â€¢ Suspends consideration of all executive nominations
â€¢ Asks executive to head to Sâ€™Court over its power of confirmation
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
Indications of any detente between the Senate and the executive arm of government may have been thwarted, when the latter on TuesdayÂ restated its advisory to the presidency on removal the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, or risk the non-consideration of any executive nominations.
The lawmakers took the decision following an executive request forwarded by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, seeking the confirmation of the nominee for the position of Director General of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC), Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila.
Osinbajoâ€™s letter was read at plenary yesterday by Senate President Bukola Saraki, after the National Assembly resumed from its mid-term recess.
Maguâ€™s nomination as substantive chairman of the anti-graft agency was rejected twice by the Senate (in December 2016 and March 2017) on the basis of a report of the Department of State Services (DSS), which indicted him for alleged corruption and unprofessional conduct. He has however remained in office in an acting capacity.
The Senate said its latest position was prompted by the need to clarify the issue on its power to confirm executive nominees of the executive, which was called to question by Osinbajo.
Osinbajo last April had said Magu did not require the confirmation of the Senate, adding that there was no need to have presented the nominee for confirmation in the first instance.
The senators yesterday, however, noted that it was inconsistent for Osinbajo, on the one hand, to say that the Senate does not have the power of confirmation, or nominees do not require Senate confirmation and then turn around to write the same Senate seeking the confirmation of another nominee.
The lawmakers, therefore, urged Osinbajo to withdraw his statements on the Senateâ€™s power of confirmation and urged the executive to head to the Supreme Court for the interpretation of relevant sections of the constitution.
They also urged the acting president to respect the constitution and laws enacted by the National Assembly as they relate to the confirmation of nominees and also respect the rejection of nominees by the Senate.
The senators also raised eyebrows at what they described as the selective swearing in of nominees who have been confirmed by the Senate, particularly the swearing in of 14 out of 15 Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) for the Independent National Election Commission (INEC).
The resolution for the non-consideration of Gbajabiamilaâ€™s nomination was set in motion by Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima (Zamfara Central) who, raising a point of order, harped on the need for clarification on the letter, taking into consideration Osinbajoâ€™s comments.
His position was backed by Senator George Thompson Sekibo (Rivers East) who maintained that one of the core functions of the Senate, as stipulated by the constitution, is to confirm the nominees of the president.
â€œIf the acting president says we do not have the power to confirm, I wonder whether he is in touch with the EFCC Act.
â€œIf he says we donâ€™t have the power to confirm and he is sending us a nomination, is he reversing himself?â€ He asked.
Sekibo observed that to retain a nominee that has been rejected by the Senate undermines democratic institutions and downplays the authority of the lawmakers.
Senator Isa Misau (Bauchi Central), contributing to the debate, accused the executive of engaging in double standards and hypocrisy.
â€œThere are people that they want, even if the National Assembly would not confirm them,â€ he said, adding that the executive had resorted to blackmail and harassment of the legislators.
Misau alleged that the recent raids on the guesthouse of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and the home of the Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, were conducted by the EFCC.
How many ministers have they investigated, he queried.
Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) described the executive as inconsistent when considering that an apology was tendered to the Senate (by the Acting Secretary to the Government of the Federation) when Gbajabiamila resumed office without confirmation.
Yet, the same executive has retained Magu who was rejected by the Senate, Melaye said.
â€œIn this Senate, we confirmed some people, they have refused to swear them in. This Senate cannot be disregarded and our authority to confirm cannot be eroded,â€ he added.
Senator Olusola Adeyeye (Osun Central) stated that nobody has the right to disobey any law that requires confirmation before an appointment.
â€œNobody, not the president, acting president or vice president has the right to disobey that law. Whoever has any reservation should go to court.
â€œIf there is any law which has been passed by the legislature, signed by the president and gazetted into the laws of the republic, no one is given an exemption to dodge, bend, avoid or dance around that law.
â€œMany have argued convincingly that the power to confirm appointments is explicitly written in the constitution,â€ he said.
Adeyeye revealed that he had voted in favour of Magu at the confirmation screening, but chose to align with the Senate which rejected him.
â€œFor the record, I want to say here that I voted â€˜yesâ€™ for Magu, but this is not about my views. The Senate voted Nay. I stand with the Nigerian Senate because if a republic must choose between strong leaders and strong institutions, it is wiser by far to choose strong institutions.
â€œWe must not allow any branch of government to be weakened to the extent where the laws of the land can be flagrantly disregarded,â€ Adeyeye added.
Ekweremadu also stressed that the position of the Senate was neither about Magu nor Gbajabiamila, but about the constitution.
Citing Sections 5, 153, 155 and 171 of the constitution, Ekweremadu said the law of the country must be obeyed.
â€œIf the law says you require confirmation, it means you need confirmation,â€ he said.
Saraki said the inaction of the presidency on the resolution of Magu was a matter that must be addressed.
â€œThis matter is an important one which we must address and put behind us. We canâ€™t pass laws and the laws are not obeyed. We must respect the constitution,â€ he said.
â€œIt is important that we build a society wherein all laws, not just some laws are obeyed. We must build a nation of laws not a nation of men. It is not for us to choose which laws to obey and which laws not to obey.
â€œBased on that we would take appropriate actions in line with these resolutions,â€ Saraki added.
In a departure from the subject matter, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe raised issues over what he said was a vacuum in government.
He noted that President Muhammadu Buhari was out of the country and the acting president had also travelled out to the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, adding that there was no head of government while both were away.
He noted that the resolution being passed was intended for submission to the presidency where there is a vacuum.
Abaribe was however countered by Senator Kabiru Marafa, who cited Order Six of the Senate Rules which requires that contributions be restricted to the subject of discussion.
He also said it was erroneous to state that there was no head of government.
â€œIt is an abuse to our sensibilities and the sensibilities of Nigerians to say we do not have a head of government. If the acting president is not in the country, the Senate President is the next in line of succession,â€ he argued.
Based on the Senate Rules, Saraki ruled Abaribe out of order.