THE recent arrest of Enugu State Commissioner for Poverty Reduction and Human Development, Mr. Godwin Ogenyi, by the police on the orders of the State House of Assembly, has continued to generate more questions than answers across the country.
The Chairman of Pension Task Fund, Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina, last week escaped being arrested on the orders of the Senate for failing to appear before it to explain his roles in the controversial pension money.
It is against the backdrop of these developments, that many are concerned about the likely precedent the frequent legislative orders of arrest, which had yielded little or no result so far, have set in the polity.
Ogenyi, it will be recalled, was arrested for allegedly disrespecting the lawmakers.
It was gathered that Ogenyi, was invited to give some explanations regarding the government's efforts to alleviate the plight of those affected by the ban on motorcycles in the state but he failed to show up. Although Vanguard learnt that he was seen within the premises of the State Assembly about an hour before the sitting, the commissioner could not be seen by the lawmakers until they adjourned sitting.
Warrant of arrest
Worried by the attitude of the commissioner, the lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution directing that a warrant of arrest be issued against him and the police were immediately directed to ensure that he was arrested and brought to the House.
But soon after the House adjourned, the commissioner, who was apparently alerted about the development, was seen rushing into the Assembly complex but the police wasted no time in apprehending him.
Ogenyi was whisked away by security operatives who took him to the State Police Criminal Investigation Department where he was detained for some minutes before he was granted bail on self recognition.
It was also gathered that some top government officials who were alerted about the development stormed the Police Headquarters to ensure that Ogenyi was not kept behind bars, even as necessary contacts were made to the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Musa Daura, who reportedly intervened later.
What the constitution says
When contacted Ogenyi confirmed his arrest but said there was nothing unusual about the development, admitting that he was wrong by not appearing before the lawmakers when he was called upon. He blamed his absence on nature's call which forced him to return to his office after he had arrived the House even before the sitting for the scheduled dialogue on the activities of his ministry.
Despite mixed views heralding the issue, it was gathered that the lawmakers may have acted within the ambit of the law.
Specifically, section 88 sub section 2 of the 1999 constitution empowers the National Assembly to, " 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, refusal or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable in the same manner as a fine imposed by a court of law."
Similarly, section 129 sub section (1)d authorises the House of Assembly to, "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 of Assembly or the committee, 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, refusal or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable in the same manner as a fine imposed by a court of law."
Lawmakers have limited power -- Akintola
Speaking on the matter a Senior Advocate of Nigeria,SAN, Mr Niyi Akintola, acknowledged that the State House of Assembly had the constitutional power to order the arrest of any public officer, but he cautioned that such powers are limited.
"When you look at the relevant sections of the constitution, you will realize that State Houses of Assembly across Nigeria have powers over issues that are directly under their jurisdiction and they can perform their oversight functions and issue warrant of arrest, but it is not on all issues that they can issue warrant of arrest," he noted.
Enugu lawmakers deserve kudos - Ngige
Corroborating Akintola's stand, another SAN, Chief Emeka Ngige said "there are corresponding sections of the constitution where it was indicated powers given to the State Houses of Assembly and it is not different from the powers of the National Assembly."
Continuing, Ngige said, "Section 129 sub section 1D of the 1999 Constitution gives the State House of Assembly the power to issue warrant of arrest in their various states and by so doing, they still act under the constitution of the Federal Republic."
Lawmakers must investigate before issuing arrest warrant -Aturu
Not differing from the position of the duo, another legal practitioner and human rights activist, Mr. Bamidele argued that state assemblies and the National Assembly command equal powers in this respect.
"the Powers in both cases of the National Assembly and State House of Assembly are limited to investigation before a warrant of arrest could be declared. Section 128 and 129 of the 1999 constitution confer powers to both National Assembly and State House of Assembly to issue warrant of arrest," Aturu added.
Also commenting on the development, Head of Erratta and Erratta Chambers, Mr. Dominic Erratta, commended the Enugu State lawmakers for putting their constitutional power into use.
But he was quick to blame legislative houses at all levels for what he described as the failure to make real past orders for the arrest of erring public officers.
Erratta said, " the 1999 constitution has made its position known on that and that constitutional stipulation is binding on all public officials no matter the office that person is occupying. I have been reading about the various resolutions for the arrest of certain public officials by the National Assembly and various state assemblies, but none has been effected and that makes mockery of that section of the constitution. There is nothing wrong about that, the only wrong thing is that the legislative houses at various levels are not putting that constitutional power into proper use. "
In addition he said, "today you would hear that the Senate or the House of Representatives has ordered or threatened to arrest a minister yet the minister would not be arrested. I think the Enugu State House of Assembly deserves kudos on that, although I dont know the merits and demerits of the allegations against the commissioner. But the underling message is that the law has been made to function in a sacrosanct manner. However it is pertinent that we caution against the abuse of that power, particularly given the manner in which priviledges are been abused by those in the position of authority."