FIREWORKS continued to rage at the weekend, as senators opposed to the screening of the former governor of Rivers State, Chief Rotimi Amaechi as a minister continued to battle their counterparts who are seeking confirmation of the former governor.
Amaechi had, on Friday, written three letters through his counsel to the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, insisting that the chamber should discountenance his indictment for alleged corrupt practices by an administrative panel of inquiry set up by the government of Rivers State.
He also declared that the matter was already before the Court of Appeal and the High Court, declaring that the Senate acting upon the matter, could be subjudice.
Besides writing the letters, sources in the Senate also confirmed that Amaechi’s camp continued the lobbying spree with repeated visits to senators and other stakeholders.
It was learnt that the former governor was also reaching out to senators from his state of origin, who are considered critical to the bid to save him.
But a fresh contention was said to have been raised in the camp of Amaechi’s opponents, who have also declared that the same order Amaechi was trying to rely upon to safeguard himself could also be used against him.
The Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, headed by Senator Samuel Anyanwu, had, on October 7, received a petition forwarded to the Senate by Port Harcourt-based integrity group, through Senator George Thompson Sekibo.
The group alleged that Amaechi mismanaged some funds belonging to Rivers State while he served as governor. Copies of the White Paper from the governor of Rivers State, indicting Amaechi, were also distributed to the senators last week.
Amaechi’s lawyer, Edward Pepple, had, however, told the Senate Committee that the matter was before the courts and therefore, subjudice.
Senate’s Order 53(5) prohibits the Senate from debating matters where judicial interpretation is pending if the Senate President is of the view that doing so could jeopardise the case in question.
The Order read: “Reference shall not be made to any matter on which judicial decision is pending, in such a way as might in the opinion of the President of the Senate prejudice the interest of parties thereto.”
The Senate had, at different times, invoked this Order as an ouster clause on issues before the courts, especially where it is a party to the suit and where the papers are served on the Senate President.
But senators opposed to the screening of Amaechi had, on Sunday, argued that the Order firmly precludes the dealing with him as a nominee.
One of the senators was said to have argued that if Amaechi’s lawyers were of the view that referring to the indictment and the White Paper from Rivers would be subjudice, the opposition would also argue that screening Amaechi as a minister is also subjudice, since the matters in court refer to the same person.
“If Amaechi’s lawyers argue that the Senate should have nothing to do with the petition because it is subjudice, the opposition will also argue that screening him is subjudice since the issue at hand is his eligibility to hold office. The Senate may be jumping the gun to proceed to screen him when it does no know how the case will eventually pan out,” a source close to the opposition had said.
It was gathered that while Amaechi has upped the ante of his lobbying, his opponents, at the weekend, also continued to consolidate on using Order 53(5) as a weapon.
Senate spokesperson, Dino Melaye, said on Thursday, that the Senate Ethics Committee had written a report, indicating that the issue of the petition against Amaechi was already in court.
He said the Senate would screen the nominee alongside others this week.
Confirming Amaechi as minister ridicules Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade, PDP tells Senate
THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State has said the anti-corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari will be undermined, should the Senate screen and confirm former governor, Mr Rotimi Amaechi as a minister.
Rivers State chairman of the PDP, Felix Obuah, made the statement while reacting to the letter by Mr Amaechi to the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki.
Mr Amaechi had written Dr Saraki, urging the Senate to disregard the Rivers State Government White Paper on the report of a judicial commission which investigated sale of Rivers asset and other related matters during his administration.
The ex-governor said he was already challenging the indictment in court and his supporters believed the commission of inquiry was meant to ridicule and persecute him for his role in the defeat of former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP in the March 2015 presidential election.
Mr Amaechi’s letter followed the petition forwarded to the Senate by Integrity Group, believed to be loyal to PDP-controlled Rivers government. Premised on the indictment of Mr Amaechi by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, the group asked the Senate not to confirm the former governor as a minister.
In his reply to the letter, Mr Obuah, in a statement on Sunday, by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Jerry Needam, said Mr Amaechi’s letter to the Senate President was “an attempt to ignore the White Paper report, undermine the crusade against corruption and expose President Buhari’s fight against corruption as partisan and targeted at only members of the opposition and perceived enemies.
“The invitation and interrogation of the Senate Minority Leader, former governor of Akwa Ibom State and one of the leaders of the PDP, Senator Godswill Akpabio, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, while Mr Amaechi, indicted for corruption is freely going about lobbying to become a minister, is a pointer that Buhari’s fight against corruption is targeted at the opposition and perceived enemies.
“The monumental fraud discovered by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry and huge revenue lost when Amaechi was governor of Rivers State cannot be ignored.
“Amaechi has no defense to allegations of fraud against him as contained in the Government White Paper. He was invited and he failed to appear before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry.”
Mr Obuah claimed that three sections of the Nigerian constitution – Sections 66 (1) (h) and 147 (5) – “unambiguously disqualify Mr Amaechi from being a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Therefore, Amaechi’s letter to the Senate President should be disregarded. It lacks merit and contradicted the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.
“The letter to the Senate President further makes mockery of Amaechi and amounts to desperation and glorification of corruption,” the PDP leader said.