By Henry Umoru
ABUJA— THE Senate, yesterday, witnessed a rowdy session, following complaints of alleged lopsided appointments into federal boards and parastatals by President Muhammadu Buhari.
For more than half an hour, the hallowed chamber was stormy over alleged bias by President Buhari in his federal appointments, just as he was accused of being biased in favour of northerners, particularly Katsina State, his home state.
With the shouting session, it became very clear that there was sharp division between the Southern and Northern senators.
Talks in the chamber from some northern senators were that Buhari had been fair to all Nigerians, irrespective of tribe and religion.
Subsequently, the Senate mandated its Committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs, led by Senator Tijjani Yahaya Kaura (APC, Zamfara North), to probe all appointments of the President as well as establish the alleged lopsidedness.
The committee, which was asked to carry out a holistic investigation into the appointments, taking into cognisance, adherence to federal character principle, rule of law, among others, will submit its report on Tuesday at plenary.
Trouble started when Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, who presided, read a letter from President Buhari, asking the Senate to screen and confirm appointments into the board of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA.
In the letter, which was read on the floor of the Senate by Saraki, President Buhari asked the Senate to confirm former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Tunde Lemo, as chairman of FERMA; Nurudeen Abdulrahman Rafindafi as Managing Director; Buba Silas Abdullahi; Babangana Mohammed Aji; Shehu Usman Abdullahi; Loretta Ngozichukwu Aniagolu; Mujaidu Stanley Dako and Vincent Oladapo Kolawale as executive directors.
Immediately the Senate President read the letter, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu West), raised a point of order to challenge the appointments, stressing that most of the appointments of the current administration were not in line with the Federal Character Principle.
Ekweremadu read Section 14(3) of 1999 Constitution as amended to buttress his argument.
Ekweremadu, who picked holes in the appointment of chairmen of boards without recourse to federal character principle, with a particular zone of the country, the South East being neglected and marginalised, then urged the Senate to put on hold the confirmation process.
He also called for investigation into the alleged lopsided appointments, adding that he was not against any person, but the manner one part of the country had been so favoured.
Soon after Ekweremadu rounded off his remarks, the leader of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North), who also relied on a point of order, however, countered the Deputy Senate President’s allegation, insisting that Ekweremadu did not look at the bigger picture before jumping into such conclusions.
Senator Lawan, who urged Ekweremadu to remove his mind from the narrow picture, however, asked him to look at all other appointments in other agencies before alleging that the Federal Character Principle was not followed in the appointments.
Supporting Ekweremadu, Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North), aligned himself with his argument that the appointments of the current administration had been so lopsided, favouring a particular region of the country
At this point, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, while trying to calm the situation, pointed out that observations by the lawmakers could only be considered as personal to those raising them.
He, however, mandated the committee on Federal Character to carry out a comprehensive investigation on the appointments of President Buhari, adding that when the committee submits its report, senators could then raise allegations, if it was established that there was need to do so.
Even with Saraki’s intervention, the senators were not persuaded, but continued with their arguments over the appointments. While some backed Ekweremadu’s observation, others disagreed.
While Saraki was trying to calm frayed nerves of the senators during the rowdy session, Senator Obinna Ogba, PDP, Ebonyi Central, raised a point of Order still on the issue of lopsidedness in the appointments by the President.
Ogba pointed out that his state, Ebonyi, was shortchanged in appointments, adding, “Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, we cannot continue on this nomination. If you look at this, Ebony State’s slot is completely missing.”
While he was still speaking, there were moves by other senators to stop him, but he shouted at them, saying “ are you the ones presiding, you cannot stop me from speaking.”
Another round of heated argument reared its head when the Senate president moved to begin the confirmation of the appointment of chairman and commissioners of the Federal Civil Service Commission when Mao Ohuabunwa,PDP, Abia North, raised a point of order, insisting that the Senate should suspend the consideration.
While speaking, some senators tried to stop him, but he told them the they do not have the monopoly to shout as he could also do that if the need arose.
Senator Ohuabunwa’s argument was that since the Senate had agreed to investigate all the appointments of the current administration, the confirmation should be stepped down until the Committee on Federal Character submits its report.
The Senate president, however, overruled him, saying the screening should continue, pending when the Committee on Federal Character submits its report.
He added that yesterday’s consideration of the Senate was not the final confirmation of the nominees, maintaining that before the appointees were confirmed, the Senate would have received the report of the Characters’ committee.
Saraki said: “We are just speculating, we are on the same page. Let us first get a document from Federal Character then we can take action.
‘’If the Federal Character Committee’s reports suggests that the Deputy President of the Senate is right, then we suspend the consideration.”
He, however, upheld that the screening of the Civil Service Commission’s appointees be continued and directed the Committee on Federal Character to conclude it investigation and report back to the Senate on Tuesday.