The Senate yesterday suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta) for 90 legislative days and also proscribed Parliamentary Support Group (PSG) for Buhari.
Omo-Agege was suspended for a comment he made to reporters that an amendment passed on February 14 which altered the sequence of elections was targeted at the president.
That was the public perception, he said in the interview shortly after the bill was passed.
On February 20 Senator Dino Melaye (APC,Kogi) raised a point of order, demanding that Oma-Agege be probed over his remark.
Oma-Agege’s case was referred to the Ethics, Privileges and Petitions committee chaired by Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP,Imo). He apologised on February 21 but the committee went ahead with the probe.
At yesterday’s sitting, the report of the committee was presented and considered. Anyanwu told the senate that Oma-Agege after apologising to the senate dragged the senate President, Bukola Saraki and the senate to court.
The committee recommended that: “Oma-Agege be suspended for 181 legislative days from the date this resolution is taken to serve as deterrent to other senators who might contemplate taking the senate to court over its power to regulate or determine its internal matters.”
Oma-Agege is the second Senator that would be suspended following a point of order by Melaye. The first was Senator Ali Ndume who was suspended for six months in March, 2017.
However, senate leader, Ahmad Lawan advised his colleagues against suspending the senator.
He said: “This to me is something that we would not like to happen but when it happens, that a member of this family went to court maybe in desperation maybe thinking a drastic action would be taken against him. For me, I would suggest that, he withdraws the court action and we don’t suspend him.
“Let’s focus on making ourselves each other’s keeper. One word I don’t like in this report is the word ‘punish’ we should not be punishing ourselves, we should be correcting ourselves even when they are not members of this family.
“Please, let’s bury the hatchet and stand down this. If tomorrow, I don’t know what the court processes are, but he should go and withdraw the court case and everybody goes home happy. This is my presentation and my appeal because we still have a long journey to go together,” he said.
However, Saraki suggested that the 181 legislative days recommended by the committee be reduced to 90. When question was raised, the senators voted in affirmative.
In his remark, Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC,Zamfara) called for the dissolution of the Parliamentary Support Group (PSG) for Buhari, saying members of the group are the greatest enemy of the President.
The senate then passed two resolutions asking Oma-Agege to withdraw the case at the Court and that the PSG be disbanded.
In his remark, Saraki said they were not in a hurry to suspend anybody but that there must be discipline in the senate.
“Distinguished Colleagues, a number of points have been raised. One borders on the issue of preserving the integrity of this institution. To me, that is what I think is the most important thing for us.
“Second, is where we take actions that are not sincere; I think in this chamber, if we want to talk about who has the right to say he is Chairman of a Parliamentary Support Group for Mr. President both by action and by what we have done, I think that I have the right to lead that more than anyone else here.
“Those of us that understand politics, understand that because of our own peculiar interest, sometimes some people decide to act like they are holier than thou or more committed at the expense of others. This is not something that we should tolerate, and I believe that in an institution like this we must show discipline, but at the same time we must also show compassion.
“Distinguished Colleagues, there must be discipline. We must show that such groups must be suspended and the case in court must be withdrawn.”
When contacted for comment on the proscription of the Parliamentary Support Group, Senator Abdullahi Adamu and Omo-Agege and few others declined to say anything.
“No comment on this matter for now,” Senator Adamu said.
But sources in the Senate said the pro- Buhari senators were strategizing “and would not want to engage in media war for now.”
One of the sources said, “The Nigerian Constitution is not ambiguous, it speaks elaborately on so many issues, including freedom of association and freedom of speech. That is why you have so many caucuses and associations in the Senate, all aiming at projecting or achieving certain interest,” he said.
“So you cannot just pick one group and proscribe it; it is undemocratic. You have APC caucus, PDP caucus, South West, South South, North Central, North East, South South and South East caucuses all in the Senate. There are so many groups and you cannot overnight call them illegal or isolate one and disband it,” he said.
Another senator said, “All the people you see in the Senate passed through many places to get there. They are authorities in their own right and have the choice to be part of one group or the other.”
‘Senators can form group’
Former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Akin Olujimi (SAN) said the disbandment of the group violates their right to associate with others.
“The constitution guarantees the right of Nigerians to associate with others. And it is not right to disband them because you will be violating their rights guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.
“We must not introduce politics into everything we do. We must accommodate others when they have dissenting opinions. So, it is absolutely wrong,” he added.
But anti-corruption lawyer, Yusuf Ali (SAN) said if the group has not been registered then it is not recognized by law.
“If you are a registered association, nobody can disband you except he goes through the process. But if you are not registered it is an amorphous group, and there is nothing to ban or unban,” he said.