The Senate on Thursday witnessed another rowdy session as senators went at each other’s throats over President Muhammadu Buhari’s alleged lopsidedness in recent appointments.
Angry senators mainly of Southern extraction accused Buhari of bias and favouring mostly northerners, particularly persons from Katsina, his home state and the North East in general.
But the accusation was disputed by Northern senators who insisted that Buhari was fair to all Nigerians, irrespective of tribe and tongue.
To end the verbal exchange, the Senate resolved to refer all recent appointments made by the president awaiting its confirmation to the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs for scrutiny to ensure they conform to the principle of federal character.
Trouble started when the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu), reacted to a letter read by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki in which Buhari was seeking Senate’s confirmation of the appointment of a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Tunde Lemo , as the chairman of the Federal Emergency Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) as well as six others.
The letter from the President reads: “In accordance with the provision of Section 2 of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (Amendment) Act 2007,
I forward herewith the nominations of a chairman, a managing director and six representatives drawn from each of the six geo – political zones as members of the governing board of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency for confirmation by the Senate”.
Saraki had barely finished reading the letter when Ekweremadu raised Senate Order 14 to challenge the appointments, pointing out that most of the appointments of the current administration were not in line with the federal character principle.
Ekweremadu read Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution to back his argument.
That section stipulates that “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 as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty,
thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few state or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies”.
He therefore prayed the Senate to stand down the confirmation process while calling for an investigation into the alleged lopsided appointments.
Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe), who also relied on a point of order, countered Ekweremadu’s allegation, insisting that the deputy senate president did not look at the bigger picture before jumping into his conclusions, insisting that government appointments were balanced.
He said, “Whenever government sends in any request for confirmation of appointment, government does its homework very well. What the deputy senate president raised is not a complete picture.
He has restricted his conclusion to a very few. “If you go to the larger picture, that issue is not supposed to be raised in the first place. I’m not from the South West part of Nigeria; let me be blunt.
The issue raised is predominance but if wencan have a larger picture, I’m sure we will see a balanced spread of appointments.
“So, I don’t want us to devote so much time looking at the very narrow picture of what government is doing in regards to appointments”.
The disagreement was further aggravated by another request from the president for confirmation of appointment of Dr. Bello Tukur Ingawa from Katsina State as chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission alongside 12 federal commissioners.
Toeing Ekweremadu’s line, Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North) said the appointments made by the current administration had been so lopsided and favoured a particular region of the country.
Sen. Utazi submitted that the request should go the way of FERMA, but he was shouted down by Northern senators.
Sen. Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP, Abia), also raised a point of order when the Senate further moved to begin the confirmation of the appointments of the chairman and commissioners of the Federal Civil Service Commission, insisting that the Senate should suspend the consideration.
Sen. Obinna Ogba (PDP, Ebonyi), in his point of order during the rowdy session, pointed out that his state, Ebonyi was short – changed in appointments made so far by Buhari, adding that “Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, we cannot continue on this nomination.
If you look at this, Ebonyi State slot is completely missing”.
The Senate President Saraki, while trying to calm the frayed nerves, pointed out that observations by senators could only be considered as the personal opinion of those raising them.
Saraki then said, “We are just speculating, we are on the same page.mLet us first get a document from the federal character then we can take action. If the federal character report suggests that the deputy president of the senate is right, then we suspend the consideration”.
He however upheld that the screening of the Federal Civil Service Commission’s appointees be continued and directed the Senate Committee on Federal Character chaired by Sen. Tijani Kaura to conclude it investigation and report back to the Senate next Tuesday.
He added that when the committee submits its report, then the senators would have a basis to make allegations if it is established that there was need to.
Saraki promised stop the process once it becomes unnecessary to continue.