Defecting senators fear that their seats would be declared vacant.
The Senate President, David Mark, in Abuja on Tuesday insisted that the letter presented by 11 senators defecting from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC, would not be read on the senate floor pending a court ruling.
The 11 Senators had on January 30 protested failure of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, to read the letter they sent announcing their defection from PDP to APC.
Mr. Ekweremadu, who presided over that session, said that the letter was still with the Senate President who had travelled out of Abuja.
Mr. Mark’s statement, Tuesday, followed Bukola Saraki’s Point of Order citing Order 15 of the Senate Rules in which he urged Mr. Mark to read their letter of defection on the floor of the Senate.
Mr. Saraki informed the Senate that he, alongside 10 others, had declared their intention to defect from the PDP to the APC having gone ahead to register their membership with the opposition party.
Responding, Mr. Mark said that the privilege of the 11 Senators was not breached in any way since they were the ones that instituted legal action against the principal officers of the Senate.
According to Mr. Mark, the matter at stake could not be discussed at the floor of the Senate while it was still pending in court.
“Well that cannot be your privilege because the matter as you are very conscious of and aware of is in court. Therefore, we cannot make reference to a matter that is in court. You were the ones who went to court. You have come by way of a Point of Order but because the matter is in court, I shall have no further discussion on it because our order is very clear. No reference shall be made on a matter that is already in court. Therefore, I rule you out of order,” the senate president said.
Right to move
The senate minority leader, George Akume, also raised Order 14 of the Senate Rule arguing that the privilege of senators was guaranteed by the constitution.
Mr. Akume said that the matter should be resolved to allow the Senators move from the ruling PDP to the side of the opposition APC.
“This is a legislative House and our privileges are guaranteed by the constitution and we have senators whose privileges are breached. This is an issue that has dragged on for so long. We cannot stop people from associating once they operate in tandem with our orders here. It is only logical and normal that as the leader of the opposition I should be able to make these comments. They have a right to move,” Mr. Akume said.
Mr. Mark, however, insisted that since he had earlier ruled the matter out of order, it could not be brought up on the floor pending resolution by the court.
Thereafter, Abdullahi Adamu, Aisha Alhassan, Magnus Abe and Wilson Ake stood up individually to declare that they had defected to the APC.
The 11 PDP senators who had declared for the APC are unable to cross over to the opposition for fear that the senate leadership may declare their seats vacant.
No movement yet
Addressing journalists after Tuesday’s plenary, senate spokesman, Enyinnaya Abaribe, a senator, said that there had been no movement of senators from the PDP to the APC.
Mr. Abaribe said that the Senate was determined to maintain its integrity to ensure that all issues before it were amicably resolved.
“We resolved within the Senate that we should continue to maintain the dignity of the upper chamber of the National Assembly. When the Senate President says he rules you out of order that means whatever you have said is null and void. However, as far as the senate is concerned there has been no movement yet,” Mr. Abaribe said.
Also speaking, one of the decampees, Magnus Abe (Rivers) expressed confidence in the capability of the senate to find a solution that would be satisfactory to all the parties.
“We still believe that this is a problem that has a political solution and what we need to do is to look for a solution that will satisfy the desires of all. I have confidence in the leadership of the senate. So, we will all work together as senators to look for a solution that will satisfy everybody,” he said.
One of the defecting senators, Aisha Alhassan (PDP-Taraba), said she had already registered as a member of the APC and as such was no longer a member of the PDP.
“I have registered in the APC. So, I have moved from PDP to APC. I have the support of my constituents to move to APC. I have officially informed them in the senate and if Mr. Senate President says he won’t read it, well I have made my point,” she said.