Senate rules amendment and suppression of opposition

The amendment of the Rules of the Senate to stop first-timers from vying for principal offices is perceived as being targeted at some senators who were opposed to the emergence of Senator Godswill Akpabio as Senate President, TOPE SUNDAY writes.

The leadership of the Senate, recently, amended the Senate Rules to stop first-time senators from vying for the positions of president and deputy president of the Senate.

Following the development, only ranking senators would be permitted to occupy the two coveted.

Blueprint Weekend recalls that the amendment was carried out after the Leader of the Senate, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, moved a motion for the amendment of standing rules to accommodate new standing committees.

The motion, which was seconded by the Minority Leader of the Senate, Senator Simon Mwadkwon, received the support of senators across all political affiliations when the President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio put on a voice vote.

Now, regardless of the first-timers’ experience at the Green Chamber, coming to the Red Chamber to be either the president or the deputy president, is practically impossible.

Specifically, the amendment, which falls under Rule 3 Subsection 2-1, 2 3 and 4, states: “A senator vying for the office of President of the Senate or Deputy President of the Senate must have at least served in the Senate once.

The intrigues

While many have described the amendment as unconstitutional, the development has been viewed by others as a way of moving against the destabilisation of the 10th Senate following move by some aggrieved Senators to remove the Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio, from office.

This is against the background of media reports that there were the plans to impeach Senator Akpabio as Seante President. He has since denied the move.

Senator Akpabio emerged 10th President of the Senate, on June 13 this year, after defeating Senator Abdulaziz Yari. He polled 63 votes to defeat Yari, the immediate past governor of Zamfara state, who scored 46 votes.

However, on August 12, about two months after his ascension to the coveted seat, the Senate Chief Whip, Ali Ndume, who served as director-general during Akapbio’s campaign for the Senate Presidency, declared that they (Senators) were planning on taking drastic action against him for mistakenly disclosing that a ‘holiday allowance’ had been sent to senators’ bank accounts.

Akpabio had announced before the Senate adjourned for its annual recess, that money had been sent to them to “enjoy” their holiday.

“To enable all of us to enjoy our holidays, a token has been sent to our various accounts by the Clerk of the National Assembly. I withdraw that statement.”

However, following uproar from the lawmakers he rephased his earlier statement. “To allow you to enjoy your holiday, the Senate President has sent prayers to your mailboxes to assist you to go on a safe journey and return.”

Despite his effort to correct the mistake Akpabio’s comment was greeted by criticisms from Nigerians, who berated the Senators for feeding fat on the nation’s treasury.

This development berthed the impeachment rumour against the senate president, with no less than ten former governors in the upper house reportedly rooting for his ouster. Also, a coalition of civic organisations advocated for his impeachment.

However, while the pro-Akpabio senators dismissed prior claims of intended impeachment as a “phantom’’, the Coalition for Parliamentary Democracy CPD demanded the Senate President resign, claiming that he had fallen out of favor with his colleagues in the Senate.

CPD advised Senator Akpabio to quit pointing fingers at the accusation and instead come clean on why his colleagues want him out, in response to assertions from Senator Akpabio’s office that “one South-South Governor” was behind the impeachment threat to remove him from office.

Akpabio fights back

A public Affairs Analyst, Olalekan Awojodu, has opined that the development was one of the ways to clip the wings of Senator Yari, who is a first-timer at the Senate but is pulling some staunts at the Red Chamber.

Awojodu noted that Yari had set precedence at the Senate, and in years to come, other powerful politicians would do the same. This he said may have motivated the amendment of the Senate rules to shut doors against him and his likes.

It’s constitutional violation – Varsity don

A lecturer at the Federal University Oye, Ekiti, Mr. Femi Fayomi, told Blueprint Weekend that the amendment of the Senate rules was a clear violation of the constitution, and described it as self-serving.

Fayomi said: “The amendment of the 10th Senate rule on the eligibility for the seat of Senate President is a self-preservation strategy for the Akpabio-led Senate. The extent to which this will go in sustaining him as the Senate President is left for nature to decide.

“While experience counts in the legislative organ of the government particularly those that preside over affairs of the law-making arm, it runs in clear violation of the constitution which makes every senator irrespective of the number of years in the parliament equal.

“There are more fundamental and critical issues that the Senate should focus energy and attention on but not the trivial matter of self-serving rule that brings no dividend of democracy to the tables of the vast majority of Nigerians.”

Aggrieved senator should approach court -Lawyer

Also speaking, the Human Rights Coordinator, NBA, Garki Branch, Abuja, Barrister Emmanuel Umahi Ekwe, who noted that there was nothing wrong in the Senate amending its Standing Orders, however, faulted the upper chamber for precluding first-time lawmakers from contesting principal positions.

Ekwe declared that the amendment negates the provision of section 50 (1) of the 1999 constitution (As amended), which stipulates that there shall be a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.

To this end, he called on any aggrieved lawmaker to approach the Federal High Court for redress.

He said: “There is nothing wrong in the Senate amending its Standing Orders. However, I feel it is self-serving and unconstitutional for the Senate to have amended it in such a way that it precludes first-time lawmakers from contesting principal positions.

“This negates the provision of section 50 (1) of the 1999 constitution (As amended), which stipulates that there shall be a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.

“In the spirit and letters of our constitution, it is the inherent right of lawmakers to vote and aspire to any principal position in the House. It is in bad taste to stifle such rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.

“When you start amending your rule book to the extent of stamping the provisions of the Grundnorm, it is selfishness, precarious, and preposterous. Lawmakers are expected to uphold and protect the provisions of the Constitution at all costs and not the other way around. It will therefore not be out of place for any aggrieved lawmaker to approach the Federal High Court for redress.”

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