President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and his loyalists in the chamber are battle ready to keep his presiding status, regardless of which party has the majority of members between the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party in the National Assembly.
Saraki’s loyalists, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH on Friday, dismissed the call by members of the Parliamentary Support Group that the Senate President should quit as presiding officer once he defects from the ruling party.
The PSG is a group of APC senators supporting President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to the Saraki camp, it only takes a simple majority – regardless of the dominant party at the National Assembly – to elect the presiding officers but it requires two-thirds of members to sack the leadership.
A gale of defections had hit the Senate and the House of Representatives on Tuesday when several APC lawmakers dumped the party for the PDP, African Democratic Congress and the United Peoples Party.
At the Senate, 14 members switched parties. Twelve of them declared their defection from the APC to the PDP, while two lawmakers joined the ADP. One of the defectors, Senator Lanre Tejuoso (Ogun-Central) had however made a U-turn, returning to the ruling party.
Speaking to our correspondent, Saraki’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, noted that two-thirds of senators were needed to remove the Senate President.
He said, “We all know the process of electing and removing the Senate President. It is not that a party must determine who takes charge; every member of the Senate will have a vote in the election or removal of the Senate President. The constitution is clear on how the collection of those votes is done and what number is needed to elect or remove the Senate President.
“So, anybody who says anything outside those provisions is just deceiving themselves. The person is speaking in a vacuum. We are not bothered here. The Senate President is still attending to his official duties from home despite the recess. Everything is normal here. They are the ones who have reasons to be bothered.
“I say this without intending to insult any senator. I try not to respond to any senator but allow the senators to engage themselves.”
Also, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara-South), one of those who left the APC for the PDP, said the party with the majority would be established when the lawmakers resume from their current two-month recess.
Ibrahim said, “I am not going to take issues with them on the matter of which party has the majority. When we resume, we will all see. Officially, we will release our list before we resume.”
On the call for Saraki to step aside if he leaves the APC, he said, “How is that possible? He remains the presiding officer. They need two-thirds majority to remove a presiding officer, so they should attempt that (to remove him) and let us see how they are going to do it. And I know that the majority they are claiming is a phony claim. But you will see; the list will come out. Why they are crying out now is because their actual plan failed.”
Asked what the plan was, Ibrahim alleged that there was a plot to impeach Saraki and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, on Tuesday. He said it was the reason why the Nigeria Police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission came for them respectively.
The lawmaker said, “The same day the police invited the Senate President to answer some questions, the EFCC also invited the Deputy Senate President. And before daybreak, security operatives had laid siege to their houses. You can deduce what was to happen from that.
“The plan was to impeach them while they were absent. But to the glory of God and the benevolence of God through man, the Senate President was able to come to the chamber and we had our plenary, and we exercised our right (to defect).”
Another member of the Saraki camp, who spoke on condition of anonymity, asked how the APC caucus could “insist” that Saraki must step down after his defection. “How could they insist?” He asked.
The source said, “Some of them are ignorant of the law and are full of hate; that is the point from which they are raising their arguments. Let me also add that more than half of those in the APC caucus today will vote for Saraki when it gets to the point where the leadership is to be challenged. At least two-thirds of the APC senators are with him.
“One of the PSG leaders was with Saraki on Tuesday when the drama was playing out. Look at Shehu Sani, who is one of them, has he not said he would not be part of any plot to remove Saraki? Is it Olamilekan Adeola that will vote against Saraki? Is it Lanre Tejuoso, who has been his friend and brother from when they were young that will vote against Saraki? Is it Ibrahim Gobir that he handed over the purse of the Senate to that will support his removal? What about those who got juicy committees?”
The source referred our correspondent to Section 50 of the Constitution as setting the conditions for the removal of Senate President.
While Section 50 of the 1999 Constitution is silent on whether the majority or minority should preside over the Senate and House of Representatives, it stipulates that only two-thirds of members can remove the presiding officer.
Section 50 reads, “(1) There shall be (a) a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves; and (b) a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.
“(2) The President or Deputy President of the Senate or the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall vacate his office (a) if he ceases to be a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of the Senate or the House of Representatives; or (b) when the House of which he was a member first sits after any dissolution of that House; or (c) if he is removed from office by a resolution of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of the members of that House.”
A member of the PSG, Senator Ali Ndume, however, argued that Saraki has the moral burden to quit as Senate President once he leaves the APC.
He said, “It requires that the leadership should emerge from the majority; that is the practice all over the world.”
The lawmaker cited several examples in the United States, saying, “It is the practice of the democracy we are copying that the Senate President must come from the party that has the majority. And Nigeria’s case will not be different.”
Asked if Saraki should step aside as Senate President if he leaves APC, Ndume said, “Morally, yes. It is only in our place that people just do things that are aberrations. If not, morally, ab initio, Ekweremadu, coming from a minority party, is not supposed to be the Deputy Senate President. And Saraki cannot continue, morally; if I were him, once I leave the party, I will leave Senate presidency.”
Ndume also denied the alleged plot to impeach Saraki and Ekweremadu on Tuesday. “If there was any attempt, the attempt has not manifested,” he said.
The lawmaker also said he was not aware of such a plan, adding that he would have known if such a plan existed. He recalled that most APC members arrived at the chamber late.
Ndume, while reacting to the claim that some of those on the membership list of the APC caucus had not officially declared their defection from the PDP, argued that senators did not have to declare their defection in the chamber once they have secured their membership of another party.
For instance, Senators Hope Uzodinma (PDP, Imo) and Fatimah Raji-Rasaki (PDP, Ekiti) have yet to declare on the floor to formalise their defection to the APC, but have been attending the party’s meetings and events.
Also, Senator Sunny Ogbuoji (PDP, Ebonyi) had recently introduced himself as the “the newest catch” of the APC when the National Working Committee of the party met with the Senate caucus. He has yet to declare it in plenary.
Similarly, Stella Oduah (PDP, Anambra) has joined APGA in Anambra State but has yet to make a formal declaration.
Ndume said, “There is no constitutional or legal requirement that your defection must be announced on the floor of the Senate. Defection just requires that you make a statement that you have left your party and you just need to go to the ward of another party to register with it.”
A legal practitioner, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, said there was no law in the Nigerian Constitution that said the leader of the Senate or the House of Representatives must come from the party with the majority in the respective chamber.
He said, “It is not stated in the constitution that the ruling party or the party with the majority of the members must produce the Senate President or Speaker. I don’t know why all these people are crying foul now. Even when a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, left the PDP, the party with the majority of members for the APC, was he impeached?
“It is matter of votes and not a matter of party. It (The Constitution) says that the members shall elect their leaders among themselves. It is an internal matter of the Senate and the House of Representatives; that was why for Tambuwal’s case, the ruling PDP wanted Mulikat Akande-Adeola, but didn’t have the number to sway the votes in her favour. It is a game of numbers.”
Speaking on whether some senators whose defections were announced on the floor of the Senate but had a U-turn would need to make another declaration on the floor, Oshoma said, “They will have to write a letter to the Senate Leader, saying their names were erroneously included in the list of those said to have defected. Until that is done, in the records of the Senate, they have defected.”
Also, a London-based Nigerian lawyer, Mr. Femi Aina, said, “In sections 68 and 69 of the Constitution, the circumstances in which someone will vacate a seat are clearly stated. The Constitution didn’t say people will vacate their seat because one party has a majority. And in any case, if a decision is going to be taken on whether or not Saraki or Yakubu Dogara should vacate their seats, it will be a decision of the parliament. In the first place, Saraki and Dogara emerged as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, because there were votes in the National Assembly; so, if they are going to be removed, it will be a decision of the members; the constitution didn’t say you must go because your party is in the minority.”
However, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Wahab Shittu, had a contrary view. He said the positions of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives were reserved for the majority party and that Saraki and Dogara might lose their seats if they find themselves in the minority as a result of the defections.
Shittu said, “Of course, the positions they hold, Senate Presidency and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, are positions reserved for the majority party. If as result of the defections they now belong to the minority party, they have to vacate those offices.”
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