Senate Leader, Senator Teslim Kolawole Folarin (Oyo Central) sounded very confident that the Senate leadership would announce the composition of the standing committees before the end of last week. He said that he would be surprised if that was not done. Surprisingly, the Senate President, Senator David Mark did not unveil the committees. Yet that has not diminished the personal and credibility of Folarin. He is an influential member of the body of principal officers and the Selection Committee charged with the responsibility of constituting the committees.
But the decision by the Senate leadership not to announce the committees made Folarin to be short on precision. He must have by now appreciated the political inexpediency that could always produce a review strategy: the sort that led to the postponement by the Senate President. Still, there is understandable pressure on the Senate leadership to end the anxiety that the matter has generated. The submission of the list of ministerial nominees to the Senate by President Umar Yar' Adua mid last week and the announcement of the names of the nominees on the floor penultimate Thursday effectively diverted attention from the issue of standing committees.
Last week, three important motions suffered a set-back on account of the non-existence of the standing committees, most especially the Committee on Rules and Business. The motions- on the agonies of depositors of failed banks and financial institutions; poor state of safety in our airports; and, collapse of the road infrastructure in Nigeria- were not taken thus forcing the Senate to adjourn in the absence of other business on the order paper. But before the Senate adjourned at 11.25 a.m. the Senate President had ruled that the motions be converted to notices for discussion the next legislative day.
The stage for the abrupt adjournment of the house was set when Senator Isiaka Adeleke (Osun West) raised Order 47 (3 and 4) of the Senate Standing Rules shortly after Senator Folarin moved a motion on the agonies of depositors of Failed Banks and Financial Institutions, which had Senator Sylvester Anyanwu (Imo North) and Senator Ayogu Eze (Enugu North) as co-sponsors. Adeleke said that many of the Senators did not want discussions on the motion because the right procedure had not been followed. He said that order 47 (3 and 4) indicated that any notices of motions should be given through the Senate President to the Rules and Business Committee of the Senate, which within seven days get to Senators. He had argued: "We do not just go in a day, present a motion and the motion is taken, debated on and agreed on. No, we have to give some time to the senators to be able to understand those motions so that we will be able to contribute tremendously the following day." But he said that the Committee to warehouse the notices of motions and motions was not in place yet as contemplated by Order 47 (3) of the Senate Standing Rules. Specifically, Order 47 (3) states: "The President of the Senate shall forward such notice(s) of motions to the Rules and Business Committee, which shall schedule it on the order paper." Order 47 (4) states: "The Rules and Business Committee shall examine the substance of all motions referred to it and if approved to be scheduled on the order paper for deliberations within seven (7) days after the publication of the schedule." Speaking with reporters after plenary, Senator Adeleke had stated that the Senate was acting in breach of its procedure. According to him, "Section 36 states that the Rules and Business Committee of the Senate should be constituted within 14 legislative days of the first sitting of the Senate. That yet has not been done. We may be putting something on nothing with all the motions and rules that have been passed. So, we adhere strictly to the rules of the Senate."He said that there were certain committees that should have been set up such as Selection Committee and Rules and Business, stressing, "They are supposed to be set up within certain legislative days." It was against the backdrop of Adeleke's position that the Senate Leader, senator Folarin said that the Senate was going to announce the committees last week. He explained that the Senate was trying to put square pegs in square holes, adding, "We are also trying to carry all senators along and forestall a repeat of the last exercise in the fifth Senate when Southwest Senators protested the committees given to them." The Senate Leader had also admitted that he was aware that the issue of delay in composing the standing committees was responsible for the manner in which senators shot down the three important motions. He had declared: "I will be surprised if the list of standing committees does not come out this week (last week)." There are indications that the Senate leadership has made up its mind to deal with the issue once and for all this week. The screening of ministerial nominees, important as it is, may not alter the planned announcement by the Senate President. The Senate may devote two days-Tuesday and Wednesday- for the screening and confirmation hearing. The arrangement would still leave Thursday for the purpose of unfolding the committees. The occasion, going by the tradition in the Senate, is always tension-soaked. The presiding officer is kept on the edge, waiting to weigh in on the possible reactions from disenchanted Senators. Some of Mark's predecessors suffered embarrassment on the floor on the day they announced the composition of committees. When Senator Evan Enwerem announced the composition of the standing committees in 1999, his arch rival to the stool of the Senate President, Senator Chuba Okadigbo (now late) rejected on the floor his appointment as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He later accepted it after weeks of pressure on him from the Southeast zone and the zonal caucus in the Senate to accept the position. Under the Senate Presidency of Anyim Pius Anyim, Senator Arthur Nzeribe rejected on the floor his appointment as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power and Steel. He had wanted the chairmanship of the Committee on Defence. The Senate leadership had called off the bluff of the then political enigma and given the position to his kinsman, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume. The possibility of a similar thing happening was not ruled out by the Mark leadership; which was why it had taken time to handle the composition in such a way that the harmony in the Senate would not be fractured in the aftermath of the exercise. THISDAY gathered that after the initial feelers that Mark might accommodate his supporters and those who voted for him in strategic committees, the Senate leadership has, on account of the potential flashpoint that the mater of committee represents, decided to tread cautiously. It has been working round the clock to strike a balance between the interests that dot the two divides in the Senate: those who voted for him and those who voted for Senator George Akume. With 57 standing committees to fill, the Senate leadership has enough positions to reward his loyalists and supporters. But notwithstanding that he had already, as learnt, determined those he would put in strategic committees as chairmen, vice chairmen and members, the Selection Committee still distributed forms to senators to indicate committees into which they would prefer to be appointed. It was gathered that the some of the preferences of many of the Senators would be respected and given to them. This would entail a whole lot of distribution and redistribution which the Selection Committee, according to reports, has already concluded. But very minimal adjustments cannot be ruled out until the announcement on the floor. But there are Senators that Mark and his Selection Committee may have to necessarily accommodate to demonstrate that he has put behind the events of June 5 which saw 39 senators vote against him; otherwise, his leadership may be accused of furthering division and animosity in the Senate. These senators, according to a senator who spoke with THISDAY in confidence, are the influential leaders who ensured some members to get to the Senate. Although, the Senator who voted against Mark and was already agitated that the Senate leadership might have sent him to Siberia in the composition of the committees did not mention names, yet there are fears that peace may develop wings and fly out of he Senate if the former governors are not appointed as chairmen of committees, whether strategic or not, at least as a first step in the demonstration of good faith. Apart from the former Governor of Zamfara State, Senator Ahmed Sani, who has already emerged as Minority Whip and by which virtue he is a member of the body of principal officers and the Selection Committee, eyes are on former Governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, former Governor of Benue State, Senator Akume, former Governor of Kebbi State, Senator Adamu Aliero, former Governor of Yobe State, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, former Governor of Enugu State, Senator Chimaroke Ogbonnia Nnamani and former Governor of Jigawa State, Senator Saminu Turaki. These are influential Senators that analysts contend the Senate leadership should mark with chairmanship of committees. There are other senators who have the "rebellious" streak running through them like Senator Suleiman Nazif (AC, Bauchi North), Caleb Zagi (PDP, Kaduna South), Odion Ugbesia (Edo Central), Bala Abdulkadir Mohamed (ANPP, Bauchi South), Gogwin Satti (AC, Plateau Central) and John Shagaya (PDP, Plateau South), among others. The Mark leadership has the instrumentality of the committees to either mark them in or mark them out. Both options have potential far-reaching implications. The path or option taken by the Mark leadership would be evident this week as he unveils the standing committees.