One controversial issue that has dominated the political space since the conclusion of the 2019 general elections is who gets what at the National Assembly. The leadership tussle especially as it affects the offices of the Senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives is smouldering and the candidates are not pulling any stops.
Ordinarily, this should not have been a major concern but for what played out in 2015 when leaders of both chambers emerged against the permutation of the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Members of both Upper and Lower legislative chambers shocked APC high command when they elected Dr Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives, respectively, as their leaders.
APC had pencilled down Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as preferred candidates and ‘mandated’ lawmakers on its platform to vote them for the offices.The party, during the re-electioneering campaign, hinged some of its failures on what it termed lack of cordial relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government.
To the party, both Saraki and Dogara gave President Muhammadu Buhari a tough time and did not allow many of his proposals to sail through. But the outgoing National Assembly has been adjudged in many quarters as one of the most vibrant, independent and successful.
This time round, the party wants to ensure that its candidates emerge not only as Senate president and Speaker of House of Representatives but also other principal officers. No doubt, a cordial and harmonious relationship between the executive and legislative arms will ensure easy passage of bills. But it may also be dangerous when one becomes an appendage to the other. Most unfortunate will it be if the legislative arm allows itself to be a rubber stamp to executive bills, to the detriment of the citizens.
The way the ruling party is going about trying to impose certain individuals on the leadership of the National Assembly portends a dangerous dimension, since many of the lawmakers have also raised objection to it. The position of the party runs contrary to the view of other aspirants and zones barred from the contest. There are fears that should the party have its way, such imposed leaders may not last and their tenure would be turbulent. Both the constitution and rules governing activities of the Senate and House of Representatives specify that principal officers will be elected by members on the floor of the Chambers.
According to Section 50(1a) of the 1999 constitution, as amended: “There shall be a president and Deputy President of the Senate who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves’’. The 109 elected senators and 360 House of Representatives members are the constitutional kingmakers as far as the emergence of presiding officers of both chambers are concerned, and not national chairman of a ruling party or even the president.
Since 1999, no leader who was imposed on any of the chambers of the National Assembly had peace or completed its tenure. Under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Evans Enwerem and Adolphus Wabara were imposed as Senate president at different times. Also in the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh was imposed as Speaker. They all had a tough time and were eventually removed. This was the sad situation until the party got it right in the 6th and 7th National Assembly, particularly in the Senate when David Mark served twice as president of the Senate through support in the form of votes given to him by fellow senators and not endorsement by party hierarchy.
We are compelled by historical antecedents to remind the APC that the issue at stake is the leadership of the National Assembly. It will, therefore, be out of place for the party to begin to imagine that it can do it alone without getting the support of opposition PDP members who also have substantial numbers.
APC ought to be properly advised that the interest of the nation should be paramount at all times. While we are not interested in the internal workings of the APC, it is our opinion that merit should count. Whoever the party and members of the two chambers are considering should be eminently qualified both in intellect and character.
The party should also note that the National Assembly in recent times has enjoyed relative peace owing to the pattern of the emergence of its leaders. Nigerians will not forgive the party if its action in any way draws the nation back into the days turbulence in the two chambers.
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