Prominent members of the Senate Unity Forum, SUF otherwise known as anti-Saraki senators, who chaired some of the standing committees inaugurated last week by the senate president, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, attended the ceremony held at the National Assembly complex in Abuja, against all expectations. OLUGBENGA SALAMI writes that this may mark the end of leadership crisis in the senate.
Last Thursday, the senate president, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki inaugurated the second batch of special and standing committees of the upper legislative chamber at the National Assembly. This time, they were 10 in number as against the first seven inaugurated the previous day.
It was a busy evening for some staff and security agents, especially those assigned for the inauguration as the situation became a bit rowdy at some point with the increasing number of people, including the senators, invited guests and journalists, among others, who were invited to the occasion.
That was the atmosphere in and around the Conference Hall 022, venue of the inauguration. The curiosity and excitement were expected, following the opposition of members of the SUF, a group of senators who kicked against the election of Saraki as the senate president, to the composition of the Selection Committee that handled the special and standing committees.
Against all expectations, prominent members of the Forum, especially Senators Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan (APC Yobe North) and George Akume (APC Benue North-West), who aspired to be President and Deputy President of the Senate, respectively, and who had vowed not to recognise Saraki’s leadership, were already seated in the hall.
Other members of the Forum in attendance and whose committees were also inaugurated were Senators Abu Ibrahim (APC Katsina South), and Abdullahi Adamu (APC Nasarawa West). Many people were interested in catching their glimpse, and reason why the hall was filled to capacity with many on their feet till the ceremony lasted.
The committees headed by the senators are Defence for Senator Ahmed Lawan; Army-George Akume; Police Affairs-Abu Ibrahim and Agriculture-Abdullahi Adamu. Others are Navy-Isa Hamma Misau; Tertiary Institutions & TETFUND-Binta Garba Mashi; Air Force- Duro Faseyi; Water Resources-Mohammed Ubali Shittu; Niger Delta-Peter Nwaboshi; and Media & Public Affairs-Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, respectively.
However, political observers and analysts noted that the acceptance of the prominent SUF members to be inaugurated as chairmen of their respective committees, may signal the beginning of the end of leadership crisis rocking the senate in the last five months. They were particularly happy with the presence of Lawan, Akume and Ibrahim at the ceremony.
This is because the SUF members led by Senator Barnabas Gemade (APC Benue North-East), with others who supported Lawan’s Senate Presidency, have continued to antagonise Saraki and his leadership. Even when Saraki unveiled the 65 special and standing committees of the Senate two weeks ago, some members of the Forum declared the action as unconstitutional, null and void.
Specifically, Senators Kabir Garba Marafa (APC Zamfara Central) and Sulaiman Othman Hunkuyi (APC Kaduna North), spokesman and secretary of the SUF, respectively, openly criticized the committees’ composition, accusing Saraki of violating constitutional provisions and the rules of the Senate in the process.
It was, however, gathered that the decision to accept the committees by the senators was taken at a meeting reportedly held on Thursday morning inside Senator Gemade’s office while the plenary was going on.
Sources told our correspondent that but for the respect the senators have for Gemade, who was once the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, they would have stuck to their guns of rejecting the committees appointments and went on with their antagonism of Saraki’s leadership.
It was further learnt that it took some time for the SUF chairman to persuade Senators Marafa and Hunkuyi in particular to accept the committees as composed by the Selection Committee headed by the senate president. Gemade reportedly told them to allow full reconciliation and restoration of harmony in the senate, while the duo were said to have reluctantly accepted to be pacified.
“Members of the Senate Unity Forum met today inside the office of Senator Barnabas Gemade, the group’s chairman and the main agenda was whether or not they should accept their chairmanship and membership of standing committees announced by the senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
“The senators would have maintained their rejection of the committees and the leadership of Saraki in general if not for the wisdom applied by the chairman, Senator Barnabas Gemade. He pleaded with them to sheath their swords and allow harmony in the senate, and that they cannot continue to antagonize the leadership.
“Despite his pleas, Senators Marafa and Hunkuyi were hell bent on their position, citing relevant sections of the constitution and the senate Order Paper to support their claims. They faulted the composition of the Selection Committee and the increment of the standing committees from 57 to 65, which they insisted violates the Senate’s standing rule.
“But at the end, Senator Gemade and other leaders of the Forum like Senators Lawan, Akume and Ibrahim were able to convince the most aggrieved members to accept the committees and work in harmony with other senators in the senate”, the source stressed.
Our correspondent observed that members of the SUF came in group to join their colleagues in the plenary around 12.15pm on Thursday after they had finished the meeting. They were seen exchanging pleasantries with their colleagues across party lines on arrival before taking their respective seats.
Later in the evening while inaugurating the committees, Saraki said, “The committee system is at the heart of our legislative processes and activities. It remains the veritable tool that a democratic legislature must rely on for some of its important assignments including considering, shaping, and passing bills.
“The effectiveness of our ability to carry out our oversight functions and expose corruption squarely rests on the effectiveness of our committee systems. It is in this context that you must therefore measure the importance and level of responsibility attached to your membership of these committees”, he advised.
The senate president urged the committees leadership to “run an inclusive structure and avoid creating an impression that the affairs of the committee is a one-man show”.
“This senate will not tolerate such because it is against the spirit and commitment embodied in our legislative agenda which we have freely given to ourselves”, he warned.
The senate president added that “the 8th Senate expects that you will immediately roll up your sleeves and face the work ahead”.
He said the committees are also expected to treat all bills and reports referred to them expeditiously, especially those relating to the senate’s legislative agenda, adding that same applies to all their oversight reports.
According to Saraki, “The 8th Senate has put innovative mechanisms in plans to empower the committees to act efficiently and independently in the discharge of their duties”.
“Necessary resources will be made available to cover relevant activities of the committees in line with approved guidelines especially. Let me assured you that there will be no need to look elsewhere of resources to carry out your legitimate duties”, he said.
When contacted for comment after the inauguration, Senators Lawan and Akume refused to speak with journalists, but Lawan simply said, “I am on a retreat as far as press interview is concerned” and walked away with other colleagues.
But Senator Abu Ibrahim in an interview, advocated for the introduction of a, ‘localised police’ to address the insecurity challenges in the country. He said the introduction of the localised police would enhance the performance of the country’s police.
“What I will suggest is not a state police but a localised police where Policemen from the rank of Sergeant downward would be recruited from their states of origin as they are familiar with their terrains and have a thorough grasp of their local languages.
“Policemen from the rank of ASP upward should be sourced nationally since they will be operating at higher levels. If you take Policeman from Musawa in Katsina to a village in Bayelsa, he would be feeling as if he was transferred to China”, he stressed.
Senator Ibrahim said the committee would give necessary attention to the funding and training of the Nigeria Police to enhance their performances. “As the vice chairman of the Police (Affairs) Committee at the 7th Senate, I know the problems of the Police are funding and training”, he said.
Meanwhile, many Nigerians have commended Saraki over the way and manner he has been conducting the affairs of the senate since his election, despite stiff opposition by his party, APC and some senators.
Public affairs commentators have made references to the matured way he has been presiding over the Senate’s plenary, screening and confirmation of the then ministerial nominees, appointment of senators into various committees, and his calm nature over his alleged assets falsification trial at the Code of Conducts Tribunal, CCT.
These, and other leadership qualities exhibited so far as the chairman of the 8th National Assembly, have endeared him into the hearts of majority of senators and House of Representatives members, as well as many Nigerians.