By Amadu Isah
To say that the race for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly has begun would indeed be an understatement. Effectively, the race is in an advanced stage, with stalwarts of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) throwing up diverse possibilities. One strand in this race is that of Ahmed Lawan who apparently has the support of the national chairman of the party, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, some leaders and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. As a matter of fact, in a rather provocative utterance that clearly undermined the essence of APC as a national, progressive party, the Asiwaju recently ordered, as it were, anyone opposed to the choice of Lawan to either conform or quit the party. In this rationalisation, once the party leadership has chosen a candidate, that candidate must inevitably clinch the position for which the endorsement has been made. It is difficult to see the basis for this rather banal line of thought, but one recurring decimal in the crucible of public discourse on race for the leadership of the 9th Senate has been the need for constitutional supremacy, by way of separation of powers. To apostles of this school of thought, and they are increasingly in the majority, legislative independence must not be undermined.
As even the members of the opposition parties have stressed time and again, senators ought to be able to elect leaders of their choice without external interference. To say the least, this is good for our democracy because a situation where another arm of government determines what happens in the National Assembly cannot possibly augur well for the country’s democracy. Even if the leadership of such an arm of government means no harm, the psychology and belief of Nigerians is that it wants to impose on them and reverse the gains of the country’s democratic experiment, thus rendering the entire exertions against the military and the untold suffering of those who got it out of power useless. The legislature will then be a rubber stamp, which would have defeated the essence of the Nigerian constitution. Crucially, efforts to make the legislature an appendage of the executive failed in the past. More important, they are also likely to fail now.
The fact is well known that when the country returned to civil rule 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. But then the bubble burst and Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba 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 PDP’s errors by trying to impose a leadership on the National Assembly. Needless to say, resistance to this scheme led to the emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President.
Now one of the candidates for Senate President, Senator Ali Ndume, has come up with an agenda which to all intents and purposes will move the country forward. Highlights of the agenda are to redefine and restructure the office of the President of the Senate and streamline its activities to reflect member’s priorities, 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, and establish the framework for meaningful legislative interventions for the implementation of the APC’S Next Level Agenda specifically in the areas of security of the country, job creation and growth, economic and infrastructure development, fighting corruption, business and entrepreneurship development, healthcare enhancement services, healthcare education and political inclusion.
By the same token, this agenda will enhance the substantiality of Nigeria’s 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. It will also 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. This will involve outlining existing resource deficiencies for NASS workers and design effective strategies to improve their welfare and enhance their rights and privileges, and promoting 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.
Nigerians would definitely welcome the establishment of timeliness for the passage of legislation, confirmation of nominees, concurrence on bills from the House and consideration of executive bills with an aim at restoring public and institutional confidence in the deliberative process. A proactive Senate leadership should be able to 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.
Instructively, Ndume is not relying on godfatherism but canvassing his ideas to his people, telling them what he wants to offer Nigerians if given the opportunity to lead the 9th National Assembly. In my view, this is the basis on which leaders ought to be elected in the country, particularly in these testy times. Leaders ought not to emerge from the cocoon of cabals and moneybags but from popular wishes and aspirations; they ought to be men of proven character who will not place parochial interests above national wellbeing. Already, Nigerians are complaining that the money expended on the Senate is huge. In the last four years, most of the bills on which humongous sums were expended were rejected by the executive. Nigerians don’t want this effort in futility anymore. They want people with pragmatic ideas that will move the country forward. The foregoing leads inescapably to Ali Ndume as the most viable option for the Senate Presidency. This is certainly not fortuitous. Vastly experienced in legislative matters and passionate about the things that he believes in, Ndume has unassailable interpersonal skills, and has proved his mettle time and again. The Senate certainly needs to get a round peg in its round hole.
*Malam Amadu Isah writes from Jalingo, Taraba State