Majority leader of the House of Reps, Femi Gbajabiamila, has described as unconstitutional, the suspension of the sacked chairman of the House committee on Approrpiation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, for one year. The House had on September 28th, suspended Jibrin for failing to appear before the committee on Ethics and Privileges over the allegations of Budget padding he leveled on Speaker Yakubu Dogara and 13 other lawmakers.
In this interview with Thisday, Gbajabiamila questioned the legally of suspending a lawmaker who represents a constituency from the House. He says suspending a lawmaker invariably means suspending a constituency from participating in the activities of the National assembly. What he said below
“My concern on the suspension, is the same that I always had, even when Dino Melaye and others, were suspended in the 6th Assembly. More so, as this was a one year suspension. Now what is this concern? I find it difficult as a Constitutional Lawyer, to accept that our rules can actually pass constitutional muster, if put to test. If you suspend a member for a year, you are effectively suspending his constituency and the people he represents, from participation in participatory democracy. This, in my own personal opinion, violates the constitution which delineates the country into Federal Constituencies for effective representation, at the centre. For every constituency, it is a right to be represented in the national assembly, not a privilege that can be taken away.
The constitution says clearly that, all Federal Constituencies must be represented for 4 years, and lists, I believe, only 1 or 2 circumstances under which such a constituency can be unrepresented. e.g. by process of recall etc. Even at that, the vacancy is to be filled immediately. Our constitution does not envisage a situation where a Federal Constituency is unrepresented or underrepresented. If, for instance, an issue comes up in a member’s constituency, that requires federal attention or legislative address, who do they go to? We cannot take away a mandate, given by the people or short change a constituency. In law, the seat of a representative is held in trust for the constituency. It is an in rem matter, not a personam matter. This is why when a member gets up to speak, he goes through the formality of announcing his name and the constituency he represents. In fact, in other democracies and Legislatures, when a Speaker wants to recognise a Representative to speak, he addresses him or her not even by name, but as for instance, “the gentleman from so so constituency”.
That is the pre-eminence given to a constituency in a democratic setting. So it is not about Honourable Jibrin, it is about Beweji Constituency. I do not stand in the gap for Jibrin, or is this in any way a defence on his behalf. You may not know this, but Jibrin and I stopped relating as friends and colleagues, since March or thereabout. However, I am not one to shy away from the truth and the rule of law. I believe that there are other ways that would be constitutional, if the House wants to discipline any member. On whether this was contempt of court, I believe that you are speaking about the Federal High Court decision in the Melaye case, when the Court said that the House lacked the powers to suspend the members. I do not remember the basis upon which the Court made its decision, but I will definitely look at it again. I suspect it was on the basis of fair hearing, as provided in the Constitution”he said