INEC budget: Saraki, Dogara plan joint session to avert impeachment
Senators loyal to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, have perfected a strategy to stop his impeachment and that of his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, according to SUNDAY PUNCH investigations.
Findings revealed that apart from keeping vigil at the National Assembly to prevent the All Progressives Congress senators from sitting, the Peoples Democratic Party members in the Senate have mapped out an arrangement to keep the red chamber save for Saraki until September 25 and beyond.
Finding revealed that Saraki reached out to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, last Sunday night to suspend any form of reconvening last Tuesday, as earlier agreed by both presiding officers.
The sudden change of mind, according to some senators who spoke on condition of anonymity, was to save Saraki from impeachment because it was discovered that many of his loyalists had travelled to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage.
A senator from the North-Central geopolitical zone said, “Our calculation was that the APC senators can never get two-thirds of the majority of the entire membership of the Senate to carry out any impeachment, but we had to be careful when they started arguing that the two-thirds could also be based on the numbers of senators at plenary.
“We were aware that many members of the House of Representatives got notice of resumption last Saturday, so both presiding officers met and agreed that the resumption should be postponed indefinitely.”
Strategies adopted to extend reconvening
Investigations further revealed that Saraki and Dogara agreed that only members of the Committee on Electoral Matters in both chambers should be recalled to hold joint meetings with officials of the Independent National Electoral Committee between Wednesday and Friday last week.
The committees of both chambers would thereafter hold a joint meeting with INEC officials to consider Buhari’s request.
The joint Senate/Reps committees on Appropriation, Loans and Debts were also involved in the timetable as the members were also recalled to deliberate on the Eurobond request.
The two presiding officers agreed not to reconvene until the reports are ready.
The Joint plenary idea
The latest strategy which is expected to keep the seats of Saraki and Ekweremadu safe till the end of September is the idea of a joint sitting.
The two presiding officers have agreed to reconvene a joint plenary for the presentation and consideration of the committees’ reports.
A senator from the South-West geopolitical zone, who also spoke on condition of anonymity said, “Since the reports of the presidential requests were jointly treated by committees of the two chambers, it would be proper for the passage to be done at a joint sitting.
“Besides, everybody would be at the joint session to discuss the INEC budget and the Eurobond request, so no motion for impeachment would be moved because it is not permitted in such arrangement.”
Further investigations revealed that Saraki and Dogara agreed to reconvene a joint sitting of both chambers sometime after the Sallah celebrations and adjourn afterwards.
The calculation, according to sources, was that many of the senators on the APC side would have seen the handwriting clearly on the walls, that the automatic tickets being dangled before them was nothing but a mere deceit
A senator, who recently defected to the Peoples Democratic Party said, “By the time the Senate would eventually reconvene, it would be clear that many of the APC senators would have lost their tickets to either their state governors or another preferred candidate.”
He cited the case of Oyo, Ogun, Kaduna, and Ondo states, among others, where the governors are currently at loggerheads with some of their senators.
He said, “There is no way that the APC senators in Oyo, Ondo, Ogun, and Kaduna states would make their ways back to the Senate because their governors are eyeing some of their seats especially in Oyo and Ogun states.
“No APC senator would still take the Chairman of the APC (Adams Oshiomhole), seriously by September 25 if he is still promising return tickets if they could impeach Saraki.”
National Assembly may not resume until after primaries
Meanwhile, strong indications have emerged that the leadership of both chambers may extend the resumption of plenary beyond the initial agreed date of September 25 to enable members to participate in their party primaries.
According to the timetable released by INEC, party primaries for the presidential, governorship, federal and state assembly elections would run between August 18 and October 7, 2018.
With this arrangement, a principal officer confided in one of our correspondents that since members would be busy in their states for the primaries, it would be proper to extend the resumption by at least two weeks.
No group can stop joint sitting – PDP lawmakers
But some PDP senators and House of Representatives members have vowed to support the leadership of both chambers to convene a joint session for the consideration of the presidential requests pending before the lawmakers.
They insisted that since the committees of the two chambers are jointly handling the issues at the moment, the best thing would be for a joint session to treat the executive communication and give it a joint approval.
A senator from the North-East geopolitical zone, who spoke on condition of anonymity, dismissed insinuations that the joint session was aimed at preventing Saraki from impeachment.
He said, “It is not possible for the APC senators to impeach Saraki and Ekweremadu because they don’t have the figure. Where will they get 73 members to carry out the impeachment? The idea of joint sitting is just to save time, and we would ensure that it holds.”
The most vocal member of the Saraki’s camp in the senate, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, said it was a waste of time for any group to try to resist the lawful action of the National Assembly leadership.
He said, “They are entitled to their opinion. But any step that is constitutional and is according to our rules can’t be resisted by any lawmaker that is worth his salt.
“We advise these Executive hatchet men to tread carefully as history is watching all of us.”
Joint session with Senate is pure imagination — Reps
The House of Representatives has responded to claims that the Senate and the House plan to reconvene and sit at a joint session the same day to consider the report on the 2019 elections budget and other financial proposals by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It is rumoured that the purpose of the alleged joint session is to prevent any plot to impeach Saraki, and Ekweremadu, from succeeding.
But, the House described the claims as “pure imagination” and not a possibility, because a joint session as envisaged could not be sustained by any standing rules of the National Assembly.
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, who gave the official position of the House in an interview with Sunday PUNCH, said there were no precedents or rules to make a joint session under the circumstances possible.
Namdas explained that what the rules covered was for each chamber to sit separately and consider a report.
He added that where there were differences in the separate reports by the two chambers, a conference committee would be raised to sit and harmonise the differences outside the plenary.
He noted that the report of the conference committee would again be sent back to each chamber to sit separately and adopt it.
Namdas added, “This is pure imagination and honestly, we don’t know where this one is coming from. This has never happened before; that the Senate and the House will reconvene and sit together, instead of doing so in their separate chambers.
“We are not aware of this and it’s not a possibility. Recall that even when the two chambers hold a joint session to receive the annual budget presentation by Mr President, it is for the purpose of taking the address only.
“The two chambers revert to their separate ways to work on the budget and consider the report separately. It is only when there are differences between what one chamber has passed and the other one that we set up a conference committee for harmonisation.
“If it was possible to be done in a joint session, what is the need of the conference committee, which is a provision of our rules? There is no rule on joint session in the circumstances envisaged, and therefore, there will be none.”
He added that the claims were part of the “ongoing bid to continue to paint the National Assembly in a bad light.
He urged Nigerians to discountenance it.
Namdas also pointed out that members of the House would have no voting rights in the impeachment of a presiding officer of the Senate, neither did senators have any role to play in the House if the presiding officer of the House were to face impeachment.
On the allegation of shifting full resumption to October 12, the spokesman responded that lawmakers would follow the directive of their leadership on the matter, after the various committees had turned in their reports on the polls budget, virement proposals and Eurobond request by Buhari.
“This one is not for speculation. Committees have started working and it is hoped that they will conclude soon and produce their reports.
“Instead of the spins and twists that we hear every day, especially on the social media, let us allow the parliamentary procedure to follow through,” he said.
Buhari’s senators plan offensive action
However, the Parliamentary Support Group, a body of the APC members in the National Assembly loyal to President Buhari, has vowed to take necessary legal and constitutional actions to stop the idea of a joint sitting rather than boycotting it.
Two prominent members of the group, senators Adesoji Akanbi and Ovie Omo-Agege, in separate interviews with SUNDAY PUNCH, said the APC caucus in both chambers would insist on separate reconvening of chambers to discuss the two proposals from the Executive.
Akanbi described the joint session idea to consider a budget as alien and that the action was not being taken in the best interest of the country.
“It is a bit alien to treat MDAs budgets in a joint session. Some people already have an agenda before they proposed such idea. However, the minority will have their say but the majority would have their way.
“We are definitely going to meet and fashion out a proper legal way to stop it so that we won’t lose out. Definitely we are not planning to boycott the session but we are already planning how to prevent it from taking place.
Also, Omo-Agege said the APC senators had met with the National Chairman of the ruling party, Adams Oshiomhole, during the week on the matter.
He said, “We have the information that they want to reconvene a joint session and that is completely unacceptable to us. Of course, we won’t accept it. The Senate itself has to be reconvened for this purpose.
“The reason (for postponing the planned recall on Tuesday) is that he (Saraki) knows that we have the numbers now – and indeed we have the numbers now to remove him. Any opportunity that we have right now, we will get rid of him.”
“We, as a caucus, are very resolute to removing him and at the slightest opportunity he gives to us, he is gone. We have said that he ought to do the honourable thing; the right thing,. by stepping down, otherwise he would be humiliated. We have the numbers and we are going to remove him.”
However, a member of the House of Representatives, Bode Ayorinde, said the constitution did not support a joint sitting to consider the presidential requests before both chambers.
We will follow due process to reconvene– Saraki
However, Saraki has said due process would be followed to reconvene the Senate which is currently on recess.
Saraki spoke through his Special Adviser (Media) Yusuf Olaniyonu, in a telephone interview, in Abuja, on Saturday.
He was responding to a question on an alleged plan to reconvene the National Assembly and hold a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives, to consider the 2019 Budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
According to him, there are procedures to be followed in the consideration of bills and requests for funding. He explained that the issue of reconvening had yet to arise because the committees working on the INEC budget had yet to submit their report for consideration.
He said, “Due process will be followed in the consideration of all requests. There has to be a report before you can reconvene to consider it.
“Has the INEC Committee submitted its report, has its report been worked on by the committees on Appropriations? These are the processes that will be followed if the Senate is to reconvene for the sole purpose of considering the INEC budget.”