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Electoral Act: Omo-Agege as the fall guy



Electoral Act: Omo-Agege as the fall guy

CHUKWU DAVID reports on how support for President Muhammadu Buhari by some senators claimed its first casualty in the person of the senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District, Ovie Omo-Agege, who bagged suspension last week



The thick cloud that enveloped the Senate about two months ago finally gave way Thursday last week, following the suspension of the senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District, Ovie Omo-Agege, for 90 legislative days.

The sanction was the fallout of the controversy that trailed the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018, passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The bone of contention was the insertion of a new clause in the bill, reordering sequence of election, contrary to the arrangement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2019 general elections.

Trouble actually started in the Senate on February 14, when some senators considered to be pro-President Muhammadu Buhari antagonised the new arrangement in the amendment.

The lawmakers rose from plenary and walked out of the Chamber and headed straight to address the press on their grievances. Section 25(1) of the bill reordered sequence of elections in Nigeria, making the National Assembly polls to come first, followed by governorship and state Assembly, while the presidential election will come last.

This tinkering with election sequence by both the House of Representatives and the Senate angered the pro-Buhari senators, who in their own interpretation, concluded that the President was the target of the amendment because of his interest to contest the 2019 presidential election. The senators alleged that the amendment was designed to frustrate Buhari’s ambition and cause him to fail at the polls.

At plenary, this group of senators, made desperate attempts to stop the passage of the bill or at least, expunge that section which they considered very unfavourable and offensive to them and injurious to Buhari without success because the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, used his discretional power to ensure that the agitators did not have the day.

Protesting the development, Senator Abdullahi Adamu and nine others stormed out of the chamber to the Senate’s press centre, where they briefed the press, expressing their anger, frustration and total opposition to Saraki’s action by insisting on the adoption of the report in a manner they said lacked due process.

The senators who walked out of the chamber include Abdullahi Yahaya (APC, Kebbi North), Ibrahim Kurfi (APC, Katsina Central), Abu Ibrahim (APC, Katsina South), Abdullahi Gumel (APC, Jigawa North), Binta Masi Garba (APC, Adamawa North), late Ali Wakili (APC, Bauchi South), Andrew Uchendu (APC, Rivers East) and Benjamin Uwajumogu (APC, Imo North).

Senator Adamu, who led the group boasted that the controversial amendment will never be allowed to stand while Omo-Agege claimed that 59 senators had signed against the insertion of Section 25(1) into the Electoral Act.

However, they were not able to provide proof to back up their claim. Interestingly, all the pro-Buhari senators spoke and no one was held accountable. The question then is: Why is Omo-Agege being punished even when he was not the leader of the group?

The answer is that Omo-Agege was seen to be too forward and more vocal than others. He openly threatened that the matter would be contested in court and made some constitutional citations to establish that what the National Assembly did in altering the Act and inserting a new section to reorder election sequence was illegal and void. Obviously, this attracted the attention of senators seen as anti-Buhari to beam their searchlight more on him.

Accordingly, the Senate took a resolution, asking its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate him to determine the impact of his utterances on the integrity of the Red Chamber.

The resolution to probe him followed a point of order by Senator Dino Melaye, who cited order 14 of the Senate Standing Orders, drawing the attention of the Senate that Omo- Agege addressed the press to say amongst other things, that the decision taken by the Senate was targeted at Buhari.

The request was surprisingly supported without dissenting voice when it was put to voice vote by the Deputy President of the Senate, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary that day.

The overwhelming support for his probe was actually surprising because Omo-Agege, during the press briefing of February 14, by the pro-Buhari senators, claimed that 59 senators had signed to oppose and upturn the Electoral Act amendment bill.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be mere political propaganda, as no such people rose up to rescue him. However, sensing danger from the decision of the Senate to investigate him, Omo-Agege, who was obviously rattled by the hard stand of his colleagues on the issue, quickly decided to remedy the situation. He begged his colleagues for forgiveness without justifying his utterances any more.

Responding to his apology, Ekweremadu commended him for his courage to make open apology to his colleagues, informing him that the matter had been referred to the Committee on Ethics for investigation and then urged the committee to expedite action on the probe and submit its report for further legislative action. This response must have disappointed the embattled senator, who naturally would have thought that his apology would have earned him instant forgiveness and automatic cancellation of the probe.

On the contrary, the expectation was also misplaced because the process had been established and should naturally be concluded. With that disappointed and anxiety thereof, Omo-Agege, who is a first timer in the Upper Chamber, with the inexperience and lack of proper grasp of the dynamics of internal politics at the Senate, and probably wrong counsel from members of the Presidential Support Group (PSG) in the Senate, which he is the Secretary, hastily went to the court to stop his investigation. Therefore, when he was summoned by the Ethics Committee on March 26, for the commencement of the probe, the lawmaker shocked the committee by serving it a letter, notifying it of a pending court action against the investigation.

The letter addressed to the President of the Senate by Summit Law Chambers on behalf of the Senator dated March, 26, referred the committee to relevant provisions of the constitution and the Senate’s rules, forbidding it from going ahead with the proposed investigation.

Though the committee adjourned sine-die after digesting the content of the letter, the members who were aggrieved by the litigation took turn to condemn the action taken by Omo-Agege. Those who spoke were Jeremiah Useni, Peter Nwaoboshi, Ahmed Ogembe, Mohammed Hassan, Foster Ogola, among others.

Chairman of the committee, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, , in his remarks, said that, Omo-Agege’s litigation notwithstanding, he will submit a report on the matter to the Senate based on what the committee witnessed in the process of conducting the investigation. Accordingly, he laid the report on the floor of the Senate on Thursday last week. The report was also considered and adopted by the legislators the same day.

Anyanwu said that the allegations brought against the Senate were found to be false after due investigation and therefore the committee recommended that Omo-Agege be suspended for 181 legislative days, to serve as deterrent to others.

The committee also recommended that the court action instituted by the senator be immediately withdrawn while the Parliamentary Support Group for Buhari, which he its the Secretary- General be dissolved.

These recommendations were unanimously adopted by voice vote. “The committee is of the opinion that the action by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege of going to court after apologising to the Senate was totally unacceptable, especially as an experienced lawyer and member of the committee who is conversant with the modus operandi of same, and therefore, must be punished to serve as deterrent to others who might contemplate taking the Senate to court over its internal matters,” the report stated. The President of the Senate, Saraki, however, in his remarks before putting the recommendations to voice vote, pleaded that the number of days be reduced from 181 legislative days to 90, while kicking against total forgiveness for the erring senator as canvassed by the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan and Senator Kabiru Marafa. Saraki stressed that the Senate as an institution must be respected and therefore, ruled that Senator Omo- Agege must not be made to escape justice for his utterances against the nation’s highest lawmaking body and his colleagues on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, with particular reference to reordering of elections.

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