Saraki overrules protests over Senate leadership
• Two groups disagree over ICC meeting, election quorum
• Upper legislative chamber takes two weeks holiday
SENATORS opposed to the emergence of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki from Kwara Central as President of the Senate of the Eighth National Assembly have not given up efforts to remove him.
From among them, a group known as Unity Forum led by Senator Barnabas Gemade and thought to be loyal to Senator Ahmed Lawan, who lost out in the scheming and intrigues that saw Saraki emerge victorious, raised protests which were deftly handled by the new Senate President who presided at yesterday’s sitting.
The Unity Forum had drawn the attention of the Senate to what it described as disenfranchisement of senators who were shut out of Tuesday’s inauguration, pointing out that the election of the President of the Senate as carried out by the Clerk of National Assembly (CNA) was unconstitutional and lacked legitimacy.
But Saraki, who presided over the session, swiftly dismissed the allegation, saying it was not properly introduced to the Senate as required by its Standing Rule.
On behalf of the Unity Forum, Senator Ahmed Marafa of Zamfara State had raised Order 15 and 43 of the Senate Standing Rule claiming that it was unfair and unjustifiable for the Clerk of the National Assembly to have gone ahead to conduct the election despite the instruction of President Muhammadu Buhari that it be delayed for him to conclude a meeting with senators at the International Conference Centre (ICC).
Marafa had equally asked the Senate to note that his privilege and those of other APC senators who attended the ICC meeting have been terribly breached.
He lamented that his family members and other well wishers were misinformed to believe that those attending the ICC meeting were irresponsible to have been absent from the Senate inauguration.
“It caused unwarranted embarrassment for me and my family to have been portrayed as irresponsible,” Marafa lamented.
This position was, however, dismissed by Senator Dino Melaye-led Like Minds which supports Saraki as the group insisted that the President did not schedule any meeting with All Progressives Congress (APC) senators.
According to him, the President would not have scheduled the purported meeting after he had given a written directive to the CNA to proclaim the National Assembly by 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
“Mr. President I know very well is a responsible man and he had sent a proclamation letter to the Senate and therein, he stated that the inauguration would be done at 10 a.m. of June 9.
‘‘How can he then, after sending a letter to the National Assembly, still call for meeting? If he wanted to meet with us, the Defence House was there, the Villa was also there. How come he scheduled the meeting at ICC? However, did he attend to anybody?
“That information was fake and in line with name-dropping. Mr. President said he would not interfere with the election but some people have decided to drop the name of Mr. President.
“They also sent SMS that the Vice President was waiting for us but he was not available. Having seen that kind of thing on the 8th, then again on the 9th, we chose not to be deceived.
“Having been deceived the first time, we were not to be deceived again. Buhari that we know will not give two contrary opinions especially one against the constitution. That information was untrue,” Melaye said.
In his brief reaction, the Senate President said: “We took an oath to be guided by the constitution and the rule of the Senate. I refer you to Rule 53, which says it shall be out of order to raise any issue on which a decision has been taken. So, I rule you out of order.”
Continuing the argument on behalf of Unity Forum, Gemade informed the Senate that “we were told that the CNA had been approached to give a reasonable delay to the inauguration so that Mr. President’s meeting with APC senators would hold.
“We believed that there was a communication between the President and the CNA. So, we expected that if the President made this request, it was reasonable for the CNA to honour it, but this was not done,” Gemade said.
He faulted Saraki’s ruling on Marafa’s motion, pointing out that it was an attempt by the Senate President to maximise his advantage and opportunity even as he insisted that such attempt was disastrous to the unity of the Senate.
But before the Senate could proceed to consider any item in Order Paper, another Point of Order was raised by Senator Danjuma Goje of Gombe State, who cited Section 64(3) of the Constitution, drawing attention to the fact that the proclamation issued by Mr. President that the Eighth Senate be inaugurated at 10 a.m. of Tuesday remained the only directive given to the CNA that day.
According to Goje: “It was wrong for anybody to suggest that we should ignore the proclamation that was validly given and proceed to attend other meetings. The CNA read the President’s letter to us here on Tuesday and we reacted accordingly. Whoever decided to go for any other meeting was on his own.”
Saraki quickly declared the order sustained.
Addressing a press conference shortly after the Senate session, the Gemade-led Unity Forum declared that the election of Saraki was not only unconstitutional, illegitimate but also remained unacceptable.
The press conference, attended by 22 other senators from the Lawan group claimed that Saraki’s election did not fulfill the requirement for electing a President of the Senate, alleging that two-thirds of the senators was supposed to be present in the chamber for the election to be valid. He said every senator that was eligible ought to have been present.
Explaining the circumstances surrounding the meeting at ICC, Gemade said: “We received an invitation through the Office of the National Chairman of our party, the All Progressives Congress, which indicated the request of Mr. President to have a brief meeting with all the APC elected senators and House of Representatives members at the ICC before the inauguration of the National Assembly at 10 a.m.
“The insinuation in some quarters that we boycotted the election is totally unfounded.
As loyal party members, we would take all necessary political and legal means to strengthen our democracy and democratic process in line with the change that we promised our teeming supporters during our electioneering campaign.
“In our effort to meet up with the time for the inauguration, we rushed to honour the invitation of Mr. President and while at the Conference Centre, news filtered to us that the Clerk of the National Assembly has started the process of election of the Senate President in our absence.
“This process which remains unconstitutional cannot confer legitimacy to the elected Senate President.
Our right to participate in the election of the Senate President is a constitutional right which cannot be taken away by any person or group of persons.
“The Clerk of the National Assembly, knowing full well that the quorum for election of the Senate President was not met, went ahead to conduct an election that shut the door on about 53 other senators. That election would remain unacceptable until what would meet democratic parameters is done.”
Dismissing Gemade’s claim that the Senate requires two-thirds majority to elect its President, Melaye stated: “On the issue of quorum, Order 10(1) states that the quorum shall be one third of the 109 and that is 38 and we had 76 senators in attendance.
All we are going to do is to support Saraki as a one big family.”
Melaye drew attention to Order 10(1) of the Senate Standing Order, which states that: “The quorum shall be one-third of the 109.” So, 37 was a quorum and we had 76 people in attendance.”
At the time of Saraki’s election, however, 57 senators were present in chamber.
Of this number, 23 were APC members while 34 were of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Also yesterday, a mild drama played out when Saraki presided over the swearing-in of some 28 senators including Lawan and his supporters.
Senator Oluremi Tinubu of APC, who represents Lagos Central, openly rejected a handshake offered her by the Senate President immediately after she had taken her oath.
As a matter of protocol, every senator who had taken the oath office would proceed to have a handshake with the President of the Senate.
Meanwhile, Senate has adjourned till June 23, but not before then, the chamber sent a message to President Muhammadu Buhari informing him that the presiding officers of the Eighth Senate have been elected as follows: “Senator Bukola Saraki, Senate President; Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Senate President.”