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Drama, rowdiness, verbal missiles, walkout as Senate confirms Amaechi as Minister

Senators of the Peoples Democratic Party on Thursday staged a walkout in protest of the procedure adopted by the upper legislative chamber in clearing a former governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi, for a ministerial position for which he was nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari.

However, their counterparts in the All Progressives Congress, Mr. Amaechi’s party, proceeded to confirm the governor and 17 other ministerial nominees, forwarded to the upper house for confirmation.

There are 59 APC senators and 49 PDP senators. The seat of the Borno Central Senatorial District is vacant following the death of its re-elected occupant, Ahmed Zanna, before his swearing in.

Those confirmed alongside the former governor of Rivers State are Adebayo Shittu, Kadjiat Abba Ibrahim, Heineken Lokpobiri, Claidius Omoyele Daramola, Baba Shehuri Mustapha, James Ocholi, Isaac Folorunsho Adewole, Bawa Bwari, Geoffrey Onyeama and Zainab Ahmed.

Others are Masur Mohammed Danladi, Usani Uguru,  Okechukwu Elemanah, Anthony Anwuka, Mohammed Musa Bello, Adamu Adamu and Aisha Abubakar.

The senate had three weeks ago screened and confirmed 18 ministerial nominees.

The lawmakers had earlier on Thursday dissolved into a closed-door session apparently to discuss the confirmation of Mr. Amaechi those of the other 17 nominees, after successfully screening and confirming the new Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, and five national commissioners of the electoral body.

The former governor and other 17 nominees were screened in the last two weeks during which they fielded questions from senators.

The senators then reverted to the Committee of the Whole to confirm the nominees.

Except for a brief interjection from the Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, the session went on smoothly for the 17 nominees as the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in his capacity as the chairman of the Committee, put the questions for their confirmation.

However, the session became rowdy when Mr. Saraki moved to put the question on whether Mr. Amaechi should be confirmed.

As a prelude to putting the question on Mr. Amaechi, the Senate President had asked the Senate Committee on Ethics and Public Petition to present its report on the petitions against the former governor.

Mr. Saraki subsequently asked the chairmen of the committee, Samuel Anyanwu by to read the report on the floor.

Mr. Anyanwu said the Committee had a number of constraints during its assignment, one of which was that the alleged indictment of Mr. Amaechi by a Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the Rivers State government of corruption was already in court.

He said for that reason the former governor declined to appear before the committee claiming that “whatever he says at the committee hearing will be seen as prejudicial to court judgment.”

He said Mr. Amaechi’s position was made known to it in a letter dated October 8.

He also there was another letter written on behalf of the former governor dated October 12 countering the contents of the White Paper on the findings of the Commission of Inquiry.

He added that there was another letter from the former governor’s lawyers seeking to discountenance the petition against him.

He also said there was a notice of summons from the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory which was submitted to the Committee on October 20, summoning the Senate President and the Senate to appear before it.

“The suit seeks to clarify the position of the law as to whether the Senate can screen, consider, accept, approve or confirm an indicted ministerial nominee,” he stressed.

Mr. Anyanwu, a PDP senator from Imo State, said the committee observed that neither the senate nor the presenter (of the petition) knew that the matter being presented on the floor of the Senate was a subject of litigation at the Court of Appeal.

He said since the matter was a subject of litigation in a court of competent jurisdiction and since the Senate could not go against its own rules as spelt out in Order 47, the committee was constrained from taking any further action on the matter.

The senator said since the committee discovered the matter before the Senate was already before a competent court of law, it recommended as follows:

-That since the ministerial nominee has gone to the Court of Appeal to challenge the contents of the petition on the White paper of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, the Senate is unable to recommend the consideration of his confirmation.”

-“That the Senate do consider the recommendations as proposed by the committee.”

Mr. Anyanwu said the report of the committee was signed by seven out of its 11 members “who were not around”.

Invoking Order 5 (b) (2) and Order 47 (7) of the senate Rules, the Senate Leader, Mohammed Ndume, argued that since the petition against Mr. Amaechi was based on a matter that is a subject of litigation in a court of law and since the Senate would not work contrary to its own rules, it was constrained in taking any further action on the petition.

Mr. Ndume appeared to have moved that the former governor be cleared without any consideration of the petition against him.

But rather than seconding Mr. Ndume’s motion (as is customary), Godswill Akpabio, Minority Leader, and a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, countered the senate leader even as some senators shouted him down.

He contended, “Whenever the Leader moved a motion, sometimes I am expected to second it. I wanted to amend his motion. We are also allowed to move a counter motion.

“Mr. President, because of the maturity of the Senate and the sanctity of this chamber, you recall that when the nominee appeared before us I stood up on behalf of my colleagues, the Caucus of the PDP, and I explained that we will only make comment after the report tabled before us was finally presented for discussion.

“The report has been presented. I just want us to ignore our sentiments and follow our rules. Whatever motion we have…I just want to move a motion that:  in line with the agreement that was made on the day of screening that the Senate do allow proper discussion of the report that has just been presented before us. I so moved.”

Neither Mr. Ndume’s motion nor that of Mr. Akpabio was seconded even as heated arguement ensued over the matter when Mr. Saraki attempted to intervene.

The former Akwa Ibom governor who said Mr. Ndume’s “job is to lead the Senate properly” argued that the senate leader was attempting to raise a motion to rule out debate on the matter.

The minority leader asked the senate leader to come under the Standing Order or move a motion but he was shouted down by APC senators who repeatedly asked him to “sit down.”

When Mr. Saraki intervened, Mr. Akpabio said, “I am a lawyer of over 27 years standing at the Bar and by God’s grace and your support the minority leader of the senate.

“Mr. Chairman, we had agreed here that whenever the report of the committee on the nominee is presented we will have the opportunity to discuss it.

“And the report has just been presented. The next thing is for us to discuss the report. What the leader is attempting to do is to shut out the debate on the report. It will mean that rule has not been applied by the senate. We must allow the other side to be heard. Leader, is that too much to ask?”

When the senate president called for contribution, George Sekibo (PDP-Rivers East Senatorial District), one of those vehemently opposed to Mr. Amaechi, said “We represent our people and the Nigerian people we represent are the majority. The majority is not APC; the majority is the Nigerian people.

“The true judges are the Nigerian people. Those who we are representing are the Nigerian people, so we must respect the Nigerian people. I am speaking so that Nigerian people will hear. So, my colleagues should be patient.

“Now Your Excellency, the report that was laid here was weighty of allegations, allegations on corruption, allegations on sales of public assets, mismanagement of funds and above all…..

“Mr. Senate President, by the leave of this senate, you are magnanimous enough and referred that report to the Senate Committee on Public Petitions. The committee has done its work and the committee has come with a report.

“There is no way any person here can amend a committee’s report; it is not a motion. There is no way a senator will pick from one of the findings and convert it to be a motion and ask it to be a recommendation.

“Now, with respect to my senate leader, who rose up and picked up a point contrary to the position of our rules and said that he had picked a finding and that that should be the recommendation of the report, the report has said that since the recommendations of the nominee to challenge the contents of the Commission and the White Paper of the Commission, the senate is unable to recommend the consideration of his confirmation. That is the recommendation of the committee.

Mr. Sekibo, who is the leader of the Rivers State Caucus in the National Assembly, said although he was not asking the senate to accept the report it should however consider the implication of confirming Mr. Amaechi as minister.

“And there is a moral burden on all of us here. Whatever we do today will be recaptured in future. If we encourage corruption when Mr. President is fighting against corruption then this chamber is encouraging corruption. Yes majority will have their own way but we will have our own say.

“Our take is that we are joining Buhari to fight against this corruption and we will join him to fight against corruption. But I pray that the followership, including all of you, will join him to fight against this corruption.”

In his contribution, Jide Omoworare, (APC Osun East), argued that the recommendations of any committee could be amended at any level, including the Committee of the Whole.

He further contended that the senate leader’s submission was predicated on Orders 53 (5) and 41 (7) because the matter was still pending in court.

Mr. Omoworare said treating the petition against Mr. Amaechi as a matter pending in court was in consonance with provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

He said the public petition committee should been guided by this provision and others in its assignment because the document was amended by the sixth senate.

“In view of the fact that what is being relied upon is even no longer part of our constitution…..I hereby second the motion as moved by the leader,” the senator said.

Mr. Saraki asked the senator to take seriously the points raised by Mr. Omoworare and that the report of the committee was silent on them.

At this juncture, the committee chairman invoked Order 43 to enable him make personal explanations.

He said looking at the report, the committee took overview of the findings and recommendation of the committee but that Mr. Ndume took a stand based on just one observation made by the panel.

He explained that since the senate could not go against its own rule, the committee could not recommend that Mr. Amaechi be screened for confirmation.

He said the issue raised by Mr. Omoworare was inconsequential.

Amid the rowdiness, some of the senators demanded that the senate president should put the question on whether Mr. Amaechi should be confirmed but Mr. Akpabio repeatedly shouted “no need for any question”.

In her contribution, Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South) said, “From all indications, we are being shut out. And the only reason I am standing up to speak is that there is a moral burden on not only this senate but on the government of President Buhari that is riding on the crest of corruption, no corruption, minimum corruption, we don’t want corruption.

“And there is a weighty allegation against somebody. There is a need to ensure that the court of law absolves him before we can confirm him in this senate. I am insisting that the court of law must clear him before we confirm him in this senate.

“The majority will always have its way but the truth is that Nigerians will know that this government is not about to fight any corruption and it is only willing to condone it all the way.”

Also speaking, Joshua Lidani (PDP, Gombe), said the report of the committee was in accordance with the senate rules and the rules were in consonance with section 60 of the constitution.

“The nomination of the ministerial nominee should not be considered by the senate because the matter is before a competent court of law.”

Attempts at that juncture by Mr. Akapbio to give a “point of information” were ignored by the senate president who recognised Barnabas Gemade (APC, Benue) to speak.

However, as Mr. Gemade made attempt to speak, the PDP senators led by Mr. Akpabio, rose from their seats and walked out of the chamber in protest.

When he resumed speaking, the senator, said, “I rose to simply say that we have played enough politics with this matter and we came to a point where it became necessary for the chairman to put the question on this matter.

“And I am quite happy that my position has been pre-empted as the opposition have had their say. And it came to a point where they believe that they have their say and the winners their way. Because in democracy it is an issue of the majority carries the vote.

“In this case of this candidate, it is an issue of for and against. And so much has been said and everything that needs to be said has been said. Therefore the chairman should put the question on the approval of this candidate after which we will vote.”

Mr. Saraki then put the question on whether the report of the public petitions committee should be adopted but the APC senators who were the only ones remaining in the chamber voted for its rejection.

Secondly, he also put the question on whether Mr. Amaechi should be approved as minister and the senators unanimously voted in a voice vote.

They also voted in that pattern when the senate reverted to plenary during which the senate president reported progress.

Even the motion to revert to plenary that should ordinarily be seconded by the minority leader was not seconded but was carried.

Commenting on the development, the Special Assistant to the President on the National Assembly Matter (Senate), Ita Enang, said the PDP senators merely exercised their democratic rights by walking out.

“The rule of the senate is what the senate does and the most important thing is that the senate was in session and they have acted democratically,” Mr. Enang, a former senator, told journalists after the heated session.

“The most important thing is that President Muhammadu Buhari sent 36 names and the 36 have sailed through because of the dexterity of the senate president and the dexterity of all the senators, the APC and PDP.

“The rule of the senate is what the senate made and in a situation where you still have the quorum, the senate is still in session and the mace is there, any decision taken is binding. And I thank all the senators from all the divides.”

“It is an allowed permissible democratic practice. It is within their right to take that decision and to act in the manner they have acted. You cannot question them because it is the manner they believe they can best expressed their political opinion. By sitting down or walking out all are allowed in democratic practice.

On whether the decision made by the APC senators will still be valid, Mr. Enang said, “The senate president presided, the mace is there, the quorum was there and the senate was in session. The issues were put to question and everything the senate did is valid.”

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