Wednesday, June 6, 2007

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Mark, Etteh, emerge Senate President, Speaker
By Festus Owete, Alex Emeje, Adetutu Folasade-Koyi (Abuja) Olusola Balogun, Rafiu Ajakaye and Austin Oboh (Lagos)

Nigerian women reached a milestone on Tuesday when Patricia Etteh, 54, became the first House of Representatives Speaker, unanimously elected through a voice vote.



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She represents Irewole/Aiyedaade/Ifelodun Federal Constituency in Osun and is in the "Class of 1999", the year she first came into the House along with some others.

David Mark, aged 59, was elected Senate President, after a contest.

He promised his colleagues to operate a transparent, focused Chamber, based on fairness, equity and justice, anchored on the fear of God.

His inaugural speech urged them to sustain the respect won by the Upper House and to effectively discharge their oversight responsibilities on the executive.

Said Mark: "Surely, I cannot succeed in my new assignment without your unalloyed support and co-operation. I, therefore, wish to seize this opportunity to extend my hand of fellowship to you all and seek your support and usual advice from time to time, irrespective of our political and ideological leanings. The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is one and it shall remain one united family.

"I have tremendous respect for this Chamber and I am totally committed to sustaining that. The Senate, and indeed the entire National Assembly, is a very strategic and important arm of government. No country can effectively operate a robust democracy without a viable and virile legislature.

"We have responsibility to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of our people, and also act as a check on the other arms of government. The concept of oversight functions which the National Assembly is constitutionally empowered to carry out on the other arms of government must be sustained".

Dressed in a blue Babanriga (flowing gown) with the traditional Idoma cap, Mark waxed philosophical when he canvassed that Senators should not shy away but have courage to speak the truth at all times.

"If public confidence in the Senate must be sustained and strengthened, I call on all of us to rise to the challenges of our collective mandate and demonstrate honest and transparent leadership qualities and exemplary conduct at all times in the discharge of our duties ….

"I want to assure you and the entire country that my tenure will provide a focused and purposeful leadership that will invigorate the Senate and build bridges of understanding amongst the diverse segments of the Nigerian society. I pray that the good Lord gives us the courage to speak the truth at all times, and the wisdom to judge fairly and with the fear of God".

Jitters was the word before Mark emerged as Senate President with 68 votes among a record four nominees: including George Akume, Nuhu Aliyu, and Gbemi Saraki, all from the North Central.

Aliyu and Saraki later withdrew. Akume contested and got 39 votes.

Aliyu’s insistence on Senate ranking was ignored by the Clerk of the National Assembly, Nasir Arab, who stated that the nominations had nullified that aspect of the rule.

Proceedings for the inauguration kicked off at 10:05 a.m. with the arrival of Arab and his Deputy, Yemi Ogunyomi, fully attired in their ceremonial robes.

Consultations began among the pressure groups. At 10:13 a.m., Mark came into the Chamber and moved round the caucuses.

At 10.20 a.m., Arab announced President Umaru Yar’Adua’s proclamation of the Sixth Senate and, thereafter, Senate Clerk, Umar Sani, took a roll call which ended at 11:00 a.m.

Lee Maeba (PDP, Rivers) moved a motion nominating Mark as Senate President at 11.03 a.m., Patrick Osakwe (Accord Party, Delta) seconded.

Arab requested Mark to accept or reject the nomination. He replied: "I, David Bonaventure Alechenu Mark, humbly and gratefully accept my nomination as moved by Maeba and seconded by Osakwe".

Arab sought to know if there were other nominations. Suleiman Nazif (AC, Bauchi) chose Akume. Caleb Zagi (PDP, Kaduna) seconded. In fulfillment of Parliamentary tradition, Akume accepted.

The third nomination came from Dahiru Awaisu (PDP, Niger) who picked Aliyu. Bala Mohammed (PDP, Bauchi) seconded.

Satti Gogwin (AC, Plateau) moved the fourth for Saraki, seconded by Ahmed Mohammed (PDP, Kwara).

The nominations closed at 11:30 a.m. Thereafter, the election commenced and ended at 11:52 a.m.

Mark emerged with a clear margin of 68 votes, more than a simple majority. There was one abstention.

Overwhelmed by the victory, Senators shouted "PDP! PDP!!" and embrace and back-slapped one another. That lasted more than 20 minutes.

Akume and Aliyu took turns to shake hands with Mark.

All Senators were present, except former Enugu Governor, Chimaroke Nnamani.

At 12:15 p.m., the mace, the Senate’s symbol of authority, was placed from where it had been lowered. With that, Mark’s tenure, as the President of the Sixth Senate, commenced.

He presided over the election of his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu), which motion was moved by Nicholas Yahaya Ugbane and seconded by James Manager.

Ekweremadu’s election was unanimous.

The posts of other principal officers would be filled at today’s plenary, after which the Senate would go into a closed session.

The list of Ministerial nominees would come in on Thursday, before the Senate goes on recess on the day.

In the mean time, Ayo Olukotun, a professor at the University of Lagos, has reacted that Mark’s antecedents are not promising as retired military officers tend to spin off controversy in a democratic setting, which may affect his leadership.

However, "Mark has some experience, and I hope he will bring that experience to bear by doing what the Senate is expected to do, which is to make laws", he enthused.

Olukotun, also a Political Communications Consultant and member of the Editorial Board of Independent Newspapers Limited, advised him to "wean himself of the controversy mentality and genuinely become a part of the civil society", as pre-conditions for his success.

Mark is not a friend of the masses and would have a hard time having him as head of the Senate, Bamidele Aturu added, recalling his anti-people dispositions.

Aturu, a rights activist, said he was "imposed by the PDP" to push through its agenda and that very little should be expected from a Senate under him.

Afenifere

endorsed Mark, however; as explained by its Secretary General, Femi Okunrounmu, who said the choice is ‘alright’.

Okunrounmu, himself a Senator between 1999 and 2003, noted that Mark ‘‘is a very firm person and I can testify to that on him personally. He remains the only credible person to come forward form the North Central for the job".

What about Etteh?

"I wouldn’t want to comment on the propriety or otherwise of her own. She is from Osun and I won’t want to say anything about her’’.

Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) National Chairman, Olapade Agoro, said: "Although Etteh's appointment is a good omen for democracy in Nigeria, the CNPP will not recognise any appointments in the present administration until matters regarding the illegality of the nationwide inaugurations are finalised".

Citizen's Popular Party (CPP) National Chairman, Maxi Okwu, described her elevation as "a good development especially when the party is at the front of proactivity on gender issues. We fielded a woman as a Vice President in the last elections and will continue to give women their pride of place in our party. I commend the House for this brave act".

The power brokers in Abuja want a stable National Assembly devoid of bickering, to enable Yar’Adua implement his policies.

On Tuesday, Farouk Lawan moved the motion for Etteh’s election and all the other 358 members endorsed her to succeed Aminu Bello Masari (PDP, Katsina).

Babangida Abdullahi Nguroje, representing Gashaka/Kurimi/Sarduana Federal Constituency in Taraba, was elected Deputy Speaker, also without opposition.

Other Principal Officers include Tunde Akogun (House Leader), Baba Shehu (Deputy House Leader), Bethel Amadi (Chief Whip), and Aminu Waziri Tambuwwal (Deputy Chief Whip).

Etteh promised to lead the House by example.

"I am humbled by the responsibility of the office I am assuming today. Better men and women than I are here for this mighty task but you have chosen me. I solemnly pledge not to disappoint you. I promise from the bottom of my heart to serve with God’s wisdom the people of Nigeria and ensure a stronger House," she said.

"I have been summoned by my country to be the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives. Today, we make history and together we will steer the affairs of this honourable House.

"The blemish of failure must not be mentioned in the same breath as the office I am assuming. I will not let Nigerian women down and those who have decided that the Nigerian woman has come of age.

"My vision is to provide leadership for a re-invigorated legislature that will be mutually responsible and responsive to the yearnings of Nigerians. I implore you, my dear colleagues to co-operate with me. We are one big family and I am just the team leader.

"This position will be primus inter pares – that is first among equals. I therefore seek your loyalty, cooperation, dedication and commitment to achieve the tasks ahead. Let us fasten our seat belts as the flight of the Sixth House of Representatives of the Fourth Republic of the Federal Republic of Nigeria takes off. By the Grace of God, we shall arrive safely at an economically prosperous, politically peaceful and progressive destination".

Aso Rock has sent in an early congratulation to Etteh, with whom the executive "looks forward to a constructive engagement".

Yar’Adua personally issued a statement urging her to work with him to lift the country.

"On behalf of the government and the people of Nigeria, I like to felicitate with you on your election as the Speaker of the House of Representatives", the statement read.

"I look forward to a productive partnership with the legislative arm in driving the accelerated development of our dear nation. You can be assured that you will be working with an executive that believes in constructive engagement with the other two arms of government in the drive to regenerate Nigeria. I wish you a successful and fulfilling tenure".