Legislators should strive to follow due process
Although there are procedures for removing the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives as well as Speakers in the 36 States Houses of Assembly, we have in the past 19 years witnessed several impeachments that neither conformed with the rules set by the members themselves nor with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
Resuming from a two-month recess last week, the Kano State House of Assembly removed its speaker and replaced him with a former speaker while his deputy was also replaced by a former deputy speaker. A week earlier, the Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly had been similarly removed in what has become a game of musical chairs. This year alone, no fewer than 10 speakers and deputy speakers have lost their jobs, most of them without due process.
More often than not, at the bottom of the impeachments saga is the cynical attempt to control the legislature by the executive. Unfortunately, the immediate consequence of this interminable bickering in the legislative houses is its toll on the quality of debate and legislation for good governance in our country, aside the fact that the people are denied quality and effective representation.
With very little excuse and sometimes for pecuniary reasons, legislators at both the federal level and in the states have no qualms about impeaching their presiding officers. But the more worrisome aspect is the disruptive interference of the executive and that is why we implore the presidency and the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to allow the National Assembly members to decide who preside over their affairs in the wake of recent defections from the ruling party to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Behind most of the impeachments is the overbearing disposition of the executive either at the federal level or in the states with the sole aim of emasculating the legislative arm of government in a bid to assume total control without any form of accountability. Although this is more prevalent in the states, we have also seen that at the federal level. During President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure between 1999 and 2007, for instance, the National Assembly recorded a high turnover of presiding officers as the third most powerful office in the land became a revolving door, producing in its wake a total of five senate presidents.
Under the prevailing situation, the APC has made its position clear that it would not tolerate a member of the opposition presiding at the Senate, asking Dr Bukola Saraki to quit as Senate President. But the premise on which the party bases its argument is faulty against the background of the precedent it set four years ago. At that period, then Speaker of the House of Representatives and current Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, led many members from the then ruling PDP to the opposition. He kept his seat because the party could not muster the required number to remove him. While it is therefore understandable that the APC would want the seat of presiding officer in the Senate, we urge the party not to resort to extra-judicial means in the process.
It is noteworthy that neither the senate president nor the speakers (at federal and the states) have absolute powers of their own. They remain “executive heads” of the legislative branch by virtue of being elected by their peers; in other words, they are first among equals. That also presupposes that they are at the mercy of their colleagues at all times and in all circumstances. While we therefore have no problem with APC members in the Senate who may want Saraki to vacate his seat, having crossed over to the PDP, any attempt to use the security agencies to achieve a predetermined end will not augur well for our democracy.