The much-anticipated special sitting of both chambers of the National Assembly to consider the N242 billion 2019 election budget may have been dropped.Although there was no official communication from the senate leadership on the matter, lawmakers who were approached for comments claimed they had not received invitation for any session.
Checks, however, showed that the special sitting was aborted because many lawmakers have traveled for Hajj while others were out of the country on holiday.
After a meeting last Wednesday between the leadership of the National Assembly and the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, it was announced that the chambers might be reconvened to consider the election budget this week. Yakubu had said: "The most important thing is that INEC was invited to meet with the National Assembly leadership on how the proposed budget for the 2019 elections can be speedily considered and appropriated. We have been assured of speedy passage of the budget perhaps as early as next week."
Senate Minority Whip, Philip Aduda, who was also at the meeting, said: "If need be, we will resume to consider the virement request and pass it. We are agreeing we will fix a date to discuss the budget and ensure approval."According to a senate source: "The request by President Muhammadu Buhari is not just a single line item that would just require a one-day sitting. It will involve a variety of committees that would work on the budget including the Appropriations, Finance, INEC and other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). This is different from a situation where the President is asking for an increase in the size of the budget through a change of benchmark."
According to the source, the National Assembly cannot achieve anything, even if it reconvenes for a sitting this week, because the request has to be passed to the committees and the committees have to meet with MDAs."Besides, there is another issue that has to do with the constituency projects. The letter is requesting the lawmakers to remove funds from their constituency projects and use the same to fund INEC. Remember that the constituency projects are not one-line items in the budget. You can't imagine how long it would take the appropriations committees to sort out that issue with the MDAs," another source explained.
Also confirming the development, another lawmaker noted: "Reconvening the National Assembly will not really work. It would mean that you want to keep the lawmakers around for the next one month, which defeats the idea of the annual recess. The letter by the President is not just requesting for an increase in benchmark, which can be handled in one day through Senate or House resolution. Treating the letter by the President will take two to three weeks."
It was stressed that logistics for securing a quorum at either the Senate or the House was becoming more and more difficult. "Many of our colleagues have travelled for Hajj. Many are in their constituencies battling the challenges of re-election. If you check, even with the APC right now, they can't get up to 30 senators and next week is Sallah. Arafat is on Monday and you will have holidays. A number of people have travelled. It is not practicable to reconvene now."
The emergency meeting reportedly convened by the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, for all the party's senators may not be unconnected with the suspension of the special sitting.Although the agenda of the meeting is yet to be unveiled, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said his party caucus was not perturbed.
Also, yesterday, Senator Godswill Akpabio said he was unmoved by reports that his seat may be declared vacant following his defection from the PDP to the APC. Responding to questions at the National Assembly, the former Senate minority leader said: "Even as you are looking at me, do I look perturbed? The reason I think that is a rumour is because there is, at the moment, no division in the APC. The APC is one family. R-APC has since been consumed in what they call Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP). So, there is no division. And so, any defection from APC to PDP, we will like to declare those seats vacant."
Akpabio also said that he was yet to be briefed about Oshiomhole's directive to APC senators to impeach Saraki. "I just came in from Ikot-Ekpene where I decided with my people to join APC. I'm yet to be briefed on any of those items. I have not heard anything. And what I am hearing now is what you are telling me," he said.
Meanwhile, Senators Rafiu Ibrahim Adebayo (Kwara South) and Isa Hamma Misau (Bauchi Central) filed a suit (FHC/ABJ/CS/872/2018) yesterday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, in a bid to stop an alleged plot to impeach the senate president, Bukola Saraki. In the originating summons filed on their behalf by Mahmud Magaji (SAN), the plaintiffs are asking the court to determine whether Saraki can be compelled to vacate his office on the grounds that he is not a member of the political party with majority of senators in the senate, in view of the combined reading of Section 50 of the constitution and Order 3, Rule 8, of the Senate Standing Orders.
The court was equally asked to determine whether Saraki could be said to have vacated his office by virtue of section 50 (2) of the constitution when he has not ceased to be a member of the senate or the chamber dissolved.
No date has been fixed for hearing of the suit.But a human rights lawyer, Frank Tietie, advised that the seat of the senate president should be declared vacant since he (Saraki) has defected to another party. Tietie, in a telephone interview with the News Agency of Nigeria, also said similar fate should befall Akpabio. He based his call on the provision of Section 68 (1) (G) of the 1999 constitution as amended. He said the section provides that the seat of a senator or a member of the House of Representatives shall be declared vacant if he becomes a member of any other political party before the expiration of the period for which he is elected.
He, however, said there was an exception if there is "a division in the political party to which the senator or representative was previously a member. Tietie said in the absence of this condition, all senators and members of the National Assembly who defected from the party that originally sponsored their elections must have their seats declared vacant. He said INEC must immediately conduct bye-elections to replace the affected lawmakers.
Also, the PDP described as treasonable alleged threat by the Buhari Campaign Organisation (BCO) to take over the National Assembly, should the APC and the presidency fail in their bid to forcibly change the leadership of the senate.The party, in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the threat has further "confirmed the involvement of the presidency and forces associated with Buhari in the invasion of the National Assembly, the besieging of the official residences of Saraki and deputy senate president Ike Ekweremadu by security agencies, and plots to arrest, detain and impeach them ahead of the Senate's resumption."
It said: "Nigerians can now see, from the threat by the official campaign organisation of Mr. President, that the presidency was economical with the truth in its statement wherein it attempted to dissociate itself from the ugly developments in the senate, which have put our nation's stability and our democracy under serious stress."
The party invited Nigerians "to note that the APC has given its official nod to this treasonable threat by BCO to forcefully take over the institution of the National Assembly, an arm of government duly established by our constitution, thereby confirming its complicity in the attacks on the legislature." The PDP charged security agencies to save the nation's democracy "by immediately looking into the immediate and remote impetus behind this open threat to our democracy and making their findings public."