Apparently wary of the negative impact the lingering National Assembly leadership crisis is having on the current administration, President Muhammadu Buhari has commenced last-minute moves to settle the fracas in the legislature once and for all.
Accordingly, the president will, for the first time since the crisis erupted, meet with the Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, his deputy and all the All Progressives Congress (APC) members of the House Monday in Aso Villa, Abuja.
Mallam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on media and publicity, confirmed the meeting to State House correspondents Sunday.
Top on the list of agenda of the meeting scheduled to hold at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa by 5pm is how to resolve the issues of key positions in the House that have torn the APC caucus apart.
A dependable Presidency source said the meeting with the APC Reps is one among other parleys President Buhari will be holding with APC Federal lawmakers, as another meeting with APC senators is also in the offing.
According to the source who preferred not to be named in print, “The President has concluded that he cannot just fold his arms and watch the legislature, which is also an integral part of the Federal government under his watch, stray for too long when the APC government is supposed to be acting as one in setting the pace for good governance in line with their campaign promises for Nigerians.
“The meeting (today) is an indication that, as the leader of the country and the party, President Buhari, who had hitherto vowed not to meddle in the affairs of the National Assembly, has finally resolved to wade into the crisis for the interest of the party and the entire country.
“To avoid the crisis from continuing unabated now that the House has resumed its session, hence frustrating the legislative process under his government, the President feels he should discuss with all parties involved in the rift and urge them to come up with a better way to achieve their aim without necessarily resorting to rancor,” the source added.
As for the Senate crisis, he said, “There are also plans by the President to meet with the APC members in the Senate to address the fracas. But this will come only after the issue of fraudulent forgery of the Senate rules must have been properly investigated and treated by the relevant security agencies.”
Obviously in preparation for the reconciliation parley Monday, a factional leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, was at the presidential villa on Friday where he had a closed-door meeting with the President.
The source added, “The idea of (today’s) meeting is to talk to Speaker Dogara and his faction to stop anti-party activities in the House and begin a reconciliation process that would unite the APC members in the House, with a view to forming a formidable majority in the Green Chamber of the National Assembly.”
At the meeting with the President on July 1, the Gbajabiamila faction had implored President Buhari to call Speaker Dogara and members of his group to order.
Moreover, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on media and publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, had explained why Buhari did not want to interfere in the National Assembly crisis, noting, however, that in the event where the governors were unable to resolve the matter, the President would wade in directly.
In the Green Chamber, an attempt by Speaker Dogara to ensure the use of federal character principle in sharing the principal offices in the House has further polarised members.
The Speaker had come up with what is now referred to as ‘Dogara Formula’ which is a clear deviation from the instructions of the leadership of the governing APC, which had earlier directed him to announce the names of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Alhassan Doguwa, Mohammed Tahir Monguno and Pally Iriase as majority leader, deputy leader, chief whip and deputy chief whip of the House respectively.
Prominent members of the Gbajabiamila-led The Loyalists Group, namely Doguwa, Iriase and Monguno, openly bought into the Dogara formula during a joint press briefing at the weekend in Abuja, but their group immediately disowned them, saying they acted on their own.
Meanwhile, the group Sunday said it had accepted Monguno’s apology, adding that he was misled during the earlier joint press conference with the Dogara’s Consolidation Group on Saturday.
At a press conference in Abuja Sunday addressed by the spokesman of the Gbajabiamila Group, Hon. Nasiru Sani Zangon-Daura and attended by about 20 members of the group, they insisted that they will not allow Nigerians to be short-changed over the ‘change’ they voted for.
The group further alleged an “unholy” alliance between Speaker Dogara and members of the opposition PDP in the House in order to, according to it, thwart President Muhammad Buhari’s change agenda.
“We are also cognizant that in politics there are always the subversive activities and antics of 5th columnists in any political movement to contend with. We are also aware that this unholy alliance is a bid to truncate President Muhammadu Buhari’s agenda, which includes his anti-corruption stance, by using the National Assembly to, at the very minimum, slow it down if they cannot stop this presidential initiative dead cold.
“We know that this unholy agreement between the disloyal Dogara group and the PDP entails the deployment of PDP members and the disloyal APC group in strategic positions in the structures and committees of the House. The purpose of this strategic deployment is to enable PDP to indirectly dictate the pace and activities of the National Assembly to the detriment of our party’s goals and objectives,” Zangon-Daura said.
The group deplored what it called the continued defiance of the APC and the party House Caucus by Dogara as indicated in his “disloyal letter” to the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, saying that it was not aware of any concession made by the Dogara group to theirs (Loyalists Group), contrary to insinuations in the media.
“To have a genuine agreement that is not tainted by the PDP, the Dogara group will have to, first of all, cut off the umbilical cord between them and the PDP and, secondly, engage in candid reconciliatory discussions with our group as a whole through our approved members under the leadership of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila,” he added.
For his part, Hon. Aliyu Sani Madaki (APC, Kano), who was present at the briefing, argued that Speaker Dogara and his group cannot rely on the principle of federal character when he (Dogara) as the Speaker of the House and Senate President Bukola Saraki are both northerners.
Gbajabiamila’s men blackmailing for selfish reasons – Jibrin
Reacting to the allegation that the Speaker is in an unholy alliance with the PDP to truncate Buhari’s agenda, the spokesman of the Consolidation Group, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin said it was unfounded and “cheap blackmail” by the rival group.
“What has Buhari brought to the House or what has Dogara done to undermine Buhari?” Jibrin queried.
He also said that there was no plan to bar any member of the House from gaining access to the chamber tomorrow, wondering how a member of a majority party could be denied entry by a minority group.
Jibrin added that members of the Loyalists Group had now resorted to blackmail, having failed to stampede Speaker Dogara into written commitments over their headship and membership of ‘juicy’ committees of the House.
Tension mounts in Senate
In the Senate, the alleged falsification of its Standing Rules 2011 ahead of the elections of Senators Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu as Senate President and deputy respectively on June 9, which is being investigated by the police, is already causing ripples in the upper chamber, with law enforcement agents said to be closing in on the perpetrators for possible prosecution.
The senators will raise the issue on the floor when they reconvene tomorrow as it borders on the propriety of the elections of Saraki and Ekweremadu as presiding officers.
Speaking on the development, spokesman of the Senator Ahmed Lawan-led Unity Forum, Senator Kabiru Marafa (Zamfara, APC), when contacted on the alleged impeachment moves against the Senate leadership and the suspension of members of the Unity Forum, he responded via a text message.
“How do you impeach what is not there? Anyway, my understanding of the case is: We are in court challenging the events of June 9, 2015 based on the evidence we gave the police.
“The police report will help the court in determining our case. If the court agrees with the police, it will, in addition to handing down appropriate sanctions, nullify the events of that day. That’s all! On the rumoured suspension, I pray it is true.”
‘Senate Rule Not Forged’
As the Senate resumes tomorrow, there is tension over the conclusion of the investigation of forgery of the Senate rulebook by the police.
Members of the Unity Forum had written a petition to the police, calling for investigation into alleged forgery of the Senate rules. They also called for the cancellation of the elections of the Senate leadership on the grounds of illegality.
Unconfirmed reports said the police have found that the Senate rulebook used to elect the leadership of the 8th Senate was forged.
There are also reports that the leadership of the Senate is planning to suspend some members of the Unity Forum when Senate resumes from their three weeks of recess tomorrow.
Reacting to the allegation, a ranking Senator from the North who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the allegation is baseless and pure speculation, adding that the issue had been over-flogged by the media.
According to him, the Standing Order for the 7th Senate cannot be used for the 8th Senate as the management of the National Assembly is saddled with the responsibility of amending the rulebook for each session and the sections which senators are not comfortable will be amended in the course of the Senate.
In the same vein, sources close to the National Assembly said Sunday that it would be a misnomer to allege forgery in the alterations as the rulebook was printed by the National Assembly management following the approval for the printing of the new rules ahead of the inauguration.
A source said that the process was in conformity with the tradition set in 1999 where the management prepared the rulebooks for the Senate and the House, and that what the management did was more or less a draft of the rulebook, but that the new Senate had the power to adopt it entirely or propose further amendments in the course of the session.
According to the source, who is an officer in one of the Senate standing committees, the leadership was covered by precedent in printing the 2015 orders. The rulebook that has been amended by the different chambers since the commencement of democracy in 1999 were written in 1998 by the management of the National Assembly, based on international best practices and the rule books of national assemblies of countries like Canada. Australia, Germany, United States and the United Kingdom.
It was gathered that the current leadership felt the need to effect some changes to the rules to make it in conformity with the yearnings of many Senators during parliamentary deliberations and induction courses.
“Most of the issues reflected in the induction courses, held for the Senators in April 2015 after the elections, were reflected in the amendment. The amendment also encapsulated the report of the last Senate Committee on Rules and Business headed by Senator Ita Enang, which dwells on issues of proper representation of Senators at committee and federal character,” the source said..
“What was presented to the lawmakers was actually a draft rulebook and it was meant to be adopted by the Senate. The Senate adopted it on June 24 when Senator Bukola Saraki hit the gavel on it. He ruled Senator Kabir Marafa out of order on his question as to the differences between the 2011 rulebook and that of 2015 and Saraki said that the rulebook adopted for the new session was the 2015 order.
“Senator Ike Ekweremadu also said on the floor on June 24 that each Senate comes up with its own rules as seen in the adopted rules of 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011,” the source in the National Assembly said.
He added that the 1999 Constitution in Section 60 guaranteed the powers of the National Assembly to regulate its own procedure, adding that such powers include the power to change its rules and adopt same on the floor.
Another source who is close to the National Assembly Legal Department said that the management reflected the yearlings of most Senators who had claim lured for equal representation, while also bringing the rule book up to date for voting procedure.
He said the rulebook becomes effective when the chambers adopt it, as was done on June 24.
The source further said: “With the adoption of the rulebook on June 24, it would be a misnomer to indicate that there was forgery to the rules. The management only proposed amendments which the Senate adopted as its rule for 2015.
“The Ita Enang Committee in the last Senate also reflected most of the new amendments, though that Senate did not consider the report. Senator Marafa raised the matter on the floor of the Senate on June 24 and he was ruled out of order by the Senate President who announced that the 2015 rule had been adopted.
“Since the Senate has adopted it, it has become the standing order of the Senate. It is a puzzle when people go about investigating when it has been adopted by the Senate and it has become law.
“From 1999 to 2015, there is no time the executive got involved in the Senate standing rules and it appears they are crossing the line. The police cannot tell a law making body the law to make for itself.”
Also in his reaction to the planned impeachment, Senator Dino Melaye via a text message said: “Joke, joke, joke. The Senate President was not sworn in with the standing rules of the Senate. Police should prosecute those found wanting. It is advertisement of ignorance at display. No shaking.”
Senate: PDP plans to wrest majority status from APC
To forestall the unraveling of individuals involved in the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Order and to stave off the probe by the executive, some PDP Senators have perfected a plan to reduce APC to a “minority” party in the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
The two-prong plan is allegedly being coordinated by a principal officer of the chamber embroiled in the alleged forgery of the document, while details and the real purpose are being shielded from Senator Bukola Saraki and his group of the APC Like-Minds Senators who are said to be in “alliance” with their PDP counterparts in the chamber.
Plans to suspend 6 Senators underway
The plan, when executed, will first result in the suspension of no fewer than six members of APC Senators in the fold of the Unity Forum and, subsequently, according to findings, lead to impasse in the legislature.
Four ranking Senators, including a member of the Like-Minds group who spoke on the development at the weekend said “notable former public office holders in the last PDP administration, both at the federal and state levels are the financial backers of the plan.”
The Senators who spoke on the issue said names of APC Senators pencilled down for immediate suspension once a window of opportunity opens upon resumption of the National Assembly are still not clear as the list keeps changing.
According to them, PDP Senators would move for the suspension of some of APC senators who took the Senate bureaucracy to the police and court over the alleged forgery of Senate Standing Orders and “a number of those who have rebuffed pleas to cross over to the side of the Senate leadership.
“The argument that the PDP Senators will put forward for the suspension to convince their Like-Minds friends is that only the suspension will douse the tension in the chamber while in reality such move will create impasse in the National Assembly and, by extension, stall the forgery probe and distract the Buhari administration,” a ranking senator from South West said.
Explaining further the political implications of the suspension if carried out, a ranking Senator from North West said: “With the suspension of the six APC Senators our number will, on the face value, be reduced to 52 as we are now 58 because of the passing on of one of us, but in reality only 28 of us in the Unity Forum are party compliant senators while the remaining 20 are members of “Like-Minds” group who are in alliance with PDP Senators.”
He added that with “the current 28 loyal APC senators in the upper chamber, we are already in the minority; the suspension of six out of the number will create impasse, not only in the Senate but also in the National Assembly and the polity in general. The power of confirmation of appointment which resides with the Senate will be greatly impaired.”
Explaining why former public officeholders were backing the plan, a ranking senator and a former PDP member said the insistence of President Muhammadu Buhari to probe the last administration “is a wakeup call for action from those who have skeleton in their cupboard.
“They monitored the president throughout his last official visit to the USA and are aware that the Obama administration had promised Buhari to help Nigeria repatriate all ill-gotten wealth to Nigeria once they are legally traced to be stolen,” the former PDP senator said.
“I doubt if Senator Bukola Saraki will buy into this idea of suspension to undermine his party’s majority status in the Senate as that will put him further apart from the party and President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The public will also be against the idea because of the disdain Nigerians currently have for the PDP. There is the possibility that the party might take the option of expelling the Like-Minds Senators from its fold if this idea is executed. Hence, the best option for Senator Bukola Saraki is to seek reconciliation with his colleagues in the Unity Forum,” he stated.
“The National Assembly is the only arm of government open to the PDP senators for the sole launch of their plan to stall all efforts of the Buhari administration as far as a probe of the Jonathan administration and, by extension, corruption perpetrated at the state level.”
Pending NASS court case
In the suit pending before a Federal High Court in Abuja, seven senators are seeking the removal of Saraki and Ekweremadu. In the suit, they argue that the inauguration of the 8th Senate, based on Standing Orders 2015, was strange, irregular and unknown to the Red Chamber.
Senators Abu Ibrahim, Barnabas Gemade, Ahmad Lawan, George Akume, Kabir Marafa, Suleiman Hunkuyi and Gbenga Ashafa also insisted that the subsequent conduct of business and proceedings in the Senate on June 9, 2015, were similarly out of place.
They are, therefore, asking the court to declare Standing Order 2015 (as amended) illegal, null and void.
The plaintiffs in their suit said that since the elections of Saraki and Ekweremadu on June 9 were based on the ‘faulty’ Standing Orders 2015, there was no way they could remain in office.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
They are, therefore, asking the court to declare Standing Order 2015 (as amended) as illegal, null and void.
The plaintiffs in their suit said that since the election of Saraki and Ekweremadu on June 9 was based on the faulty Standing Orders 2015, there was no way they could remain in office.
The aggrieved Senators asked the court to determine five issues including the determination of the fact that the Senate Standing Orders 2015 was “strange, manipulated and illegal.”
No date has been fixed for hearing the suit.