Senate in session
Senators from Nigeria’s north, across party divides, said on Saturday they are ready to engage President Goodluck Jonathan in a titanic battle, and possibly bring him to his knees if he continues to insist on appointing a banker, Mfon Akpan, as chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS.
High-wire political intrigues have trailed Mrs. Akpan’s nomination with the Senate rejecting her at a charged plenary on November 28, in what appears a political humiliation of the president.
Northern senators had on the eve of that plenary held a late-night meeting at Senate Hearing Room 1 where they vehemently resolved to block Mrs Akpan’s nomination.
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES Saturday, some key members of the Northern Senators’ Forum said there was no going back on the rejection of Mrs. Akpan, a well-regarded UK-based banker from the South-south state of Akwa Ibom.
The senators requested not to be named for concerns they might be persecuted by the presidency.
“Our decision on her (Mrs. Akpan) is final,” one the senators said. “We are backing the incumbent chairman of the Service and any other name they bring forward will be rejected. And if they don’t back off, this might trigger a major crisis and the President should be prepared to be disgraced.”
“There is no compromise on this matter.”
Another senator said at the last count, 74 senators (57 from the North and 17 from the South West and South East) have agreed to frustrate Mrs. Akpan’s nomination while backing incumbent Acting Chairman, Kabir Mashi.
“This man has shot up federal revenue from N3.8trillion to N6trillion,” he said. “So what’s the justification for not wanting him to continue. Even if his tenure has expired, his achievement demands that it should be extended.
“Besides, the last two chairperson of the agency were from the South-West and South-South. Why don’t they want a northerner to be in charge even when he has performed creditably? The man deserves a National Merit Award and the way to reward him is not by removing him.”
The senators spoke just as PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Akwa Ibom governor, Godswill Akpabio, was on his way to Abuja to lobby the senators to reconsider their stance on the planned appointment of Mrs Akpan, whose nomination the governor has trumpeted as part of his achievements.
After Mrs. Akpan’s nomination was rejected Thursday, with northern senators saying the rejection was irreversible, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang, who is from Akwa Ibom, said the nomination remained pending on the floor of the Senate.
Amidst the confusion, Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, moved a motion urging members to consider deferring deliberations on the nomination to another legislative day; but Kabiru Marafa (Zamfara Central) opposed it.
Mr. Marafa, who relied on Rule 45 of the Senate Standing Orders 2011, argued that a motion to defer a matter to another legislative day could only be approved by a vote of two-thirds of the Senate.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session ruled Mr. Marafa out of order, saying it had not come to the time of raising an objection to the motion.
“We are not taking any vote. So, I completely rule you out of order,” he declared, before asking a member to second the motion to enable them make progress.
When the Senate Leader moved the motion a second time, it was seconded by Boluwaji Kunlere (Ondo South), but the motion was roundly defeated by the lawmakers, as the “nays” votes prevailed.
Obviously taken aback by the outcome of the vote, Mr. Ekweremadu called on the Senate Leader to move the motion, seconded by Mr. Marafa, for the nomination to be forwarded to the relevant committee for necessary legislative action.
However, when the motion was put to vote by Mr. Ekweremadu – that the nomination be sent to the relevant committee for necessary legislative work – the Senators again voted “nay”.
Mr. Enang, who is the Senator from the nominee’s state of origin, later explained that the nomination was still valid, because her confirmation and approval had not been rejected by the Senate. He assured that the Senate would take it at the “appropriate time.
“The motion was to send it to the committee and not for it to be approved or rejected. The nomination is still pending on the floor of the Senate until such a time when it is ready to take the request. The question was not for confirmation or rejection,” Mr. Enang said.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on the Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Victor Lar, said Senators from the Northern part of the country were opposed to the nomination of Mrs. Akpan as the FIRS boss in the spirit of Federal Character Principle.
He said the longest serving Chairman of the FIRS, David Olorunleke, was from the Southwest, while the last occupant of the position, Mrs. Omoigui-Okauru, was from the South South/South East zone.
He noted that the Acting Chairman of FIRS, Kabir Mashi, from the North, appointed on acting capacity, should be appointed in the spirit of federal character.
“President Goodluck Jonathan has the prerogative of office to appoint any competent person to administer any Federal Government agency in the country. What we are saying is that in the spirit of a true federal character, a Northerner ought to have been nominated as the substantive chairman,” Mr. Lar said.
Mr. Lar said majority of northern senators believe the slot of FIRS Chairman belonged to the North.