Nigeria: Senate’s Secret Deal to Keep Saraki As Senate President and Two Troubles in a Row


On Tuesday, October 9, 2018, senators resumed from their annual recess after spending 75 days out of the hallowed chamber.

Senate President Bukola Saraki had, on July 24, in line with the Senate legislative calendar, adjourned for its annual holiday to resume on Tuesday, September 25 after an attempt to remove him and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

Saraki, after allegedly being blocked by security agents from leaving his home and Ekweremadu under siege by the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to pave the way for their ouster at plenary, had stormed the National Assembly and presided over plenary where 17 senators dumped the All Progressives Congress, APC, for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and immediately adjourned for recess.

Some lawmakers, especially those of the APC, then went to work behind the scenes to remove the Senate President, describing the adjournment as abrupt.

The senators, who defected that day, include Dino Melaye ( Kogi West); former National Chairman of PDP, Barnabas Gemade (Benue North East); Abdullahi Danbaba (Sokoto South); Mohammed Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara North); Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara South) and Suleiman Hunkuyi (Kaduna North).

Others are Senators Hamman Isa Misau (Bauchi Central), Monsurat Sunmonu (Oyo Central), Usman Bayero Nafada (Gombe North), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Kano Central; Monsurat Sunmonu, Oyo Central; Soji Akanbi, Oyo South and Usman Nafada, Gombe North.

Also on the list are Senators Suleiman Nazif, Bauchi North; Olanrewaju Tejuosho, Ogun Central and Abdulaziz Nyako, Adamawa Central.

Akanbi later said he remained a member of the APC.

Saraki, on July 31, followed his colleagues who had dumped the APC by defecting to the PDP.

The senators used the opportunity of the recess to seek the tickets of their respective parties to return to the Red Chamber.

Aftermath of defection

It was also a testy period for the leadership of the Senate as the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, mobilized to remove Saraki on the grounds that, having defected from the APC, he had lost the right to preside over the party in the majority in parliament.

Indeed there was an alleged attempt to remove the Senate leadership after hooded DSS men invaded the National Assembly ostensibly to give cover to APC senators to illegally reconvene and remove the leadership.

APC moves to decimate Saraki in Kwara

The N143bn 2019 elections budget sent to the National Assembly only days before the lawmakers went on recess also became a contentious issue.

APC lawmakers wanted the Senate to reconvene and approve the budget so as not to impede the work of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the polls.

In the end, only the committees of the Senate relevant to the budget approval were recalled while others reconvened on October 9.

After the tensed atmosphere occasioned by the assumption that the lawmakers would break each other’s heads after reconvening on October 9, there was calm as the senators reached a deal, in a secret session, to preserve the unity and configuration of the Senate leadership, thereby ending the clamour for the call for the removal of Saraki as Senate President.

Ceasefire

The senators agreed to immediate ceasefire and to work in unison for the overall interest of the country.

The Senate had gone into a closed session where members had frank discussions about the future of the Eighth Senate as it goes into its last stage.

Later in plenary, Senate Leader Ahmad Lawan did not only carry out his function, he also led other APC senators to have handshake with Saraki, Ekweremadu and other principal officers of the Senate across party lines.

Even APC senators like Ovie Omo – Agege (Delta Central), known to have vowed to spearhead the impeachment of Saraki on resumption, attended the plenary without raising any Point of Order or making any move to that effect.

It was also gathered that most of the APC senators, who may not come back to the 9th Senate, decided to sheathe their sword and allow Saraki round off as Senate President, especially against the backdrop that their party was not there for them during the primaries where their governors took charge.

Truce threatened

The first litmus test for the truce, however, held penultimate Tuesday when, for more than 20 minutes, the Senate plenary was held amid a row over the $3.5 billion subsidy recovery fund paid by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), as senators traded words and apologies.

The issue had been raised by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi, who noted that since the beginning of the present democratic dispensation in 1999, there had always been a budget for fuel subsidy, saying, however, that this had been jettisoned by the Buhari administration.

Olujimi, who came through a Point of Order, said, “My Point of Order focuses on $3.5 billion earmarked as subsidy recovery fund by the NNPC. Since 1999 there has always been a budget for fuel subsidy but this has been jettisoned by the current government, which leaves this administration in dire straits.

“What is happening now is that there is a fund named as subsidy recovery fund being managed by only two individuals of the NNPC, that is, the Group Managing Director and the Executive Director, Finance. This fund is too huge for two people to manage; it is too huge to manage without appropriation or recourse to any known law of the land.

“Mr. President, during your remarks after the passage of the 2018 budget, you mentioned that there should be a budget for subsidy that should be brought before the National Assembly. That has not been done. It is, therefore, obvious that the $3.5 billion is slush fund which will just be managed by two individuals, and that is not correct.

“The Senate should, therefore, compel the NNPC to come and explain before the Senate Committee on Petroleum Downstream why it should be so, and what has happened to the fund that has been used so far, and the new terminology now being used under recovery rather than subsidy.”

Reacting, Saraki said, “If you remember when we passed the budget, I said it here that there was need for the Executive to bring before us fuel subsidy item because that has been the practice. This money is too huge not to be appropriated.”

The Senate President raised an ad-hoc Committee to look into the matter of fuel subsidy with Lawan as Chairman.

Meanwhile, trouble started when it was the turn of a former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, to speak and he claimed that the Senate Committee on Petroleum, Downstream, led by Senator Kabiru Marafa, APC, Zamfara Central, may have been compromised in the course of its investigation of fuel subsidy by the NNPC.

The accusation did not go down well with Marafa as he stood up to say those calling for the ad-hoc committee and possible scrapping of his committee as those looking for money to campaign for the forthcoming elections.

Marafa came under Order 53 (7:8) which has to do with the use of insulting language by a senator against another.

At the end of the day, Marafa withdrew that section where he said that some senators were looking for money for their elections, but added that what is good for the goose should also be good for the gander.

Ndume, who was also asked to apologise for the language used, said, “I have respect for every senator here. The suggestion was a very honest one. The offence should go to my senior, Senator Bukar Abba. I reported. When I was speaking, Senator Bukar Abba said the committee might have been compromised and I reported the same. I apologise.”

In his remarks, the Senate Leader, Lawan, said, “I am using my privilege to decline to serve on that committee. I hold my integrity very dearly. I have worked for it over the years. I don’t want it damaged. Therefore I decline. Let me also advise us that this Senate is a representative of Nigeria. We are here for all Nigerians. What we do and how we conduct ourselves is a big deal. I would advise that no matter how sternly and deeply we feel about issues, we should conduct ourselves with the respect we are known for.

Speaking at the end of the verbal exchange, Saraki told Lawan, “You cannot excuse yourself form the role of leadership. Why I directed or decided you should be there is because the matter is a matter that is very weighty and it is better to do that under the Leader of the Senate. I don’t want something partisan. We cannot be running on something of 3.8 billion dollars, but it needs to be guided at your level of leadership to know the facts and not to speculate. Then the committee under your guidance would do their work. Once we are divided like this, the agencies will continue to do as they wish.”

The Akpabio seat

The truce was also threatened the next day, Wednesday, when plenary, for more than 30 minutes, was held amid a row over sitting arrangement. Saraki had prevented the immediate past Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, APC, Akwa Ibom North West, from using an unrecognized microphone to speak.

Trouble started when Akpabio called for recognition to speak, but the Senate President refused on the grounds that he was using another senator’s microphone.

Akpabio had stood to speak shortly after the Chairman, Senate Committee on Gas, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, PDP, Akwa Ibom North East, had raised the alarm over alleged plans by the APC in the state to cause mayhem and to ensure that the 2019 general elections do not hold in the state.

Apparently angered by Akpan’s submissions, Akpabio immediately wanted to react but stopped by Saraki for allegedly sitting in a wrong place without a microphone.

Saraki said Akpabio wanted to use the microphone of Ndume, just as he said that since Akpabio was sitting where there no microphone, there was no way he would be allowed to raise any issue there.

The Senate President’s action led to near commotion.

Akpabio had resigned as Minority Leader in August having dumped the PDP for the APC.

Lawan stood up from his seat to kick against the action.

The hallowed chamber became very rowdy as moves by Ekweremadu to restore sanity through a Point of Order proved abortive as Lawan, Marafa and Ndume interrupted him by shouting that Akpabio should be allowed to speak.

Other senators joined the commotion.

The Senate President intervened by explaining that Akpabio was prevented from speaking as a result of wanting to do so from a seat without microphone and not allocated to him by the Clerk of the Senate, Nelson Ayewoh.

When he was finally allowed to speak, Akpabio, who had earlier demanded for a written apology from the Senate for being so treated, however, apologised to his colleagues for the pandemonium and told them that, for peace to reign, he will defer his reaction to another day.

After the plenary, Akpabio, who dismissed Akpan’s allegation as empty, told journalists that Akpan was crying wolf where there was none as victims of violence in Akwa Ibom were APC members and not PDP.

The immediate past Senate Minority Leader called for the immediate resignation of Saraki and Ekweremadu as Senate presiding officers.

He explained that the leadership of the Senate must be restructured in a way that the majority can have their way and the minority have their say, just as he stressed that this is the practice in modern democracies.

Akpabio said that when he dumped the PDP for the APC, he resigned from his office as Minority Leader, adding that Saraki, who also left the APC for the PDP, should follow suit by resigning from his position as well as others who left their parties for new ones.

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Publish date : 2018-10-29 05:30:44

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