Showdown In Senate: Mark refuses to read 11 defectors’ letter

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*Saraki, Goje back down, respect court’s order
*We are now APC members, defectors proclaim
*APC’s Uzamere defects to PDP

By Emmanuel Aziken, Emman Ovuakporie, JOHNBOSCO AGBAKWURU, JOSEPH ERUNKE & Levinus Nwabughiogu

ABUJA—The 11 senators who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC, yesterday stepped back from physically crossing the carpet in the face of a stand-off with Senate President David Mark.

However, the tide of movement in the House of Representatives went against the APC when five members of the party decamped to the PDP while one PDP member defected to the APC.

The sudden reversal of fortunes in the House saw the APC accusing the PDP of using public funds to lure back former PDP legislators who had defected to the APC, condemning what it called political horse trading carried too far.
The APC alleged that $2 million as the price tag for a senator, $1 million for a member of the House of Representatives and an unprecedented $5 million for members of the Rivers State House of Assembly.

The Senate President as exclusively reported by Vanguard yesterday, refused to read out their letter of defection citing the ongoing court case instituted by the senators to stop him from declaring their seats  vacant.
The stand-off on the Senate floor, which saw APC senators visibly agitated and murmuring, also stopped Senator Ehigie Uzamere from declaring his defection from the APC to the PDP.

Senator Uzamere who left the PDP for the APC in 2011 on the claim that the PDP senatorial ticket in Edo State was “valueless as a Zimbabwean dollar”, has written his constituents, saying that internal reorganization of the Edo State chapter of the PDP has lifted the value and virtues of  the party.

The drama in the Senate started when the arrowhead of the 11 senators, Senator Bukola Saraki, (Kwara Central) upon Order 14 of the Senate Standing Rule, asked the Senate President to read the letter he and 10 other senators submitted on January 20, notifying the Senate that they had left the PDP for the APC.

I can’t read your letter, Mark tells defectors
Senator Mark in rebuffing him, affirmed that since the affected Senators had approached the court on the matter, comment on the issue was subjudice.

Mark referred him to Order 53(5) which reads: “Reference shall not be made to any matter on which a judicial decision is pending, in such a way as might in the opinion of the President of the Senate prejudice the interest of the parties thereto.”

He further told Saraki: “It cannot be a matter of privilege to you because the matter is in court and no mention should be made of it. Therefore, I rule you out of order.”

Besides Saraki, senators Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West), Aisha Alhassan (Taraba North); Magnus Abe (Rivers South East) and Wilson Ake (Rivers West) also spoke in the same vein.

However, that did not go down well with the defectors and the leadership of the opposition party in the Senate, who made efforts to quote relevant provisions of the Nigerian Constitution that guaranteed their freedom of association, but their persuasions did not move the Senate President as he ruled each of them out of order.

Even when senators Akume and Anthony Adeniyi tried to convince the Senate President that the case in court was an injunction stopping the Senate from declaring seats of the affected senators vacant and not stopping them from defecting to the APC, Mark could not be moved.

Akume raised Order 15  which reads: “Any senator may rise at any time to speak upon a matter of privilege suddenly arising, and he shall be prepared to move, without notice, a motion declaring that a contempt or breach of privilege has been committed, or referring the matter to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, but if the matter is raised in Committee of the Whole Senate, the Chairman shall leave the Chair and report progress.”

After citing this Order, Akume went further to say, “this is a legislative house and privileges are guaranteed by law. This is an issue that has dragged on for so long. We cannot stop people from associating. By the power conferred on me as the Minority Leader, I have the right to speak on behalf of my people. Therefore, I move that the Senate President should read the letter now. I so move.”

But Mark again replied Akume saying, “tell me your privilege that is being breached and I will rule on it. I do not want to shut you out, but there shall be no further reference made on it”.

He then ruled him (Akume) out of order, declaring that by the power conferred on him by Order 14 which Akume referred to, he was not satisfied by his explanation.

We are now members of APC — Defectors

Still standing on the Point of Order, the 11 senators, who spoke one after the other, announced that they had become registered members of the APC which they claimed their constituents had approved and that it would be better to join their colleagues in their new party, but with the insistence of the presiding officer not to read their letters, they could not cross over to the ‘Minority Party’ seats.

It was gathered that the defected senators had earlier boasted that having registered in APC, they were not going to sit with the PDP senators on resumption, yesterday, but they failed to put into practice their threat because of the alleged plan by the Senate President to declare their seats vacant.

Vanguard reliably gathered that Senator Mark was infuriated by the threat and was prepared to order the Sergeant-at-Arms to walk them out of the Senate chamber if they should change the seat arrangement without following the laid down procedure of doing that.

Uzamere’s defection to PDP

Because of Senate President’s disposition to the defection of the 11 PDP senators to APC, he could not attend to Senator Ehigie Uzamere, APC, Edo South, who had raised a point of order to announce his defection to the ruling PDP.

Mark, sensing that allowing Uzamere to declare for the PDP would cause uproar from the aggrieved APC senators who were not happy that the senate had failed to allow the 11 PDP members to join the APC fold, stopped Uzamere from publicly renouncing the APC on the Senate floor.

An indication that there was going to be a turbulent session emerged when the APC senators alongside the 11 PDP senators distanced themselves from the Senate President’s procession when Senator Mark entered the chamber that morning.

Senator Uzamere in a letter to constituents giving reasons for his return to the PDP said: “From what we can all see, the PDP, Edo State Chapter, has been re-engineered and repositioned to deliver on good governance. With a politically contrite heart and broken spirit arising from its former outing in the State, the party is equipped mentally, morally and politically for good governance.

“Secondly, Mr President’s transformation agenda has impacted significantly on the party’s readiness and credentials. I believe very conscientiously that the reformation is genuine and that the party deserves a second chance. Even Almighty God will not despise a broken spirit and a contrite heart.

“The minority leader who followed a different path went to the opposition side and took his seat and was welcomed with backslapping, while the defected senators remained on their seats without looking at the direction of the Senate President and other principal officers.”

Speaking after the plenary and closed door session which ended in a deadlock, Senator Magnus Abe, Rivers South East, said that only a political solution could solve the problem even as he stated that the affected defectors had announced that they were no longer members of the PDP.

Senator Abe said he still had trust in the leadership of the Senate President who he described as an astute politician and a democrat.

Also commenting, Senator Aisha Al-Hassan, Taraba North, said she was no longer in PDP and had registered as a bona fide member of APC.

She said: “I moved the same order because I need to inform the senate and Nigerians that I have had a change of position.

“I have registered in the APC, I have moved from PDP to APC, the registration is ongoing and you can confirm that I am following the instruction of my constituents. Go to my state and see how registration is going on and how people are coming out in support of me and registering in the APC.”

Briefing newsmen at the end of the session, Chairman Senate Committee on Information, Publicity and Media Affairs, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe said that there was nothing to show that there was any movement in the senate.

Abaribe said: ”We resolved within the Senate that we should continue to maintain the dignity of the upper chamber of the National Assembly and in that wise you could see that subsequently, everything was done openly and transparently and with no rancour at all.

“I think we have to give kudos to the senators and also the senate president for handling the proceedings today (yesterday) in such a manner that Nigerians are very proud of their National Assembly.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t meet with the Inspector-General of Police as we had scheduled for today (yesterday) because of some scheduling problems but we will let you know once we are able to have the interaction with the IG.”

On whether the defection matter had been laid to rest, he said: “Senators can get up and express themselves but the procedures must be followed and that’s what the Senate President was saying. Our rules are very clear, if the matter is in court, we cannot discuss it. The hands of the senate president are tied; he cannot do otherwise and if he does otherwise, it will be contempt of court.

“Therefore, while not saying that the matter has been laid to rest, we can say sufficiently, that the matter has now been adumbrated in a way and manner that all sides are well aware of their rights and things are going smoothly in the senate.”

Abaribe further stated that senators were elected under party platforms , adding, “if you have to move, there are conditions to meet. If the President of the Senate rules you out of order, it means that whatever you say is null and void. It was the legal opinion, which Mark sought that played out in the Senate today (yesterday). The defectors got an interim injunction; the main case is still pending. The onus lies with those who went to court to either withdraw the case or ask the court to expeditiously dispose the case. We are not keeping anybody; we are only saying that the rules must be followed”.

On the political solution which some of the defected senators had canvassed for, the Senate spokesman said: “Political solution is what you saw, that despite the fact that people came and thought there will be fisticuffs, you could see that everything went nice and smooth. So that is the political solution that played out on the floor of the Senate.”

Meanwhile the Senate could not have a session with the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Abubakar as previously announced because of the late arrival of the police boss.

The Senate had last week announced that the IGP would be coming to the floor of the senate to give explanations on the crisis in Rivers State and had scheduled the meeting for 12pm, but the police boss arrived shortly after the Senate had adjourned sitting for the day.

Five Reps defect to PDP

The five House members who defected back to the PDP, yesterday were Reps. Lawal Shehu Bichi, Kano; Abdulsalam Adamu,Kano; Sani Umar ,Zamfara; Ibrahim Shehu Gusau,Zamfara; and Umar Bature,Sokoto.
Bature was one of the 37 PDP lawmakers who defected to the APC on December 18, last year, but, yesterday, he moved with the four others to the PDP.

However, a PDP lawmaker from Kaduna State, Rep Isa Mohammed Ashiru moved to the APC.
Following announcement of the defections by Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, the floor of the House was thrown into a rowdy session for some minutes with some PDP lawmakers  shouting “PDP, Power! APC, shame!”
At a point, Minority leader Femi Gbajabiamila stood up to talk, but was shouted down by PDP lawmakers.
This development further widens the margin between the PDP and the APC. The PDP now has 178, while the APC now stands at 168.

The two lawmakers from Kano who defected to the PDP were believed to be loyalists of former governor Ibrahim Shekarau, who defected to the PDP a fortnight ago, following the leadership tussle between him and the current Governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.

Rep Gusau’s defection to the PDP, a source said, was part of plans to realize his ambition of contesting the Zamfara State gubernatorial election in 2015 following his fall out with the state governor, Abdulaziz Yari, and the APC state leader, Senator Ahmed Sani Yarima.

Gusau has had a running battle with Yari after his governorship ambition became public knowledge. He was attacked late last year in Gusau while attending a meeting.

Speaking to Vanguard, Gusau said his decision to defect to the PDP was informed by a number of factors which included the denial of his supporters the opportunity to register during the current APC registration exercise nationwide.

According to him, the directive for his supporters not to be registered came from  above, saying the APC lacks “clear direction to salvage our democracy.”

APC had enjoyed a slim majority between December 18, 2013 and January 21 this year following the defections of 37 PDP lawmakers to the party.

But that has since changed as the House witnessed series of defections following the lawmakers’ resumption from end of the year break.

PDP’s inducements can’t stop us — APC

Reacting to the development, yesterday, the APC said that irrespective of the alleged inducements by the PDP to their legislators that nothing would stop the change that is coming.

The party in a statement issued by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said that the “long-suffering people of Nigeria are ready and eager to vote out the PDP next year.”

The party said the five House of Representatives members who have taken the PDP’s killer bait when they defected to the APC, were neither forced to do so nor given any incentive beyond the rare opportunity offered them to be a part of the looming change.

“Nigerians can now see why their country has gone broke; why the allocation to states from the Federation Account has continued to dwindle, and why infrastructure have either remained decrepit or non-existent. It is not difficult to imagine the number of boreholes that 10 million dollars can sink, or how far such a huge amount will go in building cottage hospitals and health clinics.

“Things are bound to get worse in the days ahead because the desperate PDP will, more and more, use public funds to try to change the course of history. We therefore urge Nigerians to remain resolute in the face of what will be a wave of inducements never before seen in these climes, because there is no going back on the plan to vote out the PDP next year”.

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