Nigeria: Confusion in the Senate Over Party in Majority

5 August 2018

The crisis rocking the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, penultimate Tuesday, took a dramatic turn on the floor of the Senate as 14 senators elected on the platform of the party dumped it for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the African Democratic Congress, ADC.

With the defection, the number of PDP senators rose from 42 to 56,thereby making it the majority party in the upper chamber of the National Assembly.

Prior to the development, the APC, which officially had 64 seats in the Senate, now has 50 while the All Progressives Grand Alliance ( APGA) has one with the remaining two seats vacant on account of the death of Senator Ali Wakil ( Bauchi South) and Bukar Mustapha ( Katsina North).

The defection of the senators was contained in a letter read by Senate President Bukola Saraki who presided at plenary. They said that their action came after due consultations with their constituents.

The defection letter, jointly signed by the senators and read to the lawmakers by Saraki, said, " Dear Senate President, after due consultation with our constituents and stakeholders in our constituencies, in proper recognition of Section 68(1G) of the 1999 Constitution as amended and with the fact that our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is hereby emerging factions.

"We hereby inform the Senate that we the undersigned are changing our political affiliation from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). "We thank you for your exemplary leadership."

The defectors include Dino Melaye ( Kogi West)", a former National Chairman of the PDP, Barnabas Gemade ( Benue North East); Abdullahi Danbaba ( Sokoto South); Mohammed Shaaba Lafiagi ( Kwara North); Rafiu Ibrahim ( Kwara South) and Suleiman Hunkuyi ( Kaduna North).

Others are Hamman Isa Misau ( Bauchi Central), Monsurat Sunmonu ( Oyo Central), Usman Bayero Nafada( Gombe North), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano Central); Monsurat Sunmonu, (Oyo Central); Soji Akanbi (Oyo South) and Usman Nafada (Gombe North).

Also on the list are Suleiman Nazif, Bauchi North; Olanrewaju Tejuosho , Ogun Central and Abdulaziz Nyako, Adamawa Central. Akanbi later made a u-turn, saying he remained a member of the APC.

"Today, my name was wrongly mentioned in the list of the people that defected to the PDP. But when a point of order was raised, I was able to clear my name that I have never been part of the defection from APC to PDP", he told journalists.

"I remain a bona-fide member of the APC and, if you notice, the votes and proceedings of Tuesday, 24 July 2018, my name is not listed as part of defectors. I started my career in 1989-90 as a member of the All Peoples Party (APP) before I moved to the SDP, then to Afenifere, NADECO, the AC and from AC to ACN and then to APC. I remain a bona-fide, committed and unrepentant member of APC."

On the question of why he thought the error happened during plenary, the lawmaker said: "There is rumour when you have ambition, either declared or undeclared. That you have crisis in your state with your governor, so they assumed that, having crisis with your governor, automatically you leave your party. In Oyo, I don't have crisis with my governor, Abiola Ajimobi.

"Ajimobi is the leader of the party in the state and I remain his associate. In my state, we strongly believe that if there is any crisis in the party, we find a way to resolve it."

Soon after the defection, PDP senators embraced one another, rejoicing that they now form the majority in the red chambre.

It got to a point that the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, drew the attention of his colleagues to the fact that his party, the PDP, was now the majority and that he should immediately be recognized as the Majority Leader, but Saraki stopped him from continuing.

Meanwhile, APC senators continued to officially play the role of majority in the Senate on account of the Senate President retaining his membership of the party alongside Hope Uzodinma ( Imo West), Fatimah Raji Rasaki ( Ekiti Central) and Sunny Ogbuoji ( Ebonyi) who are believed to have defected to the APC. But Saraki, last Tuesday, finally left the APC and returned to the PDP where he began his political journey.

After the drama that unfolded at the hallowed chamber, the Senate caucus of the APC said that, in spite of the dumping of the party by 14 of its members for the PDP, it was still the majority party in the upper chamber.

Addressing journalists after about two and a half hours meeting of the caucus, the APC members, led by the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, APC, Yobe North, boasted that some of the senators who defected will return to the APC while some of the lawmakers in the PDP will dump their party and join the APC before September resumption .

According to Lawan, the senators, at the meeting, took stock of the membership in the Senate across party lines and confirmed that they were 52 in number while PDP senators were 50.

In the list of 52 senators read to journalists, which they claimed were still members of the APC, Lawan, however, excluded the name of Saraki, adding that the remaining five seats were shared by senators on the platform of APGA, and ADC .

According to Lawan, the 52 seats controlled by the APC senators will increase to 54 next month after the conduct of the bye elections for Bauchi South and Katsina North Senatorial Districts by the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC) which were traditionally held by senators on the platform of the party before their deaths few months ago.

Two days after, Senator Olanrewaju Tejuosho , Ogun Central, joined APC senators to have a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari where he told the President he was back to the APC.

Tejuosho's move is quite interesting, but the votes and proceedings of Tuesday, 24th July, 2018 were approved on Wednesday, 25th July, 2018, making the decisions and resolutions of the Senate, which carried his name, binding and now a gazetted document of the Senate.

Another interesting aspect of the issue of majority is the fact that though Senator Stella Oduah has moved to APGA while Uzodinma, Ogbuoji, Rasaji, among others, may have dumped the PDP for the APC, in line with the Senate Standing Rules, they are still members of the PDP because they have not officially communicated their defection to the Senate President that they were vacating their seats through the party platform.

According to Senate Standing Orders 2015, as Amended, on mode of resignation, a senator should write to the Senate President of his or her planned defection or announce it on the floor of the Senate which has been the tradition, but Oduah, Uzodinma, Ogbuoji, Rasaji have yet to do same.

When the Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator John Enoh, Cross River Central, dumped his party, the PDP, for the ruling APC, he announced it.

Also recall that when Senators Andy Uba, Nelson Asuquo Effiong, PDP, Akwa Ibom South, Joshua Dariye, PDP, Plateau Central, Yele Omogunwa, PDP, Ondo South and Ovie Omo- Agege, Labour Party, left their parties, they all announced it on the floor of the Senate.

The fact that Oduah, Uzodinma, Ogbuoji, Rasaki are yet to announce same according to tradition is where the controversy lies at the moment. It will also be recalled that there a was a rowdy session at the Senate chamber on the 17th of January, 2018 as Ogbuoji made attempt to dump the PDP for the APC, but he later made a u- turn.

As things are in line with the Standing Orders, there is still controversy as to which party controls the majority in the Senate until the senators do the needful. At the beginning of every session of the red chambre, the President of the Senate, according to the Standing Orders, shall allocate a seat to each senator and in line with the Standing Orders. The (relevant) Standing Order reads: "A Senator may speak from the seat allocated to him, provided that the President of the Senate may change the allocation from time to time".

Article 56(5) also reads, " Senators shall not cross the floor of the Senate unnecessary or sit in a place allotted to any other senator."

Speaking on the day the 14 senators defected, Saraki said that a situation whereby presiding officers were being harassed no longer made it comfortable for lawmakers to remain in the fold of APC, adding that he himself was defecting.

Reacting to the defection, Senate Leader Ahmad Lawan, who tried to counter the action of his colleagues against the backdrop that the issues and problems in the party could be resolved, said, "The APC, our party, certainly has its own internal challenges.

"But Mr President, as a political party, we all know how so much effort has been made by so many stakeholders to address the issues that bedevil this party. "The disagreements do not translate into factionalisation. I therefore feel that our senators of the APC stock do not have to move to any other party. I also believe the issues are under serious discussions by the major stakeholders of this party.

"Very seriously, this matter should be stepped down until we exhaust all the opportunities."

Before Tuesday's plenary, the atmosphere at the National Assembly depicted that all was not well as there was unusual police presence at the legislature. It was a cloudy and chilly morning at the sprawling National Assembly complex. Among the early arrivals for the day's business were uniformed internal security personnel and cleaners who must perform their tasks before the start of work.

Similarly, a crowd of youths gathered at the main gate of the Assembly. Security operatives including the police and National Assembly security personnel were at alert inside the building, mounting guards at the doors of the chambers of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Security men, also in the early hours of the day, besieged the residences of Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.

While policemen took position around the Lake Chad, Maitama, Abuja residence of Saraki, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and policemen took position around the official residence of Ekweremadu in the Apo Legislative Quarters, Abuja.

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