Ningi Suspension: CISLAC expresses worries over attacks on freedom of expression

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From Abdullahi Alhassan, Kaduna

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/Transparency International in Nigeria (TI-Nigeria) is seriously perturbed by the undemocratic action and questionable decision by leadership of the Senate as shockingly demonstrated in the recent unfounded suspension of the Senator Abdul Ningi.

Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani)Executive Director of CISLAC/ Transparency international TI-Nigeria

“We are not unaware that the suspension was initiated against Senator Ningi for expressing his constitutionally guaranteed concerns and observations on 2024 budget at this critical moment when the nation is deeply soaked in socio-economic and financial crisis.

In a Press statement signed and issued to newsmen by Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani)Executive Director of CISLAC/ Transparency international TI-Nigeria.

“The suspension is not unconnected with the public exposure of the N3 trillion padded into the 2024 budget by the Upper Chamber, which has hitherto failed to display transparency and public accountability in its annual budgetary allocation and spending.

This includes the inequality and disproportionate marginalization surrounding the distributions of the N3trillion, where each Senator is expected to receive N500million as Constituency Allowance.

“We recognise and affirm that freedom of expression and opinion remains sacrosanct to preserve the democratic culture, values and principles in Nigeria.

“We without hesitation, uphold our position that freedom of opinion and expression is a constitutional and legally-backed right under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria; Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948; Article 19 (2) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.

Hence, the sanity and sanctity of these provisions must be strictly adhered, demonstrated and protected by a civic institution such as National Assembly. Anything outside these provisions is tantamount to deliberate violation of human right and apparent disregard to the rule of law.

“We must reiterate that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a supreme law of the country gives zero provision or power to the Senate to suspend a Member of the National Assembly.

CISLAC further explained that ” Such provisions are only found in the Ethics and Privileges Committee laws, which is answerable to the plenary through the Senate President. On this note, the Committee laws cannot override the Constitution, most especially in a matter of freedom of expression which is a fundamental right.

The anti corruption agency maintained that “Just as every member of the National Assembly representing his/her constituency has the primary mandates and responsibilities to absorb communal observations and offer feedback to the people for public accountability, expressing such in form of opinion must not be interfered, intimidated or suppressed in anyway or form.

“The repressive action by leadership of the senate would clearly project the legislative arm as autocratic, which to a large extent would negatively impact legislators’ independence, robust debate, genuine submissions, and image of the legislature before Nigerians and rest of the world.

“The Unjust suspension of a Senator who represents an entire Senatorial district is similar to public demonstration of unguarded culture of silencing,insensitivity, disrespect and marginalisation of the people.

“We strongly maintain that intimidating or silencing opinion of the dissents or oppositions is unhealthy in any civilised democracy and must not be tolerated as a culture in Nigeria. Despite the multiple number of opposition parties in the National Assembly, they appear to be conquered by power of the executive as well as the principal officers in the legislature.

“We therefore, calls on the Senate to as a matter of urgency shun silencing opposition views in the legislature; as the essence of the legislature is to allow for freedom of expression and contrary opinions as well as provide a democratic platform for constructive debates that enhance national interest.

“The greatest danger is that legislators can no longer be allowed to perform their duties including oversight and opposing views on the executive and principal officers in the senate which will tantamount democratic dictatorships.

“We call on all well-meaning Nigerians and the media to protect and reject any undemocratic action or decision by the National Assembly targeted at impeding public accountability and shrinking civic space.

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