The nation may witness yet another showdown in the Senate as the senators cut short their vacation to discuss President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2019 polls budget request.
Apart from the fact that constant fierce arguments between members of the All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Congress will be a regular occurrence, SUNDAY PUNCH investigations have revealed that a major step to send some senators back home would cause a major uproar in the red chamber.
A source, who is very close to the leadership of the Senate, confided in one of our correspondents on Friday that arrangements were being perfected to ensure that the former senate minority leader, Godswill Akpabio, and others who defected recently from the PDP to the APC and other parties recently face a recall process.
The source hinted that the move against the defectors started just before the Senate went on recess, with the refusal of the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, to read the letter of defection submitted to him by Akpabio.
No fewer than four senators have dumped the PDP but their defections have not been declared on the floor of the Senate. While three of them left the PDP for the APC, one of them left for the All Progressives Grand Alliance.
For instance, senators Hope Uzodinma (Imo State) and Fatimah Raji-Rasaki (Ekiti State), formerly of the PDP, have been attending APC meetings and events within and outside the Senate.
Also, Senator Sonny Ogbuoji (Ebonyi State) recently introduced himself as the “the newest catch” of the APC when the National Working Committee of the party met with the Senate caucus.
Similarly, Stella Oduah (Anambra State) had joined APGA in Anambra State.
Shortly after the defections of 14 senators to the PDP were announced, the APC Caucus had addressed journalists where the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, while responding to a question on why the party listed those who had yet to formalise their defections at the Senate, said they only needed to register with the ruling party.
Lawan had said the public appearance of Uzodinma and Raji-Rasaki with the APC caucus members had answered the question.
There, Uzodinma alleged that he had written to the Senate President to declare his defection on the floor but his letter was not read.
“I am a bona fide, registered, financial card-carrying member of the APC. As you are aware, two months ago, I wrote to the leadership of the Senate. The duty to read it is not mine. But I am now a member of the APC,” he said.
Raji-Rasaki also said, “Recently, I have made it open and public to all Nigerians that I’ve moved from the PDP to the APC. I have done it in my ward and I have done it here.”
Akpabio, Raji-Rasaki other PDP defectors’ action illegal—Senator
However, a senator from the North-Central geopolitical zone and an ally of Saraki said trouble could start on resumption when the APC caucus would definitely demand a roll call so that senators who defected to its fold could sit with their party members for easy identification.
He said, “On resumption any moment from now, the APC senators would call for realignment so that those who defected would move to the seats reserved for members of their political party.
“It is in the course of doing so that the Senate President will wield the big stick against Akpabio and others by asking them to justify their reasons for defection.
“The activities of the Senate as an institution are guided by rules and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The only constitutional window for defection from one political party to another is if there is a faction or division in the party on whose platform a senator is elected.
“For now, I am not aware of any division or faction in the PDP at the moment that could warrant the action of Akpabio and others.
“The Senate President is expected to exercise his constitutional powers now to declare the seats of Akpabio and others’ vacant until they are able to justify the reasons for their defection.
“We know that the development would provoke an uproar, but the Senate President would remain resolute. So, the only option that would be left for Akpabio and his co-travellers would be to approach the court to determine whether there is actually a division in the PDP or not.
“Until the procurement of the legal interpretation of their status, those who defected from the PDP would be barred from entering the premises of the National Assembly.
“They will probably remain in court till the end of the current 8th Assembly.”
Saraki withholding PDP defectors’ letters, APC caucus alleges
However, members of the APC caucus at the Senate alleged that Saraki withheld their defection letters from the PDP sent to the upper chamber.
The APC senators further alleged that Saraki, who read out the letter in which 13 lawmakers defected from the APC to the PDP and another one to the African Democratic Congress on July 24, refused to read the letters from those who dumped the opposition party for the ruling party.
The Senate President has however denied the allegation, challenging those who claimed to have written to him to declare their defections to publish their letters.
Speaking to SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, an APC senator accused Saraki of ignoring the defection letters.
“Saraki has been proving smart by not reading letters of defections from the PDP. Until that was done, those affected have technically not defected. He is not reading the letters and it is deliberately so. As a result, in the records of the National Assembly, PDP is 57 while we are 48.
“We have met and discussed this issue. We will resolve that on the day of resumption, a point of order will be raised on the matter, that the letters must be read,” the lawmaker said.
Another source in the Senate, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said both Uzodinma and Raji-Rasaki remained PDP members in the record of the Senate.
The source said, “Up till now, they have not declared their defections officially in the Senate. Technically, Senator Fatimah Raji-Rasaki is still in the PDP. Senator Hope Uzodinma too and so also is Sonny Ogbuoji. They have to write and their letters must be read to members on the floor.
“Look at the isolated cases of John Enoh (Cross River; PDP to APC), Yele Omogunwa (Ondo; PDP to APC), Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta; Labour Party to the APC) and Andy Uba (Anambra; PDP to APC), who defected between 2016 and 2018, they wrote the Senate to announce their defections.”
On July 24, Saraki read letters from 14 former members of the APC announcing their defections from the ruling party. While 13 of them were announced to have defected to the PDP, one moved to the ADC, a party inspired by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Produce your defection letters, Saraki tells aggrieved defectors
Reacting to the allegation, Saraki, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, denied keeping defection letters.
He said, “There is no senator whose letter is still pending. It is a lie, we don’t have such letters. When did they write and send the letters? Did they show you the copies? They need to make available the acknowledgement copies.”
Another senator in Saraki’s camp who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “It is a lie. Uzodinma is a liar. The Senate President would have read his letter if he wrote any at all. There is no reason why Saraki will not read defection letters.
“Such letters are usually read at the opening of the plenary—immediately after executive communications (letters or bills from the President) have been read to the chamber. It usually comes as a special announcement.”
On Saraki’s plan to declare the seats of the PDP defectors in the Senate vacant, Olaniyonu said he could not talk on it because it was beyond his brief.
When contacted, Akpabio’s media aide, Mr. Anietie Ekong, said only his boss could speak on the threat to his Senate seat after the defection.
He said, “Can you give me a little time? Let me clarify with him. I will get back to you. We are still in Akwa Ibom and not back to Abuja. I need to go and see him to know his reaction to that.”
Ekong has yet to get back to one of our correspondents as of press time on Saturday night.
But another Akpabio’s aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak on the issue, said his principal had not committed any offence by defecting from the PDP to the APC.
He added that the Senate could not declare Akpabio’s seat vacant because of defection, noting that if that happened then all defectors including Saraki would lose their seats.
Tejuoso, Sunmonu must write Senate again on defections—Lawmaker
However, a Senate source stated that Senator Lanre Tejuoso after making a U-turn on his defection from the APC and the fact that Monsurat Sunmonu left the APC for the ADC and not the PDP, the two lawmakers must rewrite Saraki to effect the changes.
He said, “Look at the likes of Senators Lanre Tejuoso and Monsurat Sunmonu; as far as the law is concerned, Tejuoso is now in the PDP. The votes and proceedings of the plenary, in which his defection to the PDP was declared, have been adopted and passed. The corrections would now be adopted and passed again.”
An APC senator also corroborated the source, saying “If you recall, Senator Adesoji Akanbi protested when he was named as part of the 15 defectors whose declaration letters were read by Saraki.
“Akanbi succeeded in making sure that his name was removed from the list before the votes and proceedings of the session were adopted and passed.
“Others could have made corrections too but they didn’t. You were not defecting to the PDP and you were listed as going to the party but you did not rise up to fault the mix-up. The votes and proceedings are already in the records and archives.
“Consequently, if you look at the configuration now based on those who have followed due process in their defection, the PDP will appear to be having 57 while those of us in the APC will seem to be 48.
“Tejuoso and Sunmonu have to write the Senate again to explain the true state of their defection. The error has already been made legal by the passed votes and proceedings.”
The defection game at the Senate has worsened the controversy over which of the APC and the PDP is now the majority party in the chamber, as the names of some of the affected senators have appeared on the list of both caucuses.
The Senate has 109 seats. Two seats are vacant. They are those of Senators Ali Wakili (Bauchi-South) and Mustapha Bukar (Katsina-North) who have died. Both of them were APC members.
Lawan had claimed that the APC members were 52; PDP, 50; ADC, three; APGA, two; and vacant seats, two.
But two defecting senators, Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara-South) and Isa Misau (Bauchi-Central), had claimed that the PDP was now the majority, giving the numbers.
They said, “Today, by the list paraded by the APC themselves, they have only 48 senators and the PDP has 54, APGA has two and ADC two. There are two vacancies. That is the distribution in the Senate. Let them continue to deceive themselves.”
Just on Saturday, the Deputy Minority Whip, Senator Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti-South) told SUNDAY PUNCH that the APC and the PDP had equal numbers.
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Explaining the configuration of senators and their parties in the Senate, Olujimi had said, “There are two in ADC, two in APGA, two are dead and one is incarcerated (jailed Senator Joshua Dariye). That is seven. Take that from the total 109, you will get 102. Each of the PDP and the APC has 51 members.”
Constitutional provisions for defection
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, explained that defection by legislators, which was a common practice in the first republic, had been prohibited by the 1999 Constitution.
Falana cited the case of Abegunde vs Ondo State House of Assembly (2014) LPELR 23683 whereby the appellant, a member of the House of Representatives defected from the Labour Party to the Action Congress of Nigeria.
He said, “In justifying his defection, the appellant claimed that the Labour Party in Ondo State was factionalised. Since the division of the Labour Party was limited to Ondo State.
“The Supreme Court held that the division did not affect the party at the national level to justify the defection. It was therefore decided that the appellant had lost his seat in the House of Representatives.
“Relying on the case of Atiku Abubakar vs Attorney General of the Federation (2007) 4 SC (part ii) 62 the Supreme Court held that it is only a division, factionalisation or fragmentation that can make it impossible or impracticable for a party to function, that can justify the defection of a legislator from one party to another.
“Otherwise the defector automatically loses his seat. From the clear and unambiguous pronouncements of the apex court, a division in a political party envisaged by the constitution cannot be a figment of the imagination of prospective defectors. The division must make it practically impossible for the party to function.”
We won’t allow Saraki preside over Senate –APC caucus
The most outspoken member of the APC caucus in the senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, has said Saraki no longer has the moral, political and legal rights to remain as the Senate President after defecting from the APC.
He said, “We are going to insist that Saraki must step down at any opportunity when we reconvene. When we get to that bridge we will deal with it.
“Saraki knows that he cannot continue to preside over that Senate and continue as Senate President. He cannot continue to preside over that Senate to the detriment of the party and the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
We’ll begin Akpabio’s recall process soon -Essien
A senator who represented Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District in 1999, Ibok Essien, told SUNDAY PUNCH on Friday that the leaders of the senatorial district would meet soon to finalise arrangements for Akpabio’s recall process.
He also said the PDP elders from the three senatorial districts of Akwa Ibom State had withdrawn the endorsement they gave to Akpabio, to return to the Senate for a second term.
He said the elders had declared Akpabio’s seat vacant, adding that the recall process would be done after necessary clearance with the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Essien said, “I can’t tell you now until we meet at the right date when the actual process of recall will begin.”