OrderPaperToday – The 9th Senate might just be six months old, having been inaugurated on the 11th of June, 2019, but it has not been immune from controversies.
From Senator Elisha Abbo’s slapping scandal to an aborted vote of confidence on the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, the Red Chamber has had its fair share of controversies and scandals under the new dispensation.
Here are the top seven controversies of the 9th Senate so far:
Senator stripped naked in viral video….yet no one is brought to book
Even before its inauguration in June, the Senate hobnobbed controversy. Senator Godiya Akwashiki, then a senator-elect and now spokesperson of the Red Chamber, appeared in a video where he was beaten and stripped naked.
In the video that went viral in March 2019, the senator was thoroughly assaulted by some unknown thugs for allegedly having an affair with the wife of a top politician in the state, Danladi Envuluanza.
Akwashiki, however, denied the allegations, describing it as a set up by Envuluanza, who was reportedly his political rival within the APC in Nasarawa State. Read our exclusive report of a senatorial scandal swept under the carpet here
A senator’s slapping spree at an Abuja sex toy shop
Barely three weeks after its inauguration, the upper chamber was hit with another scandal after one of its own, Senator Elisha Abbo (PDP, Adamawa) was caught on camera slapping a woman at a sex toy shop in Abuja.
Abbo assaulted the woman, a nursing mother, at the shop after she begged him not to attack the shop owner who the senator had accused of insulting him.
According to a PREMIUM TIMES report, the assault occurred on May 11 in the presence of an armed mobile police officer who looked on and made attempts to apprehend the victim.
Abbo’s action drew wide criticisms across party lines and the general public, forcing him to apologise. Despite his apology, he was still subjected to investigations by the Senate and the Police.
Nevertheless, no verdict has been passed on the matter by the Red Chamber. Instead, the Adamawa senator was handed the vice-chairmanship of the Committee on Navy. Earlier in December, 2019, the Senate spokesperson, Senator Godiya Akwashiki revealed that its investigation into the matter was stalled because the case is before a law court.
Secret recruitment scandal…
The Senate, in the last four months, has been immersed in a controversy over alleged diversion and sharing of federal job slots among senators. Reports emerged in October that the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, received 26 job slots from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). Other reports claimed that sharing of job slots was generally rife among the National Assembly’s leadership and members.
In December, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs, Senator Danjuma La’ah, who had previously vowed to investigate secret employment and sharing of job slots by federal agencies, seemed to soft pedal on the issue. He admitted that senators have been approaching his committee to secure job slots.
According to La’ah, “it is normal for colleagues to come to our committee because it is a better way to go about it. What our committee will do is to ensure that all senatorial districts are equally captured in whatever arrangement that come up. It is not as if we are giving out letters of employment to anyone now.
“What I’m saying is that if any senator approaches us and there is an opportunity, we would help. The senators are coming to us because we are the only committee to ensure even spread in terms of federal appointment.”
N37 billion NASS renovation controversy
The National Assembly is set to have its complex renovated at the cost of a whooping N37 billion. The amount budgeted for the renovation has raised several eyebrows and attracted criticism with many considering it a waste of public funds. The amount set aside to renovate the National Assembly is higher the amount budgeted for several key infrastructure.
Senate president, Ahmed Lawan, has defended the huge financial outlay for the renovation and revealed that the leadership of the National Assembly lobbied the President, Muhammadu Buhari, to gain his approval for the project.
Lawan further claimed that there has been no major renovation of the National Assembly building for two decades, leaving the property to become dilapidated and in need of urgent renovation.
It is worthy to note not that the N37 billion renovation cost is separate from the N128 billion allocated for the National Assembly for 2020. The renovation cost was, instead, accommodated in the 2020 budget of the Federal Capital Development Administration, according to the Senate president.
N5.5 billion car scandal
Before the renovation controversy, the leadership of the 9th Senate initiated moves to procure luxury cars for lawmakers at an estimated cost of N5.5 billion.
This is despite the fact that the previous 8th Senate similarly expended billions of naira to acquire cars for its members barely four years ago.
The move by the current assembly was criticised by members of the public and culminated in Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) taking the Red Chamber to court over what it argued is wasteful spending and against their oath of office to protect the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.
This lawsuit was reported to have been filled by EiE (Enough is Enough), SERAP, BudgIT and 6,721 other Nigerians, asking the court to stop the proposed ₦5.5 billion from being dispensed to the Senate until the amount is reviewed downwards.
The Senate, through the spokesperson at the time, Adedayo Adeyeye, described the move by the CSOs as an insult and exercise in futility. Adeyeye wondered why the public are not concerned over similar purchases by the Executive and Judiciary arm of government.
Secret budget defence
This year’s 2020 budget defence was reportedly cloaked in secrecy as most sessions held behind closed doors with the press denied access to cover proceedings.
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, however, denied the claims, describing it as a misunderstanding.
“There is no shut out of the press from what we do,” Lawan told journalists on Monday, October 21, 2019 at the premises of the National Assembly.
“We need the press to tell Nigerians what we are doing. You (journalists) are our friends. That was a misunderstanding (of what happened),” he added.
Stillbirth confidence vote on Lawan
On Tuesday, 10th December, 2019, the Senate indefinitely abandoned a motion sponsored by 36 senators to pass a vote of confidence in the leadership of the National Assembly headed by Ahmed Lawan.
The motion was listed on the order paper but when it was time to take the motion, the Senate deputy chief whip, Sabi Abdullahi, standing in for the majority leader, moved for the motion to be stepped down. Abdullahi did not provide any explanation on why the motion was stepped down. Meanwhile, the lead sponsor of the motion, Kashim Shettima, was present on that Tuesday’s plenary.
The withdrawn motion sought to “pass a vote of confidence in the leadership of the 9th National Assembly and particularly commend the President of the Senate and urge all Senators to endeavour to sustain the present goodwill of the Senate under the leadership of Senator Ahmad Lawan.”
Reacting to the development, the spokesperson of the Senate, Godiya Akwashiki, insisted that there is no cause for alarm.
He said: “I want us to exercise patience until the motion is presented again on the floor of the Senate. For the fact that it was supposed to be a vote of confidence, I do not want to speak on it. If it had been a vote of no confidence and the Senate president used his power to step it down, then you can question it.
“I don’t think there is anything to worry about. When the motion comes up again, the sponsor will let us know why he is moving for the vote of confidence.
“There is no problem. Our loyalty is not only complete but complete and total to the leadership of Senator Ahmed Lawan.”
It has been whispered in some quarters that the motion was abandoned because some senators were listed as sponsors of the motion without their consent. The motion also raises a red herring about the Lawan leadership: does the senate president face any threat of confidence loss?