Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, a former senior legislative aide to two former presidents states why The Presidency and the leadership of the National Assembly must bury the hatchet and adopt a process of cordial informal consultations
This type of crisis is nothing new to the senate. I recall that between 1999 and 2003 when I served in the senate that a similar situation existed, where a Senate President emerged without the endorsement or support of the ruling party leadership or Presidency. You will recall that the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo took over the Senate Presidency after Evans Enwerem was removed against the wishes of the then President, so this Senate President is not the first to so emerge.
The difference between now and then is the disposition of our present President who has been, in my opinion, exhibiting a lot of maturity and patience because having worked for two Presidents as Presidential Legislative Special Adviser, I can authoritatively say that, this Senate President, considering the manner he emerged would not have lasted one year.
Personally, for supporting Okadigbo, I was removed as Senate Deputy Minority Leader. I was given accommodation in Apo Village at the end of the estate close to the thick forest with wild animals as my regular visitors. When I fenced the property, I was indicted for illegally erecting the fence and making senate pay for it without declaring pecuniary interest. All sorts of charges were levelled against me and at some point, I had like three cases in court. I suffered all these because I supported Okadigbo in the Impeachment of Enwerem.
The party is only now, and rightly so, insisting that the Senate President should step down now that he is in another party.
Whenever a Senate President emerges without the endorsement of the Presidency and the party leadership, this type of crisis is bound to occur. But both parties could have handled the situation better. Ordinarily, it is important for the Senate President and the President to be friends or at best be on cordial terms. Both parties have a duty to be cordial and work together for the good of the people. In my days as Special Adviser, we evolved a system of non-stop informal interactive sessions. From the time of policy formulation, we used to engage the legislators and keep them posted and engaged so that by the time the bill is drafted and laid on the table, the legislature is fully involved and the bills get passed fast.
Doing it this way engenders mutual trust and promotes co-operation without affecting the principles of separation of power between the executive and legislature.
We are at a point where both parties of necessity must reconsider their approach. Any leadership that emerges through personal alliances not linked to the party leadership will invariably be high-handed in its approach to administering the legislature, that notwithstanding it behoves such leadership to rise above base sentiments to exhibit maturity.
I pride myself for not being anyone’s apologist but this President has, in my opinion, either been indifferent to the circumstances that led to the emergence of Dr. Bukola Saraki as Senate President or he is an extremely tolerant person. I however choose to believe the latter because he even congratulated Saraki when the Supreme Court vindicated him.
What we are seeing now is that disagreement slows down the pace of government. The passage of bills is delayed and the people suffer unnecessarily. If the executive and legislature can adopt a process where cordial informal consultations are the order of the day, it will become a win-win situation for everyone including the populace. Democracy cannot thrive in an atmosphere of incessant disagreement, cordiality is paramount and must be sought by all means.
To achieve this, mutual respect and cordiality is the key. If the present leadership of the legislature and the executive revive my policy of nonstop informal interactive engagement, the era of purposeful governance and cordial relations will return to governance in Nigeria. I fervently pray that good conscience and love for country will prevail in the current situation between the executive and legislature.
I recall an incident during my days as a serving Senator. Our choice as Senate President, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo had taken over the mantle after we removed Evans Enwerem the then President’s favourite. Okadigbo was inundated with impeachment plots and series of intimidations engineered from outside the Senate. On one occasion, his official residence at Apo Villa was invaded by police men and under duress forced the Senate President to write and sign a bogus statement. When the news got to us- Senators who supported Okadigbo, we mobilised to the residence and successfully broke the siege and tore the bogus statement. For this, we were marked for serious retribution. When they finally impeached Okadigbo, I as a supporter, was removed as Deputy Minority Leader and indicted on trumped up charges. When I hear people say Mr. President has been overbearing in this current crisis, I laugh. Compared to what we went through with Okadigbo, this is a tea party. In fact, I think this President should be commended for displaying incredible restraint in the face of legislative provocation.