BIG STORY: 10 Controversies in 1st year of 10th Senate

Sharon EboesomiJune 21, 202417 min

Just as the saying goes, “in a twinkle of an eye,” the 10th Senate has marked its 1 year in office but not without courting a series of eye-popping controversies and receiving knocks from Nigerians.

Senate @ 1: Bag of controversies of the Akpabio-led 10th Senate

The 10th Senate, inaugurated on June 13, 2023, started off with the election of presiding officers. Godswill Akpabio emerged as the president and Barau Jibrin got elected as deputy president. Shortly after this, principal officers were appointed, committees were set up and the 10th Senate hit the ground running. 

The 10th Senate, having had several high moments, has however, not failed to be headlined by a series of scandals, allegations and awkward moments under the watch of Akpabio in these 12 months. Here are the major controversies that have rocked the 10th Senate in the period under review:

Senate @ 1: Bag of controversies of the Akpabio-led 10th Senate

  • Hurried passage of the national anthem bill

The most recent controversy was generated by the passage of the executive bill on the national anthem, reverting from ‘Arise O Compatriots’ refrain which had been in use since 1978, to the very first anthem of ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee.’ The executive bill was passed within two (2) plenary proceedings. The bill presented by the Leader of the Senate, Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central) to mark first reading. This was promptly followed by second reading, and immediately referred to the committee on judiciary, human rights and legal matters on Thursday, May 23, 2024. The committee immediately swung into action and carried out a public hearing on Monday, May 28, 2024. Not many Nigerians and critical stakeholders were aware or invited. To the surprise of many, the committee presented its report on the next plenary day, Tuesday, May 29, 2024. The report was hurriedly adopted, leading to the subsequent passage of the bill. This decision sparked mixed reactions across Nigeria. An overriding majority of citizens lamented how it was insensitive it was for the government to prioritise the changing of the national anthem over the economic hardship and plight of Nigerians. It was not difficult to see that lawmakers danced to stings pulled by President Bola Tinubu, who had long nursed a desire to make the anthem reversal. 

Senate @ 1: Bag of controversies of the Akpabio-led 10th Senate

  • Budget padding and Ningi’s suspension

On March 12, 2024, the Senate suspended Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central) for three months for alleging that the 2024 budget was padded with the sum of N3.7tn.  The Senate however, denied this allegation and suspended him. Senator Ningi subsequently resigned from his position as Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum (NSF). The hurried suspension of Ningi, who maintained his stance and never apologised, was interpreted in the public to mean that the Senate was perhaps desperate to hide something Nigerians didn’t know about. After 10 weeks into the suspension, Ningi was pardoned and recalled on May 28, 2024, just 2 weeks to the end of his suspension. The lawmaker thereafter resumed on June 4th, 2024. Click to find out more about what led to Senator Ningi’s suspension.

Senate @ 1: Bag of controversies of the Akpabio-led 10th Senate

  • Friend fall apart – Ndume and Akpabio’s clash

There was a dramatic clash between the Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) who had condemned Akpabio‘s leadership style as he accused him of being insensitive, untrustworthy, and having a habit of making inappropriate jokes. Sen. Ndume had raised a point of order during a particular plenary proceeding, citing Senate Order 51, to correct a mistake Senator Summaila Kawu (NNPP, Kano South) made in a motion that omitted the motion’s title. Ndume emphasised the need of adhering to procedures and rules and stressed the need of fixing any mistakes discovered along the course of proceedings. According to him, “nobody is too big to learn.” Akpabio, however, strongly rejected Ndume‘s argument, insisting that the decisions taken on issues could not be reversed afterwards. In an attempt to support Ndume‘s viewpoint, Senator Sunday Karimi (APC, Kogi West) raised an additional point of order, but Akpabio swiftly declared both Senators to be out of order. This time, the Deputy Senate President, Jibrin Barau used Order 16 to impose the regulation of the chamber. This led Akpabio to promptly maintain a substantive motion for the reconsideration of previous decisions. Relentless, Ndume used Order 54, an additional point of order, to insist on the correction of the claimed error. However, Akpabio dismissed him from the order once more. That caused a furious Ndume to storm out of the chamber. Senators immediately convened a closed-door meeting in the midst of the chaos, and Ndume later returned after receiving word through a phone call to return as the Senate had convened behind closed doors. For those who may not know, Ndume was Akpabio‘s cheerleader and campaign manager for the keenly contested election of the number one position of the Senate. 

  • Purchase of exotic cars for lawmakers

In October 2023, federal lawmakers confirmed that the National Assembly was set to purchase SUV cars for all lawmakers. This singular act generated a public outrage from citizens who described it as insensitive given the worsening state of the nation’s economy. Defending this decision, the Senate cited the durability of the SUVs to withstand the poor road conditions as the reason for their choice.

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Senate Services, Sunday Karimi (APC, Kogi West) blatantly ignored the public outcry, claiming that the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly chose to purchase the luxurious vehicles for the lawmakers because they wanted something that would last for four years in addition to being strong enough to withstand the harsh conditions of Nigerian roads.

READ MORE on Sen. Karimi: The emerging humourist of the 10th Senate

  • Prayers to mailbox saga

Barely two months into the life of the 10th Senate and right on the heels of the ministerial screening and approval, Akpabio stirred a controversy when he casually revealed that the bank accounts of senators accounts had been topped off with funds to make sure they enjoyed their annual vacation. Akpabio, who appeared oblivious to the fact that the proceeding was still being recorded live said, “in order to enable all of us to enjoy our holidays, a token has been sent to our various accounts by the Clerk of the National Assembly.” On learning from his colleagues that the live coverage was still ongoing, he promptly withdrew the statement, saying, “I withdraw that statement. In order to allow you to enjoy your holiday, the senate president has sent prayers to your mailboxes to assist you to go on a safe journey and return,” he rephrased. Following this event, Akpabio came under fire, receiving criticism both inside and outside the National Assembly and igniting public outrage given the financial hardships that many Nigerians are currently facing. Puzzled Nigerians also questioned whether the amount of public funds routinely distributed to their legislators was authorised by budget or honestly earned.

  • “Let the poor breathe” 

There was another public outrage when Akpabio, during one of the Senate’s plenary, mimicked the “let the poor breathe” cliche originated by President Tinubu. In response to the Senate’s resolution calling on the Federal Government to halt a proposed increased in electricity tariff by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission’ (NERC), Akpabio had said: “The prayer is that, let the poor breathe, and Senator Mustapha has seconded that the poor should breathe. Those who are in support of the additional prayer that the poor should be allowed to breathe, say ‘ayes’ and those who are against say ‘nay’.” In response, the senators chorused “Aye” to which Akpabio retorted: “The ayes have it! The poor must be allowed to breathe,” before slamming the gavel down on the table. Then there was a sudden burst of laughter echoing across the floor of the chamber. The manner in which the motion was adopted as the senators burst into laughter, was viewed as a mockery to Nigerians, which attracted several online reactions with the majority condemning it as being in bad taste. Responding, Akpabio claimed that people who obviously do not understand the legislative process that a presiding officer had to reiterate a prayer before putting it to vote were attacking them for their good service to Nigerians. “If you go right, they complain, if you go left, they complain. Maybe we should stay in the middle. But we care about the Nigerian masses and every action is for the interest of the country,” he had retorted.

Senate @ 1: Bag of controversies of the Akpabio-led 10th Senate

  • Impeachment plot and counter-allegations

The embarrassing remark on the “holiday allowance” was one of the many reasons why some angry senators allegedly tried to impeach Akpabio. On his part, Senator Ndume scolded Akpabio for falsifying facts, notwithstanding his defence of the payment and claim that it is standard procedure for senators. However, former Senator Elisha Abbo asserted that Akpabio and his supporters were instigating the alleged plot to remove him from office in order to cause conflict between President Tinubu and northern political leaders. Abbo, who was sacked by the appeal court in Abuja, had also claimed that Akpabio was the reason behind his removal from office because he refused to support his bid to become Senate President but rather backed Senator Abdulazeez Yari for the top job. He said that four other senators, including Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia North), who opposed Akpabio‘s emergence for Senate President, were being targeted for removal from the red chamber by the courts.

  • Alleged looting of N100 million palliatives

A significant achievement for the lawmakers was the Senate’s intervention, which resulted in the immediate suspension of the Resident Doctors’ strike and the NLC/TUC strike following their meetings with the Senate President. However, a dispute developed when the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) claimed that while the impoverished masses were forced to split a bag of food, parliamentarians received N100 million each as palliative. The Senate declared that the NLC leadership’s claim of a fictitious N100 million allocation to its members is absurd, bizarre, and unimaginable. According to the  Senate spokesman, Yemi Adaramodu (APC, Ekiti South) who debunked this allegation, “There is no 100 million for a legislator anywhere. From which budget is this coming from? How, where and when? This is another satanic plot of a miserable gang of media and political dark angels, to bring the Nigerian parliament into disrepute and pitch the legislators against the Nigerian public. We urge the public and especially, the Nigerian workers, to disregard these unscrupulous pontiffs. The legislators, who are chosen among the masses of the people, shall certainly be with the people and eternally for the people. The National Assembly shall not hesitate, henceforth to take constitutional and legal actions against these irreverent merchants of rumours and ill wills against Legislators. The National Assembly should not be taken as a political scapegoat.”

Senate @ 1: Bag of controversies of the Akpabio-led 10th Senate

  • Speedy loan approval

Less than 24 hours after President Tinubu‘s borrowing requests were sent to the National Assembly, the Akpabio-led Senate swiftly approved them. This raised concerns among some political observers who believed that the quick approvals were a continuation of the 9th Senate’s practice of approving any financial matter brought forth by the president with immediate effect. The request included two loans from the World Bank totaling $800 million to expand the country’s social safety net programme and N819.5 billion to support the 2022 supplemental budget. This clearly did not sit well amongst some Senators like Ndume who had condemned  Akpabio for approving the passage of some executive bills without seeking the input of other members of the chamber. Similarly, Sen. Ogoshi Onawo (PDP, Nasarawa South) had said: “Very sensitive bills are brought and are expected to be passed with the speed of light, which is not good for the country. Every senator here is supposed to be adequately informed; he does his research and makes a positive contribution, but in a situation where even money bills are brought and expected to be passed within two hours, it wouldn’t be better for the country.” Speaking further, he said, “Sir, you are on the seat today; history will judge you that things like this are not good for this country.” Responding to Onawo’s comment, Akpabio said: “If the bills we pass are good for the country, history will judge me right. I don’t think we would come here to pass a bill that’s not good for the interest of Nigerians. So, your point of order is noted.”

Senate @ 1: Bag of controversies of the Akpabio-led 10th Senate

  • Squabble over appointment of minority leadership

Senators Abba Moro (PDP, Benue South) and Osita Ngwu (PDP, Enugu West) were announced by Akpabio as the minority leader and minority whip, respectively. They were to take the place of the former occupants who had been removed by the courts. These announcements did not go down well as senators from various parties in the minority caucus started to stand up and voice their discontent, causing an uproar that lasted for more than fifteen minutes. Senator Tony Nwoye, (LP, Anambra North) stood up furiously and began to shout “Are we your slaves? Why will the Senate President be picking leaders for us? You have done your worst. You have pushed us to the wall. Meaning what? It is unfair. It is not about me, it is about the institution of the state.”

As the 10th Senate moves into its second year of the tenure, Nigerians will be keen to see if the controversies and scandals are curtailed or escalated.

Sharon Eboesomi

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