There was controversy in Abuja on Sunday over the alleged move by the Federal Government to withdraw the diplomatic passports of the Senate President, David Mark, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, and other members of the National Assembly.
A national newspaper (not Sunday PUNCH), had on Sunday reported that President Goodluck Jonathan had ordered that the diplomatic passports of all members of the National Assembly be withdrawn.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s faction, known as the New PDP, condemned the alleged plan , accusing Jonathan of overheating the polity through some of his actions.
The New PDP claimed, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chukwuemeka Eze, that the plan to withdraw the lawmakers’ passports was because of their sympathy for it.
The statement reads in part, “We are worried about the dire implications of the reported directive by the Presidency for the withdrawal of the diplomatic passports of the Senate President, David Mark, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, and all other members of the National Assembly.
“The directive, according to reports published today (Sunday), is attributable to the Presidency’s anger over the lawmakers’ sympathy for the progressive faction of the ruling PDP, led by the Alhaji Baraje.
“The implication is that whenever they travel abroad, the 109 Senators and 360 members of the House would no longer enjoy the special privileges the blue-coloured passport confers on its holder, meaning that they can be arrested like ordinary citizens.”
It said the directive, if eventually carried out, would only end up unnecessarily overheating the polity. The faction added that those encouraging the President in this direction were his true enemies.
The group therefore advised Jonathan to consider the consequences of working against the legislators who have stood by him all these years and even introduced the ‘doctrine of necessity’ that brought him to power against the wish of the cabal that sought to exploit the sickness of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua(now late) to rule by proxy.
But The Presidency on Sunday faulted the claim by the Baraje faction , saying the President was not overheating the polity with some latest steps attributed to him.
In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Ahmed Gulak, said members of the New PDP whom he referred to as “renegades,” were on a mission to self-destruction.
“The allegation that the President is overheating the polity is not true. Passports are categorised and diplomatic passports are only given to specific people,” he said.
When contacted, the Special Adviser to the Speaker on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Imam Imam, told The PUNCH that he was not the competent authority to comment on such matters.
But a source close to the speaker said that his passport was intact.
Also, the Special Adviser (Media) to the Senate President, Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, said, “There is no truth in the rumour.”
However, findings by The PUNCH on Sunday showed that Senators and members of the House of Representatives had already been notified by government that their passports would be withdrawn.
An authoritative source in the National Assembly Service said the lawmakers were originally not on the list of those approved to carry diplomatic passports.
According to him , only the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and their deputies were listed.
He added that the Nigerian Immigration Service included them on the list following a directive by the late President Yar’Adua.
The source said, “What is happening is that the passports of the Senate President and that of the Speaker are intact. Their own is statutory and the question of withdrawing or withholding them does not arise. Only the passports of Senators and members of the House are to be withdrawn. “They are already being notified individually by the Immigration Service through a letter.”
A Senator, who spoke anonymously with one of our correspondents, said he had yet to be notified of the plan. He however said he suspected that only lawmakers who did not return to the National Assembly were affected.
The Baraje faction of the PDP had also claimed on Sunday that the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi, was sacked because of her candid advice that inducing members of the National Assembly financially to impeach their principal officers would be counter-productive.
The faction said if this was true, Emodi must be reinstated immediately.
It said, “For Senator Emodi to have been bold enough to tell Mr. President the implication of such a corrupt inducement of the lawmakers should earn her commendation rather than a sack.
“Instead of sacking such a forthright and patriotic Amazon, the President should sack those hawks around him planning to ridicule him by encouraging him to embark on acts capable of making him very unpopular amongst his supporters and followers.”
On the abandoned work at the Port Harcourt International Airport, the New PDP said the President should sack the Minister of Aviation, Mrs Stella Odua.
It added that the action of the minister might have been as a result of the perceived conflict between the President and the Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi.
The PDP faction said, “Mr. President, if it is true that the Aviation Minister, Princess Odua, has abandoned the remodelling of the Port Harcourt International Airport while completing those started at the same time because of the assumed conflict between you and your brother, Governor Amaechi , we demand her immediate sack before she causes further damage to your administration.