Sanya Awosan In their responses to Asiwaju Bola Ahed Tinubu’s recent public statement on why he is backing President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s choice of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for the positions of Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives, respectively, the duo of Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, appear to completely miss the critical import of the APC National Leader’s intervention. Obviously reacting to the widely-peddled insinuation that he is trying to ‘impose’ a particular leadership on the National Assembly, Tinubu vehemently and unambiguously dismissed this view.
He argued that in supporting Lawan and Gbajabiamila, he is only acting in the best interest of both President Buhari’s government and the APC. He cited the hardly disguised hostility of the National Assembly to the Buhari government under the leadership of Saraki and Dogara as being a critical factor in the inability of the administration to perform better than it did in its first term.
Tinubu cited the persistence of such widely-condemned practices as budget padding, arbitrary diversion of funds from critical projects to those of the legislature’s fancy as well as avoidable delays in the budgetary process in the National Assembly under Saraki and Dogara’s leadership as some of the reasons why a change of leadership in the National Assembly is not only necessary but urgent. The APC National Leader was also understandably actuated by his desire to ensure that his party avoids this time the lapses that enabled Saraki and Dogara to emerge as leaders of the 8th Assembly in 2015 against their choices of the party.
Of course, I am saddened that Dr. Saraki and Hon. Dogara were among those who defected from the PDP before the 2015 polls and thus weakened the PDP and contributed significantly to the defeat of the then ruling party in the 2015 presidential election by the newly emergent APC. It is instructive that failing to realize their personal ambitions within the APC, the defectors from the PDP quickly again defected back to their previous party hoping to weaken and destabilize the APC and possibly contribute to the defeat of the APC in the 2019 polls.
I am happy that this did not happen not because I love the APC but because I cherish the emergence and consolidation in Nigeria of a viable, solid, cohesive and enduring party system, with party members passionately supporting their party’s programmes and values rather than perpetually being peripatetic political vagrants traversing from one party to the other in pursuit of elective political office by all means and at all costs with negative implications for the stability, efficacy and effectiveness of the dominant political parties. Saraki and Dogara portray Tinubu’s support for his party’s candidates for the leadership of the 9th Assembly as an entirely personal affair without any link to the political party to which he belongs. They write as if Tinubu is synonymous with the APC and vice versa. Nothing could be most misleading from the point of view of an objective analyst.
The APC is simply too large, still largely organizationally-inchoate, suffused with competing factions and tendencies for any individual to single-handedly foist his choice for any position on the party. Could Tinubu have foisted his choice for the leadership of the National Assembly on the APC both in 2015 and 2019?
This would imply forcing his choices on the party including the APC leader, President Buhari, the National Executive Committee (NEC) and National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, the powerful governors’ forum as well as Senate and House of Representatives caucuses of the party and the APC’s regional power structures. If any individual could perform that feat, he should surely be described as superhuman. By this kind of exaggeration of Tinubu’s power and influence within the APC, Saraki and Dogara mystify the APC National Leader and clothe him in the illusory garb of a deity.
In any case, if indeed Tinubu’s support for Lawan and Gbajabiamila is due to his 2023 presidential ambition as stated by Saraki and Dogara, in what way will the offices of Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives avail anybody in a national election? Yes, these are influential offices. But despite Senate President Saraki and Speaker Dogara supporting Atiku Abubakar’s presidential bid in the 2019 election, how come the latter was still defeated at the polls?
It seems to me that Saraki and Dogara exaggerate the influence and electoral potency of the offices they currently occupy. Does the support of the Senate President and Speaker necessarily translate into the support of the entire National Assembly or even legislators of the ruling party for any presidential aspirant? It is unlikely that a political strategist of Tinubu’s calibre will harbour any such illusion. Can anybody guarantee that once the Senate President or Speaker emerges, they will automatically support any preconceived candidate for the office of President?
This kind of simplistic submission betrays a gross misunderstanding of the nature and dynamics of power and politics in contemporary Nigeria. Did Tinubu conjure the allegations of budget padding or arbitrary transfer of funds from critical projects to those of the legislators’ fancies out of thin air? To the best of my knowledge, it was a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, who brought the term, padding, into the popular consciousness. Not only did he accuse his colleagues of budget padding, he swore an affidavit in court to buttress his point.
It was Senator Shehu Sani from Kaduna State who first revealed to the public the outrageous monthly take-home allowances of his National Assembly colleagues to the consternation and alarm of the nation. And a number of ministers have had cause to decry the arbitrary transfer of funds by legislators from critical projects such as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to just name one to other projects of their fancy.
Eminent Nigerians such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Emir of Kano, Alhaji Lamido Sanusi, and Prof. Itsey Sagay (SAN) are on record as severely pillorying the proportion of national resources expended by the National Assembly as well as the opacity in the management of the National Assembly’s finances. Asiwaju Tinbubu was, therefore, not saying anything new in this respect. He was only re-stating what has been in the public domain long before now.
The term ‘budget padding’ has become a generic term for describing the assortment of alleged financial infractions perpetrated in the management of the National Assembly’s finances. True, these perverse financial practices predated the tenures of Saraki and Dogara.
However, on assumption of their respective offices, they promised to enhance transparency and accountability in the management of the National Assembly. Did they do enough in this regard? Certainly no. The good thing is that with Asiwaju raising this issue, the next leadership of the 9th Assembly will be forced to take concrete and decisive steps to address and rectify these lapses.
Saraki and Dogara place the blame for incessant budgetary delays at the feet of the Executive, particularly, non-cooperating Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) which consistently failed to meet specified timelines for defending their budgetary estimates before the respective committees of the National Assembly. If true, this is most condemnable. But did the duo of Saraki and Dogara as leaders of the National Assembly do enough to sensitize both the presidency, the MDAs and indeed the general public to these critical issues?
I am afraid it is difficult to answer in the affirmative. Once the National Assembly was aware of its budgetary timelines for the fiscal instrument to be passed on schedule, it should have cried out to the public once the various dates were being approached with no necessary action by the MDAs.
The widespread negative perceptions of the National Assembly obviously in my view must have informed Asiwaju Tinubu’s assertions, which Saraki and Dogara vehemently resented and disagreed with. But it is significant that a sizable number of members of the 8th Assembly were not re-elected to go back to the National Assembly, which implies that an appreciable number of Nigerians are not convinced of the superlative performance of the National Assembly as portrayed by Saraki and Dogara.
Could Tinubu have been influenced for his stance on Saraki and Dogara by the alleged role of the Senate President in preventing the emergence of Tinubu as running mate to Buhari in 2015? I am not a member of the APC but this does not sound to me as a plausible argument. How much influence within the emergent APC did Saraki have at that time to have played a major role in the emergence of Buhari’s running mate?
Was he in Buhari’s inner cycle? If so, how come he could not get the support of Buhari for his Senate President ambition within the APC and had to take the dishonest route to bag the position? If he successfully prevented the emergence of Tinubu as vice presidential candidate on religious grounds, how come he could not get a Christian Vice- Presidential candidate of his own for Buhari with Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), Tinubu’s nominee, being picked for the office? For me, the issue of internal party discipline and cohesion is one that transcends partisan divides.
It is in the best interest of political parties, the political elite and Nigerians as a whole that we have stable and viable political parties, comprised of dedicated members who are passionate about their parties’ programmes, ideology and values. And one way of ensuring this is through adherence to the dominant parties’ position on the choice of leadership of the National Assembly whether the majority party is PDP, APC or any other party at any given point in time.
That to me is the critical import of Asiwaju’s intervention.
•Awosan (PhD), a political analyst, was Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Public Relations to President Goodluck Jonathan
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