Two Senators, Sen. Igwe Paulinius Nwagu, representing Ebonyi Central District and that of Yobe North Central, Sen. Ahmed Lawan yesterday threw cautions to the wind as they launched vitriolic attacks on each other during the consideration of President Goodluck Jonathan’s request for amendment of the State of the Nation Address Bill, 2013.
The President had on June 10 returned the bill to the Senate on the premise that it flouted Section 67 of the 1999 Constitution, which has already spelt out how a sitting President can deliver the address.
The near fisticuffs happened after a heated debate between pro- and anti-Jonathan Senators over whether the debate on the amendment or otherwise, be suspended. The debate was over observations raised by President Jonathan on the bill, which among others, empowered the National Assembly to compel the President to appear before the lawmakers to deliver the address once in a year.
Many lawmakers said that the President’s observations amounted to a veto of the bill, while many more advised that it should be reviewed to reflect observations of the President. The pro-Jonathan Senators, led by Smart Adeyemi, had succeeded in rallying the chamber to accept to amend the bill before the tide turned in the chamber.
But confusion started when Senator Ita Enang drew his colleagues’ attention to the contradiction between the Senate Rules and the constitution with respect to the bill that had been processed by the National Assembly Conference Committee.
Sensing that tempers had risen in the chamber, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu moved a motion vide Senate Standing Orders 70 (1) (A) on “Matters not open to debate” which reads: “The following matters not open to debate, shall be moved without argument or opinion offered, and shall be forthwith put from the chair without amendment: (a) Motion for adjournment of debate”.
Ruling on Ekweremadu’s motion, Senate President David Mark put the question to suspend debate and there was no clear vote of “ayes” and “nays.” In the intervening moments, the chamber became rowdy as Senators left their seats. That was the time Senators Igwe Paulinus Nwagu and Kabir Garba Marafa almost physically attacked each other, but for the timely intervention of Sen. Ahmed Lawan and two security men traditionally called Sergeant-At-Arms.
The rowdy session lasted almost 30 minutes before the Chief Whip, Senator Bello Hayatou Gwarzo, called the chamber to order. After the Senators were already seated, Mark put the question on the amendment bill to his colleagues during the debate. Mark condemned the unparliamentary conduct, suspended the debate abruptly and adjourned sitting.
He said: “May I appeal that there is no need for tempers to rise. We are democrats and we should behave as such. In any case, for the first time in 14 years, I have seen an effort to pull out the boxing gloves, but they are not necessary. We can do all the talking, but we will not resort to boxing. We will solve the problem by talking, not boxing.
“Boxing gloves are not necessary. I suggest that we suspend debate on this subject matter. On this particular subject matter, we are all on the same wave length and I appeal to you that we suspend debate on this subject matter.”
The Senate President’s appeal notwithstanding, when he put the question to the chamber, pockets of ‘nays’ still greeted his question that the debate be suspended. Before Mark’s appeal, however, Senators Smart Adeyemi, Ali Ndume and Enyinnaya Abaribe had moved the chamber to accepting President Jonathan’s request.
Also, Senators Andy Uba, James Manager, and Heineken Lokpobiri urged caution and favourable consideration of the presidential request. Adeyemi, who is also the Chairman of the Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT) said: “It’s not out of place for us to consider the President’s request,” while Senator Ugbesia noted, “there is nothing to override, the President has not indicated that he would not assent to the bill. We can’t override the President in situations like this; let us go back and invoke David Mark’s popular Doctrine of Necessity”. But a section of the chamber wanted the Senate to invoke its veto power to pass the bill.
They were led by Senate Minority Whip Ganiyu Solomon. Others were Senators Mudasiru Hussein, Aisha La-Hassan, Ahmed Lawan, Solomon Ewuga and Ita Enang. Solomon said the President’s letter called to question the sense of judgment of 469 members of the National Assembly, adding that the letter contradicts the spirit of Section 67 of the Constitution.
Senator Ewuga said that the President cannot delegate the responsibility of addressing the nation as stated in this bill to the Vice President. He noted that the President is both an executive and ceremonial president, who is therefore, required to deliver this address in a ceremony at a particular day of the year.
However, after plenary, Senate spokesman, Enyinnaya Abaribe, went straight to the Press Centre from the chamber to explain the exact cause of the fight between the two Senators. He said that the near fisticuffs was actually caused by a motion earlier put before the Upper Chamber by Bashir Garba Lado to stop Zamfara State Governor Abdulaziz Yari from arming vigilance groups.
Abaribe claimed that Marafa accused Lado of unnecessary meddlesomeness in the affairs of Zamfara State. He told newsmen that this remark by Marafa prompted a response from Igwe, which provoked the Zamfara lawmaker to the point of pulling off his agbada ready for a physical showdown with his colleague who, unmoved by the action, allegedly continued to rain insults on him.