The Senate and the House of Representatives are at loggerheads on the proposed trip to South Africa by both chambers in connection with the recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in the country, The PUNCH learnt on Wednesday.
The Senate had, earlier on Wednesday, announced the cancellation of its plan to send a delegation to South Africa to investigate the attacks on Nigerians and other Africans in the former apartheid enclave.
After a closed-door session that preceded the plenary, which lasted for about 20 minutes, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, announced that members of the upper chamber of the National Assembly had agreed to withdraw from the trip.
He said the cancellation of the trip by senators was to avoid multiple delegations to South Africa.
Ekweremadu stated, “On our trip to South Africa, we noted that the House of Representatives insists on going to South Africa independently. We thought we could lead a single and harmonised delegation of the National Assembly to avoid the embarrassment of multiple delegations.
“The Senate, therefore, decided to pull out to allow the House delegation to proceed.”
It was reliably gathered, however, that apart from the disagreement on whether both chambers of the National Assembly should unify their teams or not, the lawmakers also failed to agree on the size of the delegation.
While the Senate had planned to send a seven-man team, the House had listed six members for the trip.
It was further learnt that each member of the delegation would get $5,000 each as allowance for the trip, one of the reasons why more lawmakers were interested in joining the train to South Africa.
A member of the Senate team, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, disclosed that while the Senate insisted that both chambers should send equal number of delegates, who would be joined by officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the House insisted on having more number of delegates and embarking on the trip independently.
The lawmaker said, “We were forced to pull out of the trip. How can the Senate consider sending five delegates and the House wants to send 10 members, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends 12? What will Nigerians say about the size of the delegation?
“They (Reps) became so overzealous about the trip. When it was clear that they would remain adamant on sending a large number of delegates on the trip, we had to back out.
“Each delegate will be getting $5,000 as estacode. I would also have got $5,000 if we were to go; but if we decide that all those pencilled in should go, like the Reps are saying, how much do you think the trip would cost? And what will Nigerians say about us?”
Another lawmaker, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said senators at their meeting, unanimously agreed to cancel the trip for fear of embarrassing Nigeria in South Africa – as two delegations from Nigeria would work independently on the same mission.
“We decided to leave them (Reps) with the trip since they are showing too much anxiety. They are even fighting over who should go on the trip among them,” he said.
We first took the decision, say Representatives
When contacted on the points of disagreement over the trip, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, said he was not in a position to speak on why the Senate decided to pull out of the trip.
“I am not a member of the Senate,” he stated.
However, he explained that the decision to visit South Africa was first taken by the House, not the Senate, adding that the Senate only took a similar decision soon after the House did.
“We first took the decision in the House to go to South Africa and the Senate did as well,” Namdas stated.
A House of Reps source informed The PUNCH that as a bicamera legislature, they did not expect the Senate to set up another team for the same mission after the House had taken the lead.
The source added, “We already appointed a six-member team out of the 360 lawmakers, which is not a large group. The House Leader (Femi Gbajabiamila) heads the team.
“Just then, the Senate too came up with a team to be led by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.
“What this means is that the House delegation will be subsumed under that of the Senate; meanwhile, the House originally initiated the idea of the trip.
“Money is not the issue. We have a way of reducing every serious thing to money. If people are to travel out, they will take estacode, but that is not even the issue here.
“Only six members are going. It is not correct that many members want to be on the delegation.’’
On his part, Gbajabiamila said he would reserve his comments until he read whatever the Senate was alleged to have given as its reasons.
“Until I read such an outlandish claim, I will not believe it or respond to it,” the House Leader stated.
The Senate had, on February 28, 2017, resolved to send a delegation on a parliamentary diplomatic mission to the Parliament of South Africa to register Nigeria’s displeasure with the resurgence of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in the country.
The lawmakers were also billed to hold talks with their South African counterparts on how to end the attacks.
The delegation, which was to be led by Ekweremadu, also had the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan; Chief Whip, Senator Sola Adeyeye; Deputy Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Shehu Sani, Stella Oduah, Magnus Abe and Senator Shaba Lafiaji.
But before the Senate muted the idea, the House of Representatives had decided to send a delegation to South Africa.