the National Assembly to appear before it. However, the subject matter of the inquiry must be a matter within its constitutional legislative competence.
In this case, the subject matter of the inquiry relates to the peace, order and good government of the country which is the primary responsibility of the National Assembly by virtue of section 4(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Therefore, the House of Representatives has acted purely within the scope of its powers in inviting the President to appear before it.
However, this is only how far the House of Representatives can go in respect of this matter. This is because Section 308 (1) & (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides as follows:
(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section-
(a) no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office;
(b) a person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise; and
(c) no process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued.
Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of his period of office.
3. This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor; and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office.
What the above clearly implies is that the House of Representatives lacks the power to enforce its summons against the President, because no warrant of arrest by anybody, institution or whatsoever can be issued or enforced against the President.
The conclusion of the matter, therefore, is that whilst the National Assembly can summon the President, it cannot enforce such summons. However, such action of the President in refusing to honour such summons may amount to “gross misconduct” which can trigger impeachment proceedings against the President by the National Assembly.
In one sentence, the National Assembly can summon the President, but the President is not bound to honour such summons.
FESTUS KEYAMO, ESQ.