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News: The many controversies of a Senate president - Saraki

News: The many controversies of a Senate president - Saraki

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Saraki: The many controversies of a Senate president
Senator Abubakar Bukola Sarki’s emergence as the president of the senate was birthed in controversy and his sojourn on the Number Three seat of the federation has been marred by one controversy after another.

Since June 9, 2015, when Sarki (APC, Kwara north) dribbled his own party to claim the senate presidency, controversies have been a weekly occurrence in the senate and two years into his tenure, it doesn’t seem the trend will change anytime soon. And this controversies have weighed down the senate from effectively discharging its duties.

The root of the troubles of the 8th Senate was sown when Saraki aligned himself with senators of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to defeat his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the inauguration of the National Assembly.

The party had preferred Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe) for the senate presidency but Saraki tore up the APC script to clinch the position.

To consolidate his hold on the senate presidency, Saraki in January, this year appeased his party when he sacked Senator Ali Ndume as the Senate Leader and brought in, Senator Lawan. Ndume had allied with Saraki to defeat the APC in June 2015.

Before then, Saraki had sealed the lip of his lone critic at the upper chamber, Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC, Zamfara) when he made him the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), a position considered by lawmakers as ‘juicy’.

But these moves have not brought peace to the senate with Daily Trust on Sunday reporting that in this week alone, three major controversies have been recorded in the Red Chamber, causing many Nigerians to completely lose faith in the senate.

Suspension of Ndume

Last week, the senate took the unusual step of suspending its immediate past senate leader, Ndume.

He was thrown out of the Red Chamber on Wednesday and the thousands of people from Borno South, which he represents, won’t have a representative until September 28th, this year when the six months suspension would be completed.

Ndume, whose fortune in the senate suffered on January 10 when he was first ousted as the senate leader was suspended following the approval of the recommendations of the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions committee chaired by Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo).

Before his suspension, Ndume had drawn the attention of his colleagues to reports on an online news platforms alleging that the senate was on vengeance against the Customs Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali over a seized SUV car allegedly belonging to Saraki.

He also said that there were reports that Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi) possessed a fake Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria certificate, allegations that have seen the senate spending countless hours on distractions rather than important national issues.

It was these motions that caused Anyanwu’s committee to probe Ndume over his motion on Saraki and Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi).

At the end of their proble, the committee cleared Saraki, Melaye and recommended that Ndume be suspended for 181 legislative days, equivalent to a year. However, outcry by some senators led to the reduction of the suspension from one year to six calendar months.

Cautioning his colleagues against sending Ndume out of the chamber, Senator Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf (APC, Taraba) said during the debate, “He (Ndume) is a first time offender and he has not done that before. He should be asked to apologize to the Senate President and Senator Melaye. The people of Borno South will not forgive us if we go ahead to suspend him.”

Buhari, RECs or Magu

Apparently to place the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in good shape for the conduct of the 2019 general elections, President Muhammadu Buhari sent a list of 27 nominees for consideration as Resident Electoral Commissioners.

However, the senate has been seething over the president’s refusal to sack Acting Economic and Financial Crimes Commision boss, Ibrahim Magu, who the senate has refused to confirm his appointment on two separate occasions, the latest coming only on March 15. Yet, Mr Magu still holds sway at the EFCC, much to the disapproval of the senate.

As a result, the senate decided to suspend confirmation of the RECs on Tuesday for two weeks. However, these two week period will elapse at a time the senators will be away on recess for the Easter celebration.

Efforts by Senator Adamu Aliero (APC, Kebbi),  to stop his colleagues from putting on hold the confirmation failed.  Aliero, a former governor of Kebbi State drew the attention of his colleagues to the fact that the confirmation of the RECs is key to the conduct of the general elections.

He said, “I rise to oppose what my two colleagues have just said now for the reason that there is already an impression that is created, particularly by the media, that the INEC is not ready for the conduct of the 2019 elections and [these] elections are very crucial to us and [part] of preparation and the conduct of the 2019 election is the submission of RECs  to the senate for screening and approval.

“Without that, INEC will never be ready for the 2019 elections even though what he said is true, I want to ask [that the senate] consider the screening of this list and if there is any observation on any nominee, he should be done at the screening stage,” he said.

Car with fake documents

It emerged at the Senate on Monday during a public hearing by the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions committee that an SUV bullet-proof car purchased by the Senate was bearing fake documents.

The car, the senate claimed it purchased at N62.5m is to be in the custody of customs operatives. The importer, Tokunbo Akindele, said it was discovered in January this year that the car carries fake documents.

Contrary to claims that the car was imported for Saraki, the importer said  the car was not imported for him(Saraki)  and that at the time the vehicle was imported, it was not for his use.

The Chief Executive Officer of Lanre Shittu Motors, Chief Olarenwaju Shittu, also confirmed that the car bears fake document.

“When the vehicle had issue in January, 2017, we called Oando and documents were sent. The Customs said they were fake. We never had any document from the National Assembly,” he said. 

N36.5m SUV for every senator

Despite the huge outcry that trailed the purchase of 36 SUVs in 2016 following an exclusive report in Daily Trust on Sunday, the senate has gone ahead to purchase the remaining SUVs for all senators.

Daily Trust on Sunday had in April last year exclusively reported that the Senate purchased 36 Landcruiser jeeps at twice the market price for senators.

At that time, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Services, Senator Ibrahim Gobir (APC, Sokoto) had, while reacting to the report, said the cars were purchased at N36.5m and that only 36 were bought.

However, it was reliably gathered that the remaining cars have since been purchased and secretly disbursed to the senators. The last senator to have picked his did so last week.

A source said this senator was initially reluctant to pick the car in view of the outcry that trailed it was persuaded by his colleagues to do so.

Rejection of Magu  

Twice the Senate had rejected the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC boss. The name of Magu, who has been acting since November 2015 following the sack of Ibrahim Lamorde, was sent to the senate in July 2016.

However, nothing was heard until early December when it filtered round that the Department of State Services (DSS) had written a report indicting him.

In December last year, he was rejected but President Buhari renominated him only for him to be rejected again with the law makers calling for his removal from office.

While the Senators are hinging their rejection on the DSS report, it is believed that they did so in view of the corruption cases dangling over some of them.

 SGF must go

Another controversy revolving around Saraki is the call for the sack of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir David Lawal.

Lawal first enraged the lawmakers last year when he said their constituency projects won’t be funded. In December, a Senate ad-hoc panel, chaired by Senator Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna) constituted to probe the expenditure incurred by the defunct Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE) indicted Mr. Lawal.

As a result of the indictment, the senate asked President Buhari  to sack the SGF. But instead, Buhari wrote the Senate in January, saying they were unfair to the SGF. The case is still dangling.

 Ali, Senate and uniform  

From Customs duty, to uniform to vengeance, the case between the Comptroller-General of Customs, retired Colonel Hameed Ali and the senate is another feud revolving around the Presidency and the Senate.

The Senate has called for the sack of Ali over what they tagged as lack of respect for simple resolution.

The senate had invited Col. Ali to explain the new unpopular Customs duty policy, insisting that Col. Ali turned up at the senate in his Customs uniform. Ali turned up in a white kaftan, stocking the ire of the senators.

The senators deemed Col Ali’s defiance as contempt for the senate on account of his close ties with President Buhari. Whatever the case, national issues have been superceded by an ego battle between the senators and the Customs boss.

CCT trial

Saraki’s case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over charges bordering on false assets declaration while he was Governor of Kwara State is still ongoing.

Saraki was Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011. The case, according to his supporters was conceived to nail him (Saraki). On several occasions, the senate president had been docked.

Forgery case still pending  

As fallout of Saraki’s emergence as senate president, it was alleged that the senate rules book that was used for the conduct of the June 2015 election of the Senate was doctored.

Saraki,  his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and two others were docked over alleged forgery and as of now, the case is still unresolved.

FCTA rented a house for Saraki  

A leaked documents revealed that the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) through the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council(AMMC) spent N265 million to secure a house for Saraki.

The documents including contract approval, tenancy agreement and payment details showed that the house, located at Plot 973 Mban close, Off Pope John Paul Street, Maitama, Abuja was rented for Saraki. Saraki has, through his aide, denied any knowledge of the house.

Paris Club palaver

Another controversy is the Paris Club debt relief saga. Saraki’s name kept coming up regarding the payment of the Paris Club Fund refund to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).

His media aide, Yusuph Olaniyonu in a statement this week described it as a mere mudslinging campaign.

“Our attention has been drawn to the circulation of a report in the media said to have been leaked by Magu to some journalists where he made several allegations against Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, as it concerns the payment of the Paris Club Fund refund to the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).

“Let us first state that these allegations are not new. The EFCC had from the onset of its investigation into the Paris Club refund made attempts to drag in the name of Dr. Saraki and we have promptly denied any such involvement of the Senate President,” he said.

Our correspondent reports that there are other smaller controversies like the rejection of $29.9bn foreign loan request by President Buhari, the budget of the National Assembly and the hiring of hundreds of aides, among others.

However, it is widely believed that if the Vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo succeeds in ending the impasse between the executive and the legislature, the controversies may disappear.

Osinbajo is chairing a committee constituted to address the bad blood between the executive and the legislature but whatever its outcome, the Saraki-led Senate will mostly be remembered for its many controversies than achievements.

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