Dayo Benson & Emmanuel Aziken
LAGOS â€” bickering over the clamour for the dismissal of the Minister of Petroleum Dr. Rilwanu Lukman broke into a near ethnic battle in the Senate yesterday with Northern Senators rising against the demand from their South-South colleagues.
However, there are indications that President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua is not pleased with the Minister of Petroleum Resources, AlhajiÂ Rilwanu Lukman, over the heat the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill is generating even as the South-South caucus in the National Assembly is calling for his sack.
A dependable source informed Vanguard that accusing fingers are pointing in the Presidentâ€™s direction even though the whole idea is that of the minister.
According to a source who is a top member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party PDP, â€œOga (the president) is not happy with the whole situation at all and you know everybody has been blaming him.
â€œImagine what is happening at the NNPC. Lukman has completely northernised the whole place and the entire thing is causing problem for ogaâ€™s administration and the president is not happy with him at alI. I think he has to go before he causes more damageâ€, the source added.
Bickering in Senate
The Bickering in the Senate was, however, quelled in a closed session of the Senate where the lawmakers resolved to put sectional demands aside and forge a national outlook in their actions just before they proceeded on an eight week annual recess. The Senate is to resume on September 29.
Northern Senators at the closed session, Vanguard gathered, nevertheless dissociated themselves from Dr. Lukmanâ€™s agenda in the petroleum sector with some affirming that their quarrel was with the procedure adopted by the South-South Senators in making their demand.
The bickering was upon the call by the South-South Senators on Wednesday evening for the dismissal of Lukman from office on the basis of his alleged bias against the South-South region.
TheSouth-South Senators in their press conference cited the mass reorganization in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Petroleum Industry Bill and some other decisions taken under Lukmanâ€™s watch as inimical to the interests of the region.
But rising on a point of order as the Senate session commenced yesterday, Senator Kanti Bello (PDP, Katsina) faulted the actions of the South-South as a breach of his privileges as a Senator.
He said the action of the South-South Senators in calling for the withdrawal of the PIB from the Senate was un-parliamentary as he said the Senators had every opportunity to ventilate their views at the Senate hearing on the bill.
â€œThe matter that my privileges has been breached is the meeting held by the distinguished senators, my colleagues from the South-South and I saw it in Vanguard and I wish to refer to senate rules no. 18 that any senator complaining to the senate of a statement in the newspaper or other publication on a breach of his privilege shall produce a copy of the newspaper or book or other publication containing the statement in question.
â€œIt is my honest view that this petroleum bill that the South-South want to withdraw after second reading after going to public hearing.
They have every opportunity at public hearing to put in their views which they donâ€™t want to do. That they are coming in as a group to insist for the withdrawal is really a breach of my privilege and that of the Nigerian nation and every patriotic Nigerian citizen.â€™â€™
Asserting the right of the President to nominate ministers, he said:
â€œFor the South-South senators to sit down and say that he should be removed arbitrarily is really a breach of my privilege. With this now sir, I reckon that one thing that this senate should resolve that as the Senate of the Federal Republic is not ethnic in nature and that we are patriotic Nigerian people and that we insist that there is no way Lukman should be removed simply because the southern people say so, I so move.â€™â€™
Following him, Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw (PDP, Cross River South) rose to assert the freedom of the South-South Senators to express their opinion as enshrined in the constitution.
Citing section 39(1) of the constitution, Senator Ewa-Henshaw said:
â€œEvery person shall be entitled freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference. I will like to please point out to my colleague that we cannot see how his privileges have been breached.
â€œThis constitution allows every citizen, not just senators the freedom of expression, the freedom to hold and impact ideas, therefore I think that unfortunately he has come under a wrong foot and to save time, I suggest that he be ruled out of order.â€™â€™
But supporting Senator Belloâ€™s point of order, Senator Kabiru Gaya (ANPP, Kano South) said: â€œI believe it is the duty of Senators to make amendment to any bill presented by Mr. President. We have the opportunity of making this amendment and members of the South-South are chairmen of this committee and the report is still going back to the committee. So any amendment they want to do, they can introduce it.
â€œWe are all taking in the issue of the unity of this nation, if members of the South-South Forum, distinguished senators who are highly respected can now go the Press and make a press release in that notion, what of if senators from the north-west do the same thing, it means we are dividing the house.â€™â€™
The President of the Senate, Senator David Mark who presided at the session, however, declined to rule on the order as he moved the Senate into a closed session where the issue was exhaustively discussed.
At the closed door session, Senators were charged to put the unity of the nation over all other ethnic considerations.
Briefing newsmen at the end of the closed session, Senate spokesman Senator Ayogu Eze said:
â€œWe resolved that as Nigerians committed to the survival of Nigeria as one indivisible entity, we are committed to stamping out anything that will contribute in any way to heating up the polity and create crisis. We heard the views of all the people concerned and we came to the conclusion that as we are senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (and) we will do anything to preserve the corporate integrity of Nigeria and emotions and actions of individuals that border on individual interests rather than the interest of the nation that we will as much as possible eschew that even if such issues have the merit and demerit.
â€œWe decided to rally round like one house to put the matter behind us and the mature handling of the senate president has ensured that everybody came out happy and satisfied.â€