- Lawmakers differ, mull Senate president pro tempore
* Report indicts NASS over alleged abuse of constituency projects
With the impending trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over an alleged false declaration of assets, the days of intrigues may have returned to the upper legislative chamber.
Already, Saraki has allegedly come under immense pressure from within the National Assembly to resign and face his trial. Some senators are canvassing the appointment of a Senate president pro tempore to allow Saraki effectively take care of his trial while still being assured of the safety of his position at the end of the CCT trial.
But other lawmakers still loyal to the embattled Senate president have opposed calls for his resignation citing the issue of fair hearing and justice.
The leadership crisis may be compounded by an audit report by the Media Support Centre at the weekend alleging widespread fraud in the handling of N100 billion constituency projects by lawmakers in the last three years.
This is coming barely a week after former President Olusegun Obasanjo accused the National Assembly of profligacy.
Senator Dino Melaye, who responded to the calls for Saraki to resign described the ongoing trial as political persecution rather than a fight against corruption. In a telephone interview with The Guardian yesterday, Melaye said those calling for Saraki’s resignation were part of the political group waging the political war.
“As far as we in the Senate know, this is not prosecution, it is a political persecution arising from the terrible political disgrace some people suffered during the election of principal officers of the National Assembly last June.
“The issue now is about the institution of the Senate and not of Saraki. We have resolved to protect that institution and stop people from their attempts to kill the Senate.
“Saraki is not going to resign at all. We are going to rise up to the situation and defend him and the Senate. We will no longer fold our arms. We want to assure Nigerians that this too shall pass. We will ensure that the Senate is stable,” he said.
However, the group of senators under the aegis of Unity Forum that worked against Saraki’s emergence as Senate president had renewed their efforts against him even a few days before the Supreme Court ruled that he should go and face his trial at the CCT.
Spokesman for the forum, Senator Kabiru Marafa, believed that Saraki would do the Senate proud if he announced his resignation and stepped aside to face trial.
Marafa said the image of the Senate was already bad pointing out that with Saraki presiding over the chamber while facing his trial, Nigerians would no longer have any measure of confidence in the body.
“The most honourable thing for Saraki to do is to resign and face his prosecution. If he wins, the seat is always there and he can be re-elected if those that supported him truly believe he is the best person for the position . And if not, he will remain a senator like he was in the 7th Assembly. Must he be Senate president?”
Some other senators from the political camp favourable to him are of the opinion that an arrangement could be put in place where the Senate president could temporarily proceed on leave to face his trial.
Although those making this suggestion would not want to be on record for now, they are canvassing the idea of appointing a Senate president pro tempore pending the end of Saraki’s trial.
A senator from the North Eastern part of the country who would not want to be named said: “I think our colleagues in the Senate should be very cautious this time in how we manage this situation. It is a very serious issue that involves justice and fairness.
“I also agree that it involves the issue of the image of the Senate. While we cannot run away from the fact that Saraki deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt as well as fairness and justice, we cannot throw away the critical issue of the image of the Senate.”
He continued: “I am not an advocate of the infamous banana peel method of warfare in the Senate. So if I join in suggesting that Saraki be allowed to proceed on a sort of ‘trial leave’ while somebody is appointed to act in his place, I should not be accused of promoting the use of banana peel. Since many may not want the deputy Senate president to act, then a temporary Senate president will not be a bad idea for now.
“I must tell you that whatever happens, nobody will come from outside to remove Saraki as Senate president if we in the Senate continue to support him as we have been doing.”
According to the Executive Director of the Media Support Centre Mr. Wale Fatade , budgets for the projects are not only shrouded in secrecy but are allegedly diverted by some lawmakers.
Fatade who told journalists in Abuja that the polls covered over N100 billion appropriated for the constituency projects for period of 2013 to 2015 only said: “ It would appear nobody but the lawmakers know which projects are being executed with these monies and how much each costs.”
The executive director stated: “Our recent survey shows that a majority of Nigerians are not aware of the presence of these projects and mostly are calling for a reform, they either want the whole thing cancelled outright or that the lawmakers bring more clarity and openness to the process by publishing what each lawmaker gets and for which project so that Nigerians could track these projects.”
He said that over 78 percent of Nigerians voted for immediate scrapping of the constituency project to reduce corruption .
The audit report also called for immediate scrapping of the constituency projects fund and allow the executive arm of government to handle such projects in keeping with the anti- graft war of President Muhammadu Buhari. (The Guardian)