Tempers flared at the upper legislative arm yesterday during the confirmation of former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi as a minister of the federal republic of Nigeria.
All the majority members of the house (APC) senators and their opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took on one another on the propriety or otherwise of clearing him.
PDP senators tried to block Amaechi’s confirmation, but walked out when they could not have their way.
But Deputy Senate President (DSP) Ike Ekweremadu (PDP Enugu West) stayed back and joined APC senators to confirm Amaechi and 17 other nominees. The Senate had about two weeks ago also confirmed 18 nominees. Others confirmed yesterday are Adebayo Shittu, Khadija Abba-Ibrahim, Heineken Lokpobiri, Claudius Omoleye Daramola, Baba Shehuri Mustapha, Ocholi Enojo James, Adewole Isaac Folorunso, Bawa Bwari, Geoffrey Onyeama, Zainab Ahmed, Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali, Usani Usani Uguru, Okechukwu Eyinna Enelamah, Anwuka Anthony Gozie, Mohammed Musa Bello, Adamu Adamu and Aisha Abubakar.
APC has 59 senators, including Senate President Bukola Saraki; PDP, 49. The 109th senator, who was an APC member, died few months ago. His seat has yet to be filled.
A ministerial-nominee requires simple majority to be confirmed.
In the last dispensation when PDP was in the majority, the Senate confirmed ministerial nominees without considering the opposition’s position.
Alhaji Jelili Adesiyan and Senator Musiliu Obanikoro were cleared by the then David Mark-led Senate despite the objection of APC senators.
All Progressives Congress (APC) said the confirmation of the would-be ministers showed that there is 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.
Trouble started yesterday with the presentation of the report of the Committee on Ethics, Priviledges and Public Petitions which considered a petition against Amaechi’s nomination.
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 fund when he was governor.
Presenting the committee report, its Chairman, Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP Imo East), said the panel had recommended that Amaechi’s confirmation be put on hold because he is in court challenging the allegation against him.
The committee, he said, also reviewed the White Paper on an administrative panel of inquiry, which he said, indicted Amaechi.
According to him, going ahead to confirm Ameachi would amount to preempting the court’s decision on the matter. Anyanwu said eight of the 11-member committee signed the report.
Reacting to the report, Majority Leader Senator Ali Ndume said Amaechi should be cleared since the committee agreed that the upper chamber cannot enquire into a matter that is in court.
Minority Leader Senator Godswill Akpabio disagreed, pointing out that PDP senators had earlier refrained from participating in Amaechi’s screening because the petition against him was being investigated.
The PDP caucus, he said, changed its position because the Anyanwu committee has submitted its report.
Senator 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 represents Amaechi’s district, 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”.
Senator Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti South) 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.
She 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”.
Earlier, Ndume, who came under Senate Rule 53(7), called on Saraki to proceed with Amaechi’s confirmation procedure.
He urged the Senate not to take further action on the panel report, a statement which drew the ire of Akpabio and other PDP senators, who argued otherwise.
But Senator Babajide Omoworare (APC Osun East) picked holes in their arguments.
Citing Sections 147(2) and 66 of the Constitution, Omoworare pointed out that where a law is in conflict with the Constitution, such law “must automatically bow to the supremacy of the Constitution”.
Omoworare cited constitutional provisions to back APC senators’ position.
As Senator Barnabas Gemade (APC Benue Northeast) rose to speak, the PDP senators started walking out of the chambers.
They shunned Gemade’s and other APC senators’ plea not to leave. They left without Ekweremadu, who waited till the end of proceedings.
Following their exit, Saraki called for voice vote on Amaechi’s confirmation.
The response was a deafening and prolonged “aye”, with many of the senators rising on their feet and screaming their affirmation in excitement.
Addressing reporters in the Senate Hearing Room 1 later, Akpabio, who spoke on PDP senators’ behalf, claimed that they were denied their right to speak.
He said: “We were shut out when we wanted to react to the report when it was laid.
There was a little bit of something we don’t think is in conformity with morality there. Once a case is before a competent court of law, any action on that matter is subjudice and the committee was able to establish that the issues that were brought against the nominee are already issues that were adjudicated upon by the Court of Appeal and other courts of competent jurisdiction. So the issue of taking further action on his nomination whether by way of appointment or otherwise did not exist . We tried to make this point but they felt as a majority party there was no need to comply with the law.
“The law is very clear that once a matter is before a court of competent jurisdiction you can take no further action. So there was nothing wrong with suspending the issue of confirmation until those cases are disposed of and in this case I understand it is the nominee that went to court.
“It could have been a good idea for the nominee to withdraw his cases from court to allow the Senate to go into the matter but when that did not happen we felt that as lawmakers we have a responsibility to Nigerians not to partake in that kind of charade.
“It is not normal for 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 where 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.”
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