Senate dares executive, rejects Osun INEC commissioner-nominee
Although the 8th Senate turned out to be a legislature with aggressive and revolutionary bend, its mission was dedicated to reversing some trends in the country’s political system, notably legislative and executive coziness. However, many political watchers saw the hostile relationship between them as being counter-productive.
But with the emergence of Ahmad Lawan, the preferred candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) leadership as President of the 9th Senate, with his hands in gloves with the executive, such oppositional senate has since been buried, as he perceived as a mere rubber stamp of the executive.
Lawan has not helped the issue much, as he keeps proclaiming that the senate and the executive were on the same page when he knows that the framers of the Nigerian constitution never intended the two arms of government to be on the same page. However, recent events in the upper chamber have indicated that the honeymoon may soon be over as the 9th senate is tending towards self-recovery in asserting itself to ensure the right things are done for the good of the country.
First is the face off between the senate and the executive over the Niger Delta Development Commission Board (NDDC), which the senate had confirmed and the inauguration of an Interim Management Committee (IMC) by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, while the board remains to be inaugurated. The other pointer is the courage of the senate to stand down the nomination of Olalekan Raheem as the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
In the particular issue, the lawmakers had confirmed the nomination of Umar Gajiram from Borno State and Aialiibo Johnson from Bayelsa State as part of the recommendations of the Senate Committee on INEC, which screened the nominees after President Muhammadu Buhari sought the Senate’s approval of their confirmation on October 29. The committee had recommended that the confirmation of Raheem Biodun Olalekan from Osun State for Resident Electoral Commissioner be stood down for further legislative action.
The directive came against the background that when the nominee declared his commitment to the ruling APC, which also confirmed a petition against his nomination by one Oyebade Adebisi Abideen alleging that he had openly supported a particular political party which negates constitutional criteria for INEC commissionership job. A member of the Senate screening panel, Michael Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti Central), had pointed out that the committee could not be seen to be endorsing a violation of the Nigerian constitution, which clearly provides that occupants of the office of the INEC Commissioner must be apolitical. Muideen, who was taken off-guard by the petition against his nomination, failed repeatedly to respond favourably to questions that might have offered him some respite.
The Senators repeatedly sought to make him explain his membership of the party but he failed to distance himself from his commitment to APC. Senator Ibrahim Shekarau (Kano Central) had sought to know if the nominee was a former member of APC and when he last appeared at its function.
While responding to questions from the Senate panel, the nominee faltered severally as he tried to extricate himself from the allegation. He claimed he left politics in 2013 to return to school to study psychology at advanced level, but when confronted with pictures of his campaign in 2017 in support of a particular governorship aspirant, he struggled to explain that the group named Tiwa tiwa was a band of members of multi-political leanings but favourably disposed to the candidature of its financier who belonged to a political party.
According to him, “I am a member of APC. I am a member of APC and I contested for local government chairmanship in 2013. In 2015, I left politics and moved on to the University of Ibadan to study psychology. I had the card then when I had the intention of contesting for election. On the question if I was a DG of a contestant, ‘Yes, I was DG of a contestant in 2017.’”
Members of the panel could not reconcile the claim that he left politics in 2013, but led the campaign of a candidate in 2017. Chairman of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, asked him what the term “DG” stands for and if he was part of the campaign, he responded thus: “Director General, yes, I was part of the campaign.”Despite efforts of the committee members to help him with leading questions on his membership being old and not being in possession of the party’s membership card, the nominee still maintained his loyalty to APC.
In his report, Chairman of the committee, Senator Kabiru Gaya, said: “All the nominee were invited to the committee and we were able to screen them. They were asked questions and they answered to the best of their ability; there were no petitions for the two of the candidates, Mr. Johnson Siriken and Alhaji Aminu Guram.“There was petition against Alhaji Muideen Olalekan from Osun State based on constitutional provision of the Act which said the president should nominate present Commissioners of INEC of people of integrity and good character and they should not be a card-carrying member of any political party.
“For Mr. Olalekan, there was a petition against him that he is a member of a political party and that he has run through campaigns and that he has registered as a member of a political party. We asked him questions, he defended himself to the best he could, but there is still more to ask from him. We have given him two days to come back to us for more discussions.”
Asked if the committee would refer the matter to the Department of State Security for independent investigation, he said the committee would be guided by the Constitution and refer him back to the Senate for further screening. While presenting his report on the floor of the Senate last week, Gaya had no option but to tell the senate the bitter truth about their findings which led them to stand down Olalekan’s nomination.
However, Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Oma-Agege would not accept that affront on the president who he said nominate those he wanted to work with. He challenged the committee after commending Senator Kabiru Gaya and members for what he described as a good job. He, however, indicated he was a little bit uncomfortable with the way and manner the report was presented.
He said, “It would have been best if, in the course of the presentation, our attention is drawn specifically to the allegation leveled against the nominee from Osun State. I assume it is in the report but it was skipped as he went straight to the findings. But what troubles me is, in spite of the terrific job they did, their own admission here in this report. It is saying that the petitioner was not even available to lead evidence on the petition against the nominee.
“So, on what basis then? This is a man that is making allegation against the nominee. The one who is making allegation did not even show up to lead evidence against the nominee. I don’t think it would be fair to differ this nomination, as he who alleges must prove. The person who alleged had the opportunity to come before this committee to lead evidence against the nominee.”
‘I believe that opportunity was given to the petitioner, but he did not show up. So, I think it would be so unfair to continue to put this nominee in perpetuity to the extent that this allegation is not proven.“I think he should be given the benefit of the doubt, also taking into account that the president, who made this nomination, is entitled to have anybody of his choice, who he wants to work with unless and until it is proven that that person is incompetent or not qualified.
“That has not been done in this case. I like to suggest that, like the first two nominees, this third nominee from Osun State should also be cleared.But in a swift response, the Minority leader Enyinanya Abaribe, said, “I very well see the job that the Deputy President of the Senate is trying to do, but I believe that the chairman and the members of this committee were only being very tactful. In the course of the interaction with the nominee, he admitted himself that he was a card-carrying member of APC, and it was reported in all the newspapers in this country.
“So, if we see somebody who has self-admitted, turning around to now say, ‘oh, the petitioner did not come or anything, and we did not even know from the chairman whether the petitioner was invited to come and prove. I believe really that there are a lot of people in Osun State, rather than getting us involved in the murky details of whether somebody belongs to something or not that we should take the recommendations of the committee as done.
“What the committee simply did is to stand it down so that we can do further investigations, which is like technical language, telling the president to do some other nomination.”An APC senator, Ibn Na’Allah, in his submission, said the spirit of the 9th senate had always been to do whatever is practically possible to assist the president to govern the country very well. “When the framers of our constitution gave powers to the president and referred to the senate, it was under the understanding that 109 heads would be better than one that that recommendation was made,” he said.
According to him, the belief is that it is the responsibility of the senate to assist the president to comply strictly with the oath of office he has taken, to uphold, and protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. According to him, “Distinguished senator Gaya is a very ranking member of the Senate and he chairs the committee on INEC. Other distinguished senators that constitute this committee, I am sure, were acting in the spirit of the 9th Senate to ensure that whatever is practically possible is done to assist the president to be on course for the governance of this country.
“There are constitutional requirements for the appointment of members of this commission and those constitutional requirements are what each and everyone of us here took an oath of office to uphold, protect and defend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the law and the rules of the senate.
“So if the rule of the senate gives you power to constitute a committee and then a referral is being made to that committee and, with the highest level of maturity, certain recommendations are made before the senate. I think we are under obligation to respect the recommendation and conclusion of the committee.”He said he was urging his colleagues to take into account the effort and the time put in by the committee in arriving at the conclusion. He said they had to respect the decision of their colleagues no matter how unpalatable it was, as far as the discharge of the functions of the office of the Senate is concerned.
The Senate President, Lawan, said having considered the report of its committee on INEC on the screening of the president’s nominee for appointments as Resident Electoral Commissioners of INEC, they approved the nomination of Gajiram as commissioner for Borno State and Senikan Johnson as commissioner from Bayelsa State as Resident Electoral Commissioners of INEC. He, however, said the Senate would stand down the approval of the nomination of Olalekan for further legislative action.
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