83 Senators back Saraki, Ekweremadu
•Mark, 48 PDP, 33 APC senators pass vote of confidence
•Senate pledges thorough screening of ministerial nominees
•Marafa goes gaga, removes babaringa, threatens to fight
•Senate problems influenced by people outside NASS— Saraki
•Tread softly on Saraki’s trial, Dogara cautions FG
By Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuakporie & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—EIGHTY- four senators, yesterday, passed a vote of confidence on the Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; and the entire leadership of the Senate.
The move, at least in the interim, ended speculations that Saraki was losing the support of his colleagues on account of the alleged false assets declaration suit he is facing at the Code of Conduct of Tribunal (CCT) and might be asked to step aside as Senate President.
Boosted by the confidence vote, a re-energized Senate leadership, yesterday, said it would protect the interest of Nigerians by ensuring thorough screening of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees. The list of the nominees will be presented to the senators today.
This came as Saraki insisted that his trial by the CCT was being influenced by people outside the National Assembly, who were not comfortable with his emergence as Senate President, adding that the ‘intruders’ are fighting a lost battle because they cannot effect their desired leadership in the Red Chamber as they are not National Assembly members.
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has called for caution over the on-going trial of Saraki.
In his welcome address to members of the House of Representatives upon resumption from a six-week recess, he saluted Saraki for submitting himself to the jurisdiction of the CCT.
“The barometer of the polity has been on the rise of late because of certain developments concerning the arraignment of the President of the Senate. While commending the President of the Senate for submitting himself to the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal in the recognition that no person is above the law, I wish to caution that there is need for great circumspection in times such as this in order to maintain proper focus in pursuit of the common good,” he said.
Senate problems influenced by intruders—Saraki
In his welcome remarks to senators, Saraki, insisted that his travails in the hands of the anti-graft agency were the handiwork of those he referred to as “powerful individuals outside” the legislature.
“I wish to reiterate my remarks before the Tribunal, that I have no iota of doubt that I am on trial today because I am President of the Nigerian Senate, against the wishes of some powerful individuals outside this chambers. And to yield ground on this note, is to be complicit in the subversion of democracy and its core principles of separation of powers as enshrined in our constitution. This, in your wisdom, is what you have done by electing me to be the first among all of you who are my equals,” he told his colleagues.
He said the activities of the powerful individuals outside the legislature would not deter him. He vowed that he would always defend the independence of the legislature and invite his colleagues “to stand with me to defend this Senate and preserve its sanctity.”
“On this note, I want to urge you my colleagues to ensure that what is uppermost in our minds as we begin the constitutional task of screening the ministerial nominees is the overall interest of our country, informed by the enormity and the urgency of the challenges before us.
“Once the list is submitted, let us ensure that we treat it with dispatch and thoroughness. We must not be held down by unnecessary politicking. The enormity of our national challenges at this time does not give room for pettiness or politics of vendetta,” he charged senators.
The Senate President added: “This is an auspicious moment for us to rededicate ourselves to all that will advance our nation, move us closer to the dreams of our founding fathers and to attain our destiny as the greatest nation of the black race on the planet.
“All that we seek for our country is achievable in our lifetime if we all play our part and forsake our old ways. But the least we must do is to ensure that while we are here, we are able to lay the necessary foundation for our children and their children to live a more prosperous life.”
Saraki charged senators to sit up to their constitutional responsibilities, vowing that the Senate under his watch will exercise its functions without fear or favour.
“As we resume today, we must demonstrate clearly to Nigerians that we are prepared to fulfill our mandates and put Nigeria first in all that we do, no matter how we feel about anything else,” he said.
Addressing newsmen, after the plenary, Chairman, Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Media and Publicity, Dino Melaye, said the Senate was not distracted by actions of some powerful individuals outside the National Assembly.
He said some politicians with selfish ambitions were bent on destroying the institutions of the legislature, urging senators at yesterday’s plenary to resolve to remain united.
Melaye, who represents Kogi West Senatorial Zone, on the platform of the ruling APC, added that the vote of confidence re-affirmed by 84 of the 108 senators was a confirmation that the Saraki-led leadership of the Senate was firm.
He warned that the Senate would no longer tolerate any action capable of undermining its authority from some senators acting the script of people outside the chamber.
Senator Melaye said the Senate had resolved to do away with its usual tradition of bow-and-go, always being accorded some presidential nominees during screening exercises. He said the screening of ministerial nominees being awaited would be stringent and thorough.
“I wish to use this opportunity to say that the screening of ministers will not be business as usual,the era of bow and go is over,” he added.
Vote of Confidence
The vote was sequel to a motion by Senator David Umaru (APC, Niger East), who raised the point of order calling for a vote of confidence on the Senate leadership.
It was the second time in two months that Saraki was getting confidence vote. The motion was seconded by Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima (APC, Zamfara State) and co-sponsored by 81 other senators.
The vote of confidence, which was pursuant to Orders 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Order 2015 was signed by 48 senators elected on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and 35 senators elected on the plank of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
Umaru said the Senate would not entertain unwarranted embarrassment that was being served on the senate leadership and would not succumb to cheap blackmail.
Moving the vote of confidence, Senator Umaru said: “Senate notes that the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended guarantees the separation of powers and the independence of the legislative arm of government.
“Further notes that the legislative arm of Government remains the mainstay of democratic governance, liberty, freedom, fair hearing, checks and balances and above all the protection of human rights of the citizenry.
“Determined to focus on matters of national interest and importance to the ordinary people of Nigeria and other issues that will enhance their safety, livelihood, social and political well being.
“Further determined to continue to perform its constitutional duties and responsibilities in defence of democracy and the rule of law for the betterment and development of our nation, Nigeria.
“Notes with dismay, the attempt and continued interference in the internal affairs of the Senate by detractors and media propaganda against senators, the Senate and its leadership by selfish politicians.
“Considering the on-going unwarranted embarrassment and aspersions being cast on the senate and its leadership.
“Determined that the Senate shall not allow itself to be distracted, deterred or succumb to cheap blackmail in the course of carrying out its constitutional responsibilities by any individual or group of people under any pretence or guise for personal political interest.
“The senate, hereby, resolves to pass a vote of confidence on the President of the Senate, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki; the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and the entire Senate leadership as presently constituted.
“To call on innocent Nigerians, groups and political associations not to allow themselves to be used by any person or persons to harass, or blackmail the Senate, Senators and its leadership.”
Enraged Marafa protests
Soon after the vote of confidence, Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central) for over 20 minutes became uncontrollable as he made efforts to raise a point of order challenging the vote of confidence on the Senate President.
Marafa, in protest, said he was unfairly treated by Saraki, who he noted deliberately refused to identify him after having raised his hands several times to express his opinion on the matter, saying, “ I came under Point of Order before the Senate took the decision, but you refused me.”
But as Marafa continued to speak in anger against Saraki’s ruling, citing section 53(5) of the Standing Order which reads: “Reference shall not be made to any matter which a judicial decision is pending, in such a way as might in the opinion of the President of the Senate prejudice the interest of parties thereto.”
But Saraki insisted that Marafa should read 53(6) which reads: “It shall be out of order to attempt to reconsider any specific question upon which the Senate has come to a conclusion during the current session except upon a substantive motion for rescission.”
Out of order
As Marafa was still shouting, the Senate President ruled him out of order but this did not stop him as he raised his voice, lampooning the Senate and before long a rowdy session ensued.
Another APC Senator, Isah Hamman Misau (Bauchi Central), who was among the sponsors of the motion, quickly rose to caution Marafa against disobeying the ruling of the Senate President.
This intervention further provoked Marafa, who removed his babaringa (top clothe) and attempted to move towards Misau, threatening to deal with him.
The effort was halted by many senators who blocked and prevented him from reaching his target.
Marafa walks out
At the peak of his anger, Marafa walked out of the chamber, aided by senators who stopped him from attacking Misau.
At this point, Senators Olusola Adeyeye (APC, Osun Central), Gbenga Ashafa (APC, Lagos East) and Adeola Solomon Olamilekan (APC, Lagos West) took Marafa out of the chambers to Adeyeye’s office, just as Adeyeye cautioned him (Marafa) against talking to anyone when he saw (Journalists) following him and efforts to get the angered Marafa to talk proved abortive.
Ekweremadu begs for Marafa
Marafa was later asked by his friends to return to the Senate floor before it rose and he did.
To save Marafa from being sanctioned, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who apologised to senators, the Senate leadership and Nigerians on behalf of Marafa, said that he should be forgiven for the embarrassment he caused the Senate.
Senator Ekweremadu, who warned that the Senate can invoke its Order like it did to suspend Senator Arthur Nzeribe, said:
”It is high time we put behind all the previous issues. We were elected through different channels of political associations but we are all Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I want to apologise to Nigerians on behalf of Marafa over his unruly behaviour, there is a provision for suspension of a senator. It was once used on Arthur Nzeribe but I commend the Senate President for his maturity on this.”
Those moving against me will fail, says Ekweremadu
lAs pro- Saraki, Ekweremadu groups storm NASS
Meantime, Ekweremadu said, yesterday, that those working against him will fail. A statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Uche Anichukwu, read: “The Office of the Deputy President of the Senate wishes to bring to the knowledge of the public some clandestine efforts by desperate political elements to publish false and defamatory information against the Office and person of the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
“These elements are currently making desperate efforts, including scavenging through Senate accounts and Committees he has ever served on, with the sole aim of misrepresenting information, maligning, and running him out of office by hook or crook or force him to resign from office as the Deputy President of the Senate.”
In another development, some protesters stormed the National Assembly Complex, calling on the Presidency not to victimise the Senate leadership.
The two groups – Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo Youth Movement and Coalition of Civil Society Media Executives (COCMEP) bearing placards of various inscriptions, asked the Senate President, Saraki and his deputy, Ekweremadu not to resign.
In a statement signed by their co-ordinator, Nnadi Uche , the group noted that it is an act of corruption to use the anti-corruption war for party politics and political benefits, adding, “ we condemn it in all its ramifications, but we will not sit down and allow anyone no matter how highly placed to derail the war.”