CHUKWU DAVID reports that a mild drama ensued in the Senate last week Tuesday, when the Red Chamber resumed from its break and the issue of defections and resignations of some of its members came up for consideration
The just concluded primary elections of the various political parties across the country elicited some level of upheavals within the nation’s political space, with defections of some politicians from their parties to other platforms all in the effort to actualise their ambitions in the 2023 general election.
In the Senate, some political heavyweights were also caught in this web of defection, with the Senate Majority Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi and his Minority counterpart, Enyinnaya Abaribe affected. Another big wig in the Senate, Adamu Aliero (APC, Kebbi Central), equally dumped his party. While Abaribe defected to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), when he was blocked from obtaining Abia State governorship ticket for the 2023 poll under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Abdullahi defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the PDP.
Similarly, Senator Aliero also dumped the APC and joined the PDP. Abdullahi and Aliero had a running battle with their governor, Atiku Bagudu, who made sure that the two ranking senators did not succeed in their bid to secure tickets to run for different political offices in the forthcoming polls. The former Senate Leader had gone for the governorship primary but failed woefully as he scored zero votes in the exercise. On the other hand, Abaribe, who represents Abia South Senatorial District, had expressed intention to run for the office of governor but he was resisted by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.
Consequently, he dumped the PDP and joined APGA, where he got automatic ticket to contest the senatorial election. With the vacancies created by the defection and resignation of the Senate Leader and the Minority Leader, Nigerians were desperately expectant to get new leaders to replace them upon the Senate’s resumption.
However, this did not happen as a result of the unpreparedness of the President of the Senate and the caucuses of the PDP and the APC to do so. According to parliamentary tradition, any senator resigning and defecting from one political party to another, must forward a letter to that effect to the President of the Senate, who will read the letter on the floor of the Chamber during plenary. However, when the Senate resumed plenary last week, rather than read Abaribe’s letter on his defection and resignation as the Senate Minority Leader, and pave the way for emergence of his replacement, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, simply made the announcement.
Lawan said: “Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe decamped from the PDP to APGA. He also has resigned his position as Minority Leader of this chamber.” He commended Abaribe for the good work he did under the platform of the PDP, describing him as a considerate, purposeful leader while he served as the Senate Minority Leader.
“Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe was a good Minority leader, very considerate, very purposeful and we are praying that you (PDP) have a replacement that will continue with the good work he did when he was Minority leader,” he added. Drama, however, ensued on the floor of the Senate after Lawan announced the defection and resignation of the former Minority Leader as some chieftains of the PDP started expressing reservations over the manner Abaribe left the party without consultation with the Senate Minority Caucus.
The first to express disappointment of the PDP Senate Caucus was the Senate Minority Whip, Senator Philip Aduda, who represents the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. He tabled his complaints through a point of order, during which he cited Order 42 of the Senate Standing Orders, bordering on personal explanation.
“I am coming under this Order to say that, yes, our former Minority leader has left us but I want to note the circumstance under which he left us. I want to say that he did not consult with the Minority leadership and the Minority Caucus,” he said.
Interjecting, Lawan, said if reads the entire Order 42 which he cited, it says that “you are supposed to discuss with me before making your personal explanation but you did not discuss with me. Did you?? It is not about me, I just want everybody to know; did you discuss with me? It is within his right to defect or resign.”
The President of the Senate added that the Order says no controversial matter shall be brought to the floor “but this one is controversial. Thirdly, you said that you didn’t even know that he defected. It is not true. Everybody knows that Senator Abaribe left the PDP and obtained APGA’s form.” Shortly after Lawan used a seeming superior argument to calm Aduda, Senator George Sekibo (PDP, River State) raised another point of Order on the same issue of the failure of Abaribe to properly consult or communicate his colleagues. Citing Order 14, which deals with matter of privilege, Sekibo said: “Our Minority leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe was our leader.
As a leader and on regular basis, he called us for consultations and we met with him regularly. As you said, he was a good leader. And of course, with the situation we found ourselves in the country, especially the political class, we saw that what is happening in the country is selffirst. “If for any reason because of a division in his own party, which we really know happened, nobody stops him from saying okay because of this division in the party and I have to go and take my voyage in some other place, we felt as a Minority Caucus, that our leader ought to meet with us; not to take our permission but for courtesy sake, sit with us, discuss with us.
“He is the custodian of all our rights here. He cannot in the middie of a race drop the rights without consultation, without discussion. And as usual, he ought to give you a document; a letter resigning from the party, resigning from the Caucus we gave to him.
He didn’t do it because, just picking your word, because there is no document.” Responding, Lawan said: “Let me explain because you have to be properly guided. The reason I didn’t read a letter from Senator Abaribe is not his fault; it is mine. Senator Abaribe sent a letter to me about two weeks ago, resigning his membership of the PDP as well as resigning his position as the Minority leader. “The letter is not here but I know that you the PDP Minority Caucus will take your leader today.
If I don’t announce it, he remains your leader until tomorrow when I will read it, and it is not fair on him because he left the PDP long time. He is a member of APGA; he is contesting on the platform of APGA. So, hold me responsible for not reading his letter here. Secondly, if you want him to consult you, I have no objection.
“Distinguished Senator Abaribe, whatever their documents are, please return to them. I don’t think that we have to go further debating on this because he has resigned from the PDP long time ago. And I still feel that he was a good minority leader, very considerate, very purposeful and we are praying that you (Minority Caucus) have a replacement that will continue with the good work he did when he was minority leader.”
Immediately the President of the Senate rested the issue raised by Senator Sekibo, Senator Gabriel Suswam (PDP, Benue) also came up with a position on the matter. He pointed out that the President of the Senate breached parliamentary procedure and processes. He said: “I have listened to your explanation and you said that we should hold you responsible. But Mr. President, this is a legislative house that makes laws.
This is a process of the hallowed Chambers. If on a serious matter like this, we deviate from the process, it is not for us. “Mr. President, you have explained that you will read the letter tomorrow. Having said that, I believe that since no letter has been read, it is incumbent on us to wait until that letter is read for precedence and it is very important to keep to that.”
Lawan, who agreed with Suswam allowed no more opportunity for further debates or discussion on Abaribe’s defection and resignation, assuring his colleagues that he would read the letter on the next legislative day. On the other hand, the formal defection of Senators Abdullahi and Aliero were conveyed in two separate letters addressed to the President of the Senate. Abdullahi and Aliero represent Kebbi North and Kebbi Central Senatorial Districts, respectively.
The Senate Leader, in his letter titled, “Defection from APC to PDP and Resignation as the Majority Leader of the 9th Senate,” said his decision was informed by the democratic challenges and deficits faced by the APC in Kebbi State. He explained that all attempts to remedy the situation through the intervention of governors of the North-West Zone and the defunct Abdullahi Adamu-led National Reconciliation Committee failed. The defection of the APC senators brings the total number of PDP senators to 38. The development also cuts down on the number of APC senators from 71 to 69 in the nation’s apex legislative Assembly. Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday named the lawmaker representing the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Philip Aduda, as the new Minority Leader of the Senate to replace Abaribe.