— Screens ministerial nominees next Wednesday
The defection of 11 senators of the Peoples Democratic Party has been placed on hold pending the outcome of legal consultations by the leadership of the upper chamber.
The Senate yesterday, in reaction to the delayed defection of the senators from the ruling party to the All Progressives Congress (APC), has said that the action of the Senate President, Senator David Mark, was intended to allow the leadership seek legal consultation over the matter.
Also, the Senate disclosed that it would, next Wednesday, commence the screening of ministerial nominees forwarded to the National Assembly by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Senate president, whose absence had on two occasions stalled the defection of the 11 senators to the APC, presided over yesterday’s plenary wherein the decision was reached over the defection.
A few minutes into the plenary session, the Senate went into an executive, closed-door session which lasted almost two hours.
Upon resuming plenary, the upper chamber adopted Tuesday’s proceedings and, almost immediately afterwards, stood down consideration of matters billed for the day, after which the Senate adjourned till Tuesday.
In a show of stiff dissatisfaction, senators of the APC, alongside the defecting 11 from the PDP, congregated at the entrance of the chamber to hold brief talks, after which they embarked on a procession led by Senator Bukola Saraki to the office of the Minority Leader, Senator George Akume, where another round of meeting held.
Spokesperson of the Senate, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, while briefing newsmen shortly after plenary, said the Senate discussed during the closed session the issue of the 2014 Appropriation Bill passed Tuesday, as well as the issue of defection by the 11 lawmakers.
He said: “The Senate has today decided to suspend plenary because of two issues. Firstly, the fact that the budget has been consigned to the various committees and we want the committees to start working immediately on the budget.
“The second issue is that some of our colleagues want to go for their party registration, our colleagues in the APC, and therefore, the Senate decided, in view of both issues, to suspend plenary for today and tomorrow. The Senate will resume plenary on Tuesday next week and take the ministerial screening on Wednesday next week.
“The Senate had a closed session this morning also on matters that affect the wellbeing of this country, Nigeria. And I can affirm to you that the interest of the country was put first in the discussion and the discussions were fruitful.”
According to Abaribe, “The Senate president, in particular, would have to seek further legal advice because of the serious legal issues that were thrown up during the discussion. The legal issues relate to both the interpretation of the Constitution and the interpretation of our rules within the Senate. And more time was given for further consultation.
“It was also resolved that when the Senate resumes plenary on Tuesday the Senate will now also look into the issue.”
The Information, Media and Public Affairs chairman added: “The question of the Constitution and rules is that they are subject to the interpretation by whoever is interpreting it; and one thing is clear: under Rule 25 of the Senate, only the Senate president has the power and the authority to interpret anything.
“And, therefore, what we did in the discussion is for the Senate president to obtain the views from various senators and various people and he decided that it would now be necessary for him to also seek further legal advice.
“I think it is in the best interest of the country for decisions that are going to be taken to be taken with due cognizance of the law. We are lawmakers, we are not law-breakers.”
Explaining why the Senate leadership decided to seek legal consultation over the defection of the 11 senators, Abaribe said, “In the past, senators have defected but they have not gone to court against the presiding officer. The senators who are defecting had first gone to court against the presiding officer. And, of course, if you go to court that means that we have to suspend what we are doing, pending the resolution of the matter in court. And so it was in the attempt for us to seek political solution to this matter that we had this discussion.”