•Gemade, Kwankwaso, Melaye, 11 other senators; 37 Reps defect from APC
•Defections can’t harm my aspiration, APC — Buhari
•Defectors lack electoral value —Oshiomhole
•How I escaped security operatives’ siege — Saraki
•Senate adjourns for 8 weeks over siege
By Emmanuel Aziken, Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuakporie, By Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Omezia Ajayi & Abdulmumin Murtala
ABUJA—An alleged plot to remove the two presiding officers of the Senate, yesterday, could not stop the defection of 14 senators from the All Progressives Congress, APC, to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on a day of high drama that was heralded by the police siege to the homes of the two presiding officers.
The defection set a scenario of convulsion that put two different political parties controlling the Presidency and the Senate.
The similar defection of 37 members of the APC to the PDP in the House of Representatives was, however, not enough to swing control of the House towards the PDP. APC Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan however insisted yesterday that his party still retains the majority in the Senate.
The defections in the two chambers of the National Assembly were heralded by the early morning drama of the siege by the police to the homes of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
The siege to Saraki’s residence was preceded by a Police invitation to him on Monday night to report by 8.00 a.m. yesterday in connection with what the Police said was an investigation into the Offa robbery incident.
Ekweremadu was also asked in a letter dated July 24 and delivered to him, yesterday, to also report by 10.00 a.m. at the office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC to clarify its investigation on a money laundering investigation being conducted by the agency.
The invitations, Vanguard gathered yesterday, was also part of a script to keep the two presiding officers away from the chambers.
Meanwhile, a number of pro-Presidency senators, who were part of the plot to be used in effecting a change in the leadership of the Senate, were lodged in the Transcorp Hotel, about one kilometre away from the National Assembly complex.
Early yesterday morning, they were moved into the complex in a white Coaster bus for the showdown.
Siege to Saraki’s house
Meanwhile, by 6.30 a.m. yesterday, policemen had taken position around Saraki’s Lake Chad residence.
There were yet unclear indications on how Saraki beat the cordon as his convoy was stopped from proceeding to the National Assembly by the Police. The Senate President, however, explained yesterday on the floor of the Senate that he had made his preparations, apparently in anticipation of the move to restrict his movement.
“The road leading to my place was cordoned off and all cars coming in and out as early as 6:30 were being stopped and you have to come down,” he said yesterday as he sought to pooh-pooh appeals by Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan to the defecting senators to rethink their action.
“My convoy was stopped from moving. Given something that one was prepared for, I had my own car too. So the Deputy Senate President called me and said he could not come here.
“And as you are all aware, very late yesterday, at about 8 p.m., I received a letter asking me to report to the Police on a case of this Offa robbery which had been concluded before now.”
Senator Saraki also revealed to the lawmakers that if he had reported at 8.00 a.m. as demanded by the Police, Ekweremadu could also not have presided over the Senate given the siege laid to his residence at about the same time.
Meanwhile, at about the same time that the security men besieged Saraki’s residence, another batch of policemen including operatives of the EFCC also laid siege to Ekweremadu’s residence in the Apo Legislative Quarters. The men took position from the main gate to the Deputy Senate President’s residence.
Despite the invitation to him to report to the EFCC office, they, however, did not allow him to leave the residence.
Meanwhile, Saraki, Vanguard gathered yesterday, left his residence and his convoy behind and moved out in an unmarked vehicle 20 minutes before the siege to his residence commenced at about 6.20 a.m.
He was said to have proceeded straight to the National Assembly complex where he stayed under cover in the National Assembly complex.
Meanwhile, associates of the Senate President and his rivals in the Buhari Parliamentary Support Group also made early arrivals to the National Assembly complex. Among the first to arrive was Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, a strong associate of Saraki, who it was gathered, was in the complex as early as about 7.00 a.m.
The first panic button for the removal plots was first set when members of the Buhari Parliamentary Support Group, on arrival in a white Coaster bus were said to have been shocked on seeing the Saraki senators around that early morning.
Indications that Saraki’s convoy was being restrained by the Police detachment sent to stop him still gave the impeachment plotters some level of confidence that was shattered when Saraki made a quiet entry into the chambers.
As Senator Saraki took his seat and the Senate got into session he read out a letter announcing the defection of 15 senators from the APC to the PDP.
The defection letter which was jointly signed by the Senators and read to the lawmakers by Saraki read: “Dear Senate President, after due consultations with our constituents and stakeholders in our constituencies, in proper recognition of Section 68(1G) of the 1999 Constitution as amended and with the fact that our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is hereby emerging factions.
“We hereby inform the Senate that we the undersigned are changing our political affiliation from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“We thank you for your exemplary leadership.”
Senators who defected were Dino Melaye (Kogi West); former National Chairman of PDP, Barnabas Gemade (Benue North-East); Abdullahi Danbaba (Sokoto South); Mohammed Sha’aba Lafiagi (Kwara North); Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara South) and Suleiman Hunkuyi (Kaduna North).
Others were Senators Hamman Isa Misau (Bauchi Central), Monsurat Sunmonu (Oyo Central), Usman Bayero Nafada( Gombe North) and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.
Also on the list were Senators Suleiman Nazif, (Bauchi North); Olanrewaju Tejuosho (Ogun Central) and Abdulaziz Nyako (Adamawa Central).
Not long after, Senator Soji Akanbi (APC, Oyo South) whose name was in the letter later addressed journalists, saying that he remained a member of the APC.
Speaking on the development, Saraki said that a situation where presiding officers were harassed no longer makes it comfortable for lawmakers to remain in the fold of APC, adding that he would also join the defection train.
PDP tops in the Senate
With the movements yesterday, the PDP has 56 senators while the APC has 51 with two seats still unoccupied.
The Lawan plea
Reacting to the defections under matter of personal explanation, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe North), who tried to counter the action of his colleagues against the backdrop that the issues and problems in the party could be resolved, said: “The APC, our party, certainly has its own internal challenges.
“But Mr President, as a political party, we all know the effort by so many stakeholders to address the issues that bedevil this party.
“The disagreements do not translate into factionalisation. I, therefore, feel that our senators of the APC stock do not have to move to any other party. I also believe this because the issues are under serious discussions by the major stakeholders of this party.
“I will urge that the announcement be quarantined and contained and address the issues.
This matter should be stepped down until we exhaust all the opportunities.”
Senator Lawan’s submissions were immediately dismissed by Saraki who informed that Senator Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President was at that moment still being restrained by security men who were ringed round his residence.
“As you know and have seen, the seat beside you is empty. As we speak, the Deputy Senate President cannot get out of his house.
“He is under siege. This morning, I could not also leave my street as well as a result of efforts by some people that believe that today’s sitting must not hold because some members want to move or defect.
“It is not something that started today; it will not end today; people have gone, they’ve come back. But this kind of action does not allow for what you are saying (to Lawan). You are speaking as the leader of the Senate who has been here for many years.”
Besides the early morning movement by the senators, yesterday’s session was heralded by tightened security around the National Assembly.
Among the early arrivals in the National Assembly complex yesterday were Senators Rafiu Ibrahim, Oluremi Tinubu; Barnabas Gemade; Suleiman Hunkuyi; Baba Kaka Garbai; Abdullahi Adamu; Ahmad Sani, Mohammed Hassan, Olanrewaju Tejuoso and Sani Mohammed, Niger South.
Senators who also arrived early after the first set were Dino Melaye; Ovie Omo- Agege, and Benjamin Uwajumogu among others.
Meantime, the Senate formally raised a motion condemning the siege to the residences of its presiding officers and called on the security services to lift the siege.
The Senate however called on security operatives laying siege to the residence of Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu to immediately vacate and allow him enjoy his constitutional rights.
Resolution of the Senate yesterday was sequel to motion by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North).
In his contribution, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba South) who noted that it was not only a threat to democracy, but the unity of the country, said: “It is with a heavy heart I rise to contribute to this. This is not only threatening democracy but the unity of the country and we need to tread with caution. What is happening has never happened.”
Visit to Ekweremadu
At the end of plenary, Senators of all the parties visited Ekweremadu in his house to sympathise with him over what happened, just as the Minority (Majority) leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio led PDP Senators to the house.
The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus led other members of the National Working Committee, NWC on a visit to Ekweremadu.
During the visit, Ekweremadu thanked his colleagues and other Nigerians for being there for him.
Also yesterday, Chairman, South East Senate Caucus, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South), cried out over the ordeal of Saraki and Ekweremadu, saying it is unprecedented in modern democracy.
In a statement yesterday, Abaribe who called on well meaning Nigerians and the international community for interventions to save the nation’s democracy said the country was fast cascading to tyranny and fascism.
“This dangerous route is unprecedented in modern democracy. It is a sinister plot to throw the country back to the dark age of military dictatorship. Too bad for our unity as a country.”
Following the deliberation and adoption of the vote of proceedings, the Senate proceeded on recess and it is to resume on September 26 with the PDP producing a majority leader.
The senators also proceeded to the residence of Senator Ekweremadu to visit him following the removal of the security cordon around 2.00 p.m.
In the House of Reps
In the House of Representatives, 37 members also defected to the PDP and African Democratic Congress, ADC. However, the defection was not enough to alter the balance of power in the chamber as the APC continued to hold its majority.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara read the respective letters from the various members.
Four of the defectors from Oyo State decamped to the African Democratic Congress, ADC, 32 others mainly from Kwara, Kano, Benue, Sokoto and Kogi States pitched tent with the main opposition party, PDP.
One lawmaker, Emmanuel Oker-Jev from Benue, however, announced his resignation from the APC without giving his next platform.
Briefing House of Representatives correspondents after the plenary, the defected members accused the government of nepotism and lack of focus.
They added that the government has ignored the security and welfare of majority of Nigerians to serving the interest of a few individuals.
The lawmakers led by Razaq Atunwa from Kwara State said their decision to join APC in 2015 was to restore the lost glory of the country but not knowing that the party would derail.
Replying the assertion by the national chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole that the defectors did not have any electoral value, one of the lawmakers, Hassan Saleh said they would meet at the polls in 2019 to prove their worth.
He said: “There is a general saying that all politics is local. In one breath, the APC factional chairman, Adams Oshiomole said we should remain in APC. In another breath, he said that we are paper weight; that we don’t have any value. It is the end that justifies the means.
“By the time the general elections come and it is free and fair, he will now know our value in the system.”
We still control majority—APC Reps
Jolted by the defections earlier, the APC caucus led by the Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila told journalists that despite the movement, the party still controlled the majority number in the House.
“I want to say that in spite of the movement of about 36 members, four of whom went to ADC in Oyo State and the remainder 32 to PDP, and one resignation thereafter without a party yet, I want to say that not only does APC remain majority in the House, APC is actually in clear, overwhelming majority. I want to believe that those who wanted to defect were looking for about 60 members and they got half which leaves the APC over and beyond what is required for majority.”
Meanwhile, the developments had forced the national chairman of the APC, Comrade Oshiomhole to the Presidential Villa following which he denounced the defectors as lacking electoral value, saying that those who left had been the trouble of the APC administration.
Defectors lack political value — Oshiomhole
Comrade Oshiomhole was, however, silent when tasked on the siege to Saraki and Ekweremadu’s residences.
Speaking on the defections, he said: “I am committed to listening to every legitimate grievance and engaging all those who are aggrieved that we can see through their grievances. But I insist that I will not miss sleep for one minute over mercenary activities.
“This party that I am privileged to chair is not worried at all; we are not disturbed, I am not going to miss my sleep and we will go into the campaign. Check the electoral results; you will find that a lot of those who claim to have decamped on a good day, the vote they got that made them members of the senate, our president got much more votes in their constituencies. So, we are not fooled at all.
“The thing going on is that you have a lot of so-called big masquerades with very little and no electoral value. I have done my best, which I think I needed to do to give people comfort, those who claimed to be aggrieved.
“But those who have other hidden agenda that are not negotiable, I am not going to be able to appease anyone who expects x-level of return and the system is not delivering it, in terms of personal returns. I can’t solve that.”