On Wednesday, April 3rd, we sounded a note of warning to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) concerning the tango for leadership positions in the upcoming 9th National Assembly titled “NASS: Will APC get it right this time around?” Events do not yet suggest that they will – or have.
The rifts, cliffs, and cleavages in APC over the issue appear to be deepening rather than the party leaders closing ranks. Will they allow the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) steal in on them as was the case in 2015?
Or will the opposition party be even more audacious and smart enough to completely rout APC’s House of Babel and carry the day? While this remains to be seen, it is important to warn that an already heated up polity is being overheated. The contenders know the right thing to do; the problem is, will they do it?
From the statements of many of them as itemised below, what to do to defuse the tension is in the public domain – but will they apply it? We had said: “The composition of the leadership of the 9th National Assembly is heating up the polity already.
The APC, which has majority of the elected members in both chambers, is struggling to be on top of the situation. The PDP, which comes second but currently has the NASS leadership in its grip, is also not giving up on pulling surprises. APC is trying hard to prevent history from repeating itself but PDP is threatening to record an encore.”
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was quoted as saying: “In carrying out constitutional functions, lawmakers must always recognise that the independence of the legislature is non-negotiable. It is an independent and co-equal arm of government. Therefore, it behoves members of the National Assembly to lead the way in asserting the principle of separation of powers, thus ensuring accountability in governance.
“To achieve that, it is expected that members will carry out their duties in a manner that commands respect from the other arms of government as well as from the people (the lawmakers) represent.” It could not have been better said!
The Legislature is not just the Second Estate of the Realm; it is also, in the reckoning of political philosophers and theorists, the exact location of the sovereignty of the State, composed, as it were, of the elected representatives of the people. It is the presence of parliament properly socalled that showcases a democracy.
The Executive and Judiciary (Third Estate of the Realm) are always present in one form or another in autocracies. Saraki was also right when he spoke of the need for parliament to maintain its dignity, independence, integrity, power, and even aloofness from the two other arms of government.
This is in consonance with what theorists of power and of the rights of men – Lord Acton, Locke, and Rousseau; name it – hold as inevitable if absolutism is to be held in check. Disagreeing, APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, was quoted as saying: “The position of the party (that is, APC) remains that those positions that belong to the majority party belong to us. Members of the minority party should mind their own business. They should find a way of occupying the positions that belong to them. It is not in their place to start telling us what to do and not what to do.”
In a sense, he is right. Certain positions belong to the majority as well as the minority parties but there are other posts in the National Assembly that the constitution clearly states belong to neither; in which case, anyone in any of the parties making up the membership of the National Assembly is qualified and free to aspire to them. Such positions include Senate President, Deputy Senate President, even Senate leader and their contemporaries in the House of Representatives. I think this is where the controversy lies.
The majority party, if it is not careful and does not play its politics well, may lose any of such positions to a minority party – and it will be lawful. The members are not bound to vote along party lines; while party discipline is desirable, they must be prodded – not ordered – and lobbied – not bullied – to toe party line.
We see this in on-going BREXIT palaver in Britain and in other mature democracies all over. Voting is by secret ballot. Both the majority and minority parties have the right to aspire to fill the commanding posts. Not to be undone, the PDP chairman, Uche Secondus, added his voice to the raging controversy.
He said: “We want to appeal to the APC not to kill democracy in the country. Leaders of the party (APC) should allow the elected lawmakers to pick their leaders. The President picked his ministers and others working with him without interference by anyone. He should also allow the lawmakers to elect who they want as their leaders.” Secondus, too, is right.
The rules say the lawmakers will elect their leaders from amongst themselves and by themselves; not that the party will choose or impose leaders on them. They are not expected to behave like schoolchildren who will line up before the party chairman to receive orders; neither shall they, who are the sovereign powers of the State, kow-tow to the Executive. But politicians usually speak for the moment! Issa-Onilu parrots the prerogatives of the majority party today; if somewhere in future APC dwindles to minority, he will sing another tune.
The same PDP that today insists on the right of minority parties did not extend same rights or privileges to the minority parties when it was the majority party.
Ahmad Lawan, the senator APC leaders are putting forward as Senate president, also spoke well: “We are reaching out to all our colleagues, regardless of their political persuasions. After all, we are all supposed to work together. It is just not going to be a Senate for the APC members. It is a Senate that will consist of the APC, the PDP and the Young Peoples Party. Therefore, we need everybody… and the best way to achieve this is for all of us to work together.”
Well said! Lawan should gather the likes of Admas Oshiomhole together and preach this sermon to them. His approach appears much more likely to succeed than the bullying tactics of his party leaders. “Reaching out” to both the aggrieved in APC, and the opposition PDP, which is a formidable force if it sticks together, is the best option in the circumstance.
Ali Ndume, who is up in arms against his party, also spoke very well. Bullying may sire rebels and imposition may breed implosion. Speaker Yakubu Dogara was not left out: “I have said that the hallowed Chambers of the National Assembly require people of courage… We are meant, as the first institution of democracy, to work with the Executive and the Judiciary. It was never designed that the National Assembly will work for the Executive or work for the Judiciary… We should know that it is about courage.”
Integrity apart, the other credential needed by the parliament is courage; especially with EFCC, DSS and other sundry “Alsatian dogs” on the prowl! With an administration that makes trifles of human rights, due process, and court orders, lawmakers need a large dose of courage if they are to truly act as worthy representatives of their electors.”
Let us add the angle of embattled Governor Rochas Okorocha: “I have been watching carefully what is happening in the National Assembly; it is very interesting drama but all I ask of them is that they should consider the South-East in their calculations.”
That statement, coming from a wounded lion, is loaded with sarcasm and pregnant with meaning. In the South-East, Buhari and APC’s predicament is made worse today than it was in 2015 when the president justified his marginalization of that geo-political zone with his nebulous 5% and 97% voter-support analogy.
Should we expect the APC to be more generous to the zone now than in 2015? But will it advance the cause of national cohesion, unity, peace, and progress if it does not? In 2015, the South-East wangled a way for itself in the Senate; is it readying for an encore? In all of these, what should be done is already in the public domain; whether it will be done, however, remains to be seen.”
The ongoing scramble is one heating up of the polity too many, hence the need to sound this warning again. The complete breakdown of security everywhere, the dire economic crisis, and the total collapse of governance are more than a mouthful already.
One day, I hope to be an accomplished columnist like yourself ! I have never ceased to marvel at your brain power and articulate analysis.
To state the obvious, your Wednesday, May 1, 2019 piece titled “In ‘defence’ of Ngige, Adewole…”
remains undoubtedly a masterpiece. May God bless you with more wisdom! – Fr. Kenneth Ogonna Agwu.
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