You were a commissioner and chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Delta State. Now you are in the legislature. How are you coping?
I have a mission. I have a focus when I was asking my people to vote for me to represent them. I believed that I have served the party, and the state in the executive arm. I was a member of the Unity Party of Nigeria in the 80s. I was the state youth leader then. I formed the UPN youth wing for the whole of Bendel State. I was the political secretary to Prof. Ambrose Ali, who was then the governor of Bendel State. I was the first state secretary of PDP in Delta State. I later became political adviser to former Governor James Ibori, later made commissioner for agriculture, then later commissioner for special duties in charge of Abuja affairs. I have been in the party and executive but this is my first time in the legislature. Basically, I have a vision for my people. I am able to cope because of my legal background having practised as a lawyer for 35 years. I read history in my first degree before I went to the University of Benin to read law in which I also hold a Masters. Legislature is a familiar terrain for me because for you to really follow any legal issue, you must understand the historical background by reading extensively to know what informed the making of certain laws, the people behind it and reasons for making it. You also need a legal knowledge to appreciate the essence of such law. I am also enjoying the politics that is playing out in the senate having being a politician almost all the years of my life. I have been in active politics for over 35 years now, so it’s a familiar terrain for me.
Did you expect the turbulence in the senate before you were elected as a senator?
Any politician who says he did not expect what happened on the 9th of June, is not worth his onions as a politician. In a situation where the two dominant parties have almost equal number of members in the chamber and you see a situation where more than one contestant is coming from a single party, you will expect some certain things to happen. First we were referred to as opposition party but I keep on saying that the All Progressives Congress mismanaged the whole issue of senate leadership by telling the opposition party its position on the issue. Did they want the PDP to follow their position? It’s just simple logic. Two people are contesting and you say, you are supporting one of the candidate. What do you expect the opposition to do? We are not a captured species. They call us opposition party, ordinarily what they should expect is that the opposition will call themselves aside and vote. But for some of us who believe in a little bit of integrity, and in order to ensure stability of this government, PDP would have taken the position of the Senate President and Deputy Senate President, on the 9th of June and nothing would have happened.
Please explain further?
We have 49 senators and the APC had about 20 members on the floor as of the time of proclamation of the 8th Senate. The quorum is one-third, the constitution of Nigeria is very clear on that, there is already a proclamation by the Federal Government of Nigeria as provided for in the constitution. The proclamation was also categorical by stressing that it must be carried out by 10:00am. The president did not withdraw the proclamation. Another issue would have been whether he has the power to withdraw after he had proclaimed? There is no provision for that in the constitution. If we, PDP senators, had decided to vote that day, in view of the provision that says, “……shall elect among them….”, once the quorum had been formed, the business of the day starts. 49 PDP senators and 20 APC senators were on seat, although about seven or eight of the APC senators later came in. The 49 senators would have voted and elected the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President and there is nothing anybody could have done about it because you will need two-third to remove them. All we would have done would have been to sit down among and share position in that senate among ourselves. We would sit any day and dare the APC senators to come and challenge us. They cannot do anything. By now, the APC will not be talking. They will not be making all the noise they are making. I know many of my friends that are saying we would have done that but some of us believed that it is not nice. They are in the majority, so let us allow them, that is why they are still talking that we took the deputy senate president when we would have taken the main one. We had the opportunity but we allowed them to have their way. Instead of them to be grateful and thanking us, they are still talking.
But what do you say of the allegation that the senate rules were forged to pave the way for the election of your party’s candidate as a presiding officer?
What do you mean by forgery? Where is the original document? You must have an original before you can forge a document. Someone should show us the original of the Senate Rules 2015 that was forged. If you start a bill in the 7th Senate and you cannot complete it, you have to start all over again in the 8th Senate. Everything in the 7th Senate is gone. We will start de novo. It is now, after inauguration that we can, by virtue of section 60, start to regulate our proceedings, new bills and the way we want to pass them. Somebody should come up with the original of the 2015 senate standing order that was forged. What was used in the 7th Senate was the 2011 Standing Order, which could no longer be used by the 8th Senate. If you say my certificate was forged that means I have the original. All what they are doing was just to make noise and use the press to garner public sympathy. Senator Kabir Marafa said there was no rule but I asked him why did you go to court to fault the same rule, which you claimed does not exist? By sitting in the senate everyday means that they accept that there is a rule guiding the activities of the Senate. The rule in contention did not say 2011 rule as amended otherwise that is when they could argue that the amendments were inserted without following the procedures.
But Senator Marafa has raised another alarm that another rulebook had been reproduced to correct an error pointed out by him on the sitting period. Did the correction follow the due process also?
What Marafa said was that we were sitting between 10:00am and 2:00pm whereas the rule says we should sit between 2:00pm and 6:00 pm, therefore all what we had done was null and void. First of all, that argument is baseless because the rules cannot super cede the provisions of the constitution. The constitution says, “we shall regulate. ..” Which means that if our rules say we will sit by 2:00pm and we decide to say we are now sitting by10:00am, are we not the one regulating it? The senate president said it was an error from the printer and all of us concurred. We adopted the votes and proceedings at the next legislative day making all decisions taken on the previous sitting day binding on everybody. If you say that we were sworn – in with a forged rule and you also allow yourselves to be sworn-in by the same forged rule, then that means you are not a senator. It then means that all those claiming that the senate rules were forged should see themselves as senators-elect and should be swept out of the chamber.
When PDP was in control, there was respect for party supremacy but now the PDP senators by their actions seemed to be supporting their APC colleagues in the chamber to go against the position of their party leadership on the issue of principal officers. What is your reaction to this?
Through out the 16 years of PDP administration in this country, it never presented two candidates for any election. It is still carelessness and lack of administrative acumen on the part of the APC that led them to their present situation. When Hon. Aminu Tambuwal was elected as against the interest of the PDP, we never made any noise. We kept quiet and planned around him. He was romancing with the APC but we have people around him, checking and keeping watch over his actions and activities. So he was cautious because he knew we were in the majority. He never defected until it was few days to his election because we were able to checkmate him. The same thing happened when Senator Evan Enwerem emerged as Senate President, as against the popular wish of our party, we didn’t start shouting to Nigerians, the Senators worked around and removed Enwerem. Making all the noise would only toughen us and the supporters of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, meaning that they wanted no senate president that would be in someone’s pocket.
But are all these wrangling not affecting the cash crunch the National Assembly is are experiencing now?
Cash crunch? No, ever. We are in first line charge. There is nobody that can strangulate the National Assembly rather, it is the National Assembly that can strangulate anybody. If you follow the constitution, real democracy you will know that the strongest arm of government in a democracy is the parliament. If you try it, we are also conscious of what our powers are. There is no arm of government that can intimidate the legislature.
But the senate president does not look comfortable at the moment. He does not look settled. Don’t you think these crises are having an effect on him?
Senator Bukola Saraki is a very strong-hearted man. Maybe you have not seen him. You have not watched him. The man knows that he had the support of the people. He demonstrated it. Marafa who was shouting in the newspapers that heaven will fall when we resume, that there would be impeachment but we came back from break and 81 senators passed a vote of confidence on him and his deputy. That is a demonstration of, “I’m in charge”. It is only the Senators that can remove him. The president cannot remove him from office, neither can the All Progressives Congress. It is the day 73 senators sign his impeachment that he will go and they are not likely to get it in this 8th Senate. How are you going to get it? Unless you are going to kill him and if you kill him, the PDP senators would takes over as senate president. If you decide to arrest him, we will not remove him as senate president either. Rather Ekweremadu will continue to act as senate president. So, where are the APC senators running? Even if you put Saraki in prison today, he is still our senate president until we impeach him.
What do you think that the party would have done to avoid these crises?
The right to contest election is a constitutional right. Once the APC had seen that two persons are interested in the seat of the Senate President, what the leaders should have done was to call both of them say, ‘My children, whoever wins will have my support. I have tried to settle it for you but you insist on running. Go and test your popularity on the floor of the senate, whoever wins would have my support. ‘ Although the party would have reservations but it had thrown it open for them to go and contest. But PDP also had the right to field a candidate because we are 49. We have options, we would have divided their votes and win by simple majority. Alliances are common in any party and you have to look at the antecedent of the opponents. I am from the Niger Delta and we have read in the Hansards, the position taken on national issues by those who are opposed to the Senate Presidency of Saraki, which were served. When the time comes, we shall see.
-Senator Peter Nwaboshi, representing Delta North Senatorial District recently spoke to journalists in Abuja trending issues in the Senate and the way the leadership crisis was resolved to the benefit of all the members, adding that even if they try feuding APC senators cannot remove Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu, from office. Emeka Ekpunobi was there for The UNION.