SENATOR AJAYI BOROOFFICE
For Senator Robert Ajayi Boroffice from Ondo North Senatorial district, these are not the best of times. He walked into the 7th National Assembly with his head held high considering the heavy political weather he survived. But following his defection to the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Labour Party, his former party, and Ondo State House of Assembly are now calling for his ouster from the Senate, writes Dele Ogbodo
It was the combined petition from his Ondo home state to the Senate that stirred the mild drama last week Tuesday. And now the motion for Senator Robert Ajayi Boroffice’s impeachment as it were is gradually snowballing.
Laying The Petition
The moment Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba called on the Chairman Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, representing Ondo Central Senatorial District and a member of the Labour Party (LP), to present his report, Senator Olufemi Lanlehin, representing Oyo South on the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) platform, beckoned for recognition to make some clarifications. Every Senator in that hallowed chamber knew what was in the offing. They knew the process that was about to be set in motion by the report which details they also already knew. Waving a piece of white paper on his hand and latching on Section 97 of the Senate Rules and Procedures, Lanlehin vehemently objected that the report bordering on the petition on Senator Boroffice must not be laid on the floor of the Senate. Why? He said the gathering plot to unseat Senator Boroffice through the petition lacks merit and integrity and therefore must be killed.
Addressing the Senate President and his colleagues, Lanlehin said: “Distinguished Senators, to the best of my knowledge, I stand to be corrected; I’m aware Sir that the petition has not been properly presented to this chamber. The procedure for the referral to the petition is stated in our rules and to the best of my knowledge, I stand to be corrected, we have not received in this Senate the petition either from LP or from the Ondo State House of Assembly.
“And the rules state also how petitions are to be presented and I hereby refer the President of the Senate to Rules 41 (1) (2) (3), which very fairly prescribes the process and procedures for laying petitions before Senate. Here this August Senate is unaware of this petition. I’m saying that based on the fundamental provision of our rules, which says the proceedings in the Senate and all committees shall be conducted in accordance with the following standing orders and it lays out the process.
“Therefore I’m saying that based on the aforementioned provision, this petition should not and must not be.”
Obviously enraged by Senator Lanlehin’s seeming ignorance of the rules and procedures in such matters, Senate President David Mark asked: “Are you saying that there was no petition brought to the Senate and laid on the table of the Senate? Is that what you saying? Ok, I have got a copy of the petition that was written to me and I referred it to the Ethics Committee.
“If the Senate does not want to discuss it, I would act based on report submitted to me backed by the committee. I have no problem with that, but they wrote a petition and because it affects a Senator, I referred it to the Ethics Committee, but if it is the wish of the Senate that they want to take the report I have no problem with it, I will act on the report that I get from the committee.”
The Senate President went further: “Because I referred the matter to the committee and it affects a serving Senator I rule you, Senator Lanlehin, out of order”. He then said: “Distinguished Senator Lanlehin, please second the motion.” Senator Lanlehin’s reply: ‘I don’t believe in the essence of that motion, therefore with the greatest amount of respect your Excellency, I hereby decline to second the motion.” Again, Senator Mark explained: “Well let me also tell you that a report that will be laid on the table will be discussed and at that point you also have the right to make or raise objections, I think you don’t have a right to refuse to second the motion”.
At this point, a deafening silence enveloped the chamber! Senator Mark moved to underscore his point, saying, seconding a motion does not mean that you support the motion because it is not being discussed yet, it is to be laid on the table”. Senator Lanlehin sprang up again saying: “The essence of seconding a motion is saying that I agree with the fundamentals of the motion”. Making clarifications again, the Senate President interjected, adding: “You know, this argument is unnecessary because I just read to Senator Ngige the interpretation of the rule. Let me tell you what you are supporting; first of all you are misleading yourself, you are supporting the motion that the report be laid, you are not supporting the content of the report, which are two different things. Don’t mislead yourself please and you must allow me to guide you properly.”
In obeying the Senate President at this point, Senator Lanlehin said hesitantly, “As directed by the President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I so support the motion for the laying of the report”. At this point the Chairman Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, then rose to present the report. Seconding the report again, Senator Lanlehin said: “In response to the directive of the Senate President, I’m hereby compelled to second the petition”. However, it was Senator Hope Uzodinma who eventually seconded the petition.
Ekweremadu: Constitutional Interpretation
As the debate on the legality or otherwise of the petition dragged on, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, came to the rescue with the constitutional interpretation of the matter, saying: “I come under Section 68 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. He then said: “If I understand my colleague well what he is saying is that the procedure being adopted is not known to the Senate. Unless this issue is constitutionally interpreted, the House will be setting a dangerous precedent and it will not be good for the Senate.” He said what is before the Senate now is a constitutional matter and not issues that have to do with the rules and therefore referring to the rules would be underestimating the matter. Senator Ekweremadu stressed that the constitution has addressed the essence of what is being discussed. He said he believes it was pursuant to that Section 68 that the matter was referred to the committee and not to our rules.
He said: “Section 68 states that a member of Senate or the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member and if you go to Section G being a person whose election in the House was sponsored by a political party, becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which he was elected. “If you look at Section 68 (2), it says the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives as the case may be shall give effect to the provision of sub section (1) which I have just read and so, however, by the President of the Senate or a member shall first present evidence to the House concerned that any of the House provision that sub section has become applicable in respect of that person.”
Senator Ekweremadu added that it was pursuant to that, that the Senate President referred the petition to the committee. He said: “I believe that what we have done is covered by the constitution as it is in pursuant to Section 68 of the constitution”.
Throwing More Light
Briefing journalists on the Boroffice imbroglio, the Chairman Senate Committee on Media, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said: “What happened is very simple, when a matter comes to the notice of the Senate President, under our rules he will have to take a decision first because he is the person that interprets our rules.
And the decision was that he referred a petition to a committee so that the committee will investigate and call for facts and come to the Senate with the report. Now it was that report that was laid today and obviously some people didn’t want the report to be laid”. Senator Abaribe then queried: “How will you take a decision without having the report in front of us, the report is now before us and whenever we are called upon to now consider that report, then anybody who has any contrary view has a right to now get up and say I have a contrary view to this.
“But nobody can now get up and say that the report that has been done by a Senate committee should not be laid for consideration, that is exactly out of the question.”