Posted by By Emmanuel Aziken, Abuja on
As the Senate formally resumed for its third session last Tuesday, Senate President Ken Nnamani could barely hide his fondness for President Olusegun Obasanjo.
As the Senate formally resumed for its third session last Tuesday, Senate President Ken Nnamani could barely hide his fondness for President Olusegun Obasanjo. It seems President Olusegun Obasanjo’s intervention in the feud between the Senate President and Governor Chimaroke Nnamani is a factor, as Senator Nnamani repeatedly proclaimed during the courtesy call on him by the governor.
Following in the footsteps of the President who had earlier this month reconstituted his cabinet, Senator Nnamani told his returning colleagues Tuesday, that it was also time for the Senate to follow the President’s initiative by reconstituting its committees.
However, in following the President’s pace, observers are equally wondering whether Senator Nnamani may have inadvertently drawn to himself accusations of highhandedness as his efforts seems to have instigated the first crisis in his three month reign as Senate President.
Besides the reorganization of Senate Committees, the Senate President is also being ensnared by political intrigues emanating from the removal of Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi as the deputy minority whip of the Senate. The reorganization of Senate Committees as Senator Nnamani hinted, was a step towards putting square plugs in square holes and round plugs in round holes.
When in November 2003, the former Senate leadership under Senator Adolphus Wabara dissolved the Senate Committees and reconstituted them in January 2004, the Senate leader, Dr. Dalhatu Tafida had defended the action as a move to put square plugs in square holes and round plugs in round holes. In doing that however, Senator Wabara used the opportunity to hit at his perceived political enemies, foremost among whom at that time was Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, who was demoted from his powerful position of chairman of Senate Committee on Power and Steel to the vice-chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism.
One of the country’s most reputable rice farmers, Senator Chris Nshi was also removed from the chairmanship of the Committee on Agriculture and was given the awkward Committee on Aviation, even though there is no airport in his native Ebonyi State!
As such, in Senate parlance, square plug in square hole is defined by the leadership according to political interests. In the latest reorganisation, a number of those who in Wabara’s phraseology were square plugs in square holes seem to have lost shape in Nnamani’s terminology. Towards accommodating the interest of his political base or widening it, Senator Nnamani went ahead to balloon the number of committees from an already bloated 54 to 57. The new committees created are the Committees on Capital Market, Media and Publicity and the Committee on Finance which was carved out of the old Committee on Finance and Appropriation. Despite the increase in the number of committees, not every one, is however satisfied.
With 57 Committees in a chamber of 109 Senators, more than half of the Senators are, however, Committee chairmen and a similar proportion are vice-chairmen. The only exception in the recent allocations is Senator Wabara who was not given any committee chair or vice-chair or even membership. Responding to the feeling of marginalisation against the immediate past Senate President, Senator Nnamani last Thursday, said Senator Wabara was not allocated a committee position in deference to his status as a former Senate President as he implied that he could as well sit in any committee he may well desire. In saying that, he was merely replaying the scenario of the last Senate when the then Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim refused his predecessor, Senator Chuba Okadigbo a committee position at the height of the battle between the Anyim group and the remnants of the Okadigbo group. Then Anyim had asked Okadigbo to feel free to join any committee he so desired, whereupon, the witty Okadigbo responded that he would join the elite Committee of Chairmen. The most obvious losers from the recent committee shake-up are definitely the most tenacious friends and loyalists of Senator Wabara.
All but one, that is Senator Mamman Ali, that is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts either lost their positions as Committee chairmen or became chairmen of less prestigious Committees. Senator Ali, Vanguard gathered was able to retain his position as chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts because of his preeminent role in the coup that led to the installation of Senator Lawali Shuaibu as the minority leader. Even though an acolyte of Wabara, it was the guess game that Senator Shuaibu in no small way ensured that Senator Ali retained his office. There were other losers, among them Senator John Brambaifa, a long time associate of Wabara who lost his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta to Senator Patrick Osakwe, himself, arguably Nnamani’s chief campaign manager during contest for the Senate Presidency.
Along geopolitical zones, the South-West Senators, however, seem to be the heaviest losers and they are expectedly not keeping quiet about it. The losses accruing to the South-West observers say, may not be unconnected to the zone’s unalloyed support for Senator Wabara during his time in office and the zone’s near unanimous support for Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Senator Nnamani’s only opponent during the leadership contest last May. All 13 PDP Senators from the zone reportedly voted for Senator Ekweremadu, one source told Vanguard at the weekend.
Defending the zone’s decision on Ekweremadu, one aggrieved PDP Senator from the area told Vanguard "We were informed that Ike is the party’s choice and we in the South-West decided as good party men to support him and maybe that is why we are being punished now," the aggrieved Senator said. The two so called grade ‘‘A’’ chairmanships occupied by the zone namely, Agriculture and Health were lost to the North Central zone while the overall committee chairmanship slots occupied by Senators from the zone also slipped from nine to eight.
Following the announcement of the committee positions, the South-West caucus immediately resorted to a meeting where they vowed to reject the committee postings and pledged not to attend any committee meetings until their grievances were addressed. In a letter dated July 19, 2005 addressed to the Senate President, the Senators said in part: "We observe that the Senate President who was hitherto a vocal critic of the former Senate President on issues relating to equity, fair play and observance of the principle of federal character, would now be the Chief Architect of what appears to be a well orchestrated, manifest act of injustice, bias and apparent malice against the South-West." "The South-West Senators hereby RESOLVE NOT TO ATTEND OR PARTICIPATE IN ANY COMMITTEE on the basis of the observations made above." The letter was supposedly signed by 13 of the 18 Senators from the zone. However, the determination of the South-West Senators to fight the cause was easily being betrayed by the renunciation of the letter by some of the South-West Senators. Contacted on telephone if he was a signatory to the letter, one Senator from the region who got a committee chair for himself told Vanguard that his signature was forged on the letter, saying that he did not believe in the contents of the letter. Suspicion among the South-West Senators was also being narrowed to its leadership as represented by Senator Clement Awoyelu, the Senate’s Deputy Majority Whip. As a member of the Selection Committee, Senator Awoyelu was supposed to have ensured the protection of the interest of the Senators from the South-West, but sources close to him say that he was himself caught napping by the allocation as he is said not to have been involved.
Indeed, suggestions from some of the principal officers of the Senate indicate that the allocation of the Committee chairs may have been a four man affair between the Senate President, deputy Senate President, Senate leader and minority leader. By the weekend, the South-West Senators were alleged to have decided on taking their case to the presidency and the party where they are hopeful that their case could be addressed.
However, there are doubts on how that could be easily achieved as some Senators are expressing reservations on their quick resort to external mediators. One principal officer speaking to Vanguard on the condition of anonymity said the South-West erred even though they had a case by externalizing the crisis.
"The Senate has adopted the resolution and the Senate cannot reverse itself like that," the high ranking officer said. The newly appointed Senate spokesman, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) said as much when he disclosed that the crisis would only be resolved through the internal mechanism of the Senate. "He (Senate President) made it very clear that there are internal mechanisms for redressing grievances arising from the reconstitution of committee. So, the Senate has internal mechanisms for redressing such grievances and I am sure those internal mechanisms would be applied to redress the grievances of our colleagues from the South-West," Senator Ndoma-Egba told Senate correspondents at a briefing last Thursday.
Besides the reduction in the number of Committee chairs allocated to the South-West, observers have also questioned the rationality of allocating vital Committee chairmanships to the opposition parties.
" This attitude of giving Committee chairmanship to opposition parties is a way of compromising them so that there is no feeling of opposition in the Senate anymore," one aggrieved PDP Senator remarked. The Nigerian system is at variance with the case in the United States Senate where opposition Senators are denied any Committee chairs. Besides that grouse, some South-West Senators also see last Tuesday’s removal of Senator Afikuyomi as the deputy minority whip as another attempt at humiliating the South-West. Senator Afikuyomi was removed from office following a letter to the Senate President by the minority leader read on the floor last Tuesday. In the letter, Senator Shuaibu had informed the Senate President that the minority caucus had met the previous evening, that is on Monday and resolved to remove Senator Afikuyomi as the deputy minority whip. He was replaced by Senator Abiola Ajimobi (AD, Oyo South). No reason was given for the removal, though there were suggestions that he may have been removed for the dual reasons of irregularity in attendance of Senate sessions and loyalty to Senator Wabara. Senator Afikuyomi was, however, quick to respond to his purported removal affirming that he had earlier given his notice to resign the position for the purpose of focusing on his confessed gubernatorial pursuits. In a statement that Tuesday, Senator Afikuyomi said:
"The truth is that I was not removed. Rather I have long given the Senate leadership as well as my very esteemed colleagues in the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), notice of my intention to relinquish the office. My decision to vacate the office was borne out of my desire to rev up my campaign efforts in my beloved Lagos State. It is of course no longer news that I have since resolved to yield to the demands of my constituents that I vie for the governorship of Lagos State by 2007. Once I accepted this challenge I knew I would be making a series of sacrifices in the bid to achieve the desired goal. I truly desire to give the campaign to govern Lagos State my very best and even my all. Relinquishing the exalted office of a principal officer of the Senate is just one of such sacrifices," he said. Some AD Senators have also questioned the removal saying that the ANPP majority in the minority did not have the capacity to remove Senator Afikuyomi from his office. In a letter to the Senate President dated July 20, 2005 the AD Senators affirmed that they chose Afikuyomi as their leader and that he would as such continue to represent them in the body of principal officers of the Senate.
Their letter was ironically in contrast to the earlier circulated letter from Senator Afikuyomi asserting his intention to resign from the position for the purpose of his gubernatorial ambition. "The position of Deputy Minority Whip was zoned to AD and it is the prerogative of AD Senators to determine who occupies the office, since the occupier of the office serves automatically as the leader of the AD caucus in the Senate. This was how Senator Afikuyomi got the position," the AD Senators, namely Titus Olupitan (Ondo), James Kolawole (Ekiti), Olurunnimbe Mamora (Lagos) and Afikuyomi himself from Lagos deposed in the letter. Meanwhile, Senator Ajimobi who has been selected to replace Afikuyomi is yet to surface to take up his position. Efforts to reach him on telephone were as at the weekend unsuccessful.