The romance between the Peoples Democracy Party and the All Progressives Congress in the Senate seems to be heading for the rocks as PDP senators stormed out of a plenary on Wednesday following the refusal of Senate President Bukola Saraki to declare the Ondo-South senatorial district seat vacant.
The representative of Ondo-South senatorial district, Yele Omogunwa, who was the only PDP senator from Ondo, had written a letter to Saraki, formally informing the Senate of his defection to APC.
It was the first clash between the APC and the PDP senators since June 9, 2015, when the opposition lawmakers backed the rebellious APC lawmakers to elect Saraki and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, against the choices of the ruling party.
The Senate President read the letter to his colleagues excitedly even as the APC senators got up from their seats to congratulate Omogunwa for joining the ruling party.
Omogunwa, in the letter, had hinged his defection on his support for the Governor-elect of Ondo State, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), and his resolve to work with the incoming governor.
Akeredolu, the candidate of the APC, had won the Ondo State governorship election held last Saturday.
The defector’s letter read in part, “With all sense of responsibility, I, hereby, notify the President of the Senate, principal officers of the National Assembly and the entire distinguished senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and all the political parties.
“I, distinguished Senator Yele Omogunwa, representing Ondo-South, hereby, formally declare my political seat for the All Progressives Congress.
“This declaration I have made in my local government (area) on Sunday, November 20, to enable me to actively mobilise for the success of Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu in the governorship election of November 26, 2016.
“I thank all my former members of the PDP in the Senate for their cooperation today.
“As the last man standing in the PDP as a senator, it will, no doubt, be a bit of a setback for the PDP in Ondo State; notwithstanding, we are all brothers and sisters in progress.”
Saraki, after reading the letter, congratulated Omogunwa and welcomed him to a “bigger and better party.”
The Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, however, rose up and raised Order 43 of the Senate, urging the Senate President to sack Omogunwa rather than celebrate his defection.
He said, “What has happened this morning is that he (Omogunwa) has left this side and went to the other side, and I saw people jubilating. You cannot jubilate when I am calling on the Senate President to do the needful.
“By the virtue of our position as the upper house, we must behave in a way that will show that we know what we are doing and that we want democracy to thrive in Nigeria. So, we must not encourage political rascality.”
Explaining that what happened in Ondo was not a political crisis, Akpabio said the opposition party only obeyed the ruling of the Court of Appeal and that of the Supreme Court, which recognised the leadership of Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
He said, “The seat of the man who has just jumped ship ought to be declared vacant.”
Saraki, however, interrupted Akpabio, saying, “You know, Minority Leader, that we are always guided by this red book (Senate Standing Rules) and as eloquently as you might have spoken, the key issue is
that – I will take you back to Order 43 – no controversial matter…(noise from protesting lawmakers). Leader, I will have to rule you out of order.”
The representative of Kogi-West senatorial district, Dino Melaye, who was allowed by the Senate President to speak on the same point of order, which had been overruled, cited Section 68(c) of the 1999 Constitution.
Melaye said that the judgment of the Supreme Court over the supremacy tussle between the Ali Modu Sheriff and the Ahmed Makarfi-led factions of the PDP, which Akpabio referred to, was solely on the governorship of Ondo.
“As I speak with you, Ali Modu Sheriff is still parading himself as the National Chairman of the PDP. Not only is there a division, there is a gulf between Makarfi and Sheriff,” the senator added, as the session had become rowdier and the noise had drowned his voice.
After Melaye, Senator Peter Nwabaoshi (PDP, Delta-North) rose up to point out that, “Our Minority Leader came under Order 43 and you ruled on that Order 43. The point of order raised by Dino (Melaye) is not necessary here. This is a Senate and we must behave like senators. If the Senate President had ruled on a point of order, there is no need to debate or bring another issue on it.”
“You point is noted,” Saraki said.
Akpabio, who was visibly angry, rose up to speak again but the Senate President said, “Minority Leader, I have not recognised you. Wait till I recognise you. I have allowed you and you spoke…”
At that point, the Minority Leader headed for the door and other PDP senators in the chamber joined him to stage a walkout.
Akpabio, who led the protesting senators to the Press Centre of the Senate to address journalists, stated that the PDP caucus would work with the leadership of the PDP on how to reclaim the seat from Omogunwa and the APC.
He added that the lawmakers left the chamber when it became obvious that their contributions were no longer needed by their APC counterparts.
He said, “What happened this morning; you just saw what I may regard as a protest walkout by the PDP caucus of the Senate and the reason is very obvious. The essence of both chambers – the House of Representatives and the Senate – is that we are lawmakers, we cannot be lawbreakers, and we believe in the rule of law.
“One of our colleagues, the distinguished Senator Yele Omogunwa, decided to jump ship, maybe out of the excitement over the Ondo (governorship) election, which the PDP is challenging. He did that, not taking cognisance of the recent Supreme Court decision settling the issue of the chairmanship of the party (PDP), which had been an issue in the last few months.
“That issue was settled in favour of the Senator Makarfi’s leadership, which was set up at the Port Harcourt convention. The moment that happened, that means that 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.
“Just like you observed, the reason for his jumping of 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.”