The Intrigues, Drama That Trailed Amaechi’s Ministerial Confirmation
The intrigues leading to the eventual confirmation of former Rivers state governor, Rotimi Amaechi yesterday climaxed in a drama that saw PDP Senators walk out of the Senate chamber.
Trouble started soon after the Senate resumed plenary in the morning. The report of the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on Amaechi was reportedly circulated in the chamber to PDP Senators who were battle ready to counter the confirmation of the former Rivers state governor.
Sensing that there might be uproar, the Senate President immediately called for a closed door session soon after the confirmation of the chairman and commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which preceded the confirmation of the ministers-designate.
The Senate went into a closed door session at about 1.53pm. The closed door session lasted for 1 hour and 17 minutes, after which the Senate president spoke briefly saying: “The Senate in a closed session reviewed the debates of the ministerial nominees as ministers in the government of the federal republic of Nigeria.”
Thereafter, the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, moved that the chamber dissolve into a committee of the whole to consider for confirmation, the nomination of the 18 ministers-designate. He was seconded by Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio. The confirmation exercise started at about 3.18pm.
The confirmation went on smoothly until Akpabio interjected soon after Professor Anwuka’s name was called for confirmation. He said there were issues that were yet to be resolved. Akpabio was countered by another PDP Senator from Imo state, Nneji Achonu. Achonu told his colleagues that the petitions had been withdrawn. The Senate president thereafter ruled Akpabio out of order and confirmed Professor Anwuka’s nomination as minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
After the brief rowdy session, the Senate committee chairman on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu was called to read the contents of the report on Amaechi. In his remarks, he said the report was signed by 7 out of the 11 members of the committee.
He averred that since the matter under review was in a competent court of law, the committee agreed that the confirmation of Amaechi be suspended, pending when there a valid court judgment on the issue would be delivered or the case withdrawn.
He barely concluded when the Senate Leader, Ndume, said that further action should be suspended on Amaechi’s confirmation since the case is already before a competent court of law. Akpabio who rose up to amend Ndume’s motion before seconding, was booed.
Akpabio said: “We had said that we were going to make comments after the conclusion of the whole process about Amaechi. I want to move a motion that the Senate do allow a proper discussion of the motion before us.”
The Senate Minority Leader thereafter declined to second Ndume’s motion that action be stayed on the confirmation of Amaechi as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But Ndume responded: “My motion is still standing. We need to put it to a vote.”
Again, the Senate Leader was deflated by Akpabio. He argued: “The role of the Leader is to lead the Senate. What we are saying is that we should consider the report of the committee. Legally speaking, we had agreed here that whenever a report on any nominee was presented, we should debate it. The report has been presented. What the Leader is trying to do is to stop us from debating the report.”
At this time, the Senate President intervened. He said: “As we have already agreed, we will take the comments after which we will go back to the motion moved by the Senate Leader for consideration.”
George Sekibo, PDP member from Rivers state who repeatedly shouted ‘point of order’ was eventually recognized by the Senate president to speak. Sekibo said: “Mr. President, I have the interest to speak as a member of the Rivers state caucus. Mr. President, we represent our people. The Nigerian people we represent are the majority. The majority is not the APC, but the Nigerian people. Those evaluating what we are doing are the Nigerian people.
“The allegations laid here is weighty. There are misappropriation of funds and sale of government property. The committee has done it’s work and has come with its report. There is no way anybody can amend the report of the committee. There is a moral burden on all of us. Whatever we do today will be recaptured in the future. Mr. President is fighting corruption and we cannot encourage it. APC Senators have had their own say, it is our time to have our own day.”
An APC Senator from Osun state, Jide Omowoware countered Sekibo. He said: “At the committee of the whole, a recommendation can be amended. H argued that the Senate Standing Order says no petition shall be received on a matter pending before any court of law.”
An overwhelmed Saraki who appeared to be in a fix reacted: “The earlier speaker raised an issue bordering on the issue of constitution and indictment. The report of the committee is silent on that.”
Again, Anyanwu cleared the air: “We took an overview of the findings. What we are saying is that we do not even have the right to entertain the confirmation of a nominee whose case is before a court. When I was reading the report, I read a letter from the lawyer of the nominee. The issue in question is that we do not have the power to entertain any matter in court.”
Biodun Olijimi, a PDP Senator from Ekiti state who backed his party colleagues said: “There is a moral burden not just on the Senate, but on the president of the federal republic of Nigeria who is riding on the issue of corruption. We must be sure that a court of law absorbs him before we can confirm him in this Senate. The majority may have its way, but Nigerians will know that this government is not ready to fight corruption.”
Joshua Lidani, a PDP Senator from Gombe state raised a fresh argument. He said the contents of the report is in line with the Standing Orders of the Senate. He said the Senate rules have the force of law, hence can stand on its own. He said the confirmation of Amaechi should not be entertained by the Senate.
Barnabas Gemade, an APC Senator from Benue state differed. He was still speaking when all the PDP Senators staged a walkout. Their action was ignored by the Senate president who was buoyed by a loud voice support from APC Senators.
Left alone without any opposition, the APC Senators had their day and unanimously confirmed the nomination of Amaechi.
The angry PDP Senators immediately stormed Senate Hearing Room One where they addressed journalists. Minority Leader, Akpabio, while reacting to the debacle on the floor of the Senate, told journalists that the PDP caucus would never support Amaechi’s confirmation.
Akpabio said: “You just witnessed a mild drama in the Senate. It is an unfortunate incident. We have the responsibility to explain to Nigerians. When the particular nominee was invited for screening, we raised some concerns, but were shut. We attempted to discuss the report, but did not work. The reality is that once a case is before any competent court of law, any action taken will be subjudice. We tried to make this point. As a majority party, they did not comply.
“It could have ba good idea for the nominee to withdraw his case before Senate can go ahead. The Senate president was returned unopposed. He was the sole nominee. None of us here indicated interest. You cannot say we supported him or not. It is not abnormal for the PDP senators to walkout. You will notice that our colleagues were not ready to allow us hear our views.
Former Senate president, David Mark who has kept a loud silence since the well-reported ministerial confirmation hearing started, had earlier stormed out of the Red Chamber when Senators resolved to go into a closed session. He did not participate in the press conference.
Meanwhile, the other 17 nominees that were confirmed without any hiccups include Mr. Adebayo Shittu (Oyo), Mrs Khadija Abba Ibrahim (Yobe), Heineken Lokpobiri (Bayelsa), Claudius Omoleye Daramola (Ondo), Baba Shehuri Mustapha (Borno), Ocholi Enojo James (Kogi), Adewole Isaac Folorunso (Osun) and Bawa Bwari (Niger).
Others are Geoffrey Onyeama (Enugu), Zainab Ahmed (Kaduna), Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali (Zamfara), Usani Usani Uguru (Cross River), Okechukwu Eyinna Enelamah (Abia), Anthony Anwuka Gozie (Imo), Mohammed Musa Bello (Adamawa), Adamu Adamu ( Bauchi) and Aisha Abubakar (Sokoto).
Their confirmation was sequel to a motion moved by the Senate Leader, Ndume. He moved: “That the Senate do approve the following nominees for appointment as Ministers of the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in accordance with Section 147 ( 2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.”