“It is difficult to see why despite knowledge of the issuance of proclamation by President Buhari, pursuant to Section 64(3) of the Constitution, a Senator would fail to attend the holding of the first session of the National Assembly”
On the 9th June 2015, the 8th National Assembly was proclaimed and Senators-elect and Members elect of the House of Representatives sworn in. Prior to this time, the issue that had drawn much attention was not the anticipated swearing in of the new legislators but on the now concluded elections into the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly. This was due to the fact that the ruling party was reported to be finding it difficult to persuade its members who had been elected to the National Assembly on its platform, to support candidates chosen by the leadership of the party for the position of President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectfully. While strong forces within the party had chosen Senator Ahmad Lawan for the position of Senate President, another Senator, Dr Bukola Saraki, a two term former Governor of Kwara State was also reported to be interested in vying for the same position contrary to the position of the party. In a similar vein, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila was despite the support of the party, facing strong opposition from another member of the party, HonYakubuDogara.
The said elections have since come and gone and many theories and conspiracies have been advanced for the failure of the party to have its way. As I am not however here concerned about those postulations my interests being focused on other issues and debates which the elections have since attracted including the all-important questionsabout whether the proclamation of the Senate could and should have proceeded without some senators being present and whether the 57 Senators present at the election of Senator Saraki formed the required quorum as to enable the proclamation of the Senate and the election proceed as they did. I also will address what I believe are lessons that should be learned by all stakeholders involved in the issue.
PROCLAMATION AND ABSENCE OF SOME SENATORS-ELECT
By the provisions of Section 64(3) of the Constitution, the power to issue a proclamation for the holding of the first session of the National Assembly is that of the President and the power is to be exercised immediately after his being sworn in. It was therefore in exercise of these powers that President Buhari sent the proclamation to the Clerk of the National Assembly whose office is also recognised by Section 51 of the Constitution. Acting pursuant to this, a day and time was appointed for the proclamation and by Order 2(1) of the Standing Rules of the Senate all Senators Elect are mandatorily required to attend at the time and date so appointed. The said Order also states the business of the day which includes roll call of the Senators-Elect, presentation of their Writs of Election, submission of receipts of declaration of assets and liabilities and elections of Senate President and his deputy and eventually the swearing in of all Senators Elect. Therefore it is difficult to see why despite knowledge of the importance of the occasion, a senator would fail to attend to attend at the appointed date and time and why such failure should prevent the proclamation from proceeding provided the quorum needed for such is formed.
QUORUM OF SENATE
By the provisions of Section 48 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) the Senate shall consist of three senators from each state of the Federation and one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Thus the total number of Senators is 109. By the provisions of Section 54(1) of the same constitution, the quorum of the Senate is one-third of the Senate. Similarly, Order 10 of the Senate Standing Rules also provides that the quorum of the Senate is one-third. This point is important for as records show, only 57 senators elect took part in the elections which produced Dr Saraki as the Senate President as from all accounts, 33 senators elect were at a different venue waiting to meet with the President Buhari. Without a doubt, the 57 senators elect who were present formed the quorum necessary for the business of the day. Furthermore, by the provisions of Section 56(1) of the Constitution, any question proposed for decision in the Senate shall be determined by the required majority of the members present and voting.
Given the above, it is easy to see that the argument that what was required to form a quorum was two-thirds of the Senators-elect is erroneous. As a matter of fact, the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa had been accused of acting illegally by Senator Barnabas Gemade who while addressing a press conference had stated thus:
“The Clerk of the National Assembly knowing fully well that the quorum for election of the Senate president has not been met, went ahead to conduct an election that shuts the door to about 53 other senators which would remain unacceptable until what would meet democratic parameters is done,”
As a matter of fact the party itself had in a statement released by its National Publicity Secretary described as totally unacceptable, the election of Senator Saraki and Hon. Dogara. According to him:
“Senator Bukola and Hon Dogara are not the candidates of the APC and a majority of its National Assembly members-elect for the positions of Senate president and House speaker. The party duly met and conducted a straw poll and clear candidates emerged for the posts of Senate president, deputy Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives, supported by a majority of all senators-elect and members-elect of the House of Representatives. All National Assembly members-elect who emerged on the platform of the party are bound by that decision.The party is supreme and its interest is superior to that of its individual members”,
This position is obviously wrong. It is therefore gratifying to note that the ruling party has since adopted a more conciliatory approach to the issue. Nevertheless, I will next week consider the issue from the standpoint of whether the interest of a party, however legitimate it might be, should really always be supreme and whether certain circumstances do not dictate that such interests be subjected, on some occasions to national interests.
To be continued…
AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON.