Disquiet in the Senate over Abaribe’s comments

All appears not to be at peace in the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly following tension generated over the drama that attended the Senate clearing of Senator Musiliu Obanikoro as a Minister.

The tension is in connection with the comments of Senate’s spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe who alleged that since many of the opposition senators had criminal cases pending against them in the courts, they should not rake any muck against Obanikoro’s clearance.

The comment by the senate’s spokesman, a former deputy governor of Abia State, is being seen in some quarters as a sort of threat against the opposition ahead of the National Assembly election coming up on Saturday.

Following the comment, the usual united front of the senators is said to be impaired as Senators now view thremselves with suspicion.

Mostly affected and in fear of any possible backlash from the ruling PDP are those who dumped the PDP for the opposition party.

Senate Minority Leader, Senator George Akume, on Tuesday gave indication that senators of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) must have been hit where it really hurts.

Akume, a former governor of Benue State, and his APC colleagues on the floor of the Upper Chamber, fought vehemently but in vain to stop the confirmation of Obanikoro, returning as a minister.

The APC senators particularly queried what special qualifications that Obanikoro possessed to be confirmed by the Senate for a second time under President Goodluck Jonathan Administration.

But to counter the opposition senators’ action, the Senate’s sokesman alleged that some of the senators, who questioned the qualification of Obanikoro, still have cases to answer with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Speaking last Tuesday, the APC lawmakers, through Akume, invoked orders 42 and 53 to condemn Abaribe’s statement.

Akume noted that Abaribe, by that statement, had deviated from the proceedings on the floor, which the Senate spokesman was not supposed to convey to the Press.

Akume claimed that Abaribe has always spoken for himself, and not for the Senate, which he represents.

“Actually, I rise to make a very brief comment on the event we had here last week. I want to say that as a family, we have been working very closely in the interest of the country. We were surprised that because of our disagreement over one of the nominees, the Senate, through the Chairman on Information, went to the Press and said that we have no right whatsoever to question the confirmation of the nomination of Senator Musiliu Obanikoro because many of us have cases pending with EFCC.

“That was not what was discussed here. I want us to take very judicious notice of this. I do not want us to castigate ourselves. We are in a position to speak more on this because of the integrity of the Senate, which has refused to make comment on this.

“The Senate, through Abaribe cannot say that that was what we discussed here. We have observed repeatedly that whenever Abaribe speaks, he speaks for himself. Mostly, he does not speak for the Senate. Mr. President, we are calling on you to call Abaribe to order. What he said has no basis whatsoever. If we want to talk about ourselves, we are free to say so,” Akume said.

But in his remarks, Senate President, David Mark, said: “Akume, I thought you made a point already that because of the Senate, you would not want to say much; you should not. So, I have noted your observation. Thank you”.

While addressing the National Assembly correspondents, after last Wednesday’s Plenary, Senate spokesman, Abaribe, quickly reminded the APC senators, who have cases with the EFCC that they are still in the Senate because of the privilege of being innocent until proven guilty.

“As a mater of fact, there are allegations against Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, but in our law and the Constitution of Nigeria, anything that is a mere allegation that is not a court decision is nothing, but a mere allegation.

“Everyone in Nigeria is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty and even the senators, who addressed the press conference and spoke about the qualification or otherwise of Senator Obanikoro, are enjoying this privilege because some of them have EFCC cases, and they are still in the Senate because of this privilege of being innocent until proven guilty.

“And so, they cannot go to a press conference, and try to convict somebody when the person has not been convicted by a court of law. And they cannot enjoy that privilege themselves and sit in this Senate, and then turn around, and now say that somebody else cannot enjoy that privilege. And the laws of Nigeria is very clear: you are innocent until proven guilty.

“So, that is what played out on the floor of the Senate. And the Senate, having known that this is the law of Nigeria, and this is the Constitution of Nigeria that every Nigerian is entitled to this privilege, went ahead to do what it is supposed to by law,” Abaribe said.

Consequent upon this, opposition senators are now apprehensive that perhaps the ruling party is planning to unleash the anti-corruption agencies against them ahead of the polls.

It would be recalled that the senate, after two earlier delays finally cleared Obanikoro after a heated debate which saw the opposition members walking out of the senate in protest.

The development saw two core senate rules in conflict with each other with necessitated several executive meeting to resolve the crisis without success as the senators were sharply divided over their positions.

One was that any member of the national assembly seeking clearance would not be subjected to questions but would mainly take a bow while the other was that any nominee who has all the senators from his state opposing his nomination would not be cleared.

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Ihesiulo Grace

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