By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- Resuming from break, yesterday, the Senate immediately went into a standoff with the presidency, vowing to stand down all requests for confirmation into executive positions in the Federal Government.
The Senate’s stance was upon overflow of outrage at the challenge from Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to the Senate’s capacity to confirm certain nominees of the executive into federal bodies.
Senators across partisan lines were particularly miffed by the continued stay in office of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, despite his rejection by the Senate on two occasions.
In their resolution, the Senate asked the Acting President to apologise for his challenge to the Senate’s power to confirm persons into certain executive bodies.
The Senate had at the resumption of plenary yesterday, entered into a closed session which lasted for almost an hour. A source at the meeting said senators were not happy over what they termed, “flagrant refusal by the executive to implement resolutions passed by the Senate.”
The Acting President had last April in an interview said: “It is up to the Senate to make their judgment, and it is up to us to say what we want to do. If our candidate is rejected, we can re-present him. No law says we can’t re-present him. And again, there is the other argument, whether or not we need to present him for confirmation and that’s a compelling argument from Femi Falana,” he said.
Yesterday’s resolution followed the reading of a letter from Osinbajo to the Senate requesting it to confirm Lanre Gbajabiamila as the substantive Director-General of the National Lottery Commission (NLC).
Osinbajo’s letter which was dated June 12, 2017, was entitled, “ Request for confirmation of the appointment of Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila as Director- General, National Lottery Regulatory Commission.”
The letter read: “In compliance with the provisions of section 8 (1A) of the National Lottery Act 2005, I write to forward the name of Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila as the nominee for the position of Director General, National Lottery Regulatory Commission for the consideration and appointment of the Senate.
“If confirmed, Lanre Gbajabiamila will serve for an initial period of four years and may be reappointed for a further term of four years and no more.
“The curriculum vitae of Lanre Gbajabiamila is attached for your perusal. It is, therefore, my hope that the Distinguished Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria do consider and confirm the appointment of the nominee in the usual expeditious manner.”
Once the letter was read by the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, Senator Ahmed Sani, APC, Zamfara West, upon Order 14 of the Senate Standing Rules, argued that since the Acting President had already concluded that the Senate lacked the powers to confirm nominees, there was no need to acknowledge any letter from the executive on issues concerning confirmation.
According to him, the issue must be clarified by the Senate before going ahead with the consideration of further requests from the presidency.
“I want to draw the attention of the Senate to a statement credited to the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo that the Senate does not have the powers to confirm. I was surprised to see the Senate President read a letter from the same Acting President who said the Senate does not have the powers to confirm a nominee from the executive.
“I am raising this point of order to draw the attention of the Senate to this issue and urge that we suspend any further action on confirmation of any nominee until the issue is resolved.”
Supporting him, Senator George Sekibo, PDP, Rivers East took a swipe at the presidency over its continued refusal to comply with the resolutions of the Senate as he stressed that it was a clear attempt by the presidency to usurp the powers and roles of the apex legislative body.
Senator Sekibo, who quoted relevant sections of the constitution to buttress his argument, said: “What is happening shows to Nigerians that they (executive) are either trying to quiet the National Assembly or trying to take over our responsibilities. From the constitution, it is very clear that one of the functions of the Senate is confirmation of appointments by the President.
Other senators who spoke in the same line included Senators Isah Hamman Misau, APC, Bauchi Central, who accused the Acting President of using double standards on the Senate’s confirmation powers; Senator Matthew Urhoghide, PDP, Edo South, who urged the executive to approach the Supreme Court if it wanted to contest the powers of the Senate and Senator Samuel Anyanwu, PDP, Imo East, who issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Saraki to do something about the controversial statement by the Acting President.
“We must take a stand. If the leadership does not do anything about this issue within 48 hours, we will move against the leadership. I want to say that anybody who is invited by the EFCC should not go because they are not standing on any law.”
Also contributing, Senator Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West said: “It is time for the Senate to tell the Executive Arm of government that they must stop approbating and reprobating. This republic that our fathers fought for should not be allowed to be completely destroyed. Not in our time, God forbid.
“Magu came for a job interview and failed, and he was rejected. As we speak, Magu is still parading himself as the chairman of EFCC. The same executive now writes a letter that we should confirm someone who went to resume office without confirmation, and he was chased out of office. Now that name has been brought before us.
“The integrity of the Senate is at stake. This Senate cannot be disregarded and insulted; our authority to confirm cannot be eroded. I am moving a motion that it becomes abominable to read any other confirmation report in this chamber until they act on our position. Those who have failed should go back, Magu is not the last Nigerian Angel.
He can serve this country in another capacity.”
Senate Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye, APC, Osun Central, insisted that the executive must obey the provisions of the constitution and expressed his disappointment, saying that though he voted for Magu, he had to abide by the overriding vote of the Senate to reject him.
“Every public servant is bound to obey every law of the Republic. Nobody, not the President, Vice or the Senate President has the right to disobey our laws. Whoever has problems with our laws should go to court and declare them null and void. Until that is done, every law of the land must be respected.
“I voted yes for Magu. But the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria voted no. I stand with the Nigerian Senate. I choose a strong institution. We should not allow our institutions to be weakened.”
According to Adeyeye, if there is any law passed by the National Assembly, signed by the President and gazetted, no one has the permission to dance around that law, adding, “Whoever has a problem with any law should go to court, until a court declares it null and void it remains the law of the land. Anyone who does not respect it is breaking the law of the land.”
On his part, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who noted that the executive must obey the contents of the Constitution, said: “Let me make it clear that this has nothing to do with the Director-General of Lottery Commission or Ibrahim Magu, but about our constitution. One of the features of the Senate is the power of confirmation. The framers of the Constitution gave the power to the Senate.
“If the law says that an appointee requires confirmation, we must obey what the law says. The executive must follow the provisions of the constitution.”
A move by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South to draw attention to the absence of the Acting President in the country for two days running which he said had left a power vacuum was hushed down on the intervention of the Senate President.
For about five minutes, from 12.25 to 12.30 Southwest senators clubbing together with some Northern senators stood against Abaribe’s interjection.
Senator Kabiru Marafa, APC, Zamfara Central, countered Abaribe and was upheld by the Senate President.
Interestingly, of the 11 senators that spoke yesterday, six were of the APC, while the other five were of the PDP.
Upholding the point of order raised by Senator Yerima, the President of the Senate warned that the Senate must show serious action on the matter for once and for all and put it behind them.
Senator Saraki said: “This is an issue that we have once and for all address; we cannot pass laws and see that the laws are not being obeyed. This resolution must be obeyed by the Acting President otherwise we will take appropriate actions and resolutions.
“It is very clear these resolutions as passed must be acted upon by the Acting President, and ensure that we continue to respect our democracy, our laws, and constitution. It is not for us to choose which laws we obey and which laws we don’t obey. That is not the way any civilised, modern society work. And we hope that the Acting President will take appropriate action in line with these resolutions.”