•There are issues pending for NASS to reconvene—APC lawmakers
•There’s nothing urgent to warrant reconvening —PDP lawmakers
•APC should be careful not to truncate democracy — PDP
•Saraki hasn’t violated any law by defecting — Ahmed Raji, SAN
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru & Emman Ovuakporie
ABUJA—The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, buoyed by the influx of bigwig politicians into its ranks, this week, were at each others’ throats last night, over fears that moves were afoot to impeach the current leadership of the National Assembly.
While APC lawmakers cited outstanding legislative proposals, their PDP counterparts alleged ulterior motives in the agitation, even as some of them chided the Presidency for laxity in the implementation of its legislative agenda.
The agitation for the resumption of the National Assembly was, however, rebuffed by the PDP which warned the APC not to truncate the nation’s democracy with the enthronement of its kangaroo-style siege to state legislative houses at the federal level.
Among outstanding issues cited by the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Senate), Ita Enang, last week, were 2018 virement proposals including proposals for elections, approval of borrowings to fund the 2018 Appropriation and approval of the 2018 budgets of 64 government-owned corporations. There are also outstanding appointments laid by Mr. President along with the 2018 budget, including a request for approval of appointments which will ensure the fulfilment of the purposes meant.
The two chambers of the National Assembly shut down penultimate Tuesday, following the siege to the homes of the two presiding officers of the Senate, Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
Senator Saraki escaped the siege to surface in the chamber and presided over the session during which 14 APC senators defected to the PDP and squashed alleged moves to remove him from office.
Why NASS should reconvene —Ndume
Speaking on a Channels Television programme on the eight-week recess, former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume said: “What I want to do personally is to call on the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to reconvene the Senate because we have critical matters of urgent national importance before the National Assembly.
“His closure of the National Assembly that day was unbelievable. I was shocked by the way he acted.
“The Senate is not Saraki; he is just a member of the Senate. Saraki is just a presiding officer that anybody can be, so for him to have just shut down the National Assembly because of personal issues, is very unfortunate and uncalled for, especially when you have significant matters before the Senate,” he added.
Abu Ibrahim, Marafa back Ndume
His agitation was echoed, yesterday, by Senators Abu Ibrahim and Kabiru Marafa who told Vanguard yesterday that the recess should be immediately called off.
“First, the recess was done abruptly to everybody’s surprise, but I think it was done to forestall certain things.
“So, obviously we must make every effort to find time, even for a day because it is only paramount and it requires our approval because the president is a very prudent and law-abiding president; if it were previous presidents they would not even fight us, and they will do it. Even for that, we should emphasize the interest of the nation, give a day and come and sit down and pass this and send it to Mr. President.
“This is a difficult situation but let me use some connections that I have within the National Assembly and see if we can be able to come back. In the next one or two weeks, we would be pushing and see how it goes.”
Also speaking with Vanguard, Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (downstream), Senator Kabiru Marafa, APC, Zamfara Central said: “I am absolutely in support that we should reconvene as there are pressing national issues as enumerated by the leadership especially as the majority in the Senate and that is why we are elected.
“There is nothing bad about us coming back; attend to the issues and go back. I agree that we are on a lawful break which we are entitled to, but the law did not say that we cannot resume and attend to issues of national importance and we go back to continue with the break.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has to conduct the elections. It is only natural we reconvene and address the issues and go back for a holiday.”
PDP senators insist on recess
The calls were, however, dismissed by PDP senators. Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo South) said: “Is it today that they knew INEC would need money to conduct the election? The executive knew that the National Assembly would go on its annual recess like the judiciary, why is the executive blaming the legislature now? Why did they not bring the INEC budget two or three months ago? Why now when they knew that we would go on break? Instead of doing that on time, they were pursuing their selfish agenda of changing the leadership of the Senate.”
Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East) said: “We are on recess, and it is allowed. After a long journey or battle, you go on recess. I thought they said the senators don’t do anything; they don’t work, they just go there and eat money. Now we have to rest, and most of us are out of the country for various reasons while some are in their constituencies politicking.
“But if there is a serious issue that requires urgent attention that will help the country to move forward, that will make Nigerians happy, why not? We are there, they elected us, they will recall us, and we could come and do the right thing. Of course, we know we would have concluded most things if not for the fact that there was a parliamentary coup which did not succeed and we have to go back and re-strategise.”
Reps also split
Members of the House of Representatives were equally divided along partisan lines with the PDP members rebuffing entreaties of the APC lawmakers.
“They want us to reconvene to cause further crisis”, says Aliyu Madaki (PDP, Kano).
Madaki, who recently defected from the APC to the PDP, said yesterday: “We are on recess and it is an annual ritual we always fulfil. They want us to reconvene so that they can cause further crisis but we are very ready for them.”
On the supplementary budget, he said: “We saw it before we went on recess and we can always look at it when we resume; if it is not in good taste, we will return it to them immediately.
“There is an ulterior motive behind the call, says Kingsley Ogundu Chinda, (PDP, Rivers), Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts.
Chinda said: “There must be an ulterior motive behind the call to reconvene the National Assembly, but we’ll surprise them.
“And if I may ask, for what purpose are we reconvening? If it is because of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, budget why did the executive fail to include it in the 2019 Appropriation?” he wondered.
“But whatever they are plotting, we’ll surprise them and make what is on the ground for now a child’s play as we are sure they will not succeed with their selfish intentions.
“Since we are here to represent our people, if it becomes mandatory, we may reconvene, but if they attempt anything funny, we’ll surprise them.”
“There’s no emergency to warrant reconvening of NASS”, adds Solomon Maren (PDP, Plateau).
Maren on his part said that “there’s no problem with the National Assembly reconvening if the need arises but, at the moment, there is no emergency to warrant reconvening.
“Dissident members or Senators cannot make us reconvene because if this happens, it will mean we are giving credence to their misbehaviour.
“The National Assembly and indeed legislative conventions do not allow activities of parliament to be controlled by emotions, rather on rules and constitutional provisions.”
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondinyan told Vanguard yesterday that the APC should not toy with the idea of enthroning what it yesterday described as its kangaroo-style tactics operated at the state level at the national level.
The party spokesman said doing such could truncate the nation’s democracy.
He said: “The decision to either reconvene the Senate or not, lies with the President of the Senate and you don’t just wake up as a senator from the right side of the bed or from the left side of the bed and jump out and say, come out and open the Senate.
“There must be a matter of urgent national importance. There must be such urgent national importance for you to open the Senate.
“And we want to warn APC. If they think that the kind of kangaroo processes that they adopt in the states can be done in the National Assembly, they will put the polity under unnecessary pressure and will truncate this democracy.
“PDP will not accept any underhand measure from the APC on the issues of the National Assembly where there are rules and the constitution that guide the operations of the National Assembly.
“The National Assembly is not a kangaroo assembly where they can deploy police to go and shut down. They will just truncate this democracy,” the PDP spokesman warned yesterday.
Buhari’s vacation, cover to impeach Saraki, Ekweremadu — PDP
Meanwhile, the PDP also, yesterday, alleged that President Buhari’s two-week vacation in London was designed to exonerate him from blame in what it described as a plan to impeach Saraki and Ekweremadu.
The party in a statement, said it was aware of a plot already perfected in a meeting on “Wednesday night, between the Presidency and some All Progressives Congress (APC) senators, who are now in the minority, to forcefully reconvene the Senate with protection from security agencies, with a view to impeach Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.”
The statement further read: “The PDP knows that the desperation to illegally take control of the National Assembly is part of the design to undermine our democratic institutions and completely foist a dictatorial regime on our nation.
“The planned invasion is also a bid to cover the atrocious and humongous corruption of the Buhari administration, which the National Assembly is set to expose.
“The PDP has been reliably informed about how these APC senators, especially members of the Buhari Parliamentary Support Group (BPSG), have been provided with huge sums of money, illegally lifted from repatriated funds, to carry out this nefarious act under the guise of urgent need to approve funds for the 2019 general elections.
“It is clear that President Buhari and the APC are hugely terrified and distressed by the gale of defections from their fold and have resorted to underhand methods, threats and intimidation, irrespective of the damage being inflicted on the polity.
“Having been demeaned by the widespread condemnation of the recent siege to the residences of the Senate President and Deputy Senate President, in addition to the invasion of the Benue State House of Assembly in a failed attempt to impeach Governor Samuel Ortom and forcefully take over the state, President Buhari is now jetting out of the country so as to appear innocent and oblivious of the political terrors about to be unleashed on the National Assembly.
“This is the same leader who, in 2014, applauded the defection of PDP members, including then leaders of the National Assembly, into his APC, describing the movement, then, as ‘good for democracy’.”
Saraki has not violated any rule for defecting — Ahmed Raji
A notable Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ahmed Raji, however has cleared the air that Dr. Bukola Saraki has not violated any known law of the land by defecting from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Raji, who disclosed this in an interview with Vanguard, said it was only the Senate President that the constitution vested with the power to reconvene the Senate.
Although, he was quick to point out that he does not believe that some senators were scheming to forcibly reopen the Senate. Raji said: “I do not think anybody has threatened to forcefully reopen the senate. What they have said is that they want to appeal to the leadership to reconvene. If you check their rules, it is the prerogative of the president to convene the Senate.”
On the burning issue of legality or otherwise of Saraki’s defection, Raji, SAN, said any parliamentarian that had defected may lose his seat if there was no division within his party.
He, however, posited that what Saraki has done was presumed legal unless the action was challenged in a court of law.
“Under the constitution, Section 65, if a parliamentarian defects, except there is a division, he may lose his seat. But the question is, is there a division within the APC? Is R-APC a division? If it is held to be a division, he has not violated any law,” said Raji.
The legal practitioner pointed out that the issue of Saraki’s defection could at best be described as a mooted one. He urged the ruling party to seek a judicial determination of the matter so as to clear the air once and for all.
He said: “It has not been tested and it is a mooted point unless the court pronounces; nobody can say one way or the other. Until it is challenged, it is presumed that what he has done is legal.
‘’So far, nobody has gone to court to challenge what he has done; until there is judicial intervention, nobody can pronounce if what he has done is against the law or otherwise.”
Raji further said that the recent demand by the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, that Saraki should resign his position was founded more on morality, reiterating that Oshiomhole’s demand did not have any basis in law.
Noting that Saraki was not elected as APC Senate President, Raji wondered why Senator Ekweremadu would be occupying the seat of Deputy Senate President all this while without the ruling party asking him to resign.
On internal politics of the parliament, Raji said: “While the party majority plays the role, it is not the sole determinant. Nothing in their rules says that someone from a minority party cannot be Senate President. But in their rules, the majority leader must come from a party that has majority in the house.’’
Raji further educated that if party ‘A’ that had been the majority suddenly became the minority, that majority leader would turn out to be the minority leader.
“In this case, we are not talking of the Senate President that is elected by all of them. It is not APC affair, but the whole house affair. This is not a parliamentary system of government, but a presidential system of government. So, the question of party discipline, party structure and party hierarchy is more pronounced in parliamentary system of government because both the legislature and the executive are fused,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, Raji has advised the ruling party to muster the majority of senators if it desired to remove Saraki, but was quick to add that the majority must be 2/3 of senators to constitutionally undertake the removal of Bukola Saraki as the Senate President.
Also on what Raji expected of Saraki when he reconvenes the Senate, he posited that nothing else was expected of the Senate President than to constitutionally discharge his duties.
He said: “He was elected by them and until they withdraw the mandate, what else do you expect him to do? He hasn’t said that he is tired of the office. I expect him to discharge his duties as a responsible citizen and to pilot the affairs of the senate without rancour and without any fear or favour.’’