Teddy Nwanunobi & Dyepkazah Shibayan, Abuja
Frustration, yesterday, took the better part of All Progressives Congress (APC) House of Representatives members, loyal to Femi Gbajabiamila, who was defeated in the race for the speakership of the House,and who was also nominated by the party’s chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, for imposition as House leader, as they went for each other’s jugular in the bid to force the hands of Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
Trouble started when Hon. Balarabe Salame raised a point of order protesting Speaker Dogara’s decision to ignore a letter from the APC, mandating the House to select certain members as principal officers. As the House members fought out their disagreement, Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, also ignored a similar letter signed by Oyegun, heightening the demystification of the party’s hold on its members.
Before the scuffle occurred, Chairman Rules and Business, Hon. Okey-Jeff Emmanuel, had called for the House to go into an executive session to address sensitive issues before the House. But that was not regarded as it further led to a scuffle between some of the protesting members and the Sergeant at Arms, who battled for the mace. With the Mace out of place and seized by the protesting members, seen to be loyalists to Femi Gbajabiamila, the House was not in order as members of opposite factions began threatening each other.
Deputy Speaker, Hon. Sulieman Yusuf Lasun was heard to have said, “I’m a Yoruba man. I must fight”. Ranking members such as Gbajabiamila, Hon. Leo Ogor and others made attempts to call the House to Order to no avail. The scuffle lasted over one hour. When tempers calmed and the Mace was returned to place, Speaker Dogara addressed his colleagues saying: “We have been down this tedious road before; so I plead of us honourable members, as leaders, all hands must be on the deck to enable us achieve the desired unity that we need in other to move this house forward.
That is the responsibility we owe. “As to the issues that led to the fracas today, we will sit down as leaders and resolve whatever fight we have to ensure that this matter is resolved `as quickly as possible. That is what we will do by the Grace of God. “To be candid, we have promised so much in the course of our elections and even the very party I belong to, the APC, we have promised change and Nigerians expect us to really talk about those matters; those issues that bother them most. They want to hear us talk about unemployment, poverty; in my region they want us to address insecurity and as long as this House is divided and not united we cannot achieve that”.
The Speaker further approved the votes and proceedings of the previous day and adjourned the House to July 21. Meanwhile, In the senate, the President, Bukola Saraki, for the second time in 48 hours, ignored leadership of his party in the conduct of affairs of the upper chamber. Saraki, who shoved aside Oyegun’s letter on who should become what in the senate, commenced plenary by reading out nominations and endorsements of the APC North-East, North-West and South-South caucuses as contained in their letters to him.
Following the letters, Senator Ali Ndume from North-East was named the Senate Majority Leader; Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah from North-West was named the Deputy Leader, while Senator Francis Alimikhena from South-South was named the Deputy Whip. The position of the Chief Whip was, however, left unoccupied as members of the South-West caucus, which should produce a representative, abstained.
The South-West caucus claimed that the Party’s decision, as contained in its letter to the Senate President, was sufficient. This was sequel to two points of order that were raised by Senator Kabiru Marafa from Zamfara Central. The first point was Order 28(1), while the second one was on Section 65(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). “There should be a majority leader of the Senate, who should be a senator nominated from the party with the highest number of senators. This point of order was raised yesterday, and another colleague raised another point of order distinguishing between the word, from and by. “That is why I am joining it with order 65(1) of the Constitution.
It says subject to the provisions of Section 66 of the Constitution, a person shall be qualified for election as a member of the Senate, if he or she is a member of a political party and sponsored by the political party. “There is a communication from the APC, which is the party with the majority representatives in the Senate. However, for reasons best known to you, Mr. President, you declined to read it yesterday on the floor of the Senate when your attention was drawn to the communication from the Party. The Constitution provision just cited clearly put the party ahead of any other caucus from anywhere.
“Therefore, if the communication from the party can so be regarded, I suggest that you, Mr. President cannot read any communication from any caucus because there is no caucus that is bigger than the political party”, Marafa argued. But Senator Danjuma Goje from Gombe Central countered Marafa. “Senator Marafa raised the same order yesterday, and the Senate President ruled that the issue had been discussed and should not be opened again.
I don’t know why the issue is being reopened. “This is contrary to the Rules of the Senate. We are the highest law-making institution in the country. If we cannot observe our rules, we don’t have rights to be making laws for the country. Therefore, I will like Mr. President to stand by the ruling of yesterday that the issue had been settled. “Secondly, the issue of leadership within the chamber is our own responsibility as senators. We have been sponsored by political parties to come to the Senate. Nobody or law says the Chairman of the party should appoint the Senate President.
“The law clearly states that we, the senators, should appoint our own leaders within the chambers. This is the first time this type of things will be happening in the Senate since the return of democracy in 1999. Caucuses have been nominating their leaders, and I have been participating,” he submitted. In his ruling, Saraki said: “Let me refer to Order 53(6), which states that it will be out of order to attempt to reconsider any specific question upon which the Senate has come to a conclusion. This matter had already been raised and ruled upon. Also, Order 25(3, 8) which talks about interpretation of rules.
On these two issues, I will have to rule Senator Marafa out of order”. Thereafter, after the Senate had considered two motions, Ndume announced the adjournment of the Senate to July 21. The UNION reports that the APC Senate caucus had met on Wednesday evening, where the zonal caucuses had nominated and endorsed their chosen candidates for the remaining key leadership positions of the Senate. The UNION further reports that Senator Olusola Adeyeye from Osun Central was unanimously endorsed by the South-West caucus of the APC as the Chief Whip of the Senate.
APC Caucus Reaction:
In reaction to the rowdiness that took place on the floor of the House, Hon. Nasiru Sani Zangon Daura addressing journalists and speaking on behalf of the APC caucus described what occurred on the floor of the House as a total disregard of the wishes of the majority members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Caucus by the Speaker.
He said that they were aware that a letter dated 23rd June, 2015 was sent to the House conveying the approval of the Party’s Principal Officers vis a vis “the APC House Leader, the APC Chief Whip, the APC Deputy House Leader and the APC Deputy Chief Whip for the House of Representatives”. Daura told journalists that the Party and the APC House Caucus is in compliance with the Nigerian Constitution, the House Rules and Parliamentary tradition, practices and precedents in Nigeria and all over the World.
“But to our surprise and in breach of our privilege and rights as contained in the Constitution and extant House Rules, Mr. Speaker refused to read the letter from our party. “The Speaker and Deputy Speaker are not Party Principal Officers but are House of Representatives Presiding Officers and by precedent and practice are expected to provide a level playing ground for all members, while the Party Principal Officers are supposed to be the main advocates for their individual party positions. “Therefore, Speaker Yakubu Dogara of the House of Representatives cannot under extant Laws and House Rules Appoint, Choose, Select, Dictate or even provide guidance on how Party Principal Officers emerge or are elected or selected. “That responsibility and authority lies with each Party and Party’s Caucus members in the House, “he said.
PDP Caucus Reaction:
Also in reaction to the rowdiness in the floor of the House yesterday Leo Ogor addressing journalists and speaking on behalf of the Peoples Democratic Party Caucus said that the behaviour of the APC was embarrassing to the image of the country. “They decided to take laws into their hands, turned the house upside down and went as far as even carrying the mace which is the symbol of authority.