Aidoghie Paulinus and Fred Itua, Abuja
The senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District in the upper legislative chamber, Ovie Omo-Agege, has revealed the leadership the All Progressives Congress (APC) desires in the 9th National Assembly.
Omo-Agege who is vying for the position of Deputy President of the Senate, said that the APC wants a leadership that will create or bring a harmonious relationship between the executive and the National Assembly without necessarily sacrificing the independence of the legislature. Without mincing words, Omo-Agege who spoke with Sunday Sun in Abuja, gave a damning verdict on the outgoing leadership of the National Assembly led by Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, saying it is a ‘rogue leadership.’
For the first time, Omo-Agege opened up on the snatching of the Senate mace, which took the nation by surprise, absolving himself of any culpability in the melee that ensued. Excerpts:
In view of what happened in 2015, with three people going for the same position, waiting for the APC to make a mistake, are you not scared of that?
I am concerned, but my prayer, hope and expectation are that we don’t have a replay of what transpired in 2015. My position is, in 2015, the president was not as unequivocal the way he has come out in 2019. I think the impression created in 2015 was that Mr President, to a large extent, was prepared to work with anyone who emerged. But that is not the case in 2019. The president has been very, very forthright and he has been very, very direct in coming out to say that he wanted Senator Ahmed Lawan to be the Senate President. And for somebody like me, I come from a school of thought that believes that the elections have consequences to the extent that he is our leader, he is our president, he contested his election and won. I believe he is entitled to a parliament that will cooperate with him to see that the Next Level agenda that he campaigned on, that an enabling environment is created for that agenda to succeed in the Senate to the extent that he believes that one or two or three people will be best suited to help pilot this agenda through the floor of the Senate and indeed, the House of Reps. I believe he is entitled to make that position. And having taken that position, as a good party man, I expect that we should all queue behind him.
Are you hopeful that if you produce the leadership that the president and the party want, it will guard against what we have in the current 8th Assembly, this confrontation with the executive and incessant fight amongst yourselves?
We will only have that situation; we will have a replay of the 8th Senate so to say if we do not get the right leadership. We want a leadership that will create or bring a harmonious relationship between the executive and the National Assembly without necessarily sacrificing, quote and unquote, the independence of the legislature. To begin with, my take is that we are all members of the same political party, the APC, we went before the electorate and the electorate chose to have a unified government, unified government in the sense that they gave us the majority in the Senate and the majority in the House of Reps, in addition to the executive, the presidency. What they expect from us is that we should use the majority in both chambers to work harmoniously with Mr President to see that the Next Level agenda succeeds.
What led to the frosty relationship between the executive and the legislature and how can it be checked in the 9th Senate?
We are already in the process of trying to address that challenge. That challenge arose because we have a rogue leadership, a leadership that emerged despite the wishes and the directives of the political party. People need to understand that in Nigeria, we do not have independent candidacy. We are all products of political parties because it is the requirement of the Constitution that you must be sponsored by a political party and political parties also have their aims, objectives, manifesto and agenda. It is the prerogative of the party to decide who amongst the senators and Reps that they believe could best provide the requisite leadership to see to the success of the party’s agenda. Now, the reason we have that challenge in the 8th Senate was because there were people who were not prepared to abide by the decisions of the party. So, how do we correct that? This time around, we are pleading with our colleagues, there is no way everybody can become Senate President at the same time, neither can we all become Deputy Senate President or
Senate Leader or Speaker or the likes. We are pleading that a Senate President by the way is just first among equals and that if this is the decision of the leadership of the party and also the presidency, we should all queue behind them and make this a success.
Zoning of offices appears to be lopsided and the Southeast is asking for certain offices. What is your take on this?
My take is that every geopolitical zone should be accommodated. But that does not necessarily mean that every geopolitical zone must have a presiding officer. There are a lot of positions. In the National Assembly, you have in addition to the Senate President, the Deputy Senate Presidency, you also have the Senate Leader and you have a Deputy Leader and other positions. So, a zone that does not get a presiding officer right now can also get the next highest leadership position, which is the Senate Leadership or the Deputy Senate Leadership.
Your name featured prominently in the snatching of the mace. What actually happened because it was believed you brought in thugs?
To begin with, you said it was believed that I brought in thugs. I did not bring in thugs. You must understand this from the background of what transpired. For the benefit of those who know the law, we already had pronouncements from the courts as to whether or not, the leadership of the National Assembly, be it the Senate and or the House of Reps, or even the House of Assembly, whether they have the power to suspend and or otherwise discipline a colleague. And those pronouncements that were made are pronouncements in rem. In rem in the sense that it binds everybody. It binds the entire world. They are not in personam pronouncements. Personam pronouncements are pronouncements that relate to you as an individual. But the pronouncement, in rem pronouncement made in Dino Melaye’s case, the one made in Ndume’s case, the one made in the Bauchi House of Assembly matter, are all to the effect that the leadership of the legislative arm do not have the power to suspend a member, even for a day. That is the legal pronouncement. Therefore, against that background, Saraki did not have the power to suspend me and to the extent that he purported to have done that, it was a nullity. And when something is null and void in law, it is like it never existed. Therefore, when I came to the Senate on that day, I believe on the 18th of April, I came to work, I came to plenary just like every other senator that was elected by their people. And in my own case, it was even more important because on that day, on the order paper, one of the issues slated for consideration was the issue of the change in electoral sequence occasioned by Section 25 of the Amendment. And of course, I have always been very, very opposed to that, not just in my capacity as a senator, but in my capacity as the secretary of the Parliamentary Support Group for Buhari. So, I came to work that day to ensure that we kill that Section 25 of the Amendment, which we consider to be a poisonous pill. Now, did I have a right to be in the National Assembly? That is the question you should be asking. Did I have a right to be in the Senate on that day? The answer is yes. So, if I had the right to be there on that day, how will you be calling it an invasion? I don’t know how other people came in. You saw them the way I saw them and in any event, this matter has been investigated by the police. Did the police indict me? Of course, not, because I had nothing to do with those people who came into the National Assembly. It is the job of the police to investigate and if my memory serves me right, they are still investigating as we speak.
What do you think led to that situation in which your name featured in that particular incident?
My name featured because my position was very, very clear. I was opposed to the Senate President, Saraki, in his attempt to smuggle in that Section 25 of the Amendment. It was a provision I felt was targeted at Mr President then and I still believe it was targeted at Mr President even now. And Saraki and those who tried to introduce this felt that I had to be punished for killing that Amendment. That is the reason they are brandishing my name everywhere.
There is an argument that there should be open ballot and some are saying secret ballot. Where do you stand on that?
I am fully, fully in support of open ballot system. That was the position in the Rule Book in 2011 and before then, 2007. It was only because Saraki wanted to foist himself as Senate President despite the wishes of the party; that was why he orchestrated the surreptitious amendment to the 2015 Standing Order without the endorsement of the entire Senate. People need to understand that the provision of the Constitution, I believe Section 60 of the Constitution that empowers us to regulate our own proceedings, which we have now done by our way of the standing orders and the rule book, that power is given to the senators and not to the management of the National Assembly. So, it is the senators that will give to themselves the standing order and not the management of the National Assembly giving to the senators, a standing order. This 2015 Standing Order that Saraki is using right now was given to us, not by the senators, but was given by Saraki and the outgone Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA) and other members of the management. So, to all intent and purposes, the valid and subsisting standing order is that of 2011 because that one was given and adopted by all senators. And the convention is that you inherit the last valid and subsisting standing order. So, the last valid and subsisting standing order is that of 2011 and that very standing order provides for open balloting and that is consistent with international best practices everywhere. People should be able to say where they stand on any issue at any particular time. Why hide behind secret ballot? We are only 109 here. If we are putting a leadership in place, everybody should be able to answer his father’s name. So, I believe that yes, we will use the open ballot initiative.
And on Saraki, you said the 9th Senate will investigate Saraki about his dealings and what he did not do right. Do you still stand by that position?
I don’t recall ever telling anybody that Saraki will be investigated. I had no reason to say that then and I have no reason to say it now. I have not taken any such position.
And more importantly, if in the end, the wish of the party does not happen and somebody it did not support emerges, will you work with the person?
I am a party man. People must understand that when I came into this Senate, I did not have anything against Saraki as a person. I decided to align with those who wanted Saraki removed only because he defied the directive of the party. I am a party man. So, to that extent, I believe that all senators, because we were sponsored by the APC, will abide by the decision of the APC. I have committed to abide by any decision of the party.
Are you still vying for the position of Deputy Senate President?
Yes, I am running. I am a candidate for the office of Deputy Senate President. I made my declaration most especially because one, that position has been zoned to the South-south. That is my geopolitical zone and because I also believe that I can add value to the leadership of the Senate. I believe that we are all equal. The Senate, as conceived by the framers of the Constitution, is based on equality of states. All senators are equal here to the extent that you have a Senate President or a Deputy Senate President. You are just first or second amongst equals and we should provide the enabling environment for everybody to be able to exercise their constitutional right in providing robust representation for their people here without being hackled irrespective of the political party you may belong. It doesn’t matter whether you are PDP, you are APC or YDP. To the extent that you have been elected, we are all equal here and you should be given every opportunity to represent your people.