By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA — AHEAD of today’s screening of former Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi; Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, yesterday, lampooned senators elected on the platform of his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, saying that the 8th Senate belongs to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
According to him, the PDP should note that it has become a minority, a situation where the majority would always have its way, warning that PDP cannot disqualify Amaechi based on what he described as triviality instead of the constitution. He added that Amaechi has not been convicted by any court of law.
Ali Ndume boasted that the Senators will determine the fate of Amaechi and not the report of Senator Samuel Anyanwu-led Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, adding that Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu would not have presided yesterday because APC ministerial nominees were being screened, which explained the adjournment.
Ndume spoke amid strong indications, yesterday, that PDP and APC senators will flex muscles today over Amaechi. While the APC senators have insisted on screening and confirming Amaechi for a ministerial appointment, the PDP Senators have not shifted grounds on the position they took on Tuesday to frustrate the screening of the former governor.
Today, Chairman, Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East) will submit the reports of his committee on petitions against the nominees including Amaechi.
According to a PDP Senator, who spoke with Vanguard, the report will be up for discussion and votes will be taken in support or against Amaechi being screened and cleared.
The senator, who noted that if the voting favours that Amaechi be screened as opposed to their collective decision, they would as a caucus stage a walk out and allow the APC senators do what they want to do.
PDP senators to review pact with Saraki
The Senator told Vanguard that the PDP Senators who formed an alliance with Senate President Bukola Saraki prior to his election and which led to his emergence were planning to review the unwritten agreement.
On whether the PDP senators were aware that if the Senators failed to screen or reject Amaechi by October 29 upon the expiration of the 21 working-day constitutional deadline, the former governor would automatically become a minister, the Senator said “we will not allow that to happen” as PDP Senators.
The Senator continued: “The report of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions will be laid tomorrow (today) and there will be voting on whether or not to accept that Amaechi be screened. The voting will determine the way forward and if the voting says he should be screened because APC wants and PDP as a caucus thinks we should not screen Amaechi and if the APC insists, PDP Senators will stage a walk out.”
Another PDP Senator, who spoke with Vanguard, said that the issue has to do with 21 working days which is like a month, adding that the position of PDP Senators is about the law and the society, adding that the National Assembly is a theatre of politics, but as law makers, they must be cautious.
According to the Senator, the PDP senators were standing on Section 66(h) which stipulates that when indicted by a panel, the person cannot occupy any public office.
Section 66(h) says: “No person shall be qualified for Membership of National Assembly and Right of attendance if he has been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a judicial Commission of Inquiry or an Administrative Panel of Inquiry or a Tribunal set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act…”
The PDP senators are also citing section 53(5) of the Senate Standing Orders 2015 as Amended on why they will work against the clearance of Amaechi.
Section 53(5) of Senate Standing Orders 2015 As Amended 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 parties thereto.”
The screening would have taken place yesterday, but the Senate suspended sitting to allow senators accompany Senate President, Bukola Saraki to the Code of Conduct Tribunal where he is facing trial over alleged false declaration of assets.
For the third time since it began the screening of ministerial nominees, the Senate on Tuesday, postponed the screening of Amaechi.
We’re not against Amaechi— Sen Ogba
Also, a member of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Public Petitions, Obinna Ogba, has denied allegation that the committee was against Amaechi’s confirmation.
He equally debunked insinuation that the delay in releasing the report of investigation on Amaechi, which resulted in the delay in his screening was as a result of sharp division among members of the committee on the report.
Reacting in an interview, yesterday, with Vanguard, in Abuja, Senator Ogba, who represents Ebonyi Central in the National Assembly, under PDP, insisted that there was no disagreement among members of the committee.
We will determine Amaechi’s fate not Anyanwu’s report – Ndume
Answering questions from Journalists, yesterday, on the issue, Ndume said Amaechi would be cleared.
His words: ‘’The Ethics and Privileges report is not the determinant of Amaechi’s fate. It is the Senate. Even if they write their report, it has to be laid before the Senate which will decide on the report. It is not the report that will decide the fate of Amaechi.
“Whatever the Committee recommends to the Senate, it is the Senate that will decide. And I have told Nigerians several times that this Senate belongs to APC. We have PDP senators that are in the minority. We are practising democracy in a changed environment. That is to allow the minorities to have their say. But you know that the majority will always have its way. We have 58 senators, the Senate President excluded, and they have 48 Senators.
“And Amaechi is an APC candidate and the constitution is very clear. Until there is conviction, you are considered innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt by a competent court of law. Unfortunately, you cannot confirm or disqualify Amaechi, we are the only ones that can do that. And PDP cannot disqualify Amaechi based on triviality. It must be based on constitutionality.”
On why the plenary was suspended, Ndume said: “The Senate President has a pending case before the Appeal Court which judgement was suspended indefinitely. We, therefore, thought that the lower court will suspend today’s (yesterday’s) sitting as the Senate President has to be in court by 10.00am. He is the Presiding Officer and this is an extraordinary period because we are screening ministers who are predominantly APC. So, that was why we said this screening should continue with the Senate President presiding. So, we are continuing tomorrow (today) by God’s grace.”
When told that the Deputy Senate President was supposed to have presided in the absence of the Senate President, the Senate leader said: “This is not a normal day because we are screening APC nominees and there are issues surrounding it. The Presiding Officer is the Senate President who started the screening and we said we would continue after taking a day off and continue tomorrow (today)”.
Speaking on the senators’ solidarity with the Senate President at the tribunal, Senator Ndume said: “It was not a solidarity as such. This Senate does not belong to Saraki, Senator Ali Ndume or anybody. The Senate is an institution, an independent arm of government and should be respected and strengthened. Besides, if the President takes his time to submit the (ministerial) list, which Nigerians patiently waited for why will Nigerians not be patient with the Senate to wait for its conclusion? And why don’t you take us on issues other than these trivialities? Suppose we had said we are suspending the screening till next week, we have the right to do that.
“But the constitution is guiding us that we have to do this within 21 working days. And we are still within the 21 working days. It is not 21 days, it is 21 working days. And our working days in the Senate plenary is three days in a week. So, if you are talking about 21 working days, it means that the Senate will do this within seven weeks because we sit for plenary Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. That is three working days. It means that logically, we can do this up to seven weeks.”
“The ministries have not been streamlined yet to know where they are going. I don’t even see an issue out of it. I was thinking that by now, we will be talking about ideas not about people and events. It won’t move this country forward. We are supposed to be talking about the screening details.”