Senate Presidency: Is Goje a spoiler?
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
GIVEN the near unanimous clamour for Senator David Mark to continue in office as Senate President, the recent amendment of the Senate standing rules to specifically debar all but two Senators from next week’s leadership contest has stirred emotions.
Remarkably, the ranking rule is not new in the Senate. Neither is it a new phenomenon among other parliaments in the world. Indeed, in some parliaments parking spaces are said to be allocated to Senators based on ranking.
The amendment in the Senate ranking rule adopted by the Senate Wednesday, May 18, 2011 was sequel to a motion for the amendment to the Senate Standing Orders 2007. The motion for the amendment on the ranking rule as previously provided for in Rule 3(2) was sponsored by the Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin.
The new rule which now specifically deals with the election of President of the Senate and other principal officers of the Senate provides that the nomination of senators to serve as Senate President or other principal office or even in the selection of Senators to lead parliamentary delegation.
According to the new rule, “in determining ranking the following order shall apply: (i) senators returning based on number of times re_elected, (ii) senators who had been members of the House of Representatives, (iii) senators who have been members of a State House of Assembly or any other Legislative House; (iv) Senators elected as senators for the first time.”
The amendment deleted the previous rule 97(f) which ordinarily provided that nominations of Senators to serve as principal officers and chairmen of committees or any parliamentary delegations shall be in accordance with the ranking of senators in which member(s) previously elected into the Senate are granted precedence.
Explaining the amendment, Senator Mark had said; “This is not a rule that is new. It exists. We want to move it from 97(1)(f) to 3(2). Any new senator who is not ranking today would be ranking tomorrow. It is for the strengthening of the senate as an institution. This has nothing to do with David Mark but the institution of Senate. Commentators outside are ignorant of the rules and they were trying to blackmail us.”
By the provision of the new ranking rule, the contest for the office of Senate President is now limited to Senator Mark and Senator Hayatu Gwarzo from Kano State who would be the only two four term Senators in the next Senate.”
Given the general outpouring of support for Senator Mark given his commendable role in stabilizing the Senate, the new rule is believed to be an overkill.
Is Mark about to panic on the eve of the election for Senate President? That was the immediate question in some quarters given that the amendment specifically zones the office of Senate President to the incumbent and Senator Gwarzo.
The adoption of the rule is coming against claims of continuing interest in the office of Senate President by the former Governor of Gombe State, Senator-Elect Danjuma Goje.
“There is nothing wrong with what we are doing now. If we chicken out because a few people are not comfortable with, I think it is not the right thing to do,” Mark asserted in a defence of the Senate’s new rule.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President bringing African culture into the fray said: “Ranking is even African. We are not trying to re-invent the wheel. We are only trying to stabilize our democracy”.
But the Senate amendment has now come into legal dispute. Mr. Emmanuel Rukari, a lawyer last week filed a suit before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, seeking nullification of the amended standing rule.
He is seeking a declaration that the respondent, breached the fundamental rights of the majority of the newly elected members of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as provided for under section 42 of the constitution, by amending its 2007 standing orders with a view to foreclosing first-time lawmakers from contesting Executive/ leadership positions, until other categories of senators have been given preference, insisting that it amounts to an act of discrimination.
He is specifically urging the High Court to make “an order declaring as null and void the new rule 3(2) of the senate standing orders 2007 as amended in 2011, as same is inconsistent with the provision of section 42 of the 2011 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the said rule being discriminatory against the newly elected senators for the first time to the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“An order setting aside every act of the respondent for which rule 3(2) of the senate standing orders 2007 as amended in 2011 was applied and that every Executive/ Leadership position made pursuant to the said rule are declared null and void, as well as a further order directing the respondent to immediately allow every senator a level playing ground to seek Executive/ Leadership position in the senate without any form of discrimination”.
He urged the court to grant an accelerated hearing of the suit he insisted was in the public interest.
In a 14-paragraphed affidavit he filed in support of the suit, the plaintiff further averred that, “if the respondents newly amended rule is not nullified, it will in future encourage several acts of electoral fraud as people particularly the incumbent will see elective positions/power as a do or die affair in order to enjoy such full benefits or privileges as contemplated by the new senate rules that tends to create superiority over the newly elected senators”.
The judicial contest is coming against the quest by some Northeastern Senators-elect to cede the office of Senate President to their region.
Goje who is supposedly the principal canvasser from the region, however, comes to the fray with the prominent minus of a lack of legislative experience, a fact a number of Senators campaigning for Mark have sought to project.
But given the momentum in support of Mark the hurried amendment of the ranking rule has now evoked suggestions of the possibility of Goje having some tricks in his bag. Is he about to spoil Senator Mark’s fun?