- This is dangerous for democracy – Senate
- PIB suffers set back as Senate suspends debate
federal lawmakers were yesterday shut out from the National Assembly by protesters of the Occupy NASS group, even as anti and pro-Saraki protesters stormed the entrance of the legislature.
The latter groups were divided; support and against Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s continued stay in office.
However, some of the lawmakers from both Senate and House of Representatives made their way into the National Assembly through the Aso Rock Villa entrance.
While those in support of the Senate President who came earlier with banners screaming “Saraki should not be bewitched and be allowed to do his work,” another set had there’s written ‘OccupyNASS’ with various other inscriptions like ‘If senators cannot fight corruption they should resign in mass and allow us re elect new representatives.’
The latter group, who came in their hundreds with various other banners, initially wanted to enter the National Assembly but were stopped by security men who locked the main gate of the complex and formed a human barricade.
The protesters, who had marched from the Unity Fountain near Transcorp Hilton to the National Assembly, were drawn from the Citizens United for Peace and Stability, the civil society organisation, called for the immediate resignation of Senate President Saraki over the corruption cases preferred against him, the purchase of Sport Utility Vehicles, SUVs, for senators at exorbitant prices, as well as an alleged attempt to frustrate the 2016 national budget.
The protesters threatened not to stop until Saraki tenders his resignation letter.
Spokesman of the anti-Saraki group, Akpomejevwe Nyemachi Tedheke said while Nigerians were suffering the lawmakers were on a jamboree, vowing to continue with the protest for the next four days
It would be recalled that Senator Saraki came under intense pressure after he assumed the Senate presidency against the directive of his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and all hell broke loose on September 15 as the federal government charged him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja over allegations of false and improper declaration of assets allegedly acquired during his tenure as the governor of Kwara State, from 2003 to 2011.
The 13-count charge against Saraki was filed before the tribunal by the Code of Conduct Bureau, through the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation.
Since then, the federal government has proposed eight witnesses who would testify against him before the CCT.
Justice Danladi Umar, the CCT chairman’s sudden decision to postpone Saraki’s trial until May, despite his initial insistence that it would continue daily until it was concluded, has however created some questions.
Dangerous to democracy
Reacting, Senate Leader Muhammad Ali Ndume described the ‘Occupy National Assembly’ protest by some groups calling for the resignation of the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, as a dangerous precedence for the nation’s democracy.
Senator Ndume, who made the remark while briefing journalists in Abuja on efforts being made by the Senate to bring to an end the impasse between it and the presidency over the 2016 budget, said the anti-Saraki protesters in particular were wrong in their action, saying “senators were elected by their constituents and not civil liberty groups or activists.”
He assured that the disagreements between the Senate and by extension, the National Assembly, and the presidency over details of the 2016 budget would be resolved before the week runs out.
“That is why we are not trying to say anything about them because what is happening out there is a very dangerous precedence because I contested to be senator of Borno South; I did not force myself on my people and therefore, somebody out there, especially the one that did not elect me, cannot force me out because I didn’t come in by force; I came in by ballot, not by gun, not by placard; I have posters but not placards.
“So if, for example, I’m short of performance and my constituents feel that they didn’t have time to waste, there is a clear cut process of doing that through collection of signatures which will lead to my being recalled; that is the democratic way, not by coming in here to stand and say you want to occupy NASS.
“You occupy NASS to do what; to be leader or to be senator? It doesn’t work that way. If you strongly feel that Ndume is not doing well to represent southern Borno, next time if you are up to 35 you just go and contest and defeat the man and just come here and do better,” the Senate leader stressed.
Protesters calling for the resignation of the Senate President from office in the face of his ongoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, on alleged false assets declaration and those against the move, yesterday besieged the main entrance of the National Assembly at different times to carry out their protests.
While those in support of continued stay of Saraki in office as Senate resident first staged their solidarity protests at the main entrance between 10:30 and 11am, those rooting for his resignation on alleged crisis of integrity, stormed the same place in their hundreds at about 11:30 am and occupied the place till press time.
Hundreds of the anti-Saraki protesters who came under the aegis of Citizens United for Peace and Stability, CUPS, donned T-shirts with inscription ‘#Occupy National Assembly’ vowed to sustain the protest for his ouster in office until he resigns.
They barricaded the main entrance to the National Assembly complex, thus forcing lawmakers and staff in the legislative arm to make do with the alternative entrance at the back of the complex to resume work.
The placard carrying protesters accused the Senate president of acts of corruption, citing his alleged false assets declaration, alleged padding of the 2016 budget by legislators, and the delay of the budget assents by the National Assembly as reasons he should resign.
The equally protesters alleged that the suffering Nigerians were passing through at the moment owing to refusal by President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the 2016 budget was partly the making of the National Assembly, which they said had been sympathetic to Saraki.
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, one of the coordinators, Sadiq Jidda said the Senate president was deficient in integrity and that his inability to live above board as the National Assembly leader had disqualified him from the post.
He said Nigerians needed a leader they could always learn from and not the set that would allow corruption to fester, insisting that Nigerians must collectively stand up to demand for immediate resignation of Saraki.
PIB debate stood down.
Meanwhile, attempt to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, for second reading in the Senate yesterday failed, following strong opposition by many senators on account of non-circulation of the bill to them ahead of the day’s plenary.
It is the usual procedure in the legislature that copies of bills meant to be presented for debate on the floor be circulated to members ahead of time.
Senate minority leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio led the opposition after raising a point of order that copies of the bill were not circulated to all members to study ahead of formal debate for useful contributions by them.
To this end, the Senate President Bukola Saraki, who presided over the day’s plenary, ruled that the debate be stood down to today, even as he said Senator Omotayo Alasoadura (APC Ondo South) who presented the bill, be allowed to read it.
Senator Akpabio said: “Without belabouring the issue, I can come under order 43 by your indulgence to make personal explanation.
“Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, I believe that we are discussing about the economy of Nigeria since 1960; the main stay of the economy of this country has been crude oil and therefore, the Petroleum Industry Bill is such an important bill that will affect people suffering in this country; and that will affect even the budget of the federal government that we are doing today.
“It is not the kind of bill that we can stay here and gloss over and then allow somebody to do a lead debate without senators having the bill in their hands.
“It is something we must study and come and make our own inputs, because we have to make sure that if that bill is properly done and then the president signs it into law, then it will help the economy of this country and it will also help to generate more income and enhance the living standards of Nigerians.
“I think it is an exercise in futility for my brother to do a lead debate when the bill is not circulated to senators.”
In agreeing to this, Saraki, who said the debate was circulated last Thursday, said:”I am sure in order to give them time to retrieve what was distributed on Thursday, we would step it down so that they can go and get the document that was distributed.”
He added: “And also we observed that the financial compendium is not there, that was no time to do the three issues. So, please ensure that the bill that has been distributed on Thursday is brought and we will now put it before the next debate.”
He asked Senator Alasoadura to ensure that the financial compendium was attached to the bill.
Alasoadura presented the bill as Senate Bill, prompting Senator Kabir Marafa (APC Zamfara South) to oppose the Senate for taking credit on its sponsorship.
Speaking through a point of order, he contended that the bill was an executive bill and so, it was wrong for the Senate to present itself as its sponsor.
“I come under Order 76 which reads: “There shall be three classes of bills, namely, Executive Bill, Members Bill and Private Bill.
“As far as I can remember, the PIB was an executive bill submitted to this chamber and as an executive bill, it was submitted wholly as one bill to be considered equally and thoroughly.
“To my greatest surprise, the presenter here is telling us that he has separated the bill into parts and pieces to be considered and I don’t know where he drew that authority from, because the executive has already submitted one bill and not part and pieces.
“So, I want to suggest that the presenter brings the bill as presented by the executive arm of government,” Marafa explained.
But Saraki explained to Marafa that so far, there was no bill on PIB from the executive in the Senate.
Earlier while reading his lead debate on the bill, Senator Alasoadura said the objective of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill was to create efficient and effective institutions with clear and separate roles for the petroleum industry.
He also said the PIB would establish a framework for the creation of commercially oriented and profit driven petroleum entities that ensures value addition and internationalization of the petroleum industry.
He listed other objectives of the bill as to promote transparency and accountability in the administration of the petroleum resources of Nigeria, create a conducive business environment for petroleum industry operations.