Protest as Senate confirms Amaechi, others

 ‘No division within APC’        Party  encouraging corruption – PDP

By Ezrel Tabiowo and Bode Olagoke, Abuja

True to expectations, the confirmation of a former Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, as a minister-designate, sailed through yesterday, but not without  strong protest from the opposition lawmakers from the fold of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP).
The PDP lawmakers who had earlier decided not to partake in the screening of the former governor and lawmaker, on grounds of alleged corruption, staged a walkout yesterday, when the All Progressives Congress (APC), used its majority status in the Red Chamber to give the Senate’s final nod to Amaechi alongside 17 other lawmakers.
A Port-Harcourt based Integrity Group, had alleged via a petition to the Senate that the former governor diverted  over N70 billion state funds during his tenure as governor of Rivers state.

The upper chamber, in line with proper procedure, directed  its Committee on Ethic, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate the matter.
But, the Senate, upon receiving the report of the Senator Samuel Anyawu-led committee, last week during plenary,  failed to consider same, and went ahead to screen Amaechi, a decision the PDP lawmakers strongly protested. The PDP  lawmakers, had, last week kicked against Amaechi’s screening,  since, according to them, the nominee had gone to the Court of Appeal to challenge the content of the petition and the White Paper of the Rivers state’s Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

The cold war between both the APC and PDP lawmakers, however played out again yesterday at plenary when Senator Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South), raised a point of order, drawing the attention of the Chamber to the fact that some of the 18 ministerial nominees listed for confirmation, had pending reports on petitions against them, yet to be discussed before their confirmation.
The President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, however, deferred the emerging  furore by asking her and the entire Senate to stay action on the issue raised by Olujimi, until it was time to consider ministerial confirmation.
Immediately after the confirmation of the INEC appointees, the Senate leader, Senator Ndume, sensing an imminent  commotion, moved that the Senate should go into an executive session. The Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, seconded the motion, and the Chamber went for  closed door session.

After the session, which lasted one hour and fifteen minutes, Saraki announced that the Senate reviewed the consideration of reports on the petitions against some of the nominees as well as the confirmation of the nominees.
The Senate President called on any senator who had observations or comments, to make same known before the commencement of the confirmation. And in response, Akpabio said the Senate should proceed to confirm them, while such observations or comments should be made at the point of a nominee’s confirmation.
When it got to the nominee from Imo State, Prof. Anthony Anwuka, Senator Akpabio noted that there was a petition against him; but the senator who brought the motion, Athan Achonu, told the Senate that the petitioners had asked him to withdraw the petition, and that ended the matter.
Upon getting to Amaechi, the President of the Senate called on the Chairman, Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East) to read the recommendations of the report for Senate consideration.
Anyanwu, while reading the report, told the Senate that the Committee  found out that the issues upon which the petition was based, was pending in court for judicial decision.

He further said his Committee observed that neither the Senate nor the presenter of the petition, Mr. Livingstone Wechie, knew that the matter being presented on the floor of the Senate was already a subject of litigation in an Appeal Court, Port Harcourt Division.
He also said that, since the matter was already a subject of litigation in a competent court of law, and since the Senate could not work contrary to its own rules, as contained in Order 41(7), the Committee was constrained  from taking any further action.
Accordingly, the Committee recommended that the Senate should not consider the confirmation of Amaechi, urging the body  to honour the committee’s report  since its findings and decision were based on the provisions of the Constitution and the Standing Orders of the Senate.
But APC senators asked the upper chamber to dismiss the committee’s report, and go ahead with the nominee’s confirmation, since the matter was already in court.

The PDP lawmakers, however, pointed that going ahead to confirm Amaechi would place a moral burden on President Muhammadu Buhari, especially since he(Amaechi), was yet to be acquitted by a court of law over the corruption allegation levelled against him.
Sensing the refusal of their colleagues to be swayed by their argument, the PDP senators staged a walkout, leaving the APC senators to complete the process. However, the 17 nominees earlier confirmed before the rowdy session include: Adamu Adamu (Bauchi) Professor Anthony Gozie Anwuka (Imo), Okechukwu Enelamah (Abia) , Muhammadu Musa Bello (Adamawa) and Ms. Aisha Abubakar (Sokoto).
Also confirmed were: Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim(Yobe), Prof. Claudius Daramola (Ondo), Geoffrey Onyeama (Enugu), Brigadier Mohammed Dan-Ali (Zamfara), James Ocholi (Kogi), Zainab Ahmed(Kaduna), Mustapha Shehuri (Borno), Senator Heineken Lokpobiri (Bayelsa) Prof. Isaac Adewole (Osun), Usani Usani Uguru (Cross River), Abubakar Bwari Bawa (Niger) and Adebayo Shittu (Oyo).
Speaking to newsmen after the walkout, Akpabio said it was unfortunate that Saraki towed the path of APC senators, adding that staging a walkout was their only way of expressing their dissatisfaction with the process.

He, however, played down the issue of PDP senators turning their back against the Senate President, explaining that since he was elected unopposed, the issue of supporting him does not arise.
“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 it is in conformity with morality. 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”, he said.

It also emerged yesterday that eight of the 11 members of the Committee signed the Committee’s report.
Anyanwu revealed that while Senator Olaka Nwogu (PDP, Rivers South East) abstained since he is one of those against the Amaechi’s nomination, Binta Garba (APC, Adamawa North) declined signing,  adding that another APC senator, Muhammed Shittu travelled out of the country.
APC senators who signed the report include: Deputy Senate Leader and Vice Chairman of the Committee, Bala Na’Allah, Senate Spokesperson, Dino Melaye and Tayo Alasoadura.
Those who signed for PDP include its chairman, Samuel Anyanwu, Yele Omogunwa, Peter Nwaoboshi, Jeremiah Useni and Obinna Ogba.
Also speaking, Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East), who had laid the petition against Amaechi on the floor of the Senate, cautioned  the chamber to be careful with what it would do with the report because it would set  serious precedence that would continue to affect the affairs of the nation in future.

He said, “Mr. President, we represent our people; we represent the Nigerian people and the Nigerian people are not the APC. The Senate referred the petition to the Committee and the Committee has done its work.
“Nobody can amend the report because it is not a motion. Since the Committee has recommended that the Senate should not confirm the nominee based on the fact that he went to court and the matter is still pending, we ought to honour the report of the Committee.
“We have a moral burden here; if we go ahead to confirm the nominee, this Chamber will be encouraging corruption, when the President is fighting corruption. Those of us in PDP will join the President to fight corruption and his followership should join him to fight corruption.”
Meanwhile, the APC has said the confirmation of all the ministerial nominees by the Senate, despite some misgivings by the opposition, has shown clearly that there is no longer division within the APC family.

In a statement issued in Lagos by the National publicity secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said: “The cohesion and unity exhibited by the APC Senators yesterday have shown that our legislators are ready to work with the executive and the party to ensure that the agenda of the party is implemented for the benefit of all Nigerians.
“We commend all our members and leaders in the Senate and indeed the leadership of the APC for this show of unity.”

The party believed that democracy was clearly at work in the Senate yesterday, despite the decision of the opposition PDP senators to stage a walk out over Amaechi’s confirmation.
“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,” it said.
It enjoined the entire National Assembly to continue to work with the executive arm of government for the overall interest of Nigeria and its people.
“With the stage now set for the federal cabinet to be in place, we implore all Nigerians, irrespective of their party affiliation, to support President Muhammadu Buhari in his onerous task of making Nigeria great again.”

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