Again, Senate fails to decide on Yar’adua

Again on Tuesday the members of the Nigerian Senate fail to reach a common position after deliberating for five hours on the absence of the President, Umaru Yar’adua from the country for almost three months. National assembly sources say the Senators went into an executive session to be free to express their opinion but are divided over the President’s fate after the executive session.

Members had reconvened today to debate the report on a meeting between the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) and some lawyer-senators over President Umaru Yar’Adua’s refusal to hand over power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.

Addressing National Assembly correspondents after today’s session, Senate spokesman, Ayogu Eze said the Senate will continue their deliberations tomorrow.

Eze said that the Senate leadership decided to allow each senator to voice his opinion on the issue. But the long time allotted was not enough for each senator to contribute.  

The debate Tuesday afternoon focused on whether Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan should be sworn in or not as acting president.

The 109-member Senate has broken into three camps, with principal officers pitching tent in different groups. 

The groups are those for Yar’Adua; pro-Jonathan; and the undecided. 

While the Yar’Adua Group is standing by the judgment of the Federal High Court, the pro-Jonathan senators, who began an emergency meeting Monday night in Abuja, have vowed not to accept the report from the meeting which has recommended that the judgment of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Dan Abutu, should subsist for the Vice-President to exercise presidential powers.

The PDP is said to be using a second term ticket as weapon of blackmail against its members in the Senate.  

It was drama galore as pro-Yar’Adua senators and the anti-Yar’Adua group engaged each other at a closed session that lasted for over five hours.

It was the lengthiest session the Senate has had since the inauguration of the Fourth Republic Legislature on June 3, 1999.

Despite locking themselves in their red chamber from 11.50am to 4.52pm to deliberate on the outcome of the closed door briefing they received from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Mahmud Yayale Ahmed on Yar’Adua’s health, the Senate could not conclude on the issue. 

The newspaper learnt that the senate discussed the President’s absence as it affects pending bills and other issues before the Senate, and could not reach an agreement on whether or not Jonathan can exercise presidential powers in line with the first judgment of Justice Daniel Abutu of the Federal High Court, Abuja. 

Some of the issues that are being considered include the legality of the VP signing the 2010 Appropriation Bill when it is passed and also if he can sign other bills passed into law by the National Assembly.

The Electoral Reform Bill is also the Senate agenda, as well as the issue of the appointment of National Commissioners into the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). 

Some argued that Justice Abutu’s first ruling had effectively empowered the VP to exercise presidential powers – along with the revelation by the SGF that Yar’Adua verbally asked Jonathan to act on his behalf before he travelled abroad. 

It was also argued that by deploying troops to Jos last week, the VP has effectively started exercising presidential powers.

However, some senators insisted that the proper way for Jonathan to exercise these powers was the transmission of a vacation letter by the President to the leadership of the National Assembly. 

The upper legislative chamber will, however, continue deliberations again in closed session this morning to round off discussions and decide on the next line of action. 

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Information, Senator Ayogu Eze, said: “We have been behind closed door in the past five hours or thereabouts, trying to look at the issues before us especially the issue regarding the health of Mr. President and the briefing we received from the Secretary of the Government of the Federation and all other developments surrounding the matter in the last couple of days and weeks. 

“As you can see, it was a very painstaking session and it was the determination of the leadership of the Senate that every member of the Senate who wanted to speak will be given an opportunity to do so. 

“We had to extend our sitting period and yet we were not able to exhaust the opportunity for everybody to speak.  So discussion and deliberation on the matter will continue tomorrow (today) also in closed session and then we are going to conclude and come out with a position at the end of the session tomorrow (today).”

Eze said the Senate was interested in taking actions that would assist in moving the nation forward  

Meanwhile as senators failed to arrive at a decision yesterday on the controversy trailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s absence from the country, some governors have arrived Abuja to persuade members of the Upper Chamber “not to rock the boat”. 

The governors, some of whom accompanied Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to visit crisis-ridden Jos, Plateau State yesterday, are trying to lobby the Senators not to discuss any issues about the impeachment of the President over his failure to officially hand over to his deputy. 

“The governors are urging the senators to give the President till next week to return to Nigeria after his medical treatment in Saudi Arabia”. 

Justice Abutu had ruled that the Vice-President could exercise presidential powers in the absence of the President but could not be sworn in as acting President since Yar’Adua did not transmit a letter to the National Assembly to that effect.

It was learnt that the meeting reached the agreement with Aondoakaa in the “interest of peace, stability and good governance of the nation”. 

However, two of the senators at the meeting, Nimi Barigha Amange and Heineken Lokpobiri (both from Bayelsa State), were said to have moved against the agreement, as they spoke in favour of a resolution on Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.

Senators rooting for the activation of Section 145 on the transmission of a letter to the National Assembly by Yar’Adua to enable the Vice-President step in had initiated a move to have the Senate pass a resolution on compliance with the provision.

The move, however, ran into stormy waters at the session as the pro-Yar’Adua senators, said to be well over half of the members present, vehemently opposed it.

Sources said they insisted that instead of passing a resolution on Section 145, the Senate should rather endorse the two subsisting rulings by Justice Abutu.

The second ruling given last Friday by Justice Abutu had given the Executive Council of the Federation (also known as the Federal Executive Council (FEC)) 14 days, beginning from last Saturday, to take pass a resolution on the health of the President.

FEC is expected to take a decision on the matter today at its weekly meeting. 

The deadline for the implementation of the court ruling by FEC is Friday, next week.  

It was learnt that the pro-Yar’Adua group argued that if the President had been away for over 60 days, next week’s deadline for FEC to implement the ruling should be seen as not too far away.