The Senate yesterday suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, representing Delta Central Senatorial District in Delta State, apparently to send a strong signal to senators who may want to divide the Senate or unduly curry favour from President Muhammadu Buhari.
Omo-Agege is the second senator to be suspended by the 8th Senate under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki. Former Senate leader, Ali Ndume, who represents Borno South , was the first to suffer suspension, in similar fashion.
The Senate had on March 29, 2017, suspended Ndume for six months for not “conducting due diligence” before moving a motion based on unsubstantiated claims on the social media against the Senate President Bukola Saraki and the senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Dino Melaye.
It was convenient for the Senate to suspend Ndume then, who had registered his name in the bad books of the Senate leadership for publicly misrepresenting the Senate on the non-confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He had earlier been unceremoniously removed as the Senate leader on Tuesday, January 10, 2017.
Apparently, Omo-Agege, a first-term lawmaker in the Senate, did not learn from Ndume’s experience. The path to his suspension was laid on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, the day the Senate adopted a Conference Committee Report on the amendments to the Electoral Act 2010.
Omo-Agege was one of the 10 senators who stormed out of the Red Chamber to brief journalists on their objection to the new section of the amended Act (Section 25) which reordered the election sequence.
The dissenting senators, led by Senator Abdullahi Adamu, took turns to talk to the members of the Senate Press Corps. When it was Omo-Agege’s turn, he specifically claimed that the reordering of the election sequence by the National Assembly was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.
On Tuesday, February 20, the Senate resolved to probe Omo-Agege’s allegation and consequently mandated its Committee on Ethics and Privileges to investigate the matter sequel to a complaint on the floor of the Senate following a motion by Senator Dino Melaye.
In his statement, Melaye said he did not want to be part of any move targeted at President Buhari, hence the need to look into the matter.
“Mr President, when I was campaigning with the president, Ovie Omo-Agege was busy labouring in Labour Party. Today, to take the integrity of the Senate and say that it (the amendment) was tailored towards targeting a particular person, it’s unheard of, it is in bad taste and I do not want to be part of that,” Melaye had said.
Incidentally, the Senate president and Omo-Agege were conspicuously absent from plenary on the day Melaye made the complaint. The presiding Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu subsequently referred the matter to the Ethics Committee for investigation after it was put to a voice vote.
Perhaps, realising the gravity of his mistake and the danger ahead, Omo-Agege showed up at plenary the next day and apologised to his colleagues for what he described as “offensive” comments by him.
Ekweremadu, who also presided, commended Omo-Agege for his “courage” to apologise. He, however, informed him that the apology was rather late as his matter was already being handled by the Ethics Committee.
The Ethics Committee chaired by Senator Samuel Anyawu swung into action and quizzed Omo-Agege behind closed doors probably as a mark of respect for the lawmaker.
Alas! The senator eventually, wittingly or unwittingly, bungled his chance of getting a reprieve.
Presenting the committee’s report at plenary yesterday, Anyawu explained that the erring lawmaker declined to speak when he appeared before the committee.
According to the report, Omo-Agege told the committee that he had already taken the matter to court.
In his contribution to the debate on the committee’s report, Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan pleaded that the lawmaker should not be suspended, but Saraki would not be dissuaded by pleas from Lawan and Senator Kabiru Marafa.
Saraki insisted that political leaders must be disciplined to serve as deterrent to others. He, however, reduced the recommended duration of suspension from 180 legislative days to 90, which is six months.
The surprising question is how Omo-Agege, who had apologised to the Senate earlier, could go ahead to take the same Senate to court on the same matter when it was apparent that his colleagues appreciated his decision to apologise?
Apart from the court case instituted by Omo-Agege, another reason which could have upset the Senate leadership was the issue of a pressure group called Parliamentary Support Group (PSG) for President Buhari, which Saraki described its members are claiming to be “holier than thou” among the rest of senators.
It is interesting to note that the dissenting senators, who opposed amendments to the Electoral Act, transmuted to the PSG and they have been carrying out some activities as a body of its own.
For instance, when Senator Mustapha Bukar died last week, this group paid a condolence visit to Daura where they met with Buhari, and even a press statement to the effect was issued by the presidential media team.
Their visit came a day or so after Saraki had led a team to Bukar’s Daura residence for condolence on behalf of the Senate. It is noteworthy that the late Senator Bukar was one of those opposed to the reordering of the election sequence.
Even if Omo-Agege did not learn from Ndume’s experience, he could have learnt from the most recent backlash on the Electoral Act saga when Senator Abdullahi Adamu was removed as the chairman of the Northern Senators Forum (NSF) over alleged financial impropriety.