Like A Pack Of Badly Arranged Cards, The Bid By The Ruling APC To Keep Key Senate Positions Has Failed Even As Its Governors Also Failed To Broker Peace

Tony Ailemen & Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja

The attempt by All Progressives Congress (APC) to bully its senators into accepting, and implementing a letter from its National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, on the party’s choices for the remaining key leadership positions in the Senate, was met with stiff opposition and outright rejection by senators yesterday.

This is coming on the heels of another failed effort by governors of the party, who had met in Abuja Tuesday night, to broker peace in the crisis rocking the party over leadership of the National Assembly. Led by members of the Senate Unity Forum (SUF), the attempt was spearheaded on the floor of the Red Chamber by Senator Gbenga Ashafa, whose motion sought to compel the Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, to recognise and read Oyegun’s letter at plenary.

The UNION reports that the letter had allotted the position of the Senate Majority Leader to Senator Ahmed Lawal, Deputy Majority Leader to Senator George Akume, Chief Whip to Senator Olusola Adeyeye, and the Deputy Whip to Senator Abu Ibrahim. Citing Rule 28(1) of the Senate Standing Order, Gbenga, who argued that Oyegun’s letter was proper, added that the principal officers should be nominated by the party in the majority.

“Yesterday, most of the media houses carried a letter that was written by the Chairman of our great party, the APC, and we were expecting that that letter which has been received in your office will be read in order to see to the resolution of the party leadership tussle.

“I believe that that letter should have been read (in) the hearing of all senators here present. Perhaps that will be the solution to the leadership tussle in the Senate,” he said. Ashafa’s argument prompted Senator Bala Ibn Na’alla to make contrary submissions on the matter. Na’alla urged the senate to ignore Ashafa’s position.

Na’alla, who stated that the rule of the Senate makes no provision for its principal officers to be nominated by a political party, explained that “what is allowed by the Senate Rule is for the principal officers to emerge from the party that has majority in the Senate, not that the party should nominate leaders for the senate. “By the ordinary principles of interpretation of documents that have been agreed by parties, the ordinary letters and words used must be given their effective meaning. Order 28 used ‘from’, not ‘by’.

“What this seeks to do is to deter the minority party from nominating the majority leader, to confer it on the All Progressives Congress which incidentally happens to have the highest number in the 8th Senate. “With due respect, the Point of Order raised by my bosom friend and brother, Ashafa, does not hold. The Standing Rule went further to explain the reason the Senate President shall not proceed to read that letter that was allegedly sent to this chamber by the APC. I submit that the Senate President cannot read the letter because this matter cannot stand”, he argued. In his ruling, Saraki declared: “I have listened to Senators Ashafa and Na’alla. Going by the rules and what has been said earlier, I think I will just note what Senator Ashafa has said, and we will leave the matter as that. And in that case, I hereby rule that out of order.”

Meanwhile, effort by the APC governors to broker peace in crises rocking the party over leadership of the National Assembly, also failed as governors failed to present a common position on the issue. The Governors who had met with President Muhammadu Buhari with the view to charting a common position for dealing with the issue, failed to achieve their desired results, as they went home disappointed. Chairman of the APC Governors Forum, Rochas Okorocha, who decried what he described as “pockets of disagreements” between leadership of the National Assembly and the party, said they had met with the President with a view to calling the APC members in the National Assembly to order, but failed.

The Union gathered from the meeting that the governors could not achieve tangible results because the President preferred to maintain his non- interference posture. This is just as it was also discovered that while some of the governors preferred that NASS leadership defers to the party on the issue, others believed that the party should allow NASS enjoy its independence. Okorocha, who briefed state House Correspondents after the meeting, said they were at the Presidential Villa to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari “because we are not happy with what is happening within our Senators in the National Assembly.

“We thought we should rub minds with Mr. President and to commend him on the steps taken so far to address the issue of the economy of the nation which is totally in shambles. “Despite this progress, we are worried by pockets of disagreements at the national assembly and we resolved that we came from a party and our party views should be respected and we feel there is need to invite our senators more into the matter and see what we can do.

“But we believe we came from a party and everyone should respect the party. And for that we have decided we are going to rub minds”, he said. He was however interrupted by other governors who stated that “what we are saying is that there shouldn’t be a winner takes it all.

We should carry everyone along and accommodate others as suggested by the party”. Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, who took over from him said, “Basically what we are saying is that Senators should adopt the position of the party because we all got elected on the platform of the party. “We are not just a collection of individuals, we are a political party. And when the party has spoken, you must listen; otherwise, if it was a game of individual like golf, then individuals can go their way. “I think it is very clear at this point that the party has a responsibility to keep the system going.

So we are progressive governors, we’ve listened to the president, we’ve discussed extensively and we are clear that the party must be supported by the senators. “This is the way it should be and we should start on working closely. We as governors listen to the party and we expect our senators to do same,” he said.

However, the Senate ignored the governors and carried on with the business of the day wherein it ratified the amendment made to its standing rule, after initial disagreements amongst members. Senator Kabiru Marafa had drawn attention of senators to what he called “serious breach of the Senate Rule through illegal amendment of the Rule”. According to him, the 8th Senate had been operating an amended version of the 2011 rule called ‘Rule 2015’ without a valid amendment process as dictated by the Rules. Marafa said that there was never a time the 7th Senate amended the rule to include secret balloting as contained on the 2015 version.

“Mr President, like I said, the events as we witnessed on the 9th of June, especially as it regards the election of the Deputy Senate President were null and void because they were not in consonance with the provisions of the Standing Orders of this Senate. And if you say we are going to use the Senate Standing Orders of 2015, then we need explanation as to who and who changed our Senate Rules without recourse to Order 110”, Marafa said.

In a swift response, however, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, explained how the 2015 rule came into being. “I would like to offer explanation to my friend, Senator Marafa. He is just four years old in this Senate. Some of us have been here for 12 years. From 1999 till date, this Senate has come up with its own rules.

There was Senate rule of 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and now 2015. “The reason is quite simple. If you look at Section 64 of the 1999 Constitution it says that the Senate and House of Representatives shall each stand dissolved at the expiration of a period of four years commencing from the date of the first sitting of the house.

So, the implication is that the rule he was referring to ended with the Senate on the 6th of June. “That is why we had Senate Rule Book of 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and now 2015. If he’s seeking to amend any Senate rule, he can only amend the existing one which is the one for 2015. So, between now and 2019, this particular rule will govern us and can be amended in the manner he’s suggested.

“In 2019, we are going to have another Senate Rule of 2019. That has been the process and procedure since 1999. And it is based on the provisions of the Constitution,” Ekweremadu explained. In his ruling on the matter, Saraki said: “Distinguished Senator Marafa raised a Point of Order. And I think there are two issues he raised in his point.

One, there’s only one rule book before us. That is Senate Standing Order 2015 (as amended). The second issue you raised about 9th of June where by virtue of our actions, I will refer you again to Order 53 (6) which says that it shall be out of order to attempt to reconsider any specific question of which the Senate has come to a conclusion during the current session. And bringing that matter again goes in contrary to Rule 53 (6). On this note, I will have to unfortunately rule you out of order on that matter.”

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