• Tinubu, APC govs, ministers, others meet in Ibadan today
Olawale Olaleye in Lagos and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Sacked Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, yesterday warned against alleged sustained violations of parliamentary procedures, which he said manifested in his sudden removal on Tuesday, warning that Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu might be the next victim of the alleged disregard for rules.
Ndume spoke yesterday against the background of an emerging realignment of forces intent on establishing the hegemony of the ruling All Progressive Congress in the leadership of the Senate.
The realignment fever has reverberated in the party’s South-west wing where its leading lights, including its National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the region’s governors and ministers as well as other leaders of the party meet today in Ibadan in a bid to close ranks and forge a common front in the cold permutations for power in 2019.
Ndume spoke at plenary yesterday while raising Order 43 of the Senate Standing Rules in reaction to his removal without his fore knowledge.
He said the Senate was a national institution whose sanctity must be protected by members, insisting that he had done nothing wrong to warrant such treatment.
He, however, admitted that he did not emerge as the Senate Leader because he was better than his colleagues, adding that if he had been confronted with visible allegations of wrong doing, he would have voluntarily resigned.
Disclosing that he had offered to voluntarily resign three times in the past; Ndume said he had received a list of 38 senators who signed the notice of his removal, noting that the signatures showed that 38 colleagues had lost confidence in him, a situation he said showed that he lacked the moral ground to remain in the office.
He added that even if it was only 10 of his colleagues who had signed the removal notice, the loss of confidence in him by 10 senators was enough for him to throw in the towel but insisted that he had done nothing wrong.
He said: “Mr. President, I discussed with you before the sitting that sequel to the event that happened yesterday in my absence – I went to pray, there was a change in leadership particularly affecting me and I felt it is important for me to be given the chance to defend myself. As I said, when I was nominated by my colleagues for the opportunity given to me to serve as the senate leader, I said one thing at that time and I want to repeat it today that as a senator, I am not better than anybody here and I also want to believe that all of us are equal in this Senate.
“I thank God for the way and the courage God had given me to carry-on with my responsibility for the past one and half years l served as the Senate leader. So, I want to thank you my colleagues for the confidence you had in me. I thank God that throughout my service as the Senate leader, most of the times, my colleagues casually would say, leader we are proud of you. I was not found wanting for anything that I know and because the unity of this Senate is more important than myself, three times, I offered to resign if that would bring peace but I believe that God’s time is the best.
“You (Ekweremadu) are one of those that even warned me here to stop saying that I would resign but yesterday, I was not around; change of leadership was announced. In fact, if the number of those that lost confidence in me is not up to this number and I was made to know, I would resign because I did not become a Senate leader in order to lose the confidence of any of you and that is why I am concerned about the loss of confidence because as far as I know, I have not done anything.
“But then, just like that, the Senate caucus has the right to say we have lost confidence in you and I think that should be now that I have said it. I think it’s on record that I did not do anything to the best of my knowledge. I did not do anything but as I said, consciously 38 of my colleagues signed the notice.
“So, if they signed that they have lost confidence in me at all, at least you will be confronted with allegations on what you have done and be given the chance to defend yourselves but as I said, since I have lost the confidence of some of you, even if it is 10 of you, then I have no moral ground to continue to lead this Senate because that means there are some people that are not with me.
“Having said that, I want to say that this Senate is an institutions that we must protect. How you protect the institution is to obey the rules and the tradition. If today, just like that, without telling somebody and he goes out and he’s removed…If it is Ndume today and it’s ok. It may be God forbid Ekweremadu tomorrow.
“So, what I am saying is that anytime our colleagues err in one way or the other, we should be given the chance to say ‘look, this is what you did and therefore, we have lost confidence in you but I thank God since there is nothing, I am grateful for that. So, I want to once again say thank you very much for the opportunity given me to serve as the Senate leader and I wish my brother, the new Senate leader well. We have been struggling for this for a long time. I hope and I wish you the best of service to this important institution,” he said.
But Senator Kabiru Marafa (Zamfara Central) disagreed with Ndume that his removal breached parliamentary procedure, arguing that the action was in compliance with Order 32 of Senate Standing Orders.
He added: “I just feel it should be put on record because somebody can ask me or ask any person that when you did something, you didn’t follow your rules and I want to say that as a member of this Senate, I was seated right here yesterday and I went through this thing and I know that Order 32 (6) provided for what we did yesterday.”
Earlier in the day, Senate President Bukola Saraki had said there was no crisis in the Senate over the removal of Ndume, saying the upper chamber was calm.
“There is no crisis in the National Assembly, things like this do happen and as you said the institution is bigger than everybody and I am sure that he and everybody else will always work for the interest of the institution and for the interest of the country. Everything is calm, solid and fine,” he told State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Responding, Ekweremadu thanked Ndume for his services to the Senate and congratulated him for accepting his removal in good faith.
“Let me on behalf of the rest of our colleagues, thank you for your services to the Senate and indeed to the National Assembly because you were a member of the House of Representatives’ leadership. At some point, you came to the Senate and also held very important committee assignments and then rose to become the Senate leader. Those are services we cannot wish away. So, we would like to congratulate you for the manner you have accepted the position of things…” Ekweremadu said.
Senate Rejects Ban on Vehicle Importation
The Senate yesterday rejected the federal government’s move to ban the importation of vehicles through the land borders, saying it would further cripple the economy and result in the loss of 500,000 jobs.
The Senate also mandated its Committee on Customs and Excise to investigate the circumstances surrounding the decision and urged the federal government to put the machinery in place for the regulation of vehicle importation through the approval of a designated entry point in each of the six ego-political zones of the country that has international land border(s).
Moving a motion on the matter yesterday, Senator Barau Jibrin (Kano North), said closing land borders this time would only aggravate the plights of villages whose economy is sustained by vehicle importation.
According to Barau, Nigerians have rejected the move because it is not economically expedient to ban the importation of vehicles through land borders given the ramification of such a policy on the economy.
Barau noted that the move was spurred by an allegation that importation of vehicles through land borders no longer holds prospects for revenue generation as a result of large scale evasion of import duties.
He said instead of stopping vehicle importation through land borders, designating an entry for importation in each geo-political zone would make greater economic sense and enable the NCS to monitor and control such entries unlike the current situation where there are no particular entry points.
Supporting the motion, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce said various persons put in positions of authority by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, who think of solving lingering problems by shutting down economic routes are only demonstrating their incompetence.
He made allusion to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, which he described as “Murtala Muhammed Mall,” run by various agencies, that he said generated huge revenues everyday but could not put in place functioning escalators and other simple facilities.
He said such problems were caused by the appointments into offices of intellectually lazy persons, who lack ideas that can turn the institutions around.
Murray-Bruce added that when the right people are put in positions of authority, there will be growth and advancement without contemplating shutting down economic routes before they can resolve a problem.
“These people who want to shut down airport, shut down land borders are not qualified. I will tell President Muhammadu Buhari that the people you appointed are not qualified. The government cannot keep people in poverty…These people cannot shut down airport. They can’t stop cars from coming into the country,” he said.
Also yesterday, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Anthony Ayine as the new Auditor-General of the Federation. His confirmation came on the heels of several petitions, urging the Senate to reject him on the basis of several allegations, including the transfer of his service from Cross River State to the federal civil service, being a cousin to the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, and claims of not attaining level 17 in the civil service cadre.
Leading the campaign for his rejection, Senator Binta Garba, claimed that Ayine was on level 14 and was only the Cross River State Auditor-General for Local Governments and therefore lacked the requisite qualification to occupy the office.
But her submission was countered by Senators Godswill Akpabio and Ahmad Lawan, who reminded the Senate about how Ayine participated and came first in the various examinations and scrutiny before his appointment.
They further dismissed the claim by Garba that he had not attained level 17 as they recalled that the man had exceeded that level having had only three years to attain the retirement age of 60.
The senators warned against throwing away the baby with the bathe water over unfounded allegations, which they said had always been common to such appointment.
Following these submissions, others who had the intention to oppose the nomination were silenced as Ayine was later confirmed without a dissenting voice.
Tinubu, APC Govs, Ministers, Others Meet
In a renewed effort to put its house in order, the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has slated a meeting of its senior members for today in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, with a view to closing ranks ahead of the 2019 elections.
The meeting, which is at the instance of the former chairman of the party and one time governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, is conceived to see if the deep seated animosity amongst its senior and prominent members could be addressed in collective interest.
In addition, the meeting, it was learnt would also address the issue of the development of South-west within the change agenda and see what progress has been made and how much more could still be made before the present term of the government winds down to a close.
Twice, attempts had been made to look at the state of the party in the zone as well as the development of the region within the collective of the federation.
The first was the meeting at the Government House in Ibadan, which recorded about 50 per cent success, and the second, which held at the Government House, Abeokuta, Ogun State, but ended on a bitter note of rivalry.
The state of the party in the zone, however, deteriorated before and after the Ondo State governorship election, which was believed to have sharply factionalised the APC along two interests: The Bola Tinubu Group and the President Muhammadu Buhari camp.
Unfortunately, the rivalry had taken a messier slant as majority of those believed to be siding with the president are former allies of Tinubu, all of whom rose to political reckoning through his means and support.
But whilst the accused have dismissed allegation of betrayal and backstabbing in the party and collective interest, nothing has shown that the house was one and the same, a development that could pave the way for a major political disaster in 2019.
It is against this backdrop, THISDAY has learnt, that Akande requested for a meeting of all the stakeholders from the governors to the minister and of course, the central character, Tinubu, to sit at a table and explore peaceful options of co-existence in collective interest.
Although there were feelers that Tinubu was not in the country as at yesterday afternoon, sources said he would eventually make it to the meeting as he had already confirmed attendance.
However this meeting turns out, observers are of the view that it would further reveal either the underbelly of the crisis trailing the party in the zone or dismiss reports of the deep animosity believed to exist amongst the characters in the party from the zone.