By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA – STRONG indications emerged yesterday that the face- off between the Senate and the Presidency may not be over soon, in spite of the meeting President Muhammadu Buhari had with Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, on Monday.
Also yesterday, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof Itse Sagay, asked the Senate to withdraw the resolution summoning him.
Vanguard gathered that many senators are peeved that none of the issues responsible for the face-off was discussed at the meeting.
The Senate entered a closed session at 11.35 am where salient issues were discussed and the lawmakers came out at 12. 32pm.
Soon after the meeting, Senate President Saraki, who noted that issues affecting the country in general and the Senate in particular were discussed, asked if that was the true reflection of what transpired and his colleagues agreed with him.
However, a source told Vanguard that Saraki, while giving a report of the meeting he had with President Buhari, told them that the meeting centred around the quick passage of the 2017 Appropriation Bill and the immediate screening of two ministerial nominees forwarded last week.
Saraki was said to have told the senators that the President at the meeting, pleaded that the legislative arm should put behind it any perceived frosty relationship and pass the budget in the overall interest of the country.
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had on December 14, 2016, presented the budget of N7.289 trillion to a joint session of the National Assembly.
It would also be recalled that as part of moves for early passage of the 2017 budget, the Senate had, after three days of robust debate on the general principles of the 2017 Appropriation Bill submitted by President Buhari on Thursday, January 26, suspended plenary for three weeks to enable the committees carry out a holistic work on the budget.
At the executive session yesterday, Saraki told his colleagues that President Buhari also pleaded with them to urgently screen and confirm the two ministerial nominees, Prof. Stephen Ocheni from Kogi State and Suleiman Hassan from Gombe State.
According to the source at the meeting, soon after the Senate President rounded off his briefing, some of the senators got angry.
Their anger was said to have been propelled by the fact that the Senate President did not discuss with the President issues relating to the resolutions reached on Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, who they rejected twice and asked for a fresh nominee, which the President is yet to do and Magu is still acting.
The source added that the senators were not happy that at the parley with Buhari, Saraki failed to raise the resolution of the Senate which asked the President to urgently sack the Comptroller- General of Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (retd), who they declared unfit to hold public office.
The senators also expressed annoyance over refusal of the Senate President to raise the issue of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who the Senate had urged the President to caution against interfering with the functions of the National Assembly.
The senators were also said to have been peeved over comments made by the chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, and wondered why the Senate President did not raise the issue with the President.
Consequently, some of the senators, especially those of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, stormed out of the chambers with anger boldly written on their faces.
It would be recalled that the Senate had, penultimate Tuesday, suspended for two weeks confirmation hearing on 27 Resident Electoral Commissioners, REC of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, nominated by President Buhari.
According to the senators, the two-week suspension was to enable the Senate President meet President Buhari to discuss issues relating to Ibrahim Magu’s continued stay in office as acting chairman of EFCC, which senators considered an affront to the Senate.
Pro-Ndume protests rock NASS
Meanwhile, constituents and supporters of Senator Ali Ndume, yesterday, stormed the National Assembly to register their grievances over last week’s suspension of the senator and gave Senate President Saraki a three-day ultimatum to reverse the decision or face more protests.
The protesters, who started their action around 7:30am when workers were resuming for work, barricaded the main entrance gate to the legislative house, thereby causing human and vehicular traffic snarl on the road leading to the complex.
To prevent some of them from entering the complex, security men took strategic positions while workers were redirected to pass through the entrance gate of the Office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF.
The protesters, whose action caused inconveniences to workers and early morning visitors, accused Senate President Saraki of masterminding the action against the Borno South senator and asked that the Senate President be removed.
The protesters, who came under different groups, including Internally Displaced Persons, were singing pro-Ndume songs, wielding placards with different inscriptions such as “Ndume again Insha Allah”, who is afraid of Ibrahim Magu?” and ‘’Stop undermining PMB” among others.
A leader of one of the groups, Mr Joseph Okwuama, told newsmen that if the lawmaker was not recalled, they would stage several protests across the Federal Capital Territory for seven days.
Okwuama, National Coordinator, All Progressives Congress Movement, said the suspension of Ndume was uncalled for.
He said: “We are talking about corruption in the country. As Nigerian youths, we have to work together in support of the anti-corruption war. Corruption is not all about money. What the National Assembly did is corruption. The suspension of Ndume is corruption. Ndume’s suspension did not follow due process. The man did not do anything. We are giving the National Assembly three days and if they refuse, Nigerians will go to the streets of Abuja and protest for one week.”
Muhammad Tanko, leader of indigenes from Borno South, Ndume’s constituency, said the constituency could not afford lack of representation for six months, adding: “The suspension of our senator for six months by the Senate is illegal when the constitution allows for suspension of only 14 days. Saraki must go. He knows what Ndume did for him before he became President.”
Naima Sale, wife of the Chairman, IDPs in Karama Jiji camp in the Federal Capital Territory, said the lawmaker had been of help to internally displaced persons and should not be made to suffer for nothing.
Senator Ndume was suspended, last Wednesday for asking the Senate to investigate allegations of fake Customs papers and certificate forgery against senators Bukola Saraki and Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West.
However, the Senate,in line with recommendations of its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, who was mandated to probe the allegations, cleared the duo and slammed Ndume with a six-month suspension.
Sagay asks Senate to withdraw bid to summon him
Meanwhile, Prof Itse Sagay, asked the Senate to withdraw the resolution summoning him.
The Senate had, penultimate week, summoned Sagay over some comments he made castigating some lawmakers.
He averred that though he had not been served with any summons, he deemed it fit to join issues with the Senate over the threatened violation of his fundamental rights to freedom of expression, adding the Senate’s power to conduct enquiries “is not at large.”