UPDATED: Senate suspends lawmaker who challenged adoption of electoral act amendment

Chambers of the Nigerian Senate used to illustrate the story.
Chambers of the Nigerian Senate used to illustrate the story.

The Senate on Tuesday suspended a lawmaker, Ovie Omo-Agege, for accusing his colleagues of working against President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election plans in 2019.

Mr Omo-Agege in February accused colleagues of working against Mr Buhari by adopting the amendment to section 25 of electoral act outlining a change in the sequence of elections.

Mr Omo-Agege had said then: “For some of you who are familiar with what transpired in the House of Reps, only 36 members were on the floor when this so-called amendment to section 25 of the Electoral Act was introduced. The position we took is that 36 people cannot determine the destiny of 360 people in the House (of Reps), which is now being carried over to 109 in the Senate. The least we are owed is for this so-called amendment to be deliberated upon and our rule is clear.

“We have 59 senators who are opposed to the inclusion of section 25 of the Electoral Act. If that division was allowed today, 59 senators would have voted to delete that purported amendment to section 25. You don’t make a law targeted at one person. The perception out there is that this section 25 was included to target Mr. President.”

A week after, Dino Melaye, (Kogi-APC) drew the attention of the senate specifically to the comments made by Mr Omo-Agege.

The matter was referred to the committee on ethics and privileges to investigate.

Presenting the report on Thursday, the chairman of the committee, Sam Anyanwu, recommended 181 days of suspension.

He said the punishment was imperative because the senator took the issue to court after it was referred to the committee.

The days of suspension was however reduced to 90 after pleas by Senate President Bukola Saraki.

“The statement of Ovie Omo-Agege was malicious, unfounded and aimed at smearing the institution of the senate,” Mr Anyanwu said while reading the report.

“At the committee, he responded that he would not be able to make any presentation before the committee because he had taken the matter to court. That the matter be postponed until it is discharged by the court.

“After Senator Ovie had admitted guilt on the floor of the senate on the 21st of February by apologising to the leadership and the entire senate, the committee was surprised that he changed his mind and took the senate to court.

“As a forthright member of the committee, this action infuriated the committee who fired questions from all directions at him. When asked if the court action came before or after the matter was referred to the committee,” he kept mute.

“After his apology, he and Senator Abdullahi Adamu published an advert on Vanguard Newspaper with the heading, ‘Parliamentary Support Group in Senate for President Muhammadu Buhari’ suggesting that the senate was biased.

“The committee is of the opinion that the action by Senator Ovie going to court after apologising to the senate was unacceptable especially as an experienced lawyer and a member of the committee and is conversant with the modus operandi therefore must be punished to serve as a deterrent to others who might contemplate to take the senate to court over its internal matters.”

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Mr Anyanwu recommended suspension of 181 legislative days as punishment for the senator’s action.

“The senate immediately disengages Ovie Omo-Agege for 181 legislative days to serve as a deterrent to other senators who might contemplate taking the senate to court over its internal matters,” he said

The Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, pleaded with the lawmakers to waive the punishment.

“The main reasons it appears to me for this recommendation of 181 days suspension is because he has gone to court.

“This is to me 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.

“Dino (Melaye) who took the matter to ethics and privileges felt it was not right and all of us who felt slighted or offended in whatever way including the going to court by our colleagues. 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.”

Another lawmaker, Kabir Marafa, added that Mr Omo-Agege should be punished for his role in setting up a parallel group within the senate.

“I totally align myself with the leader but I want to add Mr President, I have always said on this floor that I’m not a hypocrite and I don’t want to be one and I don’t want to die one. Omo-Agege to me has constitutional right to express his view, but like the leader said, I think he has done something which to me deserves commendation. If someone does something that you cannot do, we need to commend him. He stood on the floor of the senate to apologise which to be is a very great thing.

“Mr President inasmuch as I am against the suspension of any senator, I am equally against the formation of any other group in this chamber. The formation of the parliamentary support group is evil and it should not stand, it is counter-productive and against the president himself.”

Deputy Senate Leader, Ibn Na’Allah, also aligned with the position that Mr Omo-Agege be sanctioned for his actions

“As a family, we must have discipline and must live peacefully for this institution and the only way we can do it, is that get the consequence of what they are saying,” he said.

Mr Saraki, intervening, pleaded with other senators to reduce the days of suspension to 90.

He also ordered the disbandment of the parliamentary support group while urging Mr Omo-Agege to withdraw the court case.

He said the punishment is important to instil discipline in the senate.

“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.”

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