Disagreement on the right percentage of oil revenue for host communities during the debate for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) on Thursday brought Order 73 to the fore once again.
The order states that any senator may challenge the opinion of the President or the chairman’s ruling on a voice vote by claiming a division on any matter before the upper legislative chamber.
Order 73 invocation had always rattled the 9th Senate leadership each time Lawan is being challenged.
In the two-year span of the 9th Senate, Lawan has been challenged with order 73 on three different occasions with the invocation of the order, but the leadership of the Senate had always done all within its power to ensure such division does not occur in the belief that it will engender animosity that may be difficult to overcome.
The report of the Senate Joint Committee on Petroleum, which processed the Petroleum Industry Bill had proposed five per cent of profit for host communities as the bill was being passed. But when the Senate began clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, it was reduced to three per cent.
This was happening as the host communities’ leadership was threatening fire and brimstone if their agitation for 10 per cent revenue accruing to them is not approved. They had hinged their position on the degradation the oil-producing region suffered for over six decades as their environment has been polluted to the extent they cannot farm or carry out fishing, which is their main source of livelihood. They stressed that their people have been subjected to health hazards on account of the spillages from oil exploration in their communities. As such, the decision to approve the three per cent equity share caused a momentary stalemate as Senators from the Niger Delta region rose against it.
Senator James Manager (Delta State) proposed an amendment to retain the provision of five percent in the report but he was defeated. As Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, hit the gavel to re-confirm the three percent host community provision, Senator George Sekibo ((Rivers State) called for a division. His motion challenged the ruling of the Senate President and the chamber became tensed.
Apprehensive of the consequences of embarking on a division, the Senate leadership swiftly resorted to pleading with Sekibo to withdraw his motion. Senate leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, said the Senate would be heading to the state of Armageddon if it allowed that division to happen. Lawan also supported the Senate leader and preached the gospel of patriotism to Sekibo, who later agreed and withdrew his motion.
Making entreaties to Senator Sekibo, the Senate leader, Abdullahi said, “With all sense of responsibility, my heart bleeds. The Senate has come a long way. We have never treated ourselves and behaved in the way distinguished Senator Sekibo want us today. We are embarking on a very dangerous journey that will hurt the unity that we have cherished, the unity on the basis of which we have moved this Senate and this nation to come to this point.
“We have just celebrated a very successful two-year anniversary. The unity in this Senate is the envy of all our traducers and all those people who do not wish the nation well. To now start dividing ourselves along with directions and along certain fault lines that could cause division and disunity of this country would be a path to Armageddon. I appeal to the distinguished Senator to withdraw this point of order and allow us to continue with the passage of the Bill.”
In a similar vein, Lawan said: “What makes a parliament function well is how parliamentarians are able to build bridges, to make compromises and show understanding. Let me remind us of an amendment we have just done. The Deputy Senate President came up with an amendment seeking that all gas flaring funds should go to the communities and we all understood that these communities need this kind of attention and this kind of resource. The amendment was carried without any resistance. So, it is the spirit that we need to continue with. It is the right of every senator here to call for division. But I want to appeal that what we have been educated about this afternoon by the Group Managing Director of NNPC gives us better ideas. So, I also want to appeal to Senator Sekibo and the rest of us that we should not insist on dividing the Senate.”
Responding, Sekibo said: “What I am seeking is not for me as a person but in the interest of the nation. When we pass a good law, there must be a good environment to implement it. If the environment is not conducive for implementation, we will also regret it.”
Shortly before this, there was another debate on the armed forces reform bill when it came up for second reading and it also almost turned the red chamber upside down. It could not be passed for second reading mainly because of the same sentiments of protecting the ruling party.
The Senate President’s ruling did not go down well with the minority leader, who sponsored the bill, and he invoked order 73 thereby calling for division. That apparently meant he did not agree with Lawan’s ruling, hence he wanted the real voting. His effrontery rattled the Senate President who became authoritarian and wanted to ignore Abaribe’s invocation of order 73.
The real devil in the bill was exposed, as Lawan would not want that division because it could bring the animosity among senators to public glare. The real devil in the armed forces reform Bill may also not have been in the bill itself but in Lawan’ Senate Presidency and its avowed position to remain on the same page with the executive. Even in the midst of clear opposition on many issues, Lawan had stood his ground to truncate moves for real legislation to take place, which have always been the greatest undoing of the 9th Senate.
It happened just before the National Assembly proceeded on recess for the Easter break when the bill came up for the second reading but for fears yet to be made public, some senators killed the bill without allowing it to even pass through the second reading.
The Bill is for an Act to give effect to Section 219 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to provide for the establishment of the Armed Forces Service Commission and for other related matters, 2021. During the debate on the general principles of the Bill to pave way for its second reading, many Senators from the Northern part of the country, with the exception of the Senate majority leader, Abdullahi Yahaya, raised objections to the Bill.
Senators from the Southern part of the country spoke in support of the Bill. The Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, who initially supported the Bill, went further to disclose that there were devils in the details of the Bill.
At that point, there was uproar in the Senate. Bitter ethnic sentiments, use of foul and ‘unparliamentary’ remarks overtook the Red Chamber. Lawan was left in a dilemma with order 73 that was invoked by the minority leader of the Senate, Abaribe. Lawan saw clearly that if the order was sustained, the centre might no longer hold in the Senate.
However, Senator James Manager, who happened to be one of the few oldest members of the Senate, came to Lawan’s rescue by advising him appropriately in a manner that would ensure the lawmakers were not brought to ridicule.
The nays had it, Lawan had ruled while immediately calling on the leader of the Senate to proceed with the next agenda but there was a point of order by the Minority Leader.
“My distinguished colleagues, Order 73.” The chamber became tensed. Continuing, he said, “Any senator may challenge the opinion of the President or the chairman by claiming a division. You have the right to vote, so Mr. President, I call for division and I want us to vote one after the other.”
Lawan cuts in: “Let me say that it is not my opinion that the nays had it. We took a vote and the nays outnumbered the yes. So, I think it is not right that the minority leader will impute the fate of the bill to the president of the Senate. I think you may find another thing but I didn’t rule inappropriately.”
But Abaribe retorted: “Mr. President, I have been in this senate since 2007 and anytime anybody stands up to claim a division, the division is voted upon. I am not saying that you did right or wrong, I am only saying give me my right and my right is that I am saying all our members here have to get up and vote for or against.”
Lawan sought solace in his Deputy, saying, ‘you raised your hand, DSP.’ His deputy came to his rescue, saying, “I was only going to point out what you already said. The essence of Order 73 is to challenge the opinion of the President or the chairman, the powers you just exercised is not an opinion and therefore not subject to Order 73, I so move.”
But James Manager, in saving the day, said, “Mr. President, we have had Senators challenging the opinion of the Senate President in the past. Order 73 is very clear on that. Divisions have taken place here and most times it has not gone against the ruling of the presiding officers. So, let this be one of those ones.”
Lawan heeded the advice and opted for a closed-door, during which Abaribe was prevailed upon to drop the Order 73. In the rowdiness that ensued, the Senate President, after about two minutes, called for a close session. After the closed session that lasted for about 20 minutes, Lawan announced that Abaribe had agreed to withdraw his opposition to the ruling that nailed the Bill. Abaribe was given the opportunity to confirm that he withdrew his protest. The Senate Minority leader later formally withdrew his protest and announced that he had stepped down the entire Bill.
Calls For Senate Division In History
FORMER Senator Babajide Omoworare (Osun East) once made bold to challenge the authority of Senate President David Mark by faulting his ruling on a voice vote and called for division in the parliament with a view to ascertaining the winning group.
The crux of the matter was the senators’ inability to reach a consensus on a resolution urging “the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, to take immediate steps to address the issue of the broken relationship between Rivers’ State Governor and Commissioner of Police.” This resolution was overwhelmingly rejected through a voice vote as Mark, the presiding officer, himself admitted that “the nays have it.”
The matter did not end there as the situation was followed by a commotion, which threw the Senate into a rowdy session. The dissenting senators had wanted the resolution to call for either immediate sack or redeployment of Rivers’ Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu, over the perception that he had been fuelling the crisis in Rivers State instead of addressing it.
Again when the upper legislative chamber passed the bill that empowered the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) to seize customers’ assets not captured in collateral. There were protests and disagreements from senators.
The Bill, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria Act, No. 2 2019 (Amendment Bill, 2021), passed for third reading even as senators observed some discrepancies in the Bill.
The Senate again witnessed a sharp division during the consideration of a Bill for an Act to provide for the National Livestock Bureau. Senate spokesman, Ajibola Bashiru, a lawyer, in his contribution, reminded the upper legislative chamber that no portion of the exclusive and concurrent components of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) gave the National Assembly powers to legislate on livestock.
He clarified that only the State Houses of Assembly were lawfully empowered to handle the issue, adding that further deliberation on the piece of legislation was unconstitutional. While no other southern senator spoke, four northern colleagues, including the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, backed the bill. Opposing Bashiru, Senator Bala Ibn N’Allah (Kebbi State) contended that the National Assembly could legislate on the matter, citing no constitutional provision to advance his argument.
He insisted that it was the duty of the Federal Government to ensure food security in the country. N’Allah’s position got solidarity from Lawan, who indicated that as the chief presiding officer, he had the authority to interpret the constitution and the Senate rules.
He, therefore, over-ruled the spokesman and sanctioned the second reading and eventual referral of the bill to the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development for a report within two weeks. The Senate Spokesperson did not invoke Order 73 probably for the obvious reason of his being one of the principal officers.
Lawan held that in February 2010, the National Assembly, without recourse to the constitution, invoked Doctrine of Necessity to usher in Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President, noting that national interest was paramount.
Bima Muhammad Enagi, who also, in 2019, was the brain behind a similar one seeking a ban on generators, sponsored the controversial bill.
According to the proposed law, a National Livestock Identification Database is to be created. The Bureau, if established, would ensure the management, traceability and movement of livestock, as well as see their health and disease management through surveillance, prevention and speedy response to outbreaks.
“It will also deter animal theft, especially as it affects cattle rustling and aid intelligence gathering by security agencies to mitigate incessant conflicts between herders and farmers,” Enagi said.
He added: “The national database would serve as a guide for policy formulation by government. It would also ensure the regulation of participants in the livestock business.”
A drama ensued after Lawan ruled in favour of the clauses, when Senator Akpan Bassey, who noted that AMCON is not the primary lender, raised a point of order invoking Order 73 to challenge the decision of Lawan. That degenerated into altercations.
Invoking Order 73 means the senator was challenging the decision of the Senate President’s ruling thereby calling for a division. Lawan, however, bullied Akpan who could not sustain his challenge as he recoiled and took his seat.
Lawan said: “Are you challenging the ruling that the ‘yes’ had it? If that was your opinion, in my judgment and understanding and the only one that has the gavel, I will view that we should be very magnanimous when we do the exercise. This is something the majority of our colleagues have voted for. Let’s allow this thing to be implemented. If there’s any difficulty, then come back, it can be challenged.
“Let me say that even if it’s the wrong view, it’s still the majority; unless we have any cause to reverse ourselves. But if the majority of the senators think this is what should be done to remedy a situation that requires our attention, I think we should allow it.”
▪︎ By The Guardian