THE Senate yesterday said its Deputy President, Ike Ekweremadu, was not allowed to preside over the screening of ministerial nominees because he is of the opposition party.
Senate Leader Mohammed Ali Ndume made this known in an interview with reporters at the National Assembly yesterday.
He, however, promised that former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi will be screened.
Ndume said contrary to insinuations, the Senate has seven weeks within which to conclude the screening and confirmation of the 36 ministerial nominees.
Asked why the Senate suspended plenary yesterday because of Senate President Bukola Saraki’s appearance before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Ndume said: “We were thinking that the lower court (CCT) would cancel the sitting but it did not.
“The Senate President had to be at the tribunal by 10.00am. He is the presiding officer. This is an extraordinary time because we are screening ministers that are predominantly of the All Progressives Congress (APC). So, that was why we said this screening should continue with the Senate President presiding.
“This is not a normal day because we are screening APC nominees of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“There are issues surrounding it. We don’t want any other issue out of it again. The presiding officer is the Senate President, who started the screening and we said we would take a day off and continue tomorrow (today).
“If you look at the constitution, it is not a ‘must’. It is just like when the president is off, the vice president does not automatically become the President of Nigeria. He remains the vice president until a letter is transmitted as such. That is what the constitution says.
“We have an issue at hand that the Senate President is handling and that is the screening of ministers.
“We said let us shift it by one day to enable the Senate President to attend the court session. Then, we will continue tomorrow (today).”
The 1999 Constitution (as amended) however states that in the absence of the President of the Senate, the Deputy President of the Senate shall preside.
Ndume urged Nigerians to be patient with senators to do a thorough job.
He said: “If the President takes his discretion to take his time to submit the (ministerial) list, which Nigerians patiently waited for, why are Nigerians not patient with the Senate?
“Why don’t you take us up on issues other than these trivialities? Supposing we said let’s take it off till next week, we have the right to do that.
“But the constitution is guiding us that we have to do this within 21 working days. We are still within the 21 working days.
“It is not 21 days; it is 21 working days. Our working days in the Senate plenary are three days in a week.
“So, if you are talking about 21 working days, it means that the Senate will do this within seven weeks because we sit for plenary Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. That is three working days. It means that logically, we can do this up to seven weeks.”
On Amaechi’s screening, Ndume said: “I don’t know; it is the Ethics and Privileges (Committee). But let me add that the Ethics and Privileges report is not the determinant in Amaechi’s matter. It is the Senate.
“Even if they write their report, it has to be laid before the Senate, which will decide on the report. It is not the report that will decide Amaechi’s fate.
“Whatever the committee recommends to the Senate, it is the Senate that will decide.
“I have told Nigerians several times that this Senate belongs to the APC. We have PDP senators that are in the minority. We are practising democracy in a changed environment.
“That is to allow the minorities to have their say. But you know that the majority will always have its way. We have 58 senators, the Senate President excluded, and they have 48 senators. And Amaechi is an APC candidate and the constitution is very clear.
“Until there is conviction, you are considered innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt by a competent court of law. Unfortunately, you cannot confirm or disqualify Amaechi. We are the only ones that can do that. And PDP cannot disqualify Amaechi based on triviality. It must be based on constitutionality.”
Also yesterday, Imo State ministerial nominee, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, told the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions investigating the petition against his nomination that he (Anwukah) was nominated on merit.
The committee wanted to know whether Anwukah’s nomination was based on the fact that he is an in-law to Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha.
The nominee, who is a former Vice Chancellor of Imo State University and former Secretary to the State Government, declared that he believed the President nominated him based on his contributions to the development of the state.
Anwukah has 10 petitions against him.
The committee will submit a report on the investigation to the Senate today.