By Bala Usman
The 2019 general elections now effectively over, the National Assembly resumes in June to begin the all-important task of taking Nigeria to the Next Level, in accordance with the mantra of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). As the results of the presidential election affirm, the majority of Nigerians believe that the most assured road towards Nigeria’s advancement is that provided by the President Muhammadu Buharis leadership. But there is a snag: Buhari needs a vibrant, focused and cooperative, but of course far from docile, National Assembly to be able to actualize his agenda. More crucially, Nigerians desire a National Assembly that would fight corruption, eliminate waste, uphold the rule of law and restore peace and sanity in the country. To all intents and purposes, the hullabaloo witnessed in the build up to the 8th National Assembly culminating in the emergence of the Bukola Saraki leadership caused a lot of uproar in the polity. Truth be told, the APC leadership did not manage the crisis well and this had adverse effects on the polity. This is why having secured the majority seats in the National Assembly, the party needs to learn from the mistakes of the immediate past. In particular, the leadership of the party needs to exercise caution by not trying to impose candidates on the National Assembly. They can of course lobby from behind the scenes.
One of the major problems the legislature always has with the executive is that the executive wants to lord itself over lawmakers. In the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency of 1999-2007, the nation witnessed this very often. In recent years, too, the problem has persisted, chiefly because the lawmakers too want to assert their own independence. This defence mechanism is indeed understandable: in the past whenever problems arose in the polity and the military struck, the legislature was always the first casualty. And so it is only natural that its members would always want to assert their independence. As nearly every patriot recognizes, there is a need to build the legislative culture in the country. One of the ways of fostering the legislative culture is to grant lawmakers the liberty to choose their leaders. This point should be borne in mind as the nation awaits the next Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Happily, the presidency has indicated that it is not going the way of Delta State senator, Ovie Omo-Agege, who is on record as saying, rather unfortunately, that it is President Muhammadu Buhari who will choose the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives for the 9th National Assembly. Since the president is from the North-West and the vice president is from the South-West, attention has shifted to the North-East with regard to the location that the next Senate President is supposed to come from, while the South West is eying the Speaker of House of Representatives.
The ruling party should ensure effective zoning arrangement so as to facilitate seamless transition and peace and tranquility in the polity. It should not nurture any altercation which another party may take advantage of with a view to hijacking the Senate leadership. Indeed, a recourse to history should suffice to steer anyone intending to toe the path of imposition away from such a ruinous course.
Since 1999, there has been no imposition of leadership on the National Assembly by the presidency or the ruling party which did not boomerang, and very badly too. When the country returned to civil rule in 1999, Alhaji Salisu Buhari was imposed by the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on members of the House of Representatives. Ignoring protests by members who said that Salisu Buhari was not the fit and proper person for the position, the party went ahead with his coronation and for the first few weeks in which he presided over the affairs of the House of Representatives, the strategy appeared to have worked because the man was assumed to have carried himself admirably well and conducted the affairs of the House in a very friendly, effective and admirable manner. But then the bubble burst. The nation’s leading magazines went to town with the salacious story of his age falsification and certificate scandal. The story, Nigerians remember so well: Mr Speaker claimed to have attended the University of Toronto, Canada and that he was 36 years old when he was in fact 29 at the time he was elected as a federal lawmaker. The rest is history, but the opprobrium that the story brought on the nation and the ruling party was monumental: the disgraced Speaker was convicted of certificate forgery and age falsification, and only escaped prison because he was given the option of paying a fine. Alhaji Ghali Umar NaAbba had to be made the Speaker.
Sadly, neither the ruling party nor the presidency showed that it had learnt any lessons from the Salisu Buhari saga. The PDP imposed Patricia Etteh as the Speaker of the House, but she was removed from office following yet another scandal. This paved the way for Rt. Hon Dimeji Bankole to become the Speaker in 2007. In 2015, Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola was imposed by the party on her colleagues, but members rebelled against her choice by working with the opposition to produce Aminu Tambuwal as the Speaker. The story was the same in the Senate where the late Evans Enwerem was imposed on his colleagues in 1999. He was replaced by Dr. Chuba Okadigbo following a scandal over his real name (Evan or Evans?) and an alleged crime that happened almost 50 years prior to that time. Yet the presidency did not want Okadigbo and did everything to undermine his position while he himself did not help matters with his poor disposition to things. He was forced out of the seat having been accused of granting anticipatory approvals and Anyim Pius Anyim became the Senate President. In 2015, APC repeated PDPs errors by trying to impose Ahmed Lawan on his colleagues. Needless to say, resistance to this scheme led to the emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President.
By now, the point ought to be sufficiently clear that the National Assembly habitually guides its independence jealously as an arm of government and would resist any attempt to impose leadership on it. If we want our democracy to grow, surely we will allow the National Assembly members to choose a leadership of their choice rather than imposing unpopular candidates on them. As George Santayana has famously said: Those who do cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This should not be the portion of Nigerians as we approach the Next Level.
*Bala Usman contributes this piece from University of Jo’s, Plateau State.