Saraki urges senators to defend democracy
• To treat ministerial list with dispatch
• Promises vigorous legislation to revive economy
• Dogara urges caution over Senate president’s ordeal
SENATE President Bukola Saraki yesterday, exhorted his colleagues in the upper legislative chamber to join him in the fight against forces he said were working against democracy.
In a reference to his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Saraki said: “We must not be held down by unnecessary politicking. The enormity of our national challenges at this time does not give room for pettiness or politics of vendetta. Distinguished senators, I believe you have all followed with keen interest, my trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. I shall avoid discussing the details of that case here for obvious reasons.
‘‘Meanwhile, I wish to reiterate my remarks before the tribunal, that I have no iota of doubt that I am on trial today because I am the president of the Nigerian Senate, against the wishes of some powerful individuals outside this chambers.
‘‘But what is clear to me also, is that the laws of Nigeria, and the rules of the National Assembly give consideration only to the wishes and desires of those of you who are here today as members of the Senate, to elect as you wish, one of your peers as President of the Senate. This, in your wisdom, is what you have done by electing me to be the first among all of you who are my equals. The laws of Nigeria do not give any consideration to any other forces outside the Senate in the election of its President. And to yield the ground on this note is to be complicit in the subversion of democracy and its core principles of separation of powers as enshrined in our constitution. This is why we must once again commend President Muhammadu Buhari, for refusing to interfere in the election of the National Assembly leadership even in the face of enormous pressure on him to do so. He has proven quite concretely that he is indeed a born-again democrat.
‘‘Too many people have fought and died for the democracy that we enjoy today. We would not be honouring them and their memories if we allow the sad chapters of our history to continue to repeat themselves like a bad curse.
‘‘As for me, I am prepared to do my duty in defence of our democracy and in safeguarding the independence of the National Assembly. My duty, as I see it, is to do justice and honour to the memory of those who have paid even higher prices to give us this democracy and this constitution.
‘‘Primarily as a Senator of the Federal Republic and as Senate President, I owe it to this Senate to stand strong in the face of relentless persecution. I invite all of you to stand with me to defend this Senate and preserve its sanctity.
‘‘Ultimately, our legacies would not be defined by how long we stay here and in whatever position; but by what we did with this great opportunity that our people have given us by the grace of Almighty God.”
And in a strong show of unequivocal support as if to endorse the position enunciated in his address, the Senators went ahead to pass a vote of confidence in Saraki despite an open protest by Senator Kabiru Marafa of the All Progressives Congress (APC) from Zamfara State.
The vote of confidence, the second in two months, came after a motion sponsored by Senator David Umaru (APC, Niger East) and seconded by Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima, another APC member from Zamfara State, and co-sponsored by 81 other senators.
Also, the Senate said yesterday it would treat with dispatch, the screening and confirmation of ministers whenever the list of nominees was sent to it by the president, adding, however, that it would not observe the “bow and go” but would allow merit and competence to guide it in the screening exercise.
Marafa, in protesting against the confidence vote said he was unfairly treated by Saraki who he claimed, deliberately refused to identify him after raising his hands several times on the floor to express his opinion on the matter.
On the expected list of ministerial nominees from the President, Saraki said: “I want to urge you all my colleagues to ensure that what is uppermost in our minds as we begin the constitutional task of screening ministerial nominees is the overall interest of our country, informed by the enormity and the urgency of the challenges before us. Once the list is submitted, let us ensure that we treat it with dispatch and thoroughness.”
Also, the Senate said it would review the 2015 budget with a view to making positive impact on the economy.
Saraki had in his speech, said: “The biggest challenge faced by our country today is the state of our economy. The dwindling oil revenue has brought enormous shock to our economy and greatly limited the capacity of government at various levels to meet even basic commitments. We must think hard and work hard with the Executive to achieve greater clarity in policy direction and interventions. We shall therefore commence immediately, a review of the 2015 budget and begin now to lay down the fundamental principles that would determine the 2016 budget and the philosophy of our economy in times like this.
In another development, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has commended the decision of the Senate President to submit himself to the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal in recognition that no person is above the law.
Addressing the House at the resumption of plenary yesterday, the Speaker urged the government to be circumspect in the arraignment of the Senate President in order to maintain proper focus in pursuit of the common good.
He commended the maturity exhibited by members in the unfolding saga, a development he said has helped to avoid further escalation of the matter through media commentaries.
“We commend and fully support the effort of government towards sanitising the polity through the war against corruption, impunity and other vices. As legislators with the mandate of making as well as reforming the law, we expect that these institutions, which are the creation of these laws, would prove their capacity for fairness, justice and strict adherence to the rule of law in order not to endanger our democracy. I am confident that our justice system has the capacity to do justice to all citizens,” Dogara said.