Ezrel Tabiowo examines the implication of the move by defecting Senators who last Thursday dared the Senate leadership for failing to read their defection letter
Politics of wits
The defection saga in the Senate which has lingered under hushed tones owing to some uncertainty, was apparently blown open after intense politics driven by witty calculations by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) leadership in the upper chamber.
Whilst the Senate President, Senator David Mark, known as a core strategist tactically held off the defection plot until now, chances are that the events of last week by the defecting lawmakers, who for the first time challenged ruthlessly his authority, may be the acid test on his leadership perceived to have a touch of mastery.
The game of wits which was engaged by the ruling party in the red chamber in attempting to dissuade the senators numbering 25 from defecting, saw the figure reduced to eleven.
But it seems this luck has been far over-stretched, especially with the recent attack on the seeming ploy to play down the defection issue. At Wednesday’s plenary which lasted a bit over three hours, focus was plainly on debate of the 2014 budget estimates, as there was no mention of such letter by the senate president who presided.
The defecting senators who had written to the Senate President to dump the PDP for the All Progressives Congress (APC) are: Bukola Saraki (Kwara Central), Sha’aba Lafiagi (Kwara North), Magnus Abe (Rivers South East), Wilson Ake (Rivers West), Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central) and Ali Ndume (Borno South).
Others are Bindo Jibrilla (Adamawa North), Gobi Ibrahim Abdullahi (Sokoto East), Dahiru Umar (Sokoto South), Jummai Alhassan (Taraba North) and Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West).
The senators were among the 52 senators that earlier forwarded a jointly signed letter to the Senate President two weeks ago against any plan by the leadership of the Senate to declare their seats vacant if they eventually defected. The letter was not read by the senate president at the plenary.
But the Senate through its spokesperson, Eyinaya Abaribe declared that the Senate would not accept joint defection since all the 109 senators in the Senate got elected individually, saying the existing constitution forbids mass defection and that the Senate would not disobey the country’s law.
Drawing the battle line
Sensing the perceived reticence of the PDP membership in the august body, the defecting lawmakers on Thursday dared the Senate leadership, insisting their letter must be read. Minutes into commencement of plenary, Saraki, one of the leading lights in the defection saga, led the other defecting lawmakers, raising Order 15 of the Senate standing rules which dwells on privileges of members of the National Assembly.
The point of order reads: “Any Senator may rise at any time to speak upon a matter of privilege suddenly arising, and he shall be prepared to move, without notice, a motion declaring that a contempt or breach of privilege has been committed, or referring the matter to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, but if the matter is raised in Committee of the whole Senate, the Chairman shall leave the Chair to report progress.”
A brazen Saraki then notified the Senate which was presided over by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, that the defecting lawmakers numbering eleven had communicated a letter to the senate president on notice of defection, and expressed dismay that same was yet to be read on the floor.
Speaking, Saraki said: “On a notice which by a letter was communicated yesterday to your Chair on notification of the change of change of political party by myself and eleven other senators from the platform of the People’s Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress (APC). So I felt that it was necessary for me to bring to your attention that the letter has not yet been read.”
Senator Saraki at this point craved the deputy senate president to read the letter of defection signed by the eleven senators.
Responding, Senator Ekweremadu explained that the senate president had travelled for an official assignment, adding that the latter had told him of an arranged meeting with Saraki wherein the issue of defection by the eleven senators would be discussed. But this , Saraki denied. Senator Goje also spoke along Saraki’s same line of thought and submission.
“I feel it is our right and privilege for that letter to be read. Myself and ten other senators have defected and also signed that letter defecting from PDP to APC. So I demand that that letter be read,” an impatient Goje insisted.
But Ekweremadu advanced same explanation offered to Saraki, telling Goje who arrived late to the plenary, the issue had been clarified before he came in, even as he said Mark did not give him any letter to that effect.
But the drama reached its crescendo when Senate Minority Leader, Senator George Akume took the floor and called on the Senate to heed the provisions of the constitution.
It was still not over as the APC leader in the Senate, Senator Akume urged the chair to comply with the constitutional provision on the matter, a position that was widely applauded by some members of the upper chamber.
Akume said: “Mr President, I speak on behalf of those of us who have sworn to protect the Constitution of this country. Mr President, you are not new to this system. We are all senators of the Federal Republic. This country operates a bicameral legislature. This country has only one Constitution that guides the country. Therefore, what is constitutional in the House of Representatives cannot be unconstitutional in the senate.”
The presiding officer still stood his ground, even as another APC lawmaker, Senator Anthony Adeniyi pointed to order 35 of the Senate rules which states: “In the absence of the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President shall perform all the duties and function of the Senate President.”
At this point, there was a loud uproar from members of the opposition in the upper chamber, all of who bellowed at the top of their voices for the letter to be read.
Sensing the danger of insisting further, Senator Ekweremadu further appealed for calm and assured the lawmakers that the matter would be taken up during next Tuesday’s plenary by the senate president.
No going back
No matter the delay or setback experienced, the defecting lawmakers are set to go, a position Saraki confirmed to our correspondent. Speaking through his media aide, Bankole Omisore, the lawmaker said: “If the Senate President wants to have a meeting, of course we will oblige him that meeting. But there will be no going back on our defection plan.
“Every constituent in our states have endorsed the move to defect from the PDP to APC, so there’s really no going back on that.We also expect that more senators outside of the eleven who have formally written would follow suit and defect with time.”
So, with the reluctance of the Senate leadership to let go of these lawmakers to APC, what next is Nigeria to expect? This is a poser that must be clarified at the end of today’s legislative business.