By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—AS the Senate commences screening of ministerial nominees today, it suspended the probe of former governor of Rivers State and a ministerial nominee, Rotimi Amaechi, saying it would amount to subjudice as the case was in court.
Speaking yesterday when Amaechi and the former Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, Amina Mohammed, arrived the Senate, Chairman Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East) said it was not feasible for the committee to still look at the petition or probe Amaechi.
He said the issues raised in the petition before the committee were already in court, adding that in line with the Senate Standing Orders, senators will not attend to it.
Anyanwu said since the issues raised were in court, Senate would not want to run foul and brought the sitting to a close at 2.35 p.m.
Section 41(7) of the Senate Standing Orders 2015 as amended, reads: “The Senate shall not receive any petition on any matter for which there is a judicial remedy.”
Amaechi, who arrived the Committee Room 1.20 at 2.22p.m. in company of his former Commissioner for Information, Mrs Ibim Seminatari, was asked by the committee chairman if there was anyone he was not comfortable with as a member of the committee.
He said no and swore to the Bible to say the truth at 2.27 p.m.
Earlier, Mrs Amina Mohammed, who appeared before the committee, following a petition against her nomination from Kaduna State, told the committee that she was born and bred in Kaduna State, but hailed from Gombe State.
She also disclosed that she was not from Kaduna State as being speculated, adding that it was strange to her that she was being described as having come from Kaduna.
Speaking on Amina Ibrahim Mohammed, Chairman of the Committee, Senator Anyanwu said: “ We have established that she is not from Kaduna and we are going to take a decision at our committee level.”
Other members of the committee are Senators Bala Ibn-Na’ Allah, Omotayo Alasoadura, Binta Garba, Olaka Nwogu, Muhammad Shitu, Dino Melaye, Peter Nwaoboshi, Jeremiah Useni, Ogba Obinna and Omogunwa Yele.
Before the appearance of Amaechi, there was, however, a sharp disagreement between the senators over whether Senator Olaka Nwogu from Rivers would serve as an observer or not.
Senator Melaye raised the point, saying since Nwogu was one of those who submitted the petition, he should assume the position or status of an observer when Amaechi arrives.
However, Senator Nwaoboshi countered Melaye, saying Nwogu could not be reduced to the position of an observer, since he could not vote when it came to voting on the matter.
At the end of the day, Senator Nwogu did not show up when Amaechi appeared before the committee.
Speaking after he was asked to go, Amaechi who hailed the Committee for following the Rule of Law, said if his political history was followed, what he was facing was not new because in 2007, a panel indicted him and the Supreme Court cleared him.
“When you invited me, I knew there will be rule of law,” he said.
Speaking with journalists after the session, Chairman of the Committee, Anyanwu, who disclosed that there were only two petitions concerning Amina Mohammed and Rotimi Amaechi, said: “We received only two petitions. One on Rotimi Amaechi and the other one that concerns Amina Mohammed.
“We have treated the two petitions and the committee is about putting down our report, which might be ready tomo-rrow (today) and if we cannot conclude it tomorrow, then we will move to the next day.”
This is something that is very important to the Senate and we must take a very firm decision and scrutinise our report very properly.”
On whether the suspension of the probe was an indication that the committee had cleared Amaechi, Anyanwu said: “ Nobody has been cleared. It is our report because whatever report that we turn out, it is the entire Senate that will dwell on that report and clear whoever was recommended.
“We have not turned in our report. We only said that the matter we have before us is in court and there are other conflicting issues which we are yet to resolve and that is why we are trying to put down our report together,” he said.
On whether the report will be ready today because of the screening, the chairman said, “It doesn’t matter. We have two, three days to do our screening. Anybody that is not screened tomorrow (today) could be screened the other day.”
When asked if the two nominees will not be screened until the report was submitted to the Senate, he said, “If the reports are ready for any of them, the person will be taken tomorrow. And of course, the Senate is going to take them batch by batch. So, it doesn’t mean that everybody will be screened tomorrow (today). “
On whether the Committee received over 10 petitions, Senator Anyanwu said: “No, we have not received more than 10 petitions. We have only received only two petitions. The petition doesn’t come to us directly. It must be made on the floor of the chamber and they have not received anything of such.”
On the petition against Amaechi, he said: “What we are saying is that we have a petition against Amaechi. And there is a letter from his lawyer that they have a pending case in the court.
‘’We also received a White Paper indicting him and we also received a Federal High Court judgement that says that Amaechi cannot stop the judicial commission from investigating him.
‘’He went to Appeal Court and the matter is pending in Appeal Court. And in our Senate Rule, once a matter is in court, we will not dwell into it.
‘’But what we are going to do is to package the documents, look at their natures and be able to do our report and send to the Senate by tomorrow or next. “
On the tall order by Senate President Bukola Saraki that the committee should submit its report before Tuesday’s plenary, Senator Anyanwu said: “ Nothing is cast on iron. We don’t need to be in a hurry to put up a report that may not find its place in the Senate. If we are ready tomorrow, of course, we will submit our report tomorrow.
‘’The only thing is that between Tuesday and Thursday, that they are suppose to finish with the screening of the ministerial nominees, the report will be ready.”