The omission by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to concede a principal office of the Senate to an opposition member has started creating impact as the suspension of Senate sitting on Wednesday principally anchored on the need to prevent the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, from presiding.
However, the screening of ministerial nominees will continue in the Senate today (Thursday), amid the likelihood that the former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, will be listed in the Order Paper of the Senate for screening.
Also, the Senate on Wednesday allayed fear over possible expiration of time lag for screening of ministerial nominees as outlined by the constitution, stating that it was still on schedule under the 21 working days for the exercise to complete.
There have been initial reports that the Senate suspended its sitting on the previous day as part of ploy for Senators to mobilise support for the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, as he appeared before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Wednesday.
Not less than 80 Senators were at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, all mobilised by the Deputy Senate President in show of solidarity with Saraki.
However, Senate leader, Senator Ali Ndume, in a chat with correspondents, disclosed that had the Senate not suspended the sitting, the task of presiding over the screening of ministerial nominees would have been performed by the Deputy Senate President, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He stressed that Saraki should be the one to preside over the Senate during the screening because most of the nominees are APC members.
Ndume added that the screening of ministerial nominees was considered as a national assignment, which, according to him, demands that the Senate President who started the process should complete the task.
Said he: “The Senate President has to be in court 10.00 am (Wednesday). He is the Presiding Officer. And this is an extraordinary time because we are screening ministers that are predominantly APC. So, that was why we said this screening should continue under the Senate President presiding.
“This is not a normal day because we are screening APC nominees of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And there are issues surrounding it that we don’t want any other issue out of it again.
“The Presiding Officer is the Senate President who started the screening and we said we would continue taking a day off and continue tomorrow (today).
Speaking against the right of Ekweremadu to preside even on matters of screening of ministerial nominees, Ndume said even the constitution of Nigeria does not grant him such express chance.
He said: “It is just like when the President is off, the Vice President does not automatically become the President of Nigeria. He remains the Vice President until a letter is transmitted as such.
“That is what the constitution says. We thought that the court would not even sit today (Wednesday). But when we discovered that the court would sit today (Wednesday) and the Senate President is presiding and we have an issue at hand that the Senate President and that is the screening of ministers, we said let us shift it by one day to enable the Senate President attend the court session. And then we continue tomorrow (today).”
Ndume, however, assured that the former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, would be screened.
He said the report of the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition Committee will not stop Amaechi’s screening because the process would be subjected to the wish of the majority in the Senate.
Said Ndume: “Let me add that the Ethics and Privileges report is not the determinant of Amaechi. It is the Senate. Even if they write their report, it has to be laid before the Senate, which will decide on the report. It is not the report that will decide the fate of Amaechi.
“Whatever the Committee recommends to the Senate, it is the Senate that will decide. And I have told Nigerians several times that this Senate belongs to APC.
“We have PDP senators that are in the minority. We are practising democracy in a changed environment. That is to allow the minorities to have their say. But you know that the majority will always have its way.
“We have 58 senators, the Senate President excluded, and they have 48 Senators. And Amaechi is an APC candidate and the constitution is very clear. Until there is conviction, you are considered innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt by a competent court of law.
“Unfortunately, you cannot confirm or disqualify Amaechi, we are the only ones that can do that. And PDP cannot disqualify Amaechi based on triviality. It must be based on constitutionality.”
Meanwhile, the Senate has allayed fear over possible expiration of time lag for screening of ministerial nominees as outlined by the constitution, stating that it was still on schedule under the 21 working days for the exercise to complete.
Nigerians have been drawing the Senate attention to the provision of the constitution (section 147 (6) which grants only 21 working days for the Senate to screen nominees after which the President could go ahead to appoint nominees not screened as ministers.
The Senate leader, Ali Ndume, who cleared air on the issue, said the Senate was still very much within the 21- working days for the exercise.
Arguments are being canvassed that since the Senate has continued to dilly-dally over the case of former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, through a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari dated September 30, Amaechi may automatically become a minister on the failure by the Senate to screen him in line with provision of the constitution.
Ndume made more clarification on the issue in a chat with Senate correspondents on Wednesday, stating the 21 working days being interpreted by the public to be five working days of the week are different from the working days in the Senate.
According to him, the Senate has three working days in a week and not five working days as it is with other public institutions in the country.
The three working days in the Senate and by extension, the House of Representatives, he said, adding that the three days of their plenary sessions are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
He said: “The Senate is an institution, an independent arm of government and should be respected and strengthened. Besides, if the President takes his discretion to take his time to submit the (ministerial) list, which Nigerians patiently waited for, for about four months, why are Nigerians not patient with the Senate to wait for its conclusion?
“Supposing we said let’s take it off till next week, we have that right to do that. But the constitution is guiding us that we have to do this within 21 working days. And we are still within the 21 working days. It is not 21 days, it is 21 working days. And our working days in the Senate plenary is three days in a week.
“So, if you are talking about 21 working days, (it means) that the Senate will do this within seven weeks because we sit for plenary Tuesdays , Wednesdays and Thursdays. That is three working. It means that logically, we can do this up to seven weeks”.