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Barred! Senate bans arrest of persons at N’Assembly

Posted by By AMOS DUNIA and OLUWOLE AKINBOYEWA, Abuja on 2008/07/04 | Views: 2742 |

Barred! Senate bans arrest of persons at N’Assembly


The ambush-style arrest, Monday, of two ex-ministers, Femi Fani-Kayode and Babalola Borishade, at the premises of the National Assembly by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has seen the senior lawmakers breathing fire and brimstone.

The ambush-style arrest, Monday, of two ex-ministers, Femi Fani-Kayode and Babalola Borishade, at the premises of the National Assembly by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has seen the senior lawmakers breathing fire and brimstone.

They have consequently barred the EFCC, or any other security agency, from arresting persons within the vicinity of the National Assembly. The two ministers and a former Director-General of the Nigerian Airspace Manage-ment Agency (NAMA), Roland Iyayi, were arrested soon after they emerged from testifying at the ongoing Senate Aviation probe.

The Senate on Tuesday passed a resolution barring security agents particularly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from arresting people within the precinct of the National Assembly.

This decision may not be unconnected with the arrest on Monday of two former ministers of Aviation, Professor Babalola Borisade and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode as well as the former managing director of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Rowland Iyayi at the lobby of the National Assembly.

The Senate in its resolution noted that such arrests had the capacity and capability of scaring away persons invited to testify before any of its committee.
The resolution followed a motion upon Order 15 of the Senate standing rules raised by Senator Eyinanya Abaribe (Abia State) who contended that the some people might become scared of appearing before National Assembly committees to give useful information on matters under investigation.

He stressed that such arrests ought to have been carried out outside the National Assembly, adding that there was the need to exercise caution in effecting such arrest particularly when persons so arrested were invited by the National Assembly to clarify issues.

In his remarks, President of the Senate, Senator David Mark said the arrests had created the impression that the National Assembly was doing the bidding of the EFCC and merely giving excuse that it is carrying out investigation. Mark added that the security operatives were also acting as if there was an understanding between the Senate and the EFCC to lure persons to testify to get them arrested.
The senate president therefore directed the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Ayogu Eze, to embark on an enlightenment campaign on the wisdom in the decision to discourage law enforcement agencies from arresting persons within the National Assembly.

"To my simple understanding the decision to come into and go out of the National Assembly is on the authority of the Speaker or the President of the Senate. The issue is whether there is immunity on arrest within the National Assembly or not. And I think we should not restrict it to legal interpretations. If people who come here are allowed to be taken away at will by security agents before we wind up fully on our investigations, what we are going to end up with is a situation where people would be scared away because of the fear of what will happen to them. The arrest that was done in my opinion, was not based on the evidence that they have given but because somebody somewhere said something else," Senator Mark said.

He further said since the EFCC had the required information, they should effect their arrest elsewhere, adding that since the Senate was looking at the issues from a moral point of view, the EFCC should not be allowed to go into the National Assembly premises for arrest.

"As much as possible, people who committed or are suspected to have committed any offence should not be chased into the National Assembly. The EFCC should summon them so that people who are invited here should not be arrested for offences not committed within the premises," Senator Mark said.
In his contribution, Senator Tawar Wada (Gombe State) said that it would be wrong for the Senate to want to canvass protection for offences committed by some people in the past, arguing that caution must be taken in order not to send wrong signals to the public.

Also contributing to the motion, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu said the issue was beyond matters of law, adding that even common sense dictates that conducive atmosphere should be created for people to come into the National Assembly to testify. "The privileges of the National Assembly should be respected," he stressed.

Also speaking, Senate Chief Whip, Senator Kanti Bello while opposing the motion, noted that there was nothing in the constitution to prohibit the EFCC from arresting persons within the National Assembly. He added that there was the possibility that if those arrested were allowed to get out of the National Assembly, they might escaped.

The motion was, however, carried by majority votes of senators.
Operatives of the EFCC had last Wednesday arrested an Australian contractor, Mr. Georg Eider over his role on a N6.5 billion contract just after testifying before the Senate Committee on Aviation, while two former ministers of Aviation who served in the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo were picked up on Monday by the anti-graft agency at the lobby of the National Assembly after giving evidence before the Senate committee.

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