•Truce good for the nation, says Chekwas Okorie, CISLAC
•As Saraki reads 17 letters from Buhari
•Buhari requests N346bn budget for NDDC
By Emmanuel Aziken and Henry Umoru
ABUJA — Anxiety over a showdown along party lines between All Progressives Congress, APC, and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, senators on the resumption of the Senate yesterday, turned into an anti-climax.
Against expectations, the senators reached a deal in a secret session to preserve the dignity and configuration of its leadership, putting an end to the clamour for the removal of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, from office.
As part of the deal that was reached following 75 days extended holiday, APC senators also won an agreement from the PDP leadership of the Senate to project national interests above partisan inclinations.
The move was welcomed yesterday by the Transparency International, Nigeria.
Also yesterday, the president’s request for the approval of an N346.5 billion 2018 statutory budget for the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, was tabled. Also listed was a request to raise an external capital of $2.786 billion and $82.54m to refinance the balance of $500m matured Eurobond in the international capital market.
Yesterday’s resumption of the Senate was preceded by tension, following threats by APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and some party chieftains, including the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, and Senator Ovie Omo-Agege to advance the removal of Senator Saraki as Senate President, following his defection from the APC to PDP.
The threats against Saraki were part of intrigues that shadowed the Senate during its recess when a plot to reconvene the Senate led to a siege to the National Assembly that ultimately forced out Lawal Daura as director-general of the Department of State Services, DSS.
The ambience of cordiality, yesterday, was stoked by sadness over the recent death of a member of the House of Representatives, Ms. Funke Adedoyin.
As the lawmakers, many of them fresh from the primary battles, returned yesterday, the partisan potshots that characterised the holiday was immediately replaced by an unusual camaraderie.
As Saraki entered the hallowed chamber at 11.03 a.m. senators according to tradition, stood up hugging him and one another.
The senators immediately went into a closed session that lasted from 11.05 to 11.25 a.m.
A source told Vanguard that at the closed-door meeting, the senators agreed to give peace a chance and avoid throwing the Senate chamber into an arena of conflict over partisan and personal issues.
“The APC Caucus leadership also extracted a promise from the Senate President that national interest will continue to take precedence over any other consideration in the activities of the Senate,” a source in the session told Vanguard yesterday.
They also agreed to give peace a chance in the remaining days of their legislative activities in the 8th Senate.
The claim was confirmed by multiple sources.
As one of the sources said: “The Senate today (yesterday) reconvened after about two months recess and immediately went into closed session where all members had frank discussions about the future of the 8th Senate as it goes into its last stage.
“The senators agreed not to allow external forces and influence to cause disaffection, disturbance or crisis within the legislature.
“The members agreed to give peace a chance and avoid allowing the Red Chamber of the Federal Legislature to degenerate into an arena of conflict over partisan and personal issues.”
Olujimi takes Akpabio’s seat
Meanwhile, the new Senate Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi, PDP, Ekiti South, yesterday took her seat, having replaced the former minority leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who dumped the PDP for APC.
Olujimi sat very close to her deputy, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, the Senate Deputy Minority Leader.
She becomes the second woman to hold the position after Senator Florence Ita-Giwa who held the position briefly in the Fourth Senate.
17 letters from Buhari
Meanwhile, 17 letters from President Muhammadu Buhari conveyed to the Senate during the holidays were read on the floor of the Senate, yesterday.
The 17 letters from the President issued between June and September 2018 were all read by the Senate President.
The letters included 12 conveying the president’s decision to reject certain bills passed on to him by the National Assembly. They included, among others, Institute of Entrepreneurship (establishment) Bill 2018, Stamp Duties (Amendment) Bill 2018, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 and Development Income Tax Relief (Amendment) Bill 2018.
Others were Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018, Advance Fee Fraud and other Related Offences (Amendment) Bill 2017, National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (Establishment) Bill 2018, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Amendment) Bill 2017, National Research and Innovation Council (Establishment) Bill 2017, National Agricultural Seeds Council Bill 2018 and Subsidiary Legislation ( Legislative Scrutiny) Bill 2018.
In the categories of requests made by the President for consideration and approval of the Senate were an executive bill, titled “Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill ( 2018), request for confirmation of the appointment of Olanipekun Olukoyede as the Secretary of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The president in one of the letters said he rejected the Electoral Act Amendment Bill because of what he cited as drafting issues in the bill passed on to him.
“I am declining assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill due to some drafting issues that remain unaddressed, following the prior revision to the Bill.”
Giving reason he declined to assent to the advance fee fraud and other related offences (amendment) bill, President Buhari said: “I am declining presidential assent to this Bill which would reduce the minimum punishment for the offences under the Advance Fee Fraud and other Related Offences Act due to the prevalence of the offences, the need to deter the offences and the need to punish offenders adequately.
‘’I am also concerned that the amendment to the Principal Act has watered down the sentence by giving the court too much discretion in respect of the minimum sentence.”
Reacting to the turnover of bills rejection, the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, called for the setting up of a technical committee by the Senate to look into them for a possible way out.
Responding, the Senate President, saddled Lawan with the responsibility of drawing the list of members of the technical committee for him as the Presiding officer to read out.
The Senate, however, could not hold full plenary due to the death of Olufunke Adedoyin from Kwara State who died penultimate Friday.
In line with the tradition of the National Assembly both chambers adjourned plenary till today in honour of their departed colleague.
Reacting, yesterday, the executive director of the Civil Society Advocacy Legislative Centre, CISLAC, Mallam Auwal Rafsanjani and also head of Transparency International, Nigeria welcomed the truce saying it was what many Nigerians had advocated for.
He said: “this is what CISLAC has been advocating for, peaceful resolution of this misunderstanding between the government and the legislature because we believe that the only way to make legislative progress is for the legislative and executive branches to work together towards a common goal.
“We believe that what has happened now will put an end to unnecessary tension in governance and it would bring an end to disruption to governance. The National Assembly members must be allowed to do their work in a free way and failure to do that, the executive will itself not be able to achieve its objectives.
“I think it is important that we leave negative politics in the National Assembly and face governance issues. Indeed, it is important for the ruling party, the opposition, the executive all come together for the common good.”
It’s the most patriotic thing to do, says Chekwas Okorie
Reacting to the development, Chief Chekwas Okorie, Chairman of the United Progressive Party, UPP, said: It’s a welcome development and the most patriotic thing to do. Not because Saraki as an individual is morally wrong, it’s unprecedented in the political history of Nigeria for a seating Senate President to decamp to another party rather than the party that brought him into Senate and whose platform he became the Senate President. If they insist on what they intended before, it would be seen as political vengeance and it is the country that will suffer. Because it will affect the nation’s budget, the electoral laws and the constitution.”