The new Senate President, Bukola Saraki presided over the first Plenary session of the Senate today, but was characterized by accusations and counter-accusations between Saraki and Senator Ahmed Lawan groups. Lawan’s group is under the aegis of “Unity Forum” and is being led by Barnabas Gemade (APC Benue North East).
Senator Saraki was elected Senate President on Tuesday by 57 Senators at the time 51 other Senators loyal to Lawan were at the International Conference Centre, Abuja for an expected peace meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.
But at the plenary session today, members of the Gemade-led “Unity Forum” walked out of the chamber in protest, after their protests were ruled out of order by Saraki.
The group, whose members later spoke to newsmen, insisted that the election of Saraki was illegitimate.
Gemade particularly blamed Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, for participating in the process, accusing him of disobeying the instruction of President Buhari to delay the inauguration of the 8th Assembly to enable him meet the APC lawmakers-elect.
He said the refusal of the Clerk to differ to the President denied his group who attended the meeting, their right to nominate the candidate of their choice.
Gemade said the insinuations that senators absent during the election boycotted the inauguration was unfounded, stressing that they had, as loyal party members, gone to heed the call of the President.
“This process which remains unconstitutional cannot confer legitimacy on the elected Senate President.
“Our right to participate in the election of the Senate President is a constitutional right which cannot be taken by any persons of group.
”The Clerk of the National Assembly knowing full well that the quorum for election had not been met, went ahead to conduct the election that shut the door to 51 other senators. We like to make it very clear that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gives the letter for the Proclamation.
“The Clerk is the one that received the correspondence of Mr. President that there must be a slight delay in order to enable him speak with senators of the APC before they commence the process.
“In the House of Representatives, they were able to catch up because their own happened after the Senate,” he noted.
Gemade further noted that although a quorum was formed for the inauguration of the senate, quorum was not formed for electing principal officers, arguing that the two-third majority applied to impeachment should apply to election.
He said that every eligible senator must be present when nomination is made and closed and if all eligible senators were not present then a quorum had not been formed.
The day’s business with Saraki swearing in Lawan, and 27 others who were absent from Tuesday’s inauguration of the Eighth National Assembly.
As the Senators-elect were being sworn in, there was the tradition of shaking hands with the President.
Senator Oluremi Tinubu, wife of the APC National Leader, Bola Tinubu, one of those sworn in, however refused to shake hands with Saraki who had extended his hand to her just as he did to others.
Trouble started when, Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC-Zamfara), raised a point of order citing Orders 15 and 43 of the Senate Rules, stressing that his rights and privileges had been breached by their exclusion from the election and inauguration of the presiding officers of the Senate.
“Mr. President, I come under Orders 15 and 43 on matters of privileges. Yesterday, the 9th of June 2015 was for the inauguration of the Eighth National Assembly and at the same time, a meeting with the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who is the head of government and leader of APC.
“I and all the members of APC were summoned to the meeting by Mr. President through our party but while I and a lot of other members of this Senate on the platform of APC were attending the meeting, this Senate went ahead to commence the process of inauguration, thereby infringing on my right and privileges as enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria and thereby by disenfranchising me and my colleagues from participating in the election of the presiding officers of this Senate. Our privileges were, therefore, breached.
“More reasons for this Order Mr. President, is the news item that the Senate was inaugurated with 57 members and 51 senators-elect absent. The word ‘absent’ there portrayed me and many of my colleagues as irresponsible members of this hallowed chamber; to absent ourselves from an event that was well announced, well publicised that everybody was expected to attend with his spouse and well wishes.
“That singular Act also caused an unwarranted embarrassment to me and a lot of other members here, our families that felt embarrassed that we were absent from the inauguration of this National Assembly.
“Mr. President, on Order 43, I want to put on record that after being sworn in today, I was handed the Senate Standing Order of 2015 as amended. Mr. President, I want to say that as an active member of the Seventh National Assembly I cannot recall when the Senate Standing Orders were amended or put before this hallowed chambers for any amendment or corrections. I think this Act was perpetrated and there should be full investigation into what happened and where this document emanated from.”
He was however ruled out of order.
Senator Mohammed Danjuma Goje (APC-Gombe), on his part, raised a point on the constitutional provision 64 sub-section 3, stressing that the President is empowered to order for the proclamation of this Senate and what happened on Tuesday was in compliance with that constitutional provision.
“Not only that, the Clerk of the National Assembly received a letter written and signed by Mr. President himself to that effect.
“So for anybody to say that this hallowed chamber should ignore that constitutional provision, which was backed up by a letter from Mr. President, I think is not proper; it is wrong for any person to say that we should disobey the constitution of the country and disobey Mr. President. I want to say that whoever decided to go for a meeting elsewhere is on his own.”
Saraki welcomed his submission as correct, saying: “You came under the constitutional provision which is in line with what is in the constitution, so the Order is sustained.”
Shortly after the Senate had adjourned till June 23, 2015, another group of senators loyal to Saraki, known as the “Like Minds” led by Senator Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West), dispelled claims of the Unity Forum, saying President Buhari would not fix two meetings at the same time.
“The President in his constitutional duty sent a Proclamation letter to the National Assembly. In that Proclamation letter, he stated categorically that the proclamation of the 8th Senate will be done at 10a.m on the 9th of June, 2015.
“How can Mr. President that we know in one hand send a letter of Proclamation to the National Assembly and in the other hand call for a meeting at the International Conference Centre? If Mr. President wants to meet legislators, the Defence House is there, the Villa is there, the banquet Hall is there; why International Conference Centre?
“However, did Mr. President eventually attend to anybody at International Conference Centre? Capital No! ” Melaye said.
Melaye clarified that they were still loyal party members and had refused to attend the meeting as they were kept waiting for hours un-end for a supposed meeting with the Vice President on Monday.
“The Buhari that we know cannot and will not give two contrary opinions, especially one that is against the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The letter of Proclamation was written, duly signed, time stated, date stated, he will not do otherwise. It is not true that we disrespected the President and if the President wants to do that, he would have called. He had the powers to call the Clerk of the National Assembly to say, “please postpone to 12 p.m. I want to meet senators at 9a.m.”
“We in the Like Mind Group are ready to have one united Senate,” he said. [myad]