Defection: Mark, APC Senators in battle of wits

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Today, the Senate must revive the ‘Doctrine of Necessity,’ concocted by the National Assembly to resolve the stalemate that resulted from the long absence of late President Umaru Yar’Adua from his seat in 2010.

The late president’s trip abroad for medical treatment had created a constitutional stalemate as he did not hand over to his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan. Yar’Adua’s prolonged absence caused quite an uproar in the polity with rumours of disaffection in the military until Senate President David Mark and his kitchen cabinet came up with the novel idea of the Doctrine of Necessity.

Although the scenario today may be different from what it was four years ago, Mark must come up with another novel idea to untie the knotty matter of the defection of 11 senators from the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party.

Already, he has the mandate of his colleagues to search for “political and legal solutions” to the proposed defection of the 11 senators. As the matters are presently, the Senate President is legally barred from reading any correspondence from them on their planned movement to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Since January 29, when the Chairman of Environment and Ecology Committee, Senator Bukola Saraki submitted a letter to David Mark on behalf of himself and 10 others, on their defection to the APC, never had the Red Chamber been this agitated over cross-carpeting. The opposition is restive and eager as well, to welcome chieftains from the ruling party into their fold.

In the history of the National Assembly since 1999, the opposition had never had it this good with regards to movement of a  good number of National Assembly members to its fold from the ruling PDP. Just like in the House of Representatives, the APC Senators are eager to welcome the 11 senators who have to confront, frontally legal  encumbrances inhibiting their formal declaration on the floor of the Senate.

Penultimate week, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu had begged for understanding of the 11 senators and told them that he was not in possession of their letter. He urged them to wait till last Tuesday, February 4 when Mark would be present.

That appeal prevailed until the set date and once again, Mark was unavoidably absent from the chamber.

When the senators made the secong move, Mark was at the presidential villa to attend the Council of State meeting. Ekweremadu presided over the upper chamber. Rather than address the issue at plenary, he quickly called for a closed session. Behind closed doors, the restive senators were told to wait for Mark as only he could put a final seal on whether the letter should be read or not.

Last Wednesday, Mark was present and predictably, the senators met behind closed doors to enable them discuss the planned defection.

Senators present at the closed door session told Daily Sun that the senators itching to dump PDP advanced their arguments, on the need for the Senate President to read the defection letter and damn whatever consequences may be the aftermath.

However, Mark was said to have reminded the defecting senators that there is a case in court, initiated by them in the first instance, which directed that all parties, including the National Assembly, PDP, INEC, maintain the status quo ante and that nobody’s seat should be declared vacant. The court had set February 18 for the definite hearing on the suit after it was adjourned twice.

The argument of the defecting senators was that the court order has nothing to do with defections; it only states, they argued, that their seats should not be declared vacant after they might have moved to the APC.

reporters checks revealed that the Senate President stance that the matter is subjudice finds relevance in Order 53 (5) of the Senate Standing Orders (2011, as amended).

The order reads: “Reference shall not be made to any matter on which a judicial decision is pending, in such a way as might in the opinion of the President of the Senate prejudice the interest of parties thereto.”

The agitated senators however, insisted that the presiding officer could go ahead to read the defection letter. In addition, some senators also faulted the premise upon which the senators wanted to

move to the APC, as they had cited “division” and “factionalisation” in the PDP.

While some claimed that the existence of the New PDP was a pointer to the fact that there was crisis in the ruling party, others submitted that a competent court has ruled that there was no crisis

of any form in the PDP.

Reporters investigation revealed that last Wednesday session was preceded by a meeting held on Tuesday evening where Senators Saraki

and Umaru Dahiru met with  Senator Mark.

A source at the meetingwhich was inconclusive, revealed to Daily Sun that the 11 senators were made to understand that they could not jointly write the presiding officer.

‘’Since each senator was elected by distinct constituencies, they should individually write a letter to the presiding officer signifying intention to move from the party upon which they werezelected into the Senate for a four-year term to another party’’.

When briefed about what was discussed at the meeting, some of the defecting senators scoffed at the reference to Order 53 (5) and argued that there have been instances where the leadership waived that order.

The senators further claimed that the status quo ante order from the court cannot stand as the same order did not stop the defection in the House of Representatives when 37 members moved to the APC! Addressing newsmen shortly after the adjournment, Senate spokesperson, Enyinnaya Abaribe confirmed that the defection issue was being looked into but that the Senate President would require further legal advise.

“In the closed door session, matters affecting the well-being of Nigeria was discussed. Also, the interest of the country was put first and the meeting was fruitful. I can confirm to you that the issue of defection was also discussed during the closed-door session and it was resolved that the Senate  President in particular would have to seek further legal advice because of the serious legal issues thrown up during the discussion based on interpretation of the Constitution and the Senate Standing Rule. So, more time was given for consultation.

When it resumes on Tuesday, it would look into the issue.

“Under the Senate Standing Rule No. 25, only the Senate President has the power and authority to interpret anything.  He decided to seek further legal advice. And I think it is good for the country. We are lawmakers, not law breakers. It was an attempt to seek political solution to the problem of defection that we had the discussion. When we resume, we are also going to have another discussion.

“Members had gone to court against principal officers. Based on that, you cannot go to court and would not want to wait for the ruling of that court. We can still resolve matters amicably.”

The impasse may be resolved today on the floor of the Senate.

Whichever  way the pendulum swings, the Senate President  must come up with a solution—- political or legal, because the defecting senators are adamant on leaving the PDP while the APC is anxious to receive the new members to their fold.

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