The embattled Kogi West senator, Dino Melaye, attended the Senate plenary on Wednesday after some weeks absence.
Mr Melaye has been bed-ridden since he landed in the hospital after a failed attempt to evade being taken to Kogi State by the Nigerian police.
The lawmaker, raising a point of order on Wednesday, thanked his colleagues, members of the House of Representatives, his constituents and the Nigerian populace for standing by him during his travails with the police.
He also took his time to thank the leadership of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for their support.
“Specially, I appreciate the Peoples Democratic Party for making statement during my recall exercise and asking everyone to stay aback. Politics has been shown not to be individualistic but to be about issues and purpose. To the National Chairman and executives of PDP in Kogi State, I salute you.”
Mr Melaye, who attended the chamber with a neck support, also asked the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to mandate the sergeant-at-arms to create a seat for him at the opposition wing of the chamber.
Thereafter, he announced he would sit beside former Senate President, David Mark, pending the time a seat will be allocated to him.
“I have a special request to you Mr President,” he said. “Because of the trauma I went through and I’m still going through, I want to seek your indulgence that you will call on the Sergeant-at-arms to look for a comfortable seat for me on this side of the divide (pointing to the opposition wing) because I am no longer comfortable sitting here. So, I want to ask the Senate President that you mandate the sergeant-at-arms tomorrow to look for a seat for me on this other divide of the chamber.
“Before you do that today, through the help of my walking stick I will take a comfortable seat close to Papa, General Senator David Mark pending when you get me a comfortable seat on this side.”
He did not state categorically that he was decamping, but his colleagues perceived a suspicion that he had concluded plans to move to the PDP.
Mr Melaye thereafter moved to the opposition side to sit beside Mr Mark.
Mr Melaye’s movement was greeted by rowdiness among lawmakers at the Senate floor with those who spoke later expressing mixed reactions. The PDP senators spoke in favour of his move while APC senators tried to prevent his movement.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, granted his immediate prayer of sitting beside Mr Mark for the day while noting that his request for a permanent seat at the opposition wing will be looked into. But the decision didn’t go down well with APC senators.
First to oppose was the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, who said Mr Melaye’s movement without proper allocation negates Order 56 (3) of the Senate.
“Senator Dino Melaye remains one of our senators of the APC stock. I sat there for eight years and I know how the seats there are. I have sat here for the last three years and I know the difference. We have the best seat to give him at this side. If there is any difficulty with his seat, we’ll find any other one for him.”
He requested the chief whip to bring Mr Melaye back to the APC wing of the chamber.
Next was the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who argued that Mr Melaye’s action was borne out of his welfare and right to exercise freedom. He urged APC senators to respect the action.
Godswill Akpabio, the Senate Minority Leader, said the movement is not about party allegiance. He said the PDP is willing to accept any APC senator who wishes to cross.
“Where we are now is the Nigerian Senate. Whether to the left or the right. At any point in time that any senator on the left feels that his or her seat is not comfortable. He is welcomed here. I want to welcome Senator Dino here. We are the ones that should have complained, but we are not complaining. We must be our brothers’ keepers,” he said.
Amidst rowdiness still, Barau Jibrin (Kano-APC) said the National Assembly is empowered to regulate its proceedings according to section 60 of the constitution. He prevailed on the Chief Whip to return Mr Melaye to his seat pending the time he is allocated another seat in accordance with Senate rule.
“The order of the Senate clearly specifies that every senator shall sit on a seat that has been assigned to him by the Senate President. Therefore, the position canvassed by the Deputy Senate President does not hold here because it is against the Nigerian constitution.
“In this regard, the Senate Leader or the Chief Whip should as a matter of urgency, due to the health situation of Senator Dino, have a seat that is OK for him. Sitting in a seat different from what is assigned to him is against the constitution.”
Also in defence of APC senators, the Chief Whip, Olusola Adeyeye, urged Mr Saraki to avoid setting a bad precedent by allowing the change of seat.
“The qualification of any member of the National Assembly is that he be a member of a political party. In the Senate, seats are assigned based on membership of a political party.
“We are setting a bad precedent. We are beginning to institutionalise chaos if we use any excuse to transfer any member across the aisle. On the basis of the constitution, I will take Dino across this place and any seat he wants, we will give to him.”
Mr Saraki however defended his position noting that Mr Melaye did not at any time mention that he wanted to defect to another party.
“I don’t think at any time in his contribution the issue of change of allegiance or party ever came up. It’s not an issue that has come up today at all. He talked about his state of mind and comfort. None of us has been through what he has been through neither do I think the rules have ever foresaw this kind of situation. As part of our spirit of giving support, we will accommodate his request and make sure that seat is comfortable so that you can come back.”
Mr Saraki’s statement on party affiliation clarifies the current official situation as regards Mr Melaye’s political party. To decamp officially, Mr Melaye would have to write the Senate president of his decision to leave his party and join the opposition. The letter would then be read during Senate plenary.
Shortly after the senate president’s ruling, Kabir Marafa (Zamfara-APC) rose to speak against the ruling. He urged Mr Saraki to reverse his position.
“Mr President, I respect your rulings and I agree with your rulings,” he said. “However, on this matter, we are setting a bad precedent.”
Kemi Busari is a senior reporter covering the Nigerian Senate for PREMIUM TIMES. He has interest in human rights and has won awards for his works, including the Hans Verploeg Award and the PwC Business reporting award. Twitter: @kemi_busari