Nigerian senators bared flexed their muscles against the Presidency yesterday. They suspended the screening and confirmation of 27 Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) nominees.
The Senate declared its readiness to defend its integrity against attacks by some persons it did not name, signifying a possible showdown between the two arms of government.
The upper chamber unanimously resolved to suspend the consideration and confirmation of RECs nominated by President Buhari to protest what it called disregard for resolutions by the Presidency.
Announcing the resolution after about two hours meeting behind closed doors, Senate President Bukola Saraki said the upper chamber would not succumb to blackmail and intimidation in the discharge of its constitutional duties.
Saraki did not disclose the identity of the “external forces” he said were attacking the Senate as an institution.
His words: “The Senate in a closed session discussed the various attacks on the National Assembly, especially on the Senate, for performing its constitutional duties.
“The Senate resolved to defend the integrity of the Senate against such attacks and will not be intimidated from carrying out our constitutional duties at all times.”
It was learnt that the Red Chamber’s position may not be unconnected to its face-off with some members of the executive, including the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. David Babachir Lawal.
The Senate rejected for the second time the nomination of Mr. Ibrahim Magu for Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman on March 15.
A National Assembly source disclosed yesterday: “The Senate is not happy that despite its rejection of Magu, the President still keeps him in office in an acting capacity.”
The resolution to suspend the consideration of the RECs’ nomination followed a motion by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi.
But for Nwaoboshi’s motion, the names of the RECs would have been read the second time and referred to the Senate Committee on Independent National Eelectoral Commission (INEC).
Nwaoboshi prayed the Senate to suspend action on the nominees for two weeks to allow the Senate President convey the feelings of the Senate to President Buhari over alleged disregard of its resolutions.
The senator said: “Mr. President, taking a leave from America which started this presidential election. Recently the National Security Adviser was sent to the Senate of America and because of his belief in Russia he was disqualified.
“What am I saying? Issues like this have to transcend the issue of political parties or where you have lived for the interest of Nigerians and also to protect our constitution and protect our democracy.
“Recently in this Senate, we have dealt with the issue of confirmation and where are we today? The chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay went to the press and said that the Senate merely confirms.
“This is not expected of somebody who had lectured Constitutional Law in the university, a professor of Law, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and, of course, a chairman of such a big body to say that the legislature merely confirms, that the legislature has no power.
“Here are we again today, now being given a list to confirm and we merely confirm. Look at the list here, we have eight of them here out of 27, eight of them are for reappointment, which means they are acting already, they are already working and they are still in position.
“Prof. Sagay will cite again Section 171, Subsection (D) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that even if we don’t confirm them, he will say ‘continue to work’.
“You can imagine this kind of advice that these kinds of persons are giving to Mr. President. They are telling Mr. President to disregard and disrespect the institution, the legislature.
“Mr. President, lets us not take such a precedence. We cannot destroy our democracy because certain persons, certain individuals feel that it is only their belief or what they want is what will happen in this country.
“This country does not belong to them; this country belongs to the Nigerian people; the Nigerian people have elected us; they have given us the power to look into those names sent to us for confirmation and to look into their credentials.
“But when you denigrate such an institution that have the power to confirm and use the word merely, we could not ignore it coming from somebody of that status.
“My position on this matter is that since our confirmation is ‘merely’, let us suspend it until we know whether we have the power as given to us by the Constitution to look into confirmation matters or any other status.”
Senator Matthew Urhoghide (Edo South) said: “In addition to what Nwaoboshi said, which is the constitutional requirement that this Senate has to confirm nominations sent by the executive arm of government, the act establishing these agencies of government have specified clearly that these officers of these agencies whose appointments will be made by Mr. President have to be confirmed by the Senate.
”We are only performing our statutory role and, if by chance, Mr. President sends a name to the Senate for confirmation and they are not confirmed, what happens is that the President is at liberty to send another name but it must be that the Senate too must be properly informed of what has happened to the confirmation either the one that has been upheld or the one that has been turned down by the senate. We deserve the right to know.
“We cannot keep confirming names or turning down names of nominees of Mr. President only for them to be put in basket, particularly the one that happened recently; we don’t know what has happened.
“These persons cannot keep acting even when we have turned them down because as it is now they are acting and their names have been sent in for confirmation and we don’t know what has happened in the case of the EFCC.
“Specifically speaking, is he acting today? If the President knew that he was not going to honour our refusal or rejection of his nominee, they shouldn’t have sent him in the first place, which would have meant an outright violation of the law establishing EFCC and of course, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.”
But Senator Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central) countered the two senators’ position.
Aliero said: “I rise to oppose what my two colleagues have just said for the reason that there is already an impression that is created, particularly by the media that the INEC is not ready for the conduct of 2019 election. The 2019 election is very crucial to us and the preparation and the conduct of the 2019 election is the submission of resident electoral commissioners to the senate for screening and approval.
“Without that, INEC will never be ready for the 2019 elections, even though what they said is true. I want to ask that we consider the screening of this list and if there is any observation on any nominee, it should be done at the screening stage.
“I will want to respectfully say that some of the nominees that are set to be on reappointment they have already left the office and they have served their term for four years.”
Deputy Whip Francis Alimekhana (Edo North), was more vocal in his support that the confirmation of the RECs should be kept in view.
He said: “I beg to differ from the suggestion of my colleague, Senator Aliero. It is better to do something and do it well. All these nominees reappointed, new appointment, what if we refuse one of them, what will happen? That is the question that the distinguished senators are asking the executive. There is no need to disapprove one and he (President) goes back to say you can continue to act.
“The EFCC chairman that we disqualified in this hall is he acting? Among the report that are agog in the papers, he is behind it. Magu is terrorising us because we disqualified him and we cannot hide it. We disqualified Magu and he is terrorising our people because we disqualified him and he is still acting and they are still bringing in nominees for us to confirm. If they know they can do it alone, let them do it.”
Deputy Senate Leader Bala Ibn Na’Allah urged his colleagues to be cautious.
Na’Allah said: “This is a defining moment in our journey to nationhood. Having had the privilege of being a leader in this Senate, I have always prided myself with the fact that this Senate is imbued with men of intelligence, courage and character, with determination to play a fundamental role in our journey towards nationhood.
“I have always said that it consists of former governors, former ministers, former captains of industries. What that means is that at each point we are being called upon to decide on an issue that affects this nation.
“We must show that we have superiority of thinking and we have more commitment than those anti-democratic forces that survive outside the chambers of the National Assembly. I think this is one situation where that call is relevant and important.
”I share the sentiments of my colleagues on this issue. I am in great difficulty to disagree with more convincing reasons as to why I think the Senate will thread cautiously on the request by my colleagues for us to stand down this. I think this matter is going to be referred to the committee, we still have enough time.”
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu noted that some of the positions of the RECs had been vacant for more than one year.
He said that any delay should not be blamed on the Senate but on the Executive that failed to submit the nominees on time.
Ekweremadu said Saraki should be allowed to convey Senators’ feelings to President Buhari on his appointments, noting that it was necessary to do so.
He proposed that the consideration of the nominees should be stood down for one week.
Before a vote could be taken on Ekweremadu’s motion, Nwaoboshi moved that the matter should be suspended for two weeks.
Senator Clifford Odia (Edo Central) seconded.