For over 30 minutes on Thursday, the Senate plenary was held amidst rowdiness over allegations of lopsidedness in appointments by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The allegation was first raised by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who said Mr Buhari’s appointments of heads of agencies have recently been sourced from one geo-political zone.
His observation followed a letter from the president seeking confirmation of chairman and members of the Federal Roads Maintenance Management Agency (FERMA).
Senate President Bukola Saraki read the letter.
“In accordance with section 2 of the of the Federal Roads Maintenance Management Agency amendment act 2007, I forward herewith the nomination of a chairman, a managing director and six representatives from each of the six geo-political zones as members of the governing board for Federal Roads Maintenance Management Agency for confirmation by the senate.
Mr Tunde Lemo – chairman
Engr. Nurudeen Abdulrahman Rafindadi – Managing Director
Buba Silas Abdullahi – Executive Director
Baba Gana Mohammed – Executive Director
Engr. Shehu Usman Abdullahi – Executive Director
Lauretta Ngozichukwu Nwagono – Executive Director
Njedu Stanley – Executive Director
Vincent Oladapo Kolawola – Executive Director
“While hoping that the request will meet the usual expeditious consideration of the senate, please accept, Mr Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration,” the president wrote.
Mr Ekweremadu picked holes in the appointment and recent ones on the argument that Mr Buhari has been drawing leadership of these agencies from one region. He did not mention which region it is.
Citing section 14 (3) of the constitution, Mr Ekweremadu said the president has breached the federal character rule.
“I want to draw the attention of this senate to the provisions of section 14(3) of our constitution.
“It says the composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity and also command national loyalty; thereby assuring there shall be no predominance of a few state or a few ethnic or other sectional division in that government or any of its agencies.
“I don’t have problem with any part of Nigeria but I have problem with the way government is directing its appointments. Over the last two three weeks, we’ve had cause to either discuss this FERMA that has been announced today or the NDIC or AMCON OR FCSC. The head of all these federal parastatals have come from one particular part of Nigeria. This is completely unfair. We can’t sit in this senate and allow that to go. So, I believe, we need to bark it to the federal government to ensure that every part of Nigeria is represented. This is completely unacceptable to me.”
He was countered by Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, who said Mr Buhari’s appointments followed laid down rules.
“Whenever government sends in request for confirmation, government does its home work very well. What the DSP said is not a complete picture. He has restricted his conclusion to very few. If you go to the larger picture, that issue is not supposed to be raised in the first place.”
His speech was cut short by shouts from senators who aligned themselves with Mr Ekweremadu’s position. After a while, he continued.
“I’m not from the South-west Nigeria, let me be blunt. The issue raised is predominance but if we can have a larger picture, I’m sure we will see a balanced spread of appointment.”
Mr Saraki in an initial ruling directed the Senate committee on federal character to look into the matter and report back next week Tuesday.
“This matter is too sensitive for us to be speculating, he said. “Anything anybody is going to say here is based on his own opinion of what he sees the issues are. Why don’t we just make it easier for ourselves? We have a chairman of federal character, let’s just ask him to carry out the exercise and give us a report. And when he gives us the report, we’ll contribute and be able to know whether it is the DSP’s analysis that is right or the leader.”
The resolution however did not go down well with some senators who made sure the rowdiness continued as the Senate moved on with other business.
The debate continued few moments later when the Senate took on an executive communication to consider 13 nominees for appointment as chairman and commissioners of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC).
Chukwuka Utazi challenged the Senate’s decision to consider the nomination while a contentious issue of federal character is on ground.
He was supported by Mao Ohabunwa whose speech was intermittently interrupted by noise.
“What I’m saying is that in line with what was discussed and this one, I am suggesting that we should step down this item until he comes in and gives us a true picture because we cannot have everything coming from one area,” Mr Ohabunwa said.
Mr Saraki pleaded with his colleagues to allow screening of FCSC nominees hold while the federal character committee works on the allegation of lopsidedness in appointments.
To his plea followed shouts of ‘yes’ from senators loyal to Mr Buhari; and ‘no’ from the opposition wing.
Mr Utazi stood again to insist that the new nominees of FCSC should not be screened.
“If we want to be seen to be doing justice to all parts of the country, I’m of the opinion that we should not continue with the screening.”
He said there is enough evidence to justify Mr Ekweremadu’s point.
Mr Saraki turned down his plea.
“We are all on the same side; nobody wants any injustice to any part of the country. We all agreed that at the moment, we are just speculating. It’s not based on a document that we all agreed on. I’m just asking that let us get the document from federal character. If the document suggests what you are saying, then we hold action. It will be unfair if the document does not support that,” he said.
An insistent Mr Utazi stood again to drive his point and hence, the Senate was thrown into a long spell of rowdiness.
The Senate agreed to allow the committee on federal character looks into the allegation and report on Tuesday while committee on establishment and public service looks into the appointment of FCSC nominees and reports back on Wednesday.
Just as the senators voted to adopt the resolution, Obinna Ogba stood to register displeasure that Mr Buhari has not been nominating people from his state. His comment was greeted by dissenting shouts from his colleagues.
“As we are talking about federal issue, I also want to talk about states. If you look at these appointments that were made, there are some states for instance; it is the turn of Ebonyi state.”
His voice was drowned by another round of rowdiness.
Mr Saraki noted his point while insisting the senators wait till a report comes from the committee on federal character.