By Brutus Garba
The battle for Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives began immediately after the presidential and National Assembly polls had been won and lost. And the battle promises to continue until early June when the ninth National Assembly is due to be inaugurated. But whether the battle will continue beyond the inauguration is what nobody can say with certainty at this point. Only the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, seems to be in the position to determine what will happen in the Senate in the post-inauguration period. Reason: The leadership of the party is taking a path that can only be a source of instability in the Senate as the ninth session is about to begin. History supports this fear. A background into how the APC leadership is about to create crisis in the upper chamber of the federal parliament and the consequences it portends will suffice. When the APC won the majority in both chambers of the National Assembly in the March elections, as is the convention across the world where democracy is practised, it became obvious that it had the number to produce the leadership. But the victory that ordinarily should be a point of strength has now become a problem. Immediately after, the National Chairman of the party, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, as he is wont to do, began to make reckless statements.
He listed what is acceptable to the party and what is not, concerning the emergence of the National Assembly presiding and principal officers. The offices, as is customary in the polity,
should be zoned. But even while that had yet to happen, at least officially, and without any consultations whatsoever, Oshiomhole met with the senators elected on the platform of his party and arrogantly announced that the APC had decided to zone the Senate President to the North-East. Notwithstanding the indiscretion displayed by the party leadership because it did not consult with stakeholders on the decision, the step was widely welcomed because North-East was the zone the APC earmarked the Senate President for the eighth National Assembly before the number three office accidentally went to the North Central. But Oshiomhole did not stop there.
He went further to say that the office had been zoned to a particular individual. That is what is creating controversy in the polity. Critics say what the party National Chairman has done is not only strange to democracy as it was devoid of any consultations with stakeholders, it is also a sure path to instability in the ninth Senate. History, in fact, does not support imposition of the Senate President, especially since the nation returned to participatory democracy in 1999. Analysts point to the emergence of Senator Evan(s) Enwerem as Senate President of the first Senate to buttress their position that imposition of the occupant of the office has been nothing but a source of instability in the red chamber. Ahead of the inauguration of that Senate, Senator Chuba Okadigbo, as then-popular choice for Senate President, was already coasting home to victory when the Obasanjo-led executive, apparently uncomfortable with the strong personality of Okadigbo, interfered with the process, causing Enwerem to emerge. The interference was all that was needed to sow the seed of instability in then-Senate. Consequently, the first Senate ended producing five Senate Presidents. As even a student of Politics 101 will know, the country couldn’t have benefitted from an unstable Senate in terms of quality legislation and oversight of the executive.
With the benefit of this hindsight, analysts say Oshiomhole will do the polity a whole world of good by backtracking on his mission to impose the Senate President. They argue that the zoning of the number three office would have been enough while leaving the emergence of the candidate to the party’s North-East Caucus of senators-elect to guarantee a popular choice. But like the hunter’s dog that is destined to be lost because it does not hear the owner’s whistle, Oshiomhole has continued on the path to impose Senator Ahmed Lawan as Senate President.
Meanwhile, there are two other contenders from the North-East for the number three office – Senators Ali Ndume and Danjuma Goje – even if some people say the aspiration of Goje does not look serious. Ndume has continued to insist that the ninth Senate should be allowed to choose the Senate President without encumbrances to ensure that a popular number three citizen who enjoys the confidence of his colleagues, and not the one imposed from outside, emerges. Many analysts agree with him on the grounds that, apart from the fact that the process will guarantee the independence of the upper chamber as the Senate President will have any IOU to repay anybody, that is the only way to give stability to the next Senate. And the analysts don’t overlook the fact that Ndume is overtly qualified for the job. He has been in the National Assembly since 2003 when he was elected into the House of Representatives (Chibok/Damboa/Gwoza Federal Constituency).
And within four years at the House, Ndume distinguished himself, a situation that saw him being unanimously elected in 2007 as the Minority Leader of the sixth Assembly.
His profound devotion to the principles of representative democracy where the will of the people is paramount inspired his candidacy for the Senate to represent Borno South in 2011 even when that contradicted the wish of then-governor of his home state, Borno. As a man with firm convictions and principles, Ndume changed his political affiliation from the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and successfully actualised his senatorial ambition.
Ndume has since made highly impactful legislative interventions that contributed immensely to sustainable development especially in his capacity as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on MDGs in the last (7th) Assembly.
His political career is guided by a firm adherence to the fundamental constitutional responsibilities underlying his mandate. This inspired his revolutionary decision to join over 20 of his distinguished colleagues to move from the PDP to form a bloc called the ‘new PDP’. This group subsequently merged to form the APC and was significantly responsible for its emergence as the ruling party at the federal level in 2015. Ndume launched his second bid for the Senate on that platform and was re-elected for second term to represent the people of Borno South.
He became the Majority Leader of the Senate upon the inauguration of the eighth National Assembly on June 9, 2015.
A visionary and talented political leader who commands the respect of his colleagues through integrity, Ndume is a member of the Presidential Committee on the North-East Initiative that was inaugurated on October 26, 2016 and currently the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service.
He is highly reputed for building consensus among divergent groups and possesses an impeccable political acumen.
Ndume has not only the desired experience for the Senate top job, he also has the intellectual acumen and the necessary exposure. He unfolded his agenda should his colleagues elect him to lead them in the next Senate as follows:
1. Redefine and restructure the office of the President of the Senate and streamline its activities to reflect members’ priorities.
2. To work harmoniously and inter-dependently with the executive without undermining the principle of Separation of Powers and creating formidable platform for effective constitutional oversight functions.
3. Establish the framework for meaningful legislative interventions for the implementation of the APC’S Next Level Agenda specifically in the following areas:
* Security of the country
* Enhance job creation and growth
* Economic and Infrastructure Development
* Fighting Corruption
* Business and Entrepreneurship Development
* Healthcare Enhancement Services
* Healthcare Education
* Political Inclusion
4. Enhance the substantiality of our funding architecture by mobilizing through the legislative process robust strategies in boosting revenue generation, eliminate financial loopholes, improve efficiency in our tax laws and reduce dependency on local and foreign loans to finance national budget.
5. Reform the Senate, broaden the network of legislative resources accessible to members and facilitate the adoption and integration of a much more efficient, transparent and accountable framework of legislative activities and functions.
6. Outline existing resource deficiencies for NASS workers and design effective strategies to improve their welfare and enhance their rights and privileges.
7. Promote the spirit of collegiality by inculcating the principle of espirit de corps among members and establishing a platform of mutual cooperation and exchange of ideas with former members through collaborative engagements as committee consultants or relevant National Assembly board appointments.
8. Establish timeliness for passage of legislation, confirmation of nominees, concurrence on bills from the House and consideration of executive bills with the aim of restoring public and institutional confidence in the deliberative process.
9. Promote the principles of Good Governance, Participatory Democracy and Sustainable Development across the nation by establishing regulatory guidelines/framework for effective utilization and application through the passage of legislations on good governance initiatives, i.e, constituency development bill to make constituency projects more accountable, efficient and transparent.
*Garba contributes this piece from Plot 1228, Oka Akoki Street, Garki, Abuja.