The calm that reigned in the Senate since its return from recess last week was shattered yesterday.
Senator Godswill Akpabio called for the reconstitution and restructuring of the upper chamber — in line with the numerical strength of parties. “The majority must always preside over the minority,” he said.
He threatened to stop contributing in plenary unless his desired change is carried out.
Akpabio (Akwa Ibom North West) spoke at a news conference after yesterday’s plenary during which he was temporarily barred from making contributions by Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Akpabio, who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and resigned as the minority leader, said the Senate president should follow suit after Saraki’s defection to the PDP from APC.
He added that while the minority should have its say, the majority should have its way for peace to prevail.
The Senate, he insisted, must be properly constituted and senators must sit according to political parties.
“You cannot have 10 senators presiding over the affairs of 80 senators and expect peace to reign,” Akpabio said.
He went on: “On the other side, having me move from the PDP to the APC, I think it is a jolly good movement and I am excited that I have a much greater opportunity to relate directly with the government and not my voice to be heard from a partisan point of view.
“Being part of the ruling party now, whatever advice or contributions I will make will not be looked at with suspicion. They will now know that I am saying it from a patriotic point of view and for the fact that I want things to work better.
“I moved in national interest. I saw a kind of slight towards disorder, where many of my colleagues saw defection as a weapon against the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“I don’t believe that we should bring a government into being without supporting that government to succeed. If the administration slides and Nigeria slides into anarchy, it is our children that will suffer. I moved to stabilise the polity.
“I moved from PDP to APC, to make sure that this government works before election. It should not be all about election; it should be first about Nigeria. Let others also move in national interest.
“I did not just move like that, I was a (Minority) Leader in the Senate. I resigned my position in order to show that, yes, I meant business. Let others who also have positions in the Senate who wish to also cross carpet from one political party to another also resign their positions and take a cue from what Godswill Akpabio did.
“There is the need for us to restructure the Senate. Behind where I sat today, my very good friend, distinguished Senator Shittu; it was after the little noise in the Senate that he told me that he was now in the PDP and I said ‘why are you sitting here?’
“Don’t you think there is the need for us to restructure the Senate? PDP will sit on a side, APGA will sit where they are supposed to, and the ruling party, which still forms the majority, will still sit where they are supposed to sit.
”The leadership should be restructured in a way that the majority can have their way and the minority will have their say. That is the practice all over modern democracies.
“You cannot have a political party with 10 members, another with 80 members, and the 10 members will now produce the leadership.
“Does it happen anywhere in the world? Nigeria is not different. We are running a democracy. That is what I meant when I said I would speak when the Senate is well restructured and reconstituted.”
During plenary, there was commotion for over 30 minutes.
It all started with a Point of Order raised by Senator Bassey Albert Akpan.
Akpan (PDP, Akwa Ibom North East) raised Order 43, which deals with personal explanation under which a senator is allowed to speak about himself and his constituents.
The Akwa Ibom North East lawmaker informed his colleagues about a looming crisis in Akwa Ibom State.
He claimed that the APC in the state was plotting to unleash mayhem that would possibly lead to the cancellation of the governorship election in 2019.
He alleged that the APC wanted to instigate the cancellation of the governorship election to deploy “federal might” to cause a change of leadership in the state.
Saraki ruled that the information given by Akpan was “well noted”.
Akpabio, who appeared to be agitated by Akpan’s information, was angling to respond
Saraki asked Akpabio to go to his seat before he could be recognised to speak.
The Senate President said Akpabio could not speak from a seat that is not his.
Saraki added that there was no microphone where Akpabio sat.
Saraki said: “Nobody is trying to prevent Senator Akpabio from speaking.
“All I said is that Senator Akpabio should go and sit where there is a microphone and he will be allowed to speak.
“It has never happened in this chamber that a senator is allowed to speak where there is no microphone.”
Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan reminded Saraki that there was no formal sitting arrangement in the chamber.
He said that Akpabio had the right to speak from where he was since the leadership of the chamber had failed to ensure a formal sitting arrangement.
Lawan noted that he had raised the issue of a formal sitting arrangement with the Senate President without the expected result.
The Senate Leader, who insisted that the chamber must be guided by its rules, added that “we must have a sitting arrangement”.
Lawan said there had been movements across party lines, with the possibility that more people would still move as they deemed fit.
Saraki said the Clerk to the Senate, Nelson Ayewo, was directed to allocate seats to senators.
The Senate President said he believed that the new sitting arrangement would be completed next week.
As the exchange of words between Saraki and Lawan continued, Akpabio was visibly angry where he sat.
He insisted on being allowed to speak. Saraki stood his ground that Akpabio should go to his seat before he could be allowed to speak.
Senator Dino Melaye attempted to shout Akpabio down.
Akpabio got irritated and was also shouting on top of his voice. There was confusion as other senators joined the fray.
Attempts to calm frayed nerves failed.
Lawan moved to confer with Saraki, apparently on the way forward.
Saraki explained that his position was that Akpabio should go to a seat with a microphone.
He said Lawan was not fair to him by insinuating that he did not want Akpabio to speak.
Lawan said the APC must not be discriminated against on the floor of the Senate.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu raised Order 11(1)(2).
Ekweremadu said every senator had the right to speak for himself and the people he represents.
Senators Mohammed Ali Ndume (APC) and Kabiru Marafa (APC) began to shout on top of their voices.
Ekweremadu was forced to sit down.
Akpabio took the floor and said the seat on which he sat was allocated to him by the Senate Clerk.
He added that the embarrassment he received was uncalled for.
Saraki disagreed and asked the Clerk to confirm if he allocated the seat to Akpabio.
The Clerk said when Akpabio requested to sit on the seat, he informed him that there was no microphone on the seat.
Ayewo said Akpabio insisted on sitting there.
He said he had no choice than to allow Akpabio to sit where he wanted.
After Ayewo’s explanation, Saraki gave Akpabio the floor to speak.
The former governor of Akwa Ibom State promptly demanded an apology “for the unwarranted embarrassment I received today”.
He added that even the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) apologised to Nigerians.
Akpabio concluded: “Until the Senate sitting arrangement is properly constituted, I rest my case.”