By Clifford Ndujihe & Henry Umoru
•We’ll remove Saraki at the slightest opportunity — APC senators
•Any attempt to remove him’ll be resisted, PDP senators vow
•As approval for INEC’s funds, Electoral Bill, others top agenda
ABUJA — Seventy-five days after, members of the National Assembly will resume today from their annual recess.
In the Senate, the session may be stormy on account of plots to remove Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, just as members of both parties traded words over the issue yesterday. While the PDP warned their APC colleagues not to beat the drums of war, some APC senators vowed that the Senate President will be removed at the slightest opportunity.
There are also the issues of approval of funds for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct the 2019 elections; amendments to the electoral bill; state and community police among other burning and controversial issues to be tackled.
Both chambers of the National Assembly went on recess on Tuesday, July 25, instead of Thursday July 27 on a controversial note, after what was considered a botched attempt to remove Saraki and Ekweremadu.
The Police blocked the residence of Saraki and prevented Ekweremadu from leaving his residence to attend Senate session.
However, Saraki, apparently abreast of the bid attended the session where 17 senators left the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and defected to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and thereafter adjourned for recess.
A similar scenario played out in the House of Representatives, which also went on recess after 37 lawmakers left the APC for opposition parties, including the PDP.
Saraki was to formally defect to the PDP on July 31. The move fuelled calls by APC leaders on him to resign his Senate presidency or be impeached.
Saraki countered that the APC does not have the two-third majority or 73 senators needed to impeach him, a reason today’s resumption is expected to be stormy.
House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, two weeks ago left the APC for the PDP and has picked a re-election ticket on the banner of the PDP for his constituency in Bauchi State.
He is also a target for impeachment as the APC is insisting on its control of the National Assembly as the majority party in the country.
Indeed, on July 24 when the National Assembly adjourned for recess, to resume on September 25 in line with the Senate legislative calendar, some lawmakers, especially those bent on his removal as Senate president, described the adjournment as abrupt against the backdrop that the announcement came shortly after some senators dumped the ruling APC for the PDP.
Senators who defected that day were Dino Melaye (Kogi West); former National Chairman of PDP, Barnabas Gemade (Benue North-East); Abdullahi Danbaba (Sokoto South); Mohammed Shaaba 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), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano Central), and Soji Akanbi (Oyo South).
Also on the list were Senators Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi North), Olanrewaju Tejuoso (Ogun Central) and Abdulaziz Nyako (Adamawa Central).
But in a U- turn, Senators Soji Akanbi (APC, Oyo South) and Lanre Tejuoso (Ogun Central) whose names were contained in the letter later addressed journalists, saying that they remained members of the APC.
The lawmakers could not resume on September 25. The resumption was postponed to today, October, 9 via a statement by the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori. No specific reason was given for the extension, even though the parties were holding their primaries then.
PDP senators vow to resist attempts to remove Saraki
Indeed, PDP Senate Caucus, yesterday, said that it was prepared for a battle with APC senators who are bent on using forceful means to remove Senate President Saraki and Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu.
Taking a swipe at the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, the PDP senators warned him against any plan to cause tension and problem in the Senate, stressing that the leadership of the Senate is not by party affiliation but through an election by all the senators.
Speaking with Vanguard yesterday, the incoming Senate Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi, PDP, Ekiti South said that Lawan as a principal officer and one of the oldest lawmakers in the present dispensation should be conversant with the workings of the National Assembly and the Senate in particular with regard to what it takes to remove presiding officers.
Olujimi who noted that the Senators were returning to face their duties more squarely, however prayed that no one distracts them from working, adding that the unity of the Senate is more important than anybody’s inordinate ambition.
Senator Olujimi said: “The Senate leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan should not cause tension and problem in the Senate. He should not promise the APC what he cannot deliver, Nigerians should hold him responsible if the Senate is unable to sit because the leadership of the Senate is not by party affiliation, it is through an election among all the Senators.
“Lawan should be reminded that the election of the present Presiding officers of the Senate was done even when he was not present. He should be reminded that responsible senators who attended the inauguration of the Senate as announced by President Buhari elected the Presiding officers and that Ahmad Lawan as the Senate leader should be conversant with the procedure for the removal of presiding officers and for the avoidance of doubt, the Senate is solidly behind the presiding offers and we will resist any attempt that will offset the calm situation in the Senate.
“The Senate leader should please note that we are returning to handle all outstanding issues and he should be held responsible if we are not able to accomplish them. We ask him as one of the Principal officers of the Senate to refrain from beating drums of war that will not do anyone any good. We have resolved as Senators of the Federal Republic to face our duties squarely and pray that no one distracts us. The unity of the Senate is more important than anybody’s inordinate ambition.”
We’ll remove Saraki at the slightest opportunity, says Omo-Agege
However, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who recently defected to the APC from the Labour Party, said yesterday that APC senators would take the first opportunity open to them to remove Saraki as Senate President.
“Our demand has not changed, in fact, that demand has been accentuated by the directive of the APC national leadership,” Omo-Agege representing Delta Central Senatorial District told NAN.
“We have all been enjoined as APC senators at a slightest opportunity to remove Saraki and once we are provided with that slightest opportunity, we will remove him and he knows that,” he said.
According to him, the moment Saraki left the APC to join the minority PDP, he lost the right, legal and moral, to occupy the office of the Senate President.
“Absolutely, he knows he cannot be; we are not shying away from that. Our position has always been consistent. This is not new, neither is it news. We have made that clear, very clearly in the past.
On whether the members, who were aggrieved by the outcome of the primaries at various states might affect their plan, the senator said: “Well, that is something that we will need to address when we return on Tuesday. ’We will take an audit of where we are in terms of the numbers, in terms of those who are happy and those who are not happy.
As part of the looming trouble, the National Assembly during the recess, had through its Committee on INEC told President Buhari that the sources of funding the 2019 elections budget should come from the Service Wide Vote.
There are insinuations that the Presidency may introduce new items against the backdrop that with the delay to the INEC Fund and that of the Electoral Bill, there may be hiccups to the conduct of the general elections.
The National Assembly had also during the holiday, overruled President Buhari on the budget through its joint Committee on INEC, headed by Senator Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi North) who has dumped the ruling APC.
The Committee reduced the 2019 INEC budget by N200,272,500.
Briefing journalists in Abuja on the development after a meeting of the committee during the recess, Suleiman Nazif asked the President to source funds from Service Wide Votes.
Service Wide Vote is a special intervention fund for the Presidency to intervene in special projects at its discretion. The sum of N943,573,457,911 was allocated to Service Wide Votes in the N9.120 trillion 2018 budget.
Nazif, who revealed that the Committee slashed the first component of INEC budget from N143,512,529,455 to N143,312,256,955, signifying a reduction of N200,272,500, said that the committee’s recommendations would be forwarded to the Appropriations Committee and the National Assembly leadership for further legislative action.
He had said: “The committee is suggesting to the leadership of the National Assembly and the Committee on Appropriation to source the funding of this Budget through virement from Other Service-wide votes under the Special Intervention Programme (Recurrent) to ease consideration and avoid increase in the size of the 2018 expenditure frame work.”
Nazif who made the declaration in the presence of other committee members including Co- Chair, Hon Aisha Dukku ( APC, Gombe), also declared that a total sum of N200, 272, 500 was also removed from the N143.512bn election budget proposal.
According to him, the reduced figures were arrived at from N50m cut from item 64 of the INEC budget proposal, N71m from item 74, N50m from item item 125 and N29m from item 167, adding, “Subsequently, after extensive deliberations, the Committee reviewed the INEC Budget to “N143.312.256.955.13, signifying a reduction of N200,272,500.00. These reductions cover items Nos 64. 74. 125 and 167 respectively.
“Therefore, the reviewed figures of N143,312,256,955.13, as reached is the recommendation of the Joint Committee that will be rewarded to both the Leadership and Appropriation Committee for further Legislative consideration.
“In furtherance, the Committee is suggesting to the Leadership of the National Assembly and the Committee on Appropriation to source the funding of this Budget through virement from Other Service wide votes under the Special Intervention Programme (Recurrent) to ease consideration and avoid increase in the size of the 2018 expenditure frame work.”
Senator Nazif however called on the Presidency to forward the second component of INEC budget worth N45,695,015,438 to the National Assembly for approval.
President Buhari in a letter dated July 11, 2018, called on the National Assembly to vire the sum of N228.8 billion which includes funds for the conduct of the election and other critical projects, from new projects allegedly inserted into the 2018 budget worth N578.3 billion by the legislators to fund the 1,403 projects they added .
The letter was read on the floor of the Senate on July 17, 2018 before both chambers of the National Assembly went for its two-month annual recess.
The President in the request explained to the lawmakers that out of the N228bn , N164bn would be for 2019 elections budget from which N143bn should be appropriated for the INEC this year, while the balance of N64bn would be used for execution of some critical projects.
Another salient issue that may cause a stormy session as the Senate resumes today is President Buhari’s refusal, for the third time, to assent to the 2010 Electoral Act ( Amendment) Bill 2018 forwarded to him by the National Assembly.
September 2018 was the expiration of constitutional duration of the bill and it was still on his table without assent, making it suffer what it had done on two separate instances.
President Buhari had in February this year refused assent to the first of such bills sent to him as a result of re-ordering of sequence of elections contained in it and other contentious provisions.
Also, the President in July vetoed a re-drafted version of the bill excluding provisions for re-ordering of sequence of elections by not in any way assenting it or commenting on its provisions from June 27, 2018 when it was transmitted to him, to July 26, 2018 when its constitutional life span for presidential assent or comments expired .
But the third one passed by both chambers of the National Assembly on July 24 July this year and transmitted to the President for assent on August 3, 2018, was commented on by the President but not assented to .
In a statement issued in Abuja to Journalists, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters ( Senate), Senator Ita Enang said that President Buhari raised issues of drafting errors in his comment on the bill on Thursday last week ( 30th August 2018) and communicated the National Assembly for needed correction.
State, Community police
As the Senate resumes today, the process of establishing State and Community Police that would be saddled with the responsibility of maintaining public security, preservation of public order and security of persons and property will be on top of the agenda for discourse.
To begin the process, a Bill for the alteration of the 1999 Constitution for the creation of state police was read the first time in the Senate, as there are moves for it to be given accelerated consideration for second reading and subsequently, public hearing.
The Bill Titled ‘Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Alteration) Bill, 2018’ is sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and co-sponsored by 49 other Senators.
This Bill seeks to alter the provisions of the Constitution to establish State and Community Police; change the names of Nigeria Police Force to Federal Police Service; the Nigerian Police Service Commission to National Police Service Commission; the Nigerian Police Council to the National Police Council; and other related matters.
While debating a motion sponsored by Senator Jonah Jang, lawmakers described the current centralization of policing in Nigeria as a colossal failure and stressed the urgent need to amend the constitution to allow for state and community police.