NA Adjourns after Emergence of Senate Leaders, Fracas in House
Written by Taiwo Adediran on June 26, 2015
The drama in the National Assembly assumed a new dimension on Thursday when the aggrieved lawmakers of the All Progressives Congress (APC) disrupted the plenary session in the House of Representatives by insisting that the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, must respect the decision of the party on four of its nominees who had been selected to occupy principal positions in the House.
In the Senate, the soft landing provided by the leadership of the APC for Senator Ahmad Lawan to emerge as Senate Leader was finally shattered when Senate President Bukola Saraki announced Senator Ali Ndume (Borno South, North-east) as the Majority Leader of the Eighth Senate.
Saraki also named Bala Ibn Na’Allah (Kebbi South, North-west) as Deputy Majority Leader and Francis Alimikhena (Edo North, South-south) as the Chief Whip.
Following the intrigues in the Senate and bedlam in the House, both chambers adjourned for recess till July 21.
However, the Senate stated that it would reconvene before resumption from recess if President Muhammadu Buhari submits his list of ministerial nominees, adding that it was only plenary that had been suspended while legislative business would continue.
Commotion started in the green chamber when Dogara called on a member, Hon. Oker Jeff from Benue, to move for an executive session. But this was not to be as Hon. Abdullahi Salame from Sokoto moved in protest towards the mace, the symbol of the legislature, and attempted to grab it.
His action was swiftly checked as men of the sergeant-at-arms prevented the legislative coup from taking place.
The scuffle, which involved the attempted mace snatchers and men of the sergeant-at-arms, was later joined by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers, with some of them forming a protective shield around Dogara.
The dash for the mace and the resulting scuffle went on for about 20 minutes until the sergeant-at-arms men aided by Dogara’s loyalists succeeded in moving the mace to a safer place.
Their action was triggered by Dogara’s refusal to read a letter received from APC two days earlier informing the Speaker that it had nominated Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) and Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano) as Majority Leader and Deputy Majority Leader, respectively.
The party also gave the names of Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno) and Hon. Pally Iriase (APC Edo) as Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip, respectively.
The bedlam, which ensued from their action, lasted for more than one hour and 20 minutes and refused to abate as lawmakers pushed, shoved and wrestled one another to the ground. Even law books perched on a table on the floor of the House were turned to missiles, as they were hauled back and forth by the legislators at each other.
When Dogara stepped into the empty table to restore order, he was violently pushed down by an opposing lawmaker, forcing his supporters to form a protective shield as they shouted: “Dogara! Dogara!! Dogara!!! APC shame! APC shame!! All we are saying is give us our rights”.
In response, those against him simultaneously chanted: “On party supremacy we stand.”
Many members left their seats to watch the melee, while those against him brandished the party’s letter nominating Gbajabiamila and others.
In all this, the Speaker, who was now seated, remained glued to his seat as the raucous situation persisted.
After several minutes, Gbajabiamila and Monguno joined other legislators cordoning the Speaker. As both conferred with him, Hon. Leo Ogor joined them and whispered to the Speaker.
The tension was so palpable that the Speaker tried to suppress his feelings by holding his head and rubbing his face.
Eventually, he briefly made a gesture counselling order, but this was lost on the balkanised chamber. The feuding parties refused to budge as they remained standing, sitting or talking animatedly in groups.
A semblance of order was finally restored at 12.35 pm when Dogara announced a revision of the House’s sitting to a plenary. He also made a brief remark describing the incident that had ensued as “unfortunate”.
He said: “As leaders, the duty of lawmakers is to bring order to chaos.” Acknowledging that dissension is inevitable but “we must disagree to agree on the unity of the House”.
He told colleagues that they should be grateful to their constituents for sending them to the parliament where they were expected “to talk about change, unemployment, corruption, economic malaise and insecurity instead of bickering”.
He submitted that as long as the House remained divided, “all the problems of the country cannot be solved”. He informed the legislators that all hands must be on deck to resolve the current impasse.
He promised to quickly resolve the matter that led to the fracas and adjourned session to July 21.
However, in a statement later in the day, Hon. Nasiru Sani Zangon Daura (APC, Katsina) proffered an explanation for the fracas that broke out in the House.
The statement said: “We are here on behalf of our colleagues of the APC House caucus to explain to you the unfortunate occurrence during today’s plenary session.
“The action that occurred inside the chamber of the House of Representatives was in reaction to the illegal and unconstitutional action taken by Speaker Yakubu Dogara of the House of Representatives, an action in his usual tradition of total disregard for the wishes of the majority members of the APC caucus, the party itself and the spirit of the party.”
He said he and other APC members were aware of the letter sent by their party naming the nominees for the principal posts in the House.
“This letter by the party is in compliance with the expressed wish and mandate of the majority members of the APC caucus in the House of Representatives.
“But to our surprise and in breach of our privilege and rights as contained in the Constitution and extant House rules, Mr. Speaker refused to read the letter from our party.
“As for the claim being made that a particular zone should not be allowed to produce more than one principal officer, we say this with all sense of decorum, that this claim is absolute rubbish.
“Precedents were set in the sixth and seventh assemblies where a single zone, the North-West, produced two and three principal officers, respectively.
“We are determined in our efforts to utilise all legislative strategies available to us, so as to ensure the compliance with due process and democratic norms and values.
“We shall persevere, come rain, come shine! We the loyal and disciplined majority APC caucus in the House of Representatives and the All Progressives Congress have dished out enough of the carrots, it’s time to crack the whip so as to ensure party discipline and maintain order,” he said.
In the Senate, however, although the situation was civil, it was not without its intrigues, as the window opened by APC for Senator Lawan to emerge as Senate Leader was firmly shut in his face yesterday when Saraki announced Senator Ndume as the Majority Leader of the Senate.
Saraki also named Na’Allah as Deputy Majority Leader and Alimikhena as the Chief Whip.
Senator Sola Adeyeye was later to emerge as the Deputy Chief Whip when the South-west caucus met and nominated him for the post.
Effectively, with the emergence of the four principal officers, senators loyal to Saraki under the umbrella of Senators of Like Minds secured two positions (Senate Leader and Chief Whip) while Lawan’s supporters known as Unity Forum got the posts of Deputy Majority Leader and Deputy Chief Whip.
While making the announcement yesterday, Saraki explained that the new officers were elected at their various zonal caucuses after which, he said letters containing the names of their elected representatives were sent to him.
But after the names were read out, Senator Kabiru Marafa (Zamfara Central) raised two points of order. First, he recited Order 28 (1) as well as a constitutional point of order, citing Section 65 (1E) of the 1999 Constitution.
According to him, if Saraki had declined to read the letter from the party containing the names of its nominees for the offices, he lacked the moral fortitude to read any caucus letter.
“This point of order was raised yesterday and another colleague raised another point of order distinguishing between the words ‘from’ and ‘by’.
“That is why I am joining it with Order 65 (1d) of the constitution. It says: ‘Subject to the provisions of Section 66 of the constitution, a person shall be qualified for election as a member of the Senate if he or she is a member of a political party and sponsored by the political party.’
“There is a communication from the APC which is the party with the majority of representatives in the Senate. However, for reasons best known to you, Mr. President, you declined to read it yesterday on the floor of the Senate when your attention was drawn to the communication from the party.
“The constitutional provision just cited clearly puts the party ahead of any other caucus from anywhere. Therefore, if the communication from the party can be so disregarded, I suggest that you, Mr. President cannot read any communication from any caucus because there is no caucus that is bigger than the political party,” he said.
But in a counter argument by Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central), he observed that the matter raised by Marafa had been laid to rest on Wednesday and hence, bringing it up again was unnecessary.
He said: “I don’t know why the issue is being reopened. This is contrary to the rules of the Senate. We are the highest lawmaking institution in the country, if we cannot observe our rules, we don’t have right to be making laws for the country.
“Therefore, I will like Mr. President to stand by the ruling of yesterday that the issue has been settled. Secondly, the issue of leadership within the chamber is our own responsibility as senators.
“We have been sponsored by political parties to come to the Senate. Nobody or law says the chairman of the party should appoint the Senate President. The law clearly states that we, the senators should appoint our own leaders within the chambers.
“This is the first time this type of things will be happening in the Senate since the return of democracy in 1999. Caucuses have been nominating their leaders and I have been participating.”
Following Goje’s submission, Saraki overruled Marafa.
The announcement of the senators for the principal posts went against the grain of APC’s letter to Saraki informing him that the party had nominated Lawan, Senators George Akume (Benue, North-central), Olusola Adeyeye (Osun, South-west) and Abu Ibrahim (Katsina, North-west) for the posts of Senate Leader, Deputy Senate Leader and Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip, respectively.
But a source close to Saraki said that the Senate president’s hands were tied, disclosing that whereas it was his heart’s desire for Lawan to secure the post of Senate Leader, for the sake of peace, he was helpless as Lawan was overwhelmingly rejected by his own North-east caucus.
The source further disclosed that the decision to finally settle for the trio of Ndume, Na’Allah and Alimikhena was reached after a lengthy meeting held by members of Senators of Like Minds, which ended at midnight on Wednesday, and a subsequent one that stretched into the wee hours of Thursday.
The source said Saraki did everything in his power to persuade the senators in his camp to support the emergence of Lawan as Senate Leader but his pleas were to no avail, as the North-east caucus was said to have insisted that if Lawan, who is unpopular among his kinsmen got the post, it would be an imposition.
Despite all that transpired in the National Assembly, the APC said that it would stand by its decision on the list of principal officers for the National Assembly and would not accept anything otherwise.
While condemning in strong terms what transpired at both chambers of the National Assembly, it said a meeting of the party’s National Caucus, Board of Trustees (BoT) and National Executive Council (NEC) would be summoned in a few day’s time to deal with the crisis rocking the party.
In a statement issued by its National Secretary, Alhaji Mai Mala Buni, the party said it “stands by the list sent by the party to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives”.
“The National Caucus, BoT and NEC of the party will meet within the next few days to discuss the evolving developments in the National Assembly,” it added.
In its reaction, however, the opposition PDP described as a “show of shame and national embarrassment”, Thursday’s fracas by “disgruntled APC members in the House”, saying that the ugly development brings to question, the president and his party’s commitment to democracy, unity and the stability of the country.
The PDP said the disgraceful act was a direct consequence of President Buhari’s lack of democratic credentials to rein in his party to “respect the independence and sanctity of the legislative arm of government, the very citadel of democracy, as enshrined in the nation’s constitution”.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, in a statement, said: “The barbaric attempt to physically assault a duly elected Speaker, seize the mace, the authority of the House, is a direct attack on the Nigerian parliament which embodies the supremacy of the people and our freedom as a democratic nation.”
The party said what Nigerians witnessed in the House clearly underscored the fact that the APC had exhausted its excuses and had now imported its internal contradictions into an independent arm of government as a way to further cover its lack of ideas for governance.
It claimed that intelligence available to it showed that “the brawling APC lawmakers ostensibly acted on instructions from the presidency, an obvious indication that Buhari is largely an interested party whose involvement is beyond mere body language”.
The PDP said the dishonourable conduct from the unruly APC lawmakers in acting out the script did not come to it as a surprise given that they are bred and nurtured under a political platform that lacks discipline and thrives on violence as an unwritten manifesto.
The PDP said the continued confusion in the APC-led government was a confirmation of its earlier stand that the APC lacks the capacity and democratic discipline to effectively steer the ship of the nation and face the challenges of governance at the centre.
“If a party that has since March 28, 2015 when it got its victory, about 90 days ago, cannot resolve a basic issue of selecting its leadership in the National Assembly, clearly, their competence for national governance comes to question,” the PDP stated.