Tempers flare on the floor of the Senate as members disagree over the confirmation of Chibuike Amaechi, former governor of Rivers State, as minister of the federal republic of Nigeria
| By Olu Ojewale | Nov 9, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
THE drama which played out on floor of the Senate confirmation of Chibuike Amaechi, former governor of Rivers State, as minister of the federal republic of Nigeria, on Thursday, October 29, was largely expected. But no one expected how it was going to play out or the dimension it would take.
In any case, after flaring of tempers and emotional arguments on both sides, one party decided to walk out. As seen on television, members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who could not stomach the determination of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to get their man confirmed, decided to leave the stage. In the end, the majority had its way, but the minority walked out.
The indication that all was not going to be well manifested became apparent when the confirmation of Ameachi was pushed to the end of 18 appointees who were slated for confirmation on the day.
Trouble started when Bukola Saraki, Senate president allowed the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions which investigated a petition against Amaechi’s nomination, to present its report. A self-styled “The Integrity Group” had petitioned the Senate, kicking against the confirmation of Amaechi who it accused of mismanaging N71 billion of Rivers as governor of the state.
Samuel Anyanwu, chairman of the committee, while presenting the report, said the panel had recommended that Amaechi’s confirmation be put on hold because the suit challenging the allegation against him was still in court.
The committee, Anyanwu said, also reviewed the White Paper issued by Rivers State government on the administrative panel of inquiry, which he said, indicted Amaechi.
He argued that confirming Ameachi ahead of the court decision would amount to pre-empting the court’s decision on the matter. Anyanwu said eight of the 11-member committee signed the report.
But Ali Ndume, majority Senate leader, in response to the submission moved to amend the report to the effect that the Senate should adopt the finding of the committee saying: “Since the matter is already a subject of litigation in a competent court of law, and since the Senate could not work contrary to its own rules (Order 41(7), it is constrained in taking any further action.”
Ndume’s submission seemed to put the PDP senators in disarray as their puzzled leaders looked at one another to the intent of the new submission.
Godswill Akpabio, minority Senate leader, who ordinarily should second the motions brought forward by Ndume disagreed citing Order 43 of Senate Standing Rule, to the effect that the Senate had earlier resolved to first consider the report of its ethics committee before confirming the nominee.
Thompson Sekibo, PDP Rivers East, came down hard on Amaechi and the Senate, warning against the implications of going ahead to confirm the nominee. Sekibo, who is from the same district as Amaechi, said: “We represent our people and the Nigerian people are in the majority. The Nigerian people are the ones giving value to what we are doing. There are allegations of corruption, mismanagement of funds, sale of government assets against the nominee. There is a moral burden on all of us here. Whatever we do today, we would be encouraging corruption by confirming Amaechi.”
Sekibo’s stance was concurred by Biodun Olujimi, Ekiti South, who warned of the moral burden on the Senate and President Muhammadu Buhari if Amaechi was cleared. According to her, the president came to power on the crest of being an anti-corruption crusader and as such his administration should not be seen encouraging graft.
Olujimi said: “There is a weighty allegation against the nominee and there is need to allow the court to clear the nominee before he can be confirmed. Nigerians will now know that this government is not out to fight corruption.”
But Babajide Omoworare, APC Osun East, picked holes in their arguments. He cited Sections 147(2) and 66 of the Constitution, pointing out that where a law was in conflict with the Constitution, such law “must automatically bow to the supremacy of the Constitution.” Omoworare cited constitutional provisions to back the APC senators’ position.
Perhaps, sensing that they were losing the argument, as soon as Barnabas Gemade, APC Benue Northeast, rose to speak, the PDP senators started walking out of the chambers.
They shunned Gemade’s and their other colleagues asking them to stay.
They left without Ike Ekweremadu, deputy Senate president, who waited until the end of proceedings.
Following their exit, Amaechi was unanimously confirmed after the Senate had summarily dismissed the report of its committee on ethics and privileges.
Besides Amaechi, 17 other ministerial nominees were also confirmed by the Senate include Adebayo Shittu, Khadija Abba-Ibrahim, Heineken Lokpobiri, Claudius Omoleye Daramola, Baba Shehuri Mustapha, Ocholi Enojo James, Adewole Isaac Folorunso, Bawa Bwari and Geoffrey Onyeama. Others are Zainab Ahmed, Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali, Usani Usani Uguru, Okechukwu Eyinna Enelamah, Anwuka Anthony Gozie, Mohammed Musa Bello, Adamu Adamu and Aisha Abubakar.
Addressing the press later, Akpabio, who spoke on the PDP senators’ behalf, claimed that they were denied their right to speak. He said the PDP was against the confirmation because it was not in conformity with morality. He said further: “It is not normal for the PDP senators to stage a walk out. This is the first time and it is because we feel very strongly that there is a total breach of the law in this case that a matter is before a court of competent jurisdiction that any action you take will be subjudice. Our colleagues did not allow us to air our view, they were bent on what they had already discussed and performing an illegality and we will not be part of that illegality. Walking out will not be constant in the Senate but this was very clear.”
The APC in a statement issued by Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the party, said the confirmation of the would-be ministers had shown that there was no longer any division within the party.
It hailed its senators for a job well done, saying democracy was clearly at work in the Senate during the ministerial screening.
On the confirmation of Amaechi despite the walkout by the PDP, Mohammed said it was reflective of democracy in action. He said: “It is part of democracy that while the minority can have their say, the majority will have their way. Therefore, the decision of the PDP Senators to walk out is nothing but democracy in action.’’
What should be of concern to the APC now is the fact that there is still a pocket of dissenters in its rank. For instance, the report of the committee which was signed by eight of the 11 members including three APC members, namely Bala Ibn Na’Allah, Senate deputy majority leader; Dino Melaye, Senate spokesman and Omotayo Alasoadura.
Others senators who signed the report are Samuel Anyanwu, PDP; Omogunwa Yele, PDP, Ondo South; Peter Nwaoboshi, PDP, Delta North; Jeremiah Useni, PDP, Plateau South; and Obinna Ogba, PDP Ebonyi Central.
Those who did not sign were Binta Garba, APC, Adamawa; Muhammed Shitu, APC, and Olaka Nwogu, PDP, Rivers, who was Amaechi’s roommate in the university.
In any case, what happened at the Senate was like a payback time for the opposition. In the last dispensation when the PDP was in majority, the then David Mark-led Senate went ahead to confirm Jelili Adesiyan and Musiliu Obanikoro, a former senator, despite opposition from the APC. All the APC senators there and then walked out in protest.
That notwithstanding, as expected Nigerians are divide on the issue. Okonkwo Ifeanyi, a former legislator, said confirming Amaechi was morally wrong. “How do you fight corruption when you encourage it? If President Buhari thinks that that is the best way to reward Amaechi… during his campaign, then his government is not corrupt free. Pardon one offence and it will lead to commission of many.”
Julius Oguntulu, a social commentator, said Saraki and the APC were right to have confirmed Ameachi as a minister because allegations of corruption had not been proved against him. “All Wike was doing was to rubbish Rotimi Ameachi,” Oguntulu said.
While hailing the confirmation of all the nominees, Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and human rights activist, said he was disappointed that Akpabio led the protest wall out. “It means some of them who are also been investigated should not be there. They should have allowed the court to try and convict Amaechi before doing what they did. Amaechi as a minister does not have any immunity and if found culpable he can still face the music,” Ubani said.