By Henry Umoru
ONE year after Senator Bukola Saraki (All Progressives Congress, APC, Kwara Central) polled 57 out of 108 votes to emerge as Senate President, with 51 senators, including his then rival for the position of Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe North), absent and unveiling the list of Chairmen and Vice Chairmen for 65 standing committees thereafter, Saraki, on Thursday, announced some changes in the chairmanship of the Committees.
Prior to his election and inauguration as Senate President, June 9, 2015, some senators were seriously opposed to him as they were in support of Lawan which led to the emergence of two factions in the Senate, the Senate Unity Forum, SUF, made up of senators in support of Lawan and the other group, called Senators of Like Minds, loyal to Saraki.
Prominent members of the SUF were Senators Abdullahi Adamu, APC, Nasarawa West; Rabiu Kwankwaso, APC, Kano Central; Suleiman Hunkuyi, APC, Kaduna North; Abu Ibrahim, APC, Katsina South; Ajayi Borrofice, APC, Ondo North; Oluremi Tinubu, APC, Lagos Central; Barnabas Gemade, APC, North East; Olugbenga Ashafa, APC, Lagos East; Kabir Marafa, APC, Zamfara Central, among others.
Those in Senators of Like Minds were Senators Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West; Danjuma Goje, APC, Gombe Central; Isah Hamma Misau, APC, Bauchi Central; Shaaba Lafiagi, APC, Kwara North; Andy Uba, PDP, Anambra South; Rafiu Adebayo, APC, Kwara South; Ahmed Rufai Sani, APC, Zamfara West, among others. After Saraki’s election and before he came out with the list of Committee Chairmen, Vice Chairmen and members, what he did was to first increase the number of committees from 57 to 65 and it was believed that he did this to accommodate his loyalists and those who opposed him. At the end of the day, the list came out and reflected 68 per cent for the APC and 49 percent for the PDP.
In what appeared to be a move to assuage his perceived opponents, the SUF got 13 chairmanship slots, with Lawan in Defence, Senator George Akume (Army), Adamu Abdullahi (Agriculture), Barnabas Gemade ( Housing), Oluremi Tinubu (Women Affairs), Olugbenga Ashafa (Land Transport), Bayero Nafada (Inter- Parliamentary Affairs), Abu Ibrahim (Police Affairs), Kabir Marafa, (National Identity and National Population), and Rabiu Kwankwaso (National Planning and Economic Affairs), among others.
Those Senators of Like Minds were compensated with chairmanship positions and they include Melaye, Federal Capital Territory; Senator Danjuma Goje, Appropriation Committee; Shaaba Lafiagi (National Security and Intelligence), Andy Uba (Public Accounts); Rafiu Adebayo (Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions); Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, Niger Delta; John Owan Enoh, Finance; Ibrahim Gobir, Senate Services; and Isa Hamma Misau, Navy, Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, among others.
Inspite of the appointments, there was no respite for Saraki as the SUF dragged him, his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, and two others to court for the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Order 2015 as amended, which was used for the election of the principal officers of the chambre. Also, the Senate President is being tried by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, for alleged false declaration of assets. Meanwhile, there have been unsuccessful moves to reconcile the warring factions.
With the intervention of former Senate President David Mark, PDP, Benue South, his predecessor, Ken Nnamani, and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives and now governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari, there have been suggestions that there was the urgent need for aggrieved persons to be pacified to resolve the crisis which has now been seen in some quarters as dovetailing into a problem between the Senate and the Executive arm of government.
After a meeting at the Presidential Villa where Mark was said to have told President Muhammadu Buhari that a good working relationship was required between the Executive and the Legislature, Mark and Masari were said to have met with Saraki and advised him to reshuffle the Committees with a view to addressing what some of the SUF senators have repeatedly described as lopsidedness in the initial appointments. Before the reshufflement of the standing Committees, on Thursday, which was the last legislative day before the lawmakers went on six weeks break, Saraki was said to have briefed senators at an executive session held on Tuesday where he asked them to take the new arrangements in good faith in the interest of peace.
On Thursday, the embattled Senate President held out an olive branch to the SUF members by conceding the chairmanship of committees which members of the red chambers considered to be “juicy” to them. Members of SUF, who got the chairmanship of the “juicy committees”, include Senator Kabir Marafa, who left his chairmanship position of the Committee on National Identity and National Population to become the Chairman of the Petroleum Resources Committee (Downstream). He replaced Senator Uche Ekwunife, PDP, Anambra Central, who is out of the Senate. Before the announcement of Marafa, Senator Jibrin Barau, APC, Kano North, the then deputy to Ekwunife, was acting.
Marafa is also a member of Senate Committees on Drugs and Narcotics; Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases; Rules and Business and deputy Chairman, Sports and Social Development. Saraki, also on Thursday, moved Senator Oluremi Tinubu from Women Affairs and Youth Development Committee to the Committee on the Environment, Tinubu, besides the Environment Committee, which she chairs, is a member of Senate Committees on Airforce, Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND as well as Employment, Labour and Productivity.
Hunkuyi, the Vice Chairman of Committee on Federal Character and Inter- Governmental Affairs, was elevated to chair the Committee on National Identity and National Population. Hunkuyi is replacing Senator Kabir Marafa. Hunkuyi, one of the senators who wrote a petition that led to the Senate alleged forgery suit, is a member, Senate Committees on Power; Environment; Trade and Investment.
In the new changes made, Senator Joshua Dariye, PDP, Plateau Central, moved from Solid Mineral Committee to head Senate Committee on Procurement; Senator Hope Uzodinma, PDP, Imo West, was moved from the Committee on Aviation, which he has been chairing since the seventh Senate, to head the Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff while Senator Adamu Aliero, APC, Kebbi Central, was moved from Customs, Excise and Tariff to Aviation.
Senator Binta Garba Masi, APC, Adamawa North and one of the longest lawmakers, having been elected as member, House of Representatives, was moved from the Committee on Tertiary Institution to the Committee on Women Affairs; Barau Jubril, APC,Kano North took over the Committee on Tertiary Institution from Senator Masi while Senator James Manager, PDP, Delta South who was the Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Steel and Metallurgy and one of the most ranking senators was moved to the Committee on Solid Minerals, while Senator Enyinaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South took over as Chairman of Power, Steel and Metallurgy Committee.
Senator Suleiman Adokwe, PDP, Nasarawa North became the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation while Senator Baba Kaka Garbai, APC, Borno Central was made the Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business and the Senate Committee on Federal Character was given to Senator Tijani Kaura,APC, Zamfara North. Saraki removed Senator Babajide Omoworare, APC, Osun East as Chairman, Rules and Business to chair a newly created Legislative Compliance Committee.
The senators, who were made vice-chairmen of committees, are Ahmed Ogembe, PDP, Kogi Central (Marine Transport); Ovie Omo Agege, Delta Central, (Land Transport); and Philip Aduda, FCT( Downstream Petroleum). Senator Aduda who is the Senate Minority Whip was before the new position, the Vice Chairman, Committee on Land Transport. Speaking on the development, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi, said the latest arrangement was aimed at strengthening the legislative functions of the committees.
Efforts to get Marafa to speak on whether he would reject the new position proved futile as his telephone rang without response. But strong indications emerged that the new chairmen appeared to be pleased with the new arrangements as they were beaming with smiles and exchanging pleasantries after the session.
It is believed that the reshuffle of the committees’ chairmanship is one of the steps that can save the Senate President and his deputy from the suits pending against them in the long run. Analysts say with the decision to bow to the opposition group by the Senate President, peace would return to the Senate when senators return from the long vacation. It is also hoped that the leadership of the APC will now be in total control of its senators.