Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC)
The moves to end the frosty relationship between the Presidency and the Senate continue this week with the leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) reaching out to the Senate Caucus. The APC National Working Committee (NWC) members are expected to meet the Senate body on Tuesday in Abuja to resolve the issues between the upper chamber and the Presidency.
The meeting, according to sources, will soften the ground for the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo committee raised by the Federal Executive Committee (FEC) to smoothen relationship between the two feuding arms of government.
The imbroglio had been triggered by the Senate’s non-confirmation of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as well as the invitation of the Comptroller General of the Customs, Colonel Hammed Ali, and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, by the lawmakers. Ali and Lawal declined the summons. The story of the truce bid:
By Henry Umoru
The imbroglio between the Presidency and the Senate got a head last week when the Red Chambre suspended for two weeks the consideration of the list of 27 Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) sent to it by the executive arm of government.
The list had been forwarded to the Senate by then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on February 27, 2017 and received at the parliament on March 21.
Titled, ‘Confirmation of the Appointments of Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs)’, the letter conveying the list had been read to the Red Chamber by Senate President Bukola Saraki during plenary.
But rather than refer the list to the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the next stage for the confirmation of the RECS after the reading of then Acting President Osinbajo’s letter, the upper chamber stayed action.
There are three angles to the problem between the Senate and the Presidency. One, the Senate declined the confirmation of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, based on a report by the Department of State Service (DSS), which raised issues of integrity against the executive’s nominee for the anti-graft agency’s leadership.
Two, the Senate summoned the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Colonel Hammeed Ali, to answer questions on the NCS directive to impound vehicles on Nigerian roads without evidence of Customs duties paid.
Ali declined the invitation. Analysts believe he did so because he had the backing of the Presidency.
Three, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, was invited by a Senate Committee to clarify issues on the Presidential Initiative on the North-East (PINE) which he chairs but is alleged to be enmeshed in corrupt practices. The SGF issue has been on for months but he has refused to honour the senators’ invitation.
Meanwhile, the most explosive of the three issues between the Senate and the Presidency is the one concerning Magu.
The Senate believes the Acting EFCC boss should not have spent one day longer at the anti-graft agency after his nomination for the EFCC headship was rejected for the second time by the upper chambre.
And the senators minced no words when they declined the consideration of the RECs’ list for two weeks on the grounds that the Presidency had consistently refused to honour its resolutions while encouraging top officials of the administration against honouring their invitation.
To make the matter worse, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, took sides with Magu, calling the Senate a “chambre full of questionable characters” and their refusal to clear Magu for the EFCC top job “irresponsible”.
According to Sagay, Magu would continue his job at the EFCC regardless of whether the senators endorsed his nomination or not.
The Presidency would seem to be addressing the Senate issues when it raised a committee, last week, to resolve the grey areas.
The decision of the upper chambre to suspend the consideration of the RECs’ list was sequel to a motion raised by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, PDP, Delta North, who stressed that the President’s advisers believe that the Senate “merely confirms” nominations by the President.
Lamenting the series of disregard by the executive of the resolutions by the Senate during plenary, Nwaoboshi noted that the senators were elected by Nigerians, explaining that the parliament, as an arm of government, should not be held in contempt by the executive.
The senator said, “Mr. President should take a cue from America where we borrowed the idea of democracy. What I am saying is that issues like this have to transcend political parties or where you have lived in the interest of Nigerians and to protect our Constitution and protect our democracy.
“Recently in this Senate, we have dealt with the issues of confirmation and where are we today, the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Anti-Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, went to the press and said that the Senate merely confirms. This is not expected from somebody who had lectured constitutional law in the university, a prof. of law, a senior advocate of Nigeria and, of course, the Chairman of such a big body to say that the legislature merely confirms and that the legislature has no power.
“But when you denigrate such an institution that has the power to confirm and use the word `merely’, we should ignore the confirmation. My position on this matter is that since our confirmation is merely, let us suspend it until we know whether we have the power as given to us by the Constitution to look into confirmation matters or not.”
Earlier in the day, the Senate had gone into a closed session. After the meeting,Senate President Saraki, who presided, said the decision reached by the lawmakers was in unison to defend the integrity of the Senate
A source told Sunday Vanguard that, at the meeting, the senators resolved to confront anyone who may try to rubbish the Senate as an arm of government.
At the end of the day, Saraki ruled based on popular vote that the RECs consideration be suspended for two weeks to enable the Senate leadership meet and discuss with the Presidency on the need for it to obey the resolutions of the parliament.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, while announcing the committee to broker truce between the Senate and the Presidency, said it will proffer solution to the crisis between the two arms of government.
Mohammed disclosed that the committee would be chaired by Osinbajo, saying ministers who were at a time members of the National Assembly are members. He added that the the two Senior Special Assistants to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang (Senate) and Samaila Kawu House of Representatives) are also members.
According to the Minister, ministers who have personal relationships with federal lawmakers would also be co-opted into the committee.
The information minister said, “The executive is also concerned that the relationship between the two arms of government is not as smooth as it is supposed to be. In any democracy, it is a continuous struggle for balancing between the Executive and the Legislature because each of them are creatures of the law. We must strive at all times to ensure that there is that balance, amity and smooth relationship.
“Just today( Wednesday) at the Federal Executive Council meeting, the issue was discussed and a committee is already working on ensuring that we resolve all these outstanding issues.”
The Senate, on Thursday, described the truce initiative as a welcome development.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, who noted that the Presidency had communicated to the Senate on the peace initiative, said that both arms of government (executive and legislature) required “massive and huge understanding to sustain democracy”,
He said, “We have heard about the initiative by President Muhammadu Buhari in setting up a Presidential Committee on Executive-Legislature Relations to be headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
“This initiative is a welcome development. It is a good step in the right direction. The Senate, in particular, and the National Assembly, in general, is ready to co-operate with the group and work with them to resolve all grey areas standing on way of the smooth working relationship needed to deepen our fledgling democracy and ensure good governance for the benefits of Nigerians.”
Abdullahi stated that the Senate’s actions were always motivated by the need to entrench democracy and promote good governance, however lamented that it was unfortunate that such actions had been misinterpreted by some persons, adding that Senators are carrying out their responsibilities within the confines of the law in order it move the nation’s democracy forward.
He decried the tendency by appointees of the President to resort to the use of uncomplimentary remarks against the Senate. He added that it was unfortunate that resolutions were passed by the legislature, but rubbished by the executive, especially in the case of Magu.
As part of the peace moves, Sunday Vanguard learnt at the weekend that the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had concluded arrangements to intervene.
The National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and other leaders of the party are expected, on Tuesday, to meet with the Senate Caucus of the party.
According to a source, the meeting would, among other things, soften the ground for the Osinbajo committee ahead of its meeting with the Senate representatives as well as use the occasion to appeal to APC senators on the need to work harmoniously with the executive.
The source said, “The National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, is expected to lead other members of the National Working Committee (NWC) to the Senate to hold the all-important meeting.”
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