Five legislators Tuesday departed the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the House of Representatives for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while one of them shifted base from the PDP to the APC.
This development swelled the ranks of the PDP from 174 to 178, just as the APC, which had been angling for weeks to capture the majority in the House, had its strength further weakened from 172 to 168.
But the development did not stop the bickering in the lower chamber over the 2014 budget as legislators from APC picked holes in the Appropriation Bill, thereby stalling its second reading.
In the Senate, nonetheless, Senate President David Mark stood his ground by refusing to read the defection notice of 11 senators of the PDP who had submitted a letter to him two weeks ago notifying him of their intention to defect to the APC.
The House members who left APC for PDP are: Hon. Lawal Shehu Bichi (Kano), Hon. Abdulsalam Adamu (Kano), Hon. Sani Umar Dangaladima (Zamfara), Hon. Umar Mohammed Bature (Sokoto) and Hon. Ibrahim Shehu Gusau (Zamfara). Gusau, THISDAY gathered, is desirous of contesting the governorship election in his state, thus his decision to defect.
The lone defector from the PDP to the APC was Hon. Isa Mohammed Ashiru (Kaduna). The legislators had their letters read separately at plenary by the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. They individually stated that they had decided to abandon their erstwhile parties after due consultations with their constituents.
Expectedly, the latest defection elicited excitement among PDP legislators who repeatedly shouted "PDP", while some of the party's members accompanied the defecting lawmakers to the PDP leaders in the House for introduction.
The House Deputy Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor, could not contain his excitement as he left his seat and walked up to his colleague, the House Minority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, and whispered something into his ears and they shook hands and laughed.
However, the APC lawmakers also jubilated on their lone catch chanting "APC Change", thus halting proceedings for a while until the speaker restored sanity.
However, the debate on the 2014 Appropriation Bill failed to pass a second reading yesterday in the House as APC lawmakers faulted portions of the budget and this made Tambuwal to rule that further deliberations on it should be deferred to today.
During the debate, the House was divided along party lines, as APC legislators insisted on a thorough scrutiny of the budget, while their PDP counterparts applauded it, calling it a "budget of consolidation".
The House Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Kawu Sumaila (APC, Kano), picked holes in the budget, citing Section 16(2) of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that the economy of the country should not be operated in a way that will concentrate wealth in few hands. He argued that the constitutional provision was flouted in the budget, which among other things made massive provisions for the Amnesty Programme.
Before the debate began, Tambuwal received the report of the six-man ad hoc advisory committee he set up last week to advise the House on how to proceed with the debate of the budget after the previous session ran into a hitch.
In the report submitted yesterday by the ad hoc committee the committee, held that the House, should in the national interest, consider the budget and at the same time ask the finance minister to submit the budgetary details of other agencies of government in conformity with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA).
At this juncture, Tambuwal ruled that the "House in deference to the overriding national interest should proceed with the deliberation of the budget." Urging his colleagues to be level-headed, the Speaker noted: "Our nascent democracy is at a precarious stage as jockeying for political offices has made some people desperate."
"Many have allowed their interest to stand in the way of the national interest," he emphasised shortly before calling on the House Leader, Hon. Mulikat Adeola-Akande, to kick-start the debate.
But her submission, which was decidedly a vote for the passage of the budget was countered by Sumaila, who described the annual ritual of passing the budget as "mere rhetoric, noise without action, and an empty exercise" that fails to take cognisance of Section 16(2)(c) of the constitution, which stipulates that "the state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group."
On this basis, he faulted the 2014 Appropriation Bill, stating that the increase in recurrent expenditure "has little or no impact on the lives of the people of Kano which I represent and indeed the entire country".
He said: "The proposed budget expenditure of N4.642 trillion is higher than the expected revenue of N3.731 trillion, so this budget comes with N912 billion fiscal deficit. The estimated fiscal deficit is 83 per cent of the proposed total capital expenditure of N1.1 trillion," concluding that this amounted to "voodoo economics".
He also raised concern over the budget proposal for the power sector, education, security and amnesty for the Niger Delta militants.
"The sum of N63 billion is expected to cover stipends and allowances of 30,000 Niger Delta militants and re-integration of transformed ex-militants under the Amnesty Programmes while the total capital budget allocated to the Nigeria Army, Ministry of Defence, Army, Navy, Air Force and Police formations is pegged at N41.08 billion. "This is a clear message that the government of the day is not serious about stemming the insurgency in Northern Nigeria," he said.
Following his submission, the trio of Hon. Latifat Adeola (APC, Lagos), Hon. Khadijat Bukar-Abba (APC, Yobe) and Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa (APC, Lagos) concurred with Kawu on the "misplaced votes" for the Amnesty Programme.
Dabiri-Erewa specifically termed the budget "fraudulent and clumsy" and flayed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for "acting with impunity". She also condemned the proposed allocation of N7 billion for the upcoming National Conference, saying it is a huge waste.
But the position of the APC House members was countered by Hon. Ossai Ossai (PDP, Delta), who reiterated the position of his PDP colleagues by insisting that it was best to pass the budget in order to sustain the growth of the economy, reduce the rate of inflation, stabilise the exchange rate, and support the proposed mortgage refinancing company for affordable housing.
However, as the debate in the House of Representatives raged, the controversy surrounding the defection of 11 senators from the platform of PDP to APC continued yesterday as the senate president insisted that he would not read the defection letter they addressed to him until the case in court is dispensed with.
Mark, who openly spoke on the matter for the first time at yesterday's plenary, ruled that the defecting senators who had protested his decision not to read their letter out of order, adding that the 1999 Constitution and Senate Standing Rules clearly stipulate the procedure for defections.
On January 29, 11 senators had written a letter to the senate president, notifying him of their intention to defect to APC.
The senators were Bukola Saraki (Kwara Central), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West), Umaru Dahiru (Sokoto South), Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central), Shaba Lafiagi (Kwara North) and Aisha Alhassan (Taraba North).
Others were Magnus Abe (Rivers South-east), Ali Ndume (Borno South), Bindowo Jubrilla (Adamawa North), Wilson Ake (Rivers West) and Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto East). But persistent pressure mounted on Mark to read the letter in the last two weeks has met a brickwall as the senate president insisted that his hands were tied by a court order asking all parties to the suit to maintain the status quo ante, as well as Order 53(5) of the Senate Standing Rules which prohibits reference to any matter pending in a law court in the opinion of the senate president.
But before Mark ruled the 11 senators out of order, the upper chamber's effort yesterday to douse the rising tension over the defection letter, resulted in another executive session ahead of the plenary.
But the executive session, like the previous sessions held last week, did not proffer a solution to the impasse, as hardly had the plenary commenced than Saraki raised a point of order, citing Order 15 in the Senate Standing Rules.
He submitted that his privilege as stated in the Order had been breached by Mark's decision not to read the defection letter, and further exploited the opportunity to announce that he had formally joined the APC in Kwara State.
But Mark immediately overruled him, saying the matter was subjudice. Dissatisfied by Mark's ruling, an APC senator, Anthony Adeniyi (Ekiti South), cited Section 40 of the constitution, which according to him, guarantees freedom of assembly as well as political association.
But again, Mark overruled him, saying in view of Senate Rules which he said was not at variance with that provision of the constitution, he had no option than to rule him out of order, explaining that the same constitution cited by Adeniyi had stated the procedure for defection which he said the defecting senators had not complied with. He emphasised that he would not stop anybody from defecting to another party provided the procedure is followed.
When the defecting senators realised that Mark would not change his mind on the defection letter, the aggrieved senators opted to adopt Saraki's strategy by announcing their defection to APC through various points of order.
Against this background, Abe, Adamu, Alhassan and Ake respectively cited Orders, 14, 15 and 43 in the Senate Rules, to formally announce their defection from PDP, saying they had finally left the PDP and consequently obtained the membership cards of the APC.
But Mark held on to his position, ruling all of them out of order. While citing Order 14(a) and Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution, Abe submitted that he had defected to APC because it was clear to him that PDP could no longer protect his interest.
This same position was embraced by Adamu, who described himself as APC senator as well as Alhassan and Ake. The trio submitted that they had defected to APC in their respective states and had equally registered as APC members and therefore were no longer members of the PDP. Expectedly, they were ruled out of order but Adamu insisted that even if he was ruled out of order, he had achieved what he wanted to achieve by formally proclaiming that he had ceased to be a PDP senator and should now be known as APC senator.
Speaking with THISDAY after the session, Abe acknowledged that all the parties to the matter had their various concerns and harped on the need to employ political solutions to resolve the matter.
"I understand that the senate leadership has its own concerns. PDP also has its own concerns. APC has its own concerns. We also have our own concerns. Nigerians also have their own concerns. But the bottom line is that Nigerians should not be shortchanged," he said.
Abe held that if the Doctrine of Necessity was adopted to resolve the impasse surrounding the failure of the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to hand over power to his then deputy and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, it should not be impossible to device a means of resolving the current crisis.
Earlier, Senate Minority Leader, George Akume, cited Order 14A in the Senate Rules, which states: "Whenever there is a matter of privilege, it shall be taken immediately." On this basis, he argued that Mark was not handling the defection matter properly, adding that the defectors had the right to defect to any party of their choice.
Responding, Mark said: "Senator Akume, this matter is in court and l shall make no further comment on it because I would not want to run foul of our standing orders. "On the same issue, the affected senators took me to court and you are pleading privilege here asking me to rule on it." Mark, again, ruled him out of order.
But THISDAY was reliably informed yesterday that during the closed-door session, the senate president advised the defecting senators to withdraw their suit in court if they wanted him to read the defection letter.
A senator, who spoke on the matter but did not want to be quoted, said the senate leadership was only hiding under the cloak of the suit in court to hold on to the defection letter, adding that the senators went to court in reaction to the threat to declare their seats vacant by PDP. He added that the decision to use it against them now was ironic.
The senator also said Mark's suggestion that the 11 senators should withdraw their suit was completely out of the question, noting that it would amount to leaving their destiny in the senate president's hands. He pointed out that the main reason the senate president was resisting the senators' defection from PDP was a ploy to discourage other senators whom he said were prepared to defect.
"He's now saying the suit should be withdrawn if they want the defection letter read. How can you do that and leave your destiny in his hands? The intention is to frustrate others who have any intention of defecting from doing so," he stated.
Briefing newsmen after yesterday's plenary, Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, said the senate had resolved to maintain the dignity of the upper chamber, arguing that the transparent and open manner the matter was handled without rancour attested to that commitment.
Abaribe, who further confirmed that the senate president had resolved not to read the defection letter so as not to be in contempt of the court, argued that no senator had defected yet, irrespective of the public proclamation made by five of the aggrieved senators yesterday announcing their movement to APC.
He added that the peaceful manner in which yesterday's plenary held proved cynics, who had thought that the session would be marred by fracas.
He said: "Senators can get up and express themselves but the procedure must be followed and that was what the senate president was saying. Our rules are very clear. When a matter is in court, we cannot discuss it.
"The hands of the senate president are tied. He cannot do otherwise and if he does otherwise, it will be contempt of court. Therefore, while not saying that the matter has been laid to rest, we can say sufficiently that the matter has now been handled in such a way that all sides are aware of their rights and things are going on smoothly in the senate.
"Let me make certain things clear. First of all, everybody is a member of the Nigerian senate elected under a platform. When you are elected, you are given a seat and if you have to move, there are rules that you have to comply with.
"Nothing in that rules says if you come and just make a voice statement, that will be sufficient. When you come via a point of order, the Senate president must rule on it and at a time that he rules you out of order, that means whatever you have said is null and void.
"So as far as the senate is concerned, there has been no movement yet. It is the legal opinion sought by the senate leadership that played itself out on the floor of the senate today (yesterday) in which the senate president said the matter is in court and he is legally bound to abide by the rules which says once a matter is in court, you cannot comment on it."
In another development, Mark failed to recognise Senator Ehigie Uzamere (Edo South), despite calling a point of order, to announce his intention to defect from APC to PDP. Mark was apparently conscious that having ruled the 11 senators out of order, recognising Uzamere's defection notice would have been contradictory.
Undeterred by Mark's refusal to recognise him, Uzamere issued a statement after leaving the chamber that he was defecting to PDP, alleging that the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the parties which fused to form the APC, which sponsored his election, was not serving the interest of the people of Edo South.
He further stated that the party was being run by a sole administrator, a situation he said he fought before his defection from PDP to ACN in 2007. Uzamere also claimed that the ACN was now defunct and therefore he had decided to return to PDP.
"The PDP ticket in Edo State, which was once worse than the Zimbabwean dollar, has significantly appreciated in value having been re-denominated by the repositioning efforts of the party and Mr President's Transformation Agenda. I would like to emphasise that the ACN to which I belonged is defunct.
"I will not join the APC because its aims, objectives and philosophy are inconsistent with the socio-economic and political interests of our people.
"My dear people of Edo South, with the foregoing arguments and consequent upon a broad spectrum consultations with political leaders across parties, opinion leaders, youth bodies, religious leaders, traditional rulers, et cetera, I have decided to return to the PDP to be able to arrest the subjugation of our people," he said.