Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
As a fall out of his actions since he publicly criticised his colleagues for changing the order of elections during the amendment to the Electoral Act bill 2018, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was yesterday, slammed with a 90-day suspension from the Senate.
The upper legislative chamber accused the senator of malice, and of making unfounded comments aimed at smearing the institution.
Adopting the recommendations of its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, the Senate also disbanded the Buhari Support Group, which is made up of lawmakers opposed to the amendment changing the order of elections.
The 90-day suspension is however subject to him withdrawing his lawsuit against the Senate, and the disbandment of the group.
Omo-Agege (Delta APC) had on February 14, 2018, claimed that the amendment was deliberately targeted to weaken President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 general election, and accused both legislative chambers of failing to adhere to laid down procedure to pass the amendment.
His accusations prompted the Senate to mandate its Ethics Committee to probe him over the comments.
Omo-Agege had made a U-turn a few days later when he apologised for the comments but in an interesting twist, he later turned around to sue the Senate to stop the probe.
Presenting the report yesterday, the committee Chairman, Senator Samuel Anywanwu, noted that Omo-Agegeâ€™s apology on the floor on February 21 was an admission of guilt.
â€œThe committee was surprised that he changed his mind and took the Senate president and the Senate to court. At the committee, he responded that he would not be able to make any presentation before the committee because he had taken the matter to court. That the matter be postponed until it is discharged by the court.â€
â€œAfter his apology, he and Senator Abdullahi Adamu published an advert in the Vanguard Newspaper with the headline: â€˜Parliamentary Support Group in Senate for President Muhammadu Buhari,â€™ suggesting that the Senate was biased,â€ Anyanwu said.
He added that Omo-Agegeâ€™s inconsistencies were unacceptable and infuriating, particularly as the Delta senator is an experienced lawyer and a member of the ethics committee, conversant with the modus operandi.
â€œHe therefore must be punished to serve as a deterrent to others who might contemplate to take the Senate to court over its internal matters,â€ Anyanwu said.
The committee recommended that Omo-Agege be suspended for 181 legislative days.
The Majority Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, however appealed that Omo-Agege should be urged to withdraw his suit against the Senate, and should not be suspended since he apologised.
He indicated that the senator might have gone to court, in desperation for fear that a drastic action would be taken against him.
â€œLetâ€™s focus on making ourselves each otherâ€™s keeper. One word I donâ€™t like in this report, is the word â€˜punishâ€™. We should not be punishing ourselves, we should be correcting ourselves,â€ Lawan appealed.
Senator Kabiru Marafa (Zamfara APC) also appealed for mercy for the embattled senator.
â€œIn as much as I am against the suspension of any senator, I am equally against the formation of any other group in this chamber. The formation of the parliamentary support group is evil and it should not stand, it is counter-productive and against the president himself,â€ he said.
Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Ibn Nâ€™Allah, recalled that the change in election sequence section of the amendment did not emanate from the Senate but the House of Representatives.
â€œFor anybody here to go and have a press conference, and say the Senate has taken a decision against Mr. President, it is the most uncharitable thing to do. It does not befit his office as a senator,â€ Naâ€™Allah said.
â€œBut happily enough, Omo-Agege came here and had the courage to apologise for the statement. But it is much more than that, there are places you dare not talk about the president, and senators are from there. By implication he is putting their lives at risk,â€ he added.
Presiding, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said critical issues had been raised by the development, which included preserving the integrity of the Senate.
â€œSecondly, is where we take actions that are not sincere. I think in this chamber, if we want to talk about who has the right to say he is Chairman of a Parliamentary Support Group for Mr. President, both by action and by what we have done, I think that I have the right to lead that â€” more than anyone else here.
â€œThose of us who understand politics, understand that because of our own peculiar interest, sometimes some people decide to act like they are holier than thou or more committed â€” at the expense of others. This is not something that we should tolerate, and I believe that in an institution like this, we must show discipline, but at the same time, we must also show compassion,â€ Saraki said.
He added that the group must be disbanded and the suit against the Senate be withdrawn.
â€œDistinguished colleagues, there must be discipline. We must show that such groups must be suspended and the case in court must be withdrawn, in consideration for leniency.
He recommended that the 181 days suspension be reduced by half, but with an understanding that the recommendation can be revisited.
â€œWe must send out a strong message. There are some people who are fanatics, and such actions will expose a lot of people and allies. I hope we will not have to come to these sort of situations again at this point in this democratic process. We can cue on this and move forward, Saraki said.
It should be recalled that the lawmakers had changed the sequencing of elections in the country for the National Assembly elections to be held first before elections into the state Houses of Assembly, and governorship polls on a separate day, while the presidential election would be conducted last, to complete the general election cycle.
Section 25 of the Principal Act was specifically amended and substituted with a new Section 25(1), which provides that the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly elections (b) state Houses of Assembly and governorship elections (c) presidential election.
The amendment is expected to whittle down the bandwagon effects of presidential elections on other elections.
The president has however vetoed the bill on grounds that the amendment might infringe on the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise elections.
Both chambers have already begun the process to override the presidentâ€™s veto.