Barely 24 hours after the Senate unveiled the chairmen of its 69 standing committees, early signs of rancour have appeared in the caucus of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the chamber.
The Guardian learnt that the distribution of some 23 committees considered to be at Grade A level (otherwise referred to as juicy committees) is at the heart of the growing tension.
Although 16 of the 23 Grade A committees went to APC senators, some are claiming that the method of sharing was a breach of what they described as a gentleman’s agreement among the top notchers of the ruling party who wanted the whole 23 restricted to APC lawmakers.
In a swift intervention to check the brewing crisis, the presidency has defended the actions of the Lawan-led Senate leadership.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Solomon Ita-Enang, explained to journalists in Abuja yesterday that the refusal of the Senate to restrict committee chairmanship positions to only the APC was in line with the best parliamentary practices.
“When somebody is elected to the Senate, he becomes a member of that Senate and he is entitled to all the rights and privileges. When somebody is campaigning to be elected as presiding officer, speaker, deputy speaker, president of the Senate or deputy president of the Senate, he is doing so for votes of the majority party and the minority party that are represented because each senator has one vote. When a senator is elected, he represents his constituency first, and secondly, he represents his party by sitting on his party’s seat.
“Therefore, in the distribution of assignments and privileges, it is normally considered that you should not by any means make one constituency inferior to the other. That is the principle that causes the presiding officer to embrace the minority parties.
“Also, when one becomes a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, you are entitled to all the privileges and rights of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Therefore, on the basis of equality of senators, equality of membership and equality of seats, the discretion to embrace all is in the heart and hand of the presiding officer,” Ita-Enang said.
The APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, who was at the Senate earlier on Tuesday before the names of the chairmen of committees were announced, had in March, directed the APC-dominated National Assembly to ensure that the party was made to head an overwhelming number of the committees.
It was also learnt that Oshiomhole’s mission to the Senate on Tuesday was partly to put more pressure on the leadership to give greater consideration to the APC in the distribution and appointment of chairmen for the panels.
In the company of Oshiomhole was a former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, who was reported to have made a case for an APC senator to be made the chairman of the committee on Niger Delta Affairs. But Lawan picked Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta State) to disappoint the APC leaders.
Among the protesting lawmakers in APC is a ranking senator from one of the most prominent states in the South West.
On the condition of anonymity, the lawmaker expressed disgust that he was not made the chairman of the committee on appropriation even after he had not only merited it but struck an agreement with Lawan to that effect.
Meanwhile, there are allegations that the original list of committee chairmen agreed to by the selection committee was tampered with.
It was further alleged that the list Lawan read out on Tuesday was dominated by hand-written names as against the list that was earlier typed for him.
Among the APC senators who are to head some of the Grade A committees are Barau Jubril (Appropriation); Oluremi Tinubu (Communication); Abdullahi Adamu (Agriculture); Uba Sani (Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions); Abubakar Kyari (FCT); and Mohammed Bulkachuwa (Foreign Affairs).
The case against Lawan by some of his party men in the Senate is further amplified by the allegation of giving undue attention to a few non-ranking APC lawmakers in the distribution of the Grade A panels. The fact that 20 out of 44 PDP senators were appointed chairmen of committees has further created problems in the APC caucus.
It is the opinion of some lawmakers in the ruling party that the opposition party has been overrated.
“I am not in support of the school of thought that canvassed total restriction of committees to the ruling party, the game of politics is essentially about number. Of the 63 APC senators, about 15 are now shut out of the committee chairmanship as constituted on Tuesday. What I am saying, essentially, is that more APC senators out to have been appointed as chairmen of panels, “ another lawmaker said.
But the PDP caucus has been calm since the names of the panels’ chairmen were announced on Tuesday even as some beneficiaries have expressed satisfaction and appreciation to the Senate leadership.
Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah, the only senator of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) from Anambra State, said his appointment as the vice chairman of the Committee on Petroleum (Upstream) Resources would boost technological growth and innovations in the sector.
“The upstream petroleum sector is a value chain which comprises oil exploration, drilling, production and development. As a first term and the only YPP senator, it is deeply humbling to be accorded the privilege of being the vice chairman of the Senate committee saddled with the task of overseeing the upstream sector of the oil industry which is the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy,” he said.
Also, Yakubu Oseni (APC, Kogi Central) said he dedicated his appointment as chairman of Committee on Information and Communication Technology/Cyber crime to his constituents.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday met with Lawan at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Senate president’s visit came barely a day after he led his colleagues to screen 43 ministerial nominees presented by Buhari. All the nominees were cleared by the parliament.
After the closed-door meeting with the president, Lawan did not speak to newsmen when he departed the State House.
Buhari had on Tuesday lauded the Senate for the swift confirmation of the ministerial nominees, via a process he described as efficient.