A storm is gathering against the Senate over its face-off with the Presidency.
The Upper Chamber has been at loggerheads with the Presidency in recent weeks, twice turning down President Muhammadu Buhari’s request that the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, be confirmed as the substantive chair of the anti-graft agency.
The Senate also declined consideration of the 27 names the President nominated as resident electoral commissioners because the President would not heed its request that Magu be removed as Acting Chair of EFCC and the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) chairman, Prof Itse Sagay (SAN), spurned an invitation extended to him by the lawmakers, describing it as “childish and irresponsible”.
But the rift took a new turn yesterday with calls for the resignation of Dr. Bukola Saraki as Senate President and threats by a coalition of 250 civil society groups to dislodge him and other senators.
The civil society groups, under the auspices of Stand Up for Nigeria (SUN), vowed to mobilise the mass of displeased Nigerians against Saraki and the other senators for daring to hold the nation to ransom by declining consideration of the 27 names President Buhari nominated as resident electoral commissioners.
The threat to sack Saraki and other members of the Senate is coming just as a factional chair of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Kwara State called for his immediate resignation for a myriad of corruption allegations over which the Senate President is being investigated.
The National President of SUN, Evangelist Sunday Attah, who addressed a press conference in Abuja yesterday, threatened that the coalition would bring the Senate to “a desperately deserved inglorious end” by the time it unleashes its anger on the red chamber next week.
“We therefore urge all Nigerians to come out in Lagos and Abuja on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for a peaceful protest to shut down the Senate,” he said.
Attah called on former Nigerian presidents, statesmen and nationalists to prevail on Dr Bukola Saraki-led Senate not to subject the nation to a kind of international embarrassment never witnessed in the history of the country.
He described the suspension of Senator Ali Ndume from the chamber as anti-democratic, saying that the action must be reversed immediately to avoid the wrath of the Nigerian people in days to come.
He urged the Senate to immediately reverse the decision to suspend Ndume and commence the process for the confirmation of the individuals nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari as Resident Electoral Commissioners.
Attah said in the last two weeks, Nigerians have watched in awe as the Senate under the leadership of Saraki practically gave a red card to the anti-corruption war when they started using the confirmation of nominees as bargaining chip to frustrate reforms that were promised by the government.
He described the Senate’s action as a blow from which many Nigerians are still reeling as they cannot fathom why people who claim to represent them are making anti-people moves.
He said: “Not only did they engage in anti-people activities, the federal lawmakers shamelessly blackmailed President Muhammadu Buhari by refusing to consider the confirmation of 27 resident electoral commissioners when they know that these nominees needed to resume and familiarise themselves with their duties in time for the next general election.
“Through its Ethics Committee, the Senate, in the most brazen case of make-believe to have ever occurred in any elected parliament, cleared one of their own, Senator Dino Melaye, of certificate scandal after arm twisting the leadership of his supposed alma mata to give a favourable testimony.
“The same farcical panel cleared Saraki of complicity or involvement in the armoured Range Rover Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) impounded by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) earlier in the year.
“Perhaps the Ali-must-wear-uniform saga has been made clearer with this development.”
He said in the most bizarre treatment of a whistleblower by a parliament on record, the Senate under Saraki, which ought to be the bastion of anti-corruption campaign, suspended former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, ostensibly because he dared break rank to expose Senator Dino Melaye’s qualification fiasco and Saraki’s SUV Custom clearance mess.
Attah said while the Senate engaged in all these theatrics, the 2017 budget remains in the limbo because the senators do not care how their actions affect the rest of Nigerians.
Coalition demands apologies to Sagay, Ndume
He said the actions of the Senate are a dangerous precedent Nigerians must immediately unite and rise up against because it is guaranteed to destroy all that they have laboured for if not arrested in time.
He said: “Stand Up Nigeria therefore demands that the Senate undo the wrong actions it has taken in the time under consideration.
“To this end, the federal lawmakers must withdraw the summons to Professor Itsey Sagay and apologise for attempting to intimidate him for exercising his freedom of expression.
“The Senate must immediately lift the suspension it slammed on Senator Ali Ndume and in addition tender unreserved apology to him for the ridicule it attempted to expose him to.
“The process for the confirmation of the nominees for Resident Electoral Commissioners must resume without any unnecessary conditions attached.”
He said where the Senate fails to meet the foregoing demands, the coalition would not relent as was the case in the past when they had cause to call for mass action against the National Assembly.
Attah said: “We call on former Nigerian Presidents, former Senate Presidents and all men of goodwill to help the Senate in finding its lost glory before the doom of the Senate consumes our democracy.
“As we had set out earlier, recent activities by the Senate have since shown that these men are more after their ego and greed than the interest of the masses which they have been elected to serve.
“To this end, we are urging Nigerians that it is time to shift gear.
“Years of asking the Senate to be accountable and prove itself as a gathering of matured men and women have yielded no positive results.
“If anything, the predisposition of these federal lawmakers to becoming more crime ridden has worsened over the years.
“We must therefore begin the process of scrapping the Senate since it has proven itself as a conduit pipe for waste and official cover for blackmailers.”
Urging Nigerians to rise up and speak up, he said: “When we comment in the social media space, when we take to the streets to protest and when we engage as influencers, the singular demand should be the eradication of Senate, as it is no longer needed.”
He said Nigerians must ensure that every single Senator that has been part of the criminality going on in the red chamber is not allowed to return to Abuja in 2019 to continue “this madness”.
‘Saraki must go’
Yesterday, factional chair of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Kwara State, Prince Sunday Fagbemi, urged Senator Saraki to step down as Senate President pending his clearance from a myriad of corruption allegations levelled against him.
Fagbemi said: “The most respectable and acceptable thing to do is to step down even in our clime. After all, the judges have set a precedence.
“It is the most civilised thing to do. His continued occupation of that exalted position is a serious dent on the image and integrity of the hallowed chamber.”
‘Senate President needs not step down’
Fagbemi’s views, however, contrast with those of a human rights lawyer and former commissioner for information and strategy in Abia State, Dr Anthony Agbazuere, who said that those calling for the resignation of the Senate President were ignorant of the laws of the land.
He said that those that were calling for the Senate President to resign to avoid distraction do not understand the workings of the law of the country, as one is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law.
Speaking with The Nation in Umuahia, Agbazuere said the trial of Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) is a ruse, an abuse of process and an embarrassment to the leadership of this country.
He said: “Though I see the tribunal finding Saraki guilty, we still have the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court that will surely quash the verdict of the tribunal. So, asking him to resign makes no sense.”
Corroborating Agbazuere, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Chief Ladi Williams, said in a telephone chat with The Nation yesterday: “It is not right to ask the Senate President to step aside, because our constitution says that an accused person is innocent until he is proven guilty.
“If he steps aside and he is later proved innocent, who will be responsible for the loss that he suffers?
“What we have now is a situation where two parties have issues with one making allegations and the other denying it.
“Remaining on the seat will not in any way affect the investigation.”
Efforts to obtain the Senate’s reaction yielded no result. The Special Adviser to the Senate President, Yusuf Olaniyonu, referred our correspondent to the Senate’s spokeman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, but he neither picked his calls nor responded to a text message sent to his mobile phone.