The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) yesterday said the appointment of principal officers of the National Assembly must be free from marginalisation along religious lines.The group’s call is coming ahead of the inauguration of the ninth Assembly.
It stressed that the placement of officers must be done in the interest of equity, justice and fair play as enshrined in the nation’s constitution.
The group specifically appealed to the incoming legislators to field a Christian as Senate President or Speaker to address “the religious dichotomy.”
In a statement in Abuja yesterday, CAN President Rev. Samson Ayokunle said the association’s quest became imperative due to the existence of a Muslim president as head of the executive arm of government and another Muslim as acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Our appeal is to let either the Senate President or the Speaker be a Christian. This will give all Nigerians a sense of belonging, irrespective of their religious affiliations. We, from the Christian Association of Nigeria, recognise the importance of the National Assembly to the stability and growth of our polity,” he said.
Ayokunle observed that although both the Senate and House of Representatives have several principal officers, the association’s focus was on the positions of Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
According to him, since 1999, the pattern has been that when the Senate President is a Christian, a Muslim holds the office of Speaker and vice versa. He said this also applies to their deputies.
“A critical study of Chapter 14 (13 and 14) of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) underscores this truth. CAN calls on the Ninth National Assembly members to address both the religious and the north and south dichotomies in the interest of equity, justice and fair play. We assure our lawmakers of our prayers as they make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation.
“In as much as we agree that merit should not be sacrificed in every appointment, there are Christians who are equally credible and capable of running the affairs of the National Assembly and other key positions in government if given the opportunity. Those who have and are still serving in one office or the other are our living proofs,” he said.
Apparently, part of the things pushing CAN to speak out is the current national security architecture which stands almost entirely on persons from the same region and religion.
But Senate President Bukola Saraki’s advice on how principal officers should be elected drew a deafening laughter instead. “Don’t go to attend another meeting on the day of election. If anybody tells you to go, don’t listen to them,” he told new lawmakers during an orientation programme in Abuja yesterday.
He was alluding to the circumstance of his emergence as Senate President via a clever political stunt that left members of his then party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), stupefied.
While the party’s legislators were busy attending a meeting aimed at ensuring the election of Senator Ahmed Lawan, Saraki struck an alliance with Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members and squared himself on the seat.
The extant Senate rule and the constitution do not bar any lawmaker elected on the platform of any opposition party from vying for either the seat of Senate President or Deputy Senate President, he explained.
Saraki spoke in response to an enquiry by senator-elect, Sani Musa (Niger: APC), who wondered why members of the opposition still occupy principal seats as against the global practice of reserving such positions for the party with the majority.
Saraki, whose tenure expires in June, further acknowledged the need to encourage women participation in politics. He said there was no compelling need to set aside any of the principal officer positions for women based on the extant Senate standing rules.
The Clerk of the National Assembly Sani Omolori noted that only ranking lawmakers are apt to vie for the position of presiding officers in the Senate. He said the decision to allocate other principal seats remains the prerequisite of the caucuses of the political parties. He also assured that measures have been put in place to secure the National Assembly. There is no room for any member to vote by proxy, he added.
Also, House Chief Whip Alhassan Ado Doguwa has stepped down for Femi Gbajabiamila who recently made a formal declaration of his bid for the speakership position.
Doguwa who chairs the House ad hoc Committee on Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) might have succumbed to pressure to settle for the position of House Leader currently occupied by Gbajabiamila.
The Senate Committee on Trade and Investment meanwhile alleged it has uncovered an attempt to divert N42 billion to finance the operations of a privately owned company.
But Minister of Trade and Investment Okechukwu Enelamah in his response said the company was established through a presidential initiative, with an approval given during a cabinet meeting in May 2018.
Provoked by the minister’s claim, the committee, which was considering the 2019 budget proposal for the ministry, confronted Enelamah with documents from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) showing that the company, ‘Nigeria Sez Investment Company Limited’, is a private company.
Consequently, the committee presided over by Senator Sabo Muhammed (APC: Jigawa) rejected the ministry’s budget proposal of N15.633 billion and the N42 billion meant to fund the activities of the company.
The minister, in the course of presenting the proposals for approval, had tabled a booklet containing the 2019 budget proposals for all agencies under his ministry.
After the presentation, the chairman of the committee drew the attention of the minister to the fact that the company listed as one of the 17 agencies under the ministry is actually not owned by government as claimed.
In a bid to persuade the committee otherwise, Enelamah said: “The president directed that we should bring other partners that can combine with whatever monies we have, to build world-class infrastructure, which led to the establishment of the company in partnership with other investors.”
But the chairman brandished a document from the CAC containing information on how the company was registered. The documents showed that the company name is ‘Nigeria Sez Investment Company Limited’ and not ‘Nigeria Special Economic Zone Company’ as listed in the booklet.
“Ownership of the company as clearly stated in the document obtained from CAC on the 26th of last month designated as directors Dr Bakari Wadinga, Mr. Olufemi Edun and Ms Oluwadara Owoyemi.
“The document clearly states that the company is a private company and that liability of the members is limited by share, which as also shown, gives Federal Government 25 per cent and 75 per cent to private individuals,” Sabo said.
Though the minister made spirited attempts to convince the chairman and members of the committee that the initiative was driven by the Federal Government, the committee declared the process was a “misnomer and nothing but financial ambush to Nigeria.”
It directed the minister to forward a detailed written explanation on how the company got into appropriation list, its management staff, list of its staff strength and statement of account.