The chambers of the Senate was almost turned into a boxing ring on Wednesday as two senators almost came to blows over a heated debate over observations raised by President Goodluck Jonathan on the State of the Nation Address Bill 2013, which seeks to compel him to address a joint sitting of the National Assembly on the state of the nation.
Majority of the lawmakers argued that the president’s observations amounted to a veto of the bill, while some others advised that it should be reviewed to reflect observations of the president.
However, confusion started when Senator Ita Enang drew the attention of his colleagues to the contradictions between the Senate Rule and the 1999 Constitution (as amended) in respect of the bill that had been processed by the National Assembly Conference Committee.
Quoting relevant sections in the constitution and the Senate rules, Enang, among others, argued that the president had no authority to propose an amendment to the bill, adding that what was required of him was to either give or withhold his assent to the bill.
He also wanted the interpretation of the Supreme Court on whether the president could make an amendment to a bill already passed by the National Assembly or not, urging the Senate to set a legislative precedent by not acceding to the president’s request for an amendment to bill.
However, Senator Smart Adeyemi (PDP – Kogi) was of the opinion that President Jonathan was not against the bill, as he said “the president’s amendment proposal on this is not out of place, because, as it can be deduced from the content of the letter, he is not in any way against the bill.
Senator Ganiyu Solomon (ACN – Lagos) said the president’s letter called to question the sense of judgment of 469 members of the National Assembly, adding that the letter ran contrary to the spirit of Section 87 of the Constitution.
But Senator Andy Uba (PDP – Anambra) informed his colleagues that the president was not against the bill but merely offered suggestions on how to improve it to deepen democratic practices in the country.
Senator Solomon Ewuga (CPC – Nassarawa), in his contribution, said the president could not delegate the responsibility of addressing the nation to the vice president, adding that he was both an executive and ceremonial president who was, therefore, required to deliver the address in a ceremony at a particular day of the year.
At the peak of the confusion, Senate President, David Mark, told his colleagues that “as it is today, we have boxed ourselves to a corner. We have this rule and, as Ita Enang clearly pointed out, any act that is against the Constitution, to the extent that it is against the Constitution, is null and void. But it is not as simple and straightforward as that, because we now have a standing rule.”
He also ruled out the possibility of overriding the amendment as proposed by some lawmakers, as he said he was of the conviction that the president did not said he was not going to give his assent to the bill.
“Even if we have to override, it cannot be today because overriding would not be by mouth votes. My understanding of Enang’s conclusion was for us to get interpretation from Supreme Court, but how to go about it is not clear to me,” he said.
While the debate lingered, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, suggested that the debate on the bill be adjourned to allow for consultation with members of the House of Representatives.
Ruling on the matter, the Senate President put forward a question on whether or not the debate should be adjourned, with the response further confirming a sharp division among lawmakers.
However, when Senator Mark withheld ruling on the matter and the Senate subsequently broke into a rowdy 15-minute break, Senators Kabir Marafa (ANPP – Zamfara) and Paulinus Nwagwu (PDP – Ebonyi) were seen attempting a fight.
It took the intervention of Senator Ahmed Lawan (ANPP – Yobe) and the Sergeants-At-Arms to stop Marafa, who had attempted to throw a punch at Nwagwu.
Disappointed by the situation, Mark condemned the unparliamentary conduct and used the opportunity to abruptly suspend the debate and adjourned sitting.
“There is no need for temper to rise. We are democrats and we should behave as such. In any case, for the first time in 14 years, I have seen an effort to pull out boxing gloves but it is not necessary. We can do all the talking, but we will not resort to boxing. I suggest that we suspend debate on this subject matter.”
However, Senate’s spokesperson, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, in his address to the press, said the fight between Senators Marafa and Nwagwu was caused by an earlier motion by Senator Bashir Garba Lado, aimed at stopping Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, from arming vigilance groups in the state.
Abaribe claimed that Marafa accused Lado of meddling in the affairs of Zamfara State, adding that the remark prompted a response from Nwagwu, thus provoking the Zamfara lawmaker to the point of attempting physical showdown with his colleague.