Akpabio, other PDP senators walk out of plenary
Temporary Minority Leader emerges
From Fred Itua, Abuja
Crisis is brewing in the Senate. This was as a result of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator Yele Omogunwa, who represents Ondo State defecting to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the House yesterday.
Angered by the impromptu move, the other PDP Senators including the Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, walked out during plenary.
A temporary Minority Leader, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege of the Labour Party from Delta State, took over .
Omogunwa had in his letter of defection, read by Senate President Bukola Saraki, based his action on support for Chief Rotimi Akeredolu as the APC gubernatorial candidate (now Governor-elect) in the just-concluded Ondo election.
Akpabio faulted Omogunwa, saying it was wrong in the eyes of the law and requested Saraki to declare his seat vacant.
Akpabio, who came through Order 43 to fault Omogunwa’s defection, said the only ground upon which a serving lawmaker could cross-carpet as specified in Section 68(c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), is through a division in the leadership of his party. He said the situation no longer existed in PDP, based on Court of Appeal and Supreme Court judgments over the nomination of PDP candidate for Ondo election.
He said the two courts were categorical in their judgments when they said the only known and recognised national leadership of the PDP was the caretaker committee under the chairmanship of Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
He was, however, ruled out of order by Saraki, who said the matter is controversial and runs contrary to the spirit and letter of Order 43 on which Akpabio made his objection.
The rising temper among the PDP Senators over the development heightened when Senator Dino Melaye, who also came under Order 43, said the division within the PDP national leadership between Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu-Sherrif factions still exists, which, according to him, made “ Omogunwa’s defection to be perfectly in order.”
Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP Delta North), opposed Melaye, accusing the Senate President of running foul of the Senate Standing Rules by allowing Melaye to make remarks over an issue that had already been ruled upon.
“Mr. President, having ruled the Senate Minority Leader out of order over his objection and by extension, PDP Senators’ objection to Omogunwa’s defection, it was wrong to have allowed another Senator to remark on the same issue”, he said. Saraki responded, saying, “noted”.
Apparently infuriated by the development, the PDP Senators walked out of the Chamber to Senate Hearing Room 2 where they addressed newsmen on why they took the action
Akpabio insisted that a Senator could only defect if there was crisis in his/her party and as such, he demanded that Saraki should declare Omogunwa’s seat vacant in line with the law.
In the absence of Akpabio, Omo-Agege, was asked to assume the role of the Minority Leader vacated and proceedings continued.
Akpabio said: “One of our colleagues, Distinguished Senator Yele Omogunwa, decided to jump the ship, maybe out of the excitement of the Ondo (governorship) election, which the PDP is challenging and other political parties. He did that, not taking the cognizance of the recent Supreme Court’s decision settling the issue of the chairmanship of the party, which had been an issue in the last few months. That issue was settled in favour of Senator Makarfi’s leadership, which was set up at the Port Harcourt Convention.
“The moment that happened, this means the PDP as a family has no division. The Supreme Court does not recognise any divisions in the PDP as of today because the issue had been settled.
“At the appropriate time, I believe that working with the caucus, we will work with the national leadership of our party to take a correct legal pronouncement and ensure that the seat is declared vacant.
“Just like you observed, the reason for his jumping the ship from PDP to APC this morning is in order for him to go and support the new governor-elect, Akeredolu, that is the reason. It is not on the basis that there is a division in the PDP and that is not recognised by the law. He stated in his letter that he wanted to go and support Akeredolu. He should do so by resigning and give us back our seat,” he said.
With Omogunwa’s defection, PDP Senators are now 43, while APC Senators have increased to 61, with Labour Party having only one Senator, totalling 105 on account of outstanding three seats from Rivers State and one from Anambra yet to be filled .
This is the second time PDP lawmakers will be staging a walkout since the Eighth Senate was inaugurated on June 9, 2015. The first was last October, when the lawmakers protested the confirmation of Chief Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as a minister.