In a few weeks from now, the clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Abubakar Salisu Maikasuwa would perform his very first major assignment as clerk.
Maikasuwa would not only interpret the Standing Rules of both chambers of the National Assembly, he would also read out the rules of the elections that would see to the emergence of the Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Deputy Senate President as well as the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
But beyond interpreting the rules of both chambers which would set the stage for the contest, he would state the pattern the elections would follow. Alhaji Maikasuwa would have the singular honour and privilege to declare the results of the elections and crown it all by swearing in whoever that emerges as Senate President, Speaker, Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Although subject to further confirmations by President Goodluck Jonathan, it is believed in most quarters that the much awaited elections that would produce the leadership of the National Assembly for the next four years is billed to take place on June 7th, 2011.
It is expected that after May 29th 2011, a date believed to be sacrosanct for swearing in of the President-elect, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, he will officially proclaim the National Assembly which would pave the way for this much awaited elections.
Suffice to say that the incumbent president of the Senate, David Mark is already cruising to victory as next president of the Senate for another four years, having set the record as the longest serving president of the Nigerian Senate since the advent of democracy in Nigeria in 1999.
Mark’s endorsement by the leadership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and President Goodluck Jonathan is an inconsequential one, no doubt an inconsequential addition, going by the preponderance of public opinion regarding the ability, maturity and sagacity of Mark to steer the ship of the obviously volatile National Assembly, particularly, the Senate where the office of the Senate President is rightly regarded as ‘musical chair’ without one acrimonious session either through counter allegations of corruption or the unnecessary activation of the impeachment clause against either the late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua or his successor in office, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
An investigation by LEADERSHIP SUNDAY reveals that already, the public opinion is in favour of Mark to continue in office as Senate president, not because the PDP zoned the position to the North-Central nor is it because there was an agreement that the House of Representatives members would retain their seats in the National Assembly after the election.
Considering the political turbulence both Senator Mark and Speaker Dimeji Bankole had to go through during their primaries as well as the National Assembly elections and the helpless posture of President Jonathan to their plights, it was not politically possible for the duo to ride on any promises from the President to return to the parliament, let alone retaining their seats.
Today, the coast is clear for David Mark to enjoy the record as not only the oldest serving Senator in the Nigerian parliament since the advent of democracy, but also the oldest Senate President.
Since the results of the just concluded National Assembly elections were declared, senators, former and serving governors, the professionals, the media as well as the general public have been calling on Mark to continue in office, not because he was endorsed by the PDP, not even because he is from the North-Central; he could have been from the South, but for the simple reason that he has exhibited very rare qualities to the conviction of the people that he has the capacity to lead the upper chamber of the National Assembly and well equipped to remain as chairman of the National Assembly and could protect the tenets of democracy and by extension stabilize the executive.
It is, therefore, clear that the choice of Senator Mark for Senate Presidency is not just because of the narrow mindedness of the PDP as a political party where merits are traded off for interests and convenience in the name of the unconstitutional zoning system which only seeks to achieve personal interests and breaches the concept of democracy.
Analysts have argued that the contest for who becomes the next Senate President would have been more interesting had the PDP zoned the Senate Presidency to another geo-political zone where Senator Mark would have clinched the position to send the right signals that competence and popularity, as well as the ability to deliver can triumph over any party arrangement and that Nigeria is bigger than any political association. It would have also exposed the anti-patriotic thinking of those who suddenly realize that the party recognizes any zoning system.
The House of Reps.
The choice of who becomes the Speaker of the House of Representatives is now an issue, primarily because of the decision of the people of Ogun and the incumbent Speaker’s constituents to elect another person to represent them at the House of Representatives.
The Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, equipped with both experience and intelligence piloted the affairs of the House of Representatives for three and a half years with exceptional brilliance to the admiration of many.
Although he at some occasions applied a rather hasty approach to issues, his eyes were always on the ball with the support of his principal officers with Representatives Emeka Ihedioha (majority Whip), Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (Deputy Majority Whip) and Honourable Suleiman Abdulrahman Kawu (minority Whip) as a dependable think tank.
Bankole was a product of zoning but a different kind of Representative because he quickly rose above zonal sentiments, because he was the choice of the lawmakers themselves which was against the wishes of some powerful elements within the national secretariat of the PDP.
He took over from Honourable Patricia Etteh, but unfortunately, Bankole could not make it back to the House of Representatives during the just concluded National Assembly elections and that has thrown open the office of the Speaker for the 7th Assembly.
The leadership of the PDP has said the zoning arrangement be retained, meaning that the South West should produce the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, but unfortunately, only five members out of which two ranking members were re-elected on the platform of the ruling PDP from the entire South West zone.
This undemocratic spirit of narrowing the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives to two untested and relatively inefficient persons has no doubt become a source of worry not only to the returning members and members-elect for the 7th Assembly but, to Nigerians at large.
The 360 members of the House of Representatives are beginning to look beyond sentiments of where the PDP zones the speakership to or where the Vice President comes from and where the deputy Senate president comes from, the members are searching for competence based on antecedents and the ability to deliver and lead the House through another four years.
This search appears to be genuine, realistic and patriotic following what appears to be a unanimous and outright rejection of the candidature of Representative Ajibola Muriana from Oyo State which is in line with best standard practices and in the real sense of the independence of the legislature as an arm of the government.
The seemingly growing rejection of Representative Muriana is not because he was endorsed by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the PDP but because in the opinion of the members of the House of Representatives, he does not have the kind of leadership qualities needed to lead the House.
Representatives Waziri Aminu Tambuwal from Sokoto State and Emeka Ihedioha (Imo State) both look good and fit the position of Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives either ways.
However, public opinion places Honourable Tambuwal ahead of Ihedioha because of the religious balance which can not be overlooked and dismissed by a wave of the hand as far as Nigeria is concerned.
But beyond the religious sentiments, Representative Tambuwal is one lawmaker with an undisputed experience, exposure and ability to lead the House of Representatives, having served as principal officer of the House of Representatives in the present Assembly.
Tambuwal and Ihedioha are all materials for the speakership and deputy speakership if members and Nigerians at large are interested in having a House of Representatives that would leave above boards and alive to its responsibilities.
Recent investigations, however, shows that the support base of Representative Tambuwal cuts across political party lines and ethnic sentiments and could send the signals to the people that the parliamentarians can regulate their conducts and activities which by implication means it can decide what is best for it without towing any path that would bring ridicule to it and presents it as an unserious assemblage.
The choice of Tambuwal, investigations reveal, is not to slight the PDP, the President and proponents of zoning system, but to get the best for the country and sustain the standard already set by the leadership of Bankole and meet the standard set in the Senate by David Mark as Senate president.
Analysts have also argued that the overwhelming support for Representative Tambuwal is simply ahead of Ihedioha who can also settle for deputy Speaker for a vibrant and dynamic leadership where in the absence of any of the two presiding officers, the House of Representatives would be on the speed with any of the two taking charge of proceedings.
Presently, LEADERSHIP SUNDAY gathered that majority of the governors, patriotic leaders and elder statesmen are of the strong opinion that with a David Mark and Aminu Tambuwal as Senate President and House Speaker respectively in the 7th National Assembly, the parliament would have begun picking from where it lost it after the truncation of the Shehu shagari government in 1983 where National Assembly leaders emerged based on merits.
Some analysts have also argued that it would only amount to mediocrity for the members of the National Assembly with Nigeria as their primary constituencies to allow themselves to be teleguided by outside influences to the extent of imposing clearly inefficient and incompetent people on them as leaders.
It is expected that the era of imposition is over, particularly, in the legislature where all elected parliamentarians are potential leaders.
Some are of the opinion that for total stability and development of the country, there is, therefore, the compelling need for both chambers of the National Assembly to elect their own leaders, based on the criteria they may have set out for themselves which include cognate experience, competence, character and stable mind. Not people who are stooges of external forces for personal interest rather than the interest of the entire nation.
Nigeria as the giant of Africa should commence thinking internationally both in terms of policies and programmes. However, the only way to achieve that and set the stage for other African countries to follow is for leaders that would steer the ship of the country to be vast in experience and idealistic, not leaders chosen on ethnic, religious or geo-political lines without recourse to quality and standards.
It is, therefore, the general view that election of leaders of the National Assembly on primordial and mundane arguments canvassed by the PDP national secretariat would only confirm fears being expressed in many quarters that Nigeria has not learnt any lesson after many years of independence.
It is no doubt that there are indeed beneficiaries of the zoning system from the presidency down to the legislature and by extension, the judiciary, but empirical knowledge of the true Nigerian situation has also shown that the best brains and assets are shut out with their wealth of experience because of the zoning arrangement and that has not helped the country since independence and the advent of democracy since 1999.
Today, the unfortunate death of President Yar’Adua has turned out a blessing for the country where real leaders could not have any hiding place. It was the ill health of the late President that clearly exposed the leadership qualities of Senator Mark through the ‘Doctrine of necessity’ when the country was on a fast lane to crash.
It was the same development that threw up the most acceptable and popular President, Dr. Good luck Jonathan. Today, Nigeria is set to wriggle out of the shackles of quasi democracy where imposition of leaders at all levels at the expense of merit and wishes of the people became the order of the day.
Today, a new dawn beckons and the 7th National Assembly members must put up their thinking caps so that they can be on the same wave length with the people who threw away all primordial sentiments to elect them as well as the President in an election adjudged by both foreign and domestic observers as free and fair.
To sustain that tempo towards a new Nigeria, the elections of the new set of leaders for the National Assembly would serve as a major turning point. It is expected that leaders that would emerge would be such that every body would be proud of.
They should be leaders that have the capacity to provide direction and can think on their toes with very positive mindsets that Nigeria can be better through the right laws, bills and resolutions and above all, track government spendings through oversight functions.
With avalanche of demands for state creation, independence of the legislature, the constitutional roles for the traditional institution and many other amendments sought through further amendment of the 1999 constitution, the 7th National Assembly can only achieve these through dynamic, focused and purposeful leadership of the two chambers.