Returning to the Well-Trodden Path

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Tobi Soniyi writes that the evolving crisis over minority leadership positions that is threatening the unity of the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party that has chosen to promote party supremacy over House Standing Rule and parliamentary convention, may lead to the PDP leadership diminishing itself

The House of Representatives was in the news again for the wrong reason last Wednesday as members of the minority caucus traded blows on the floor of the House. This ugly turn followed the announcement of Hon. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta State) as the Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu from Enugu State, Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Gideon Gwani, Minority Whip and Hon. Adesegun Adekoya as the Deputy Minority Whip. Hardly had the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, finished with the announcement than a free-for-all broke out among opposition members.

The Speaker’s explanation that he acted in accordance with parliamentary tradition and a letter signed by over 90 members of the eight opposition parties in the House could not assuage those who supported the emergence of Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers State) as the Minority Leader, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema (PDP, Anambra State) as the Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Yakubu Barde (PDP, Kaduna State) as the Minority Whip, and Hon. Muriano Ajibola (PDP, Oyo State) as Deputy Minority Whip. The House became rowdier. In the midst of the commotion, some lawmakers loyal to Chinda allegedly attempted to take hold of the mace, but the alert Sergeant-at-Arms prevented them, while the House was abruptly adjourned to the next legislative day.

 Protests against alleged imposition

Speaking to House correspondents on behalf of his group, Chinda alleged ambush by some of his colleagues in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Displaying a letter by the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus and National Secretary, Senator Umar Tsauri, to the Speaker dated June 21, 2019, he alleged an attempt by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to foist leadership on the minority. Chinda said, “It is the standard practice in parliament that minority leadership comes from amongst minority parties and the correspondence is always sent by the major minority party. In our case, that was followed.”

“The PDP in discussion with other minority parties agreed on our leadership in parliament and forwarded a letter to Mr. Speaker. (But) we came to hear our Dear Speaker attempting to read what he termed as correspondence from a conglomerate of political parties; that some members of the house have adopted other persons as the minority leaders outside what was forwarded to him by the party and that he would want to adopt that. We stand on the letter from the party. As far as we are concerned, our leaders have been selected and appointed by the party. It is only for the Speaker to read the correspondence which he has. We don’t have any issue with our leadership.”

However, Hon. Elumelu, who stormed the House Press Centre in the company of a throng of members of the minority caucus faulted Chinda’s claims. In his entourage were members of the PDP and seven other parties that comprise the minority caucus, namely; Action Alliance (AA), African Democratic Congress (ADC), Allied Peoples Movement (APM), All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). Elumelu maintained that he and other minority leaders announced by the Speaker were endorsed by an overwhelming majority of members of the caucus in line with the House Standing Rules.

According to him, “We are all from various political parties and for some of us who are from the PDP, we are very loyal to PDP. We believe in PDP strongly. We believe in the ideologies of PDP and of course, we have no other party than PDP. We have complied with that provision of the Standing Rules of the House and the second one is on the issue of ranking. Every one of us here is a ranking member. We have not in any way violated the Rules of the House.”

Other members of the House minority caucus, who accompanied Elumelu, also affirmed Elumelu and other minority leaders in their camp as the popularly elected leaders and warned the PDP to play by the rules. One of them, Hon. Leke Joseph (ADC, Kogi), said his party will resist attempts by the PDP to impose minority leaders on them.  “Minority Leader is not for one party. We have other political parties like my own party, the ADC. We have the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Action Alliance (AA) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). We are the vast majority. l signed for Honourable Ndudi Elumelu as my Minority Leader and I equally have my colleagues here in ADC, who did the same thing. You cannot choose a leader from your party and impose him on us,” he said.

Hon. Kingsley Chima (AA, Imo) spoke in the same vein, “We, the Members of Action Alliance in the 9th Assembly have resolved unanimously adopted Ndudi Elumelu as our Minority Leader. Let us reemphasise here that the business of electing or nominating minority leadership in the House is solely the business of the members and members of the 9th Assembly from the minority extraction have unambiguously nominated the so-mentioned members to pilot our affairs, in accordance with the Rules of the House, which says that minority parties shall nominate whosoever they wish to represent them as their leaders. Nothing was done against the constitution of Nigeria. Nothing was done against rules of the House.”

Also, Hon. Ifeanyi Anthony Igbezi (APGA, Anambra) emphasised that the entire members of APGA, the second largest minority party in the House endorsed Elumelu and other minority leaders. He said they will not any one foist a different person on them, in the name of party supremacy.

What the Constitution, House Standing Rule Say

Our findings show that the constitution empowers both the Senate and House of Representatives to make its own rules.

Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution provides, “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have power to regulate its own procedure, including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House.”

The House Standing Rule derives from this constitutional provision. Order 7 Rule 8 of the House Standing Rule provides, “Members of the minority parties in the House shall nominate from among them, the Minority Leader, Minority Whip, Deputy Minority Leader, and Deputy Minority Whip.”

Neither the Constitution nor the House Standing Rule gives the party any official role in the election of minority leaders in parliament, although the party could guide their members in parliament through zoning of offices.

The minority caucus of the House is made up of 147 opposition lawmakers. Of the number, 111 signed the letter to the Speaker communicating their choice of opposition principal officers.

The joint letter dated July 2, 2019 reads in part, “Pursuant to Order 7 Rule 8 of the Standing Rules of the House of Representatives, we the under-listed Members of the House Minority Caucus hereby endorse the under-listed Members for the following position; Hon. Ndudi Godwin Elumelu (Minority Leader), Hon. Toby Okechukwu (Deputy Minority Leader), Hon. Gideon Gwani (Minority Whip), (and) Hon. Adesegun Adekoya (Deputy Minority Whip).”

Did PDP tell a lie over in-house election?

Appearing on African Independent Television (AIT) breakfast last Thursday, spokesman of the PDP, Kola Ologbodiyan affirmed Chinda’s claim that the PDP conducted an in-house election among members to choose the minority leaders conveyed to the Speaker by the party.

However, a member of the House minority caucus of PDP extraction has faulted the claim by the PDP saying it was false in facts and practice. He said, “They actually called a meeting where some people nominated Chinda, while one or two other persons nominated Elumelu. I was there and I remember vividly that there was no election whatsoever. In fact, several of our caucus members told the party leadership that it was going about it the wrong way; that we had already activated the process to elect leadership of the minority caucus from among ourselves as required by our Standing Rule, in keeping with the convention over the years. They now said they would get back to us. “We got another text (SMS) on July 1 inviting us to a meeting with the PDP NWC somewhere in Asokoro. When we got there, they announced to us that Chinda and some others had been chosen as leaders of the minority caucus. We were all taken aback. If they said they conducted an election to arrive at the choice of Chinda and others, Nigerians should ask them where and when.  In fact, the said meeting held on July 1 whereas the letter conveying the so-called appointed leaders was written to the Speaker on June 21 and delivered to him on June 26. That has clearly betrayed the acknowledgment. There was no election. They just came to dictate to us based on an already completed action. We have said we won’t take it. This party belongs to all of us,” the member who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity vowed.

He further explained that the NWC of other parties that form the minority caucus were not represented at the meeting, wondering how the PDP alone could take it upon themselves to act on behalf of other parties without consultation and an agreement.

Parliamentary tradition in NASS

A former ranking House Member, who is also a member of PDP Board of Trustees, who craves anonymity, said it is not only untrue, but an aberration to say a political party can appoint leaders of either majority caucus or minority caucus for their members in parliament.

Going down memory lane, he said; “The practice is that the House members always elect their leaders. This is usually done by consensus or by election. When they do this in-house, they convey the leaders so nominated to the party as a mark of respect. The party will convey exactly the same list to the Speaker or President of the Senate. The party only conveys the election or consensus already reached and communicated to it by members. The party cannot just forward a list to the Speaker suo moto. It is never done”.

He explained that the National Assembly’s only experience in imposition leadership of minority caucus or majority caucus was the APC episode in 2015, noting that the PDP roundly condemned it at the time. He wondered why the PDP could go back to the same “act of impunity that destabilized the 8th National Assembly.”

“If you recall, after Senator Ahmed Lawan and Honourable Gbajabiamila lost out in the election of the presiding officers, the APC Chairman forwarded their names to Senator Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara to be announced as leaders of the Senate and House, respectively.  The list also contained other nominees to the remaining principal officers. It was this act that resulted in the fisticuffs on the floor of the House in June 2015 as majority of the APC House caucus resisted the imposition. After much discussion, Dogara bent the Rule to announce Gbajabiamila and others as leaders of the majority caucus in the 8thHouse of Representatives. Therefore, it was an odd situation, not the norm,” he added.

 Our source, stressed that was the reason Saraki bluntly refused to honour the list presented by the party, but went with Senator Ndume, being the choice of the APC. He also recalled that the same APC Senate caucus that removed Ndume and replaced him with Senator Ahmed Lawan when they were uncomfortable with his leadership. According to him, “I can tell you that even in 2011 or the 7thAssembly, the opposition parties conducted election for the position of minority leader for three contenders, namely Hon. Abike Dabiri, Hon. Gbajabiamila and one other person, all of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). That was in Kaduna. Femi won and became the Minority Leader.

“For the PDP, it has always been our style for the party leadership to zone the offices. The lawmakers that make up the zonal caucuses will normally conduct elections for those interested if there is no consensus. For instance, when the position of Chief Whip was zoned to the South-east in the 6th House of Representatives in 2007, South-east caucus of the House elected Hon. Independence Ogunewe (Imo). That was under the speakership of Hon. Patricia Etteh. When Etteh was removed as Speaker, House leadership was disrupted. South-east caucus elected then Chairman of Committee on Aviation, Hon. Bethel Amadi, as Ogunewe’s successor. When they were no longer comfortable with Amadi, they kicked him out and elected Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who dropped his chairmanship of the House Committee on Marine Transport to assume that position.

“In the 8th Assembly, the Deputy Minority Leader was again zoned to the South-east. The South-east House caucus cast votes among Hon. Chuchu Onyema (Anambra), Jones Onyenyiri (Imo), Sylvester Ogbaga (Ebonyi), and Nkiru Onyejeocha (Abia). Hon Chuchu won. Chuchu could not have become Deputy Minority Leader if it were by appointment by the party since he just got re-elected into House after four years of sabbatical from National Assembly and was relatively unknown. He was thrown up just by exercise of franchise by South-east PDP members in the House. This is also the tradition with other zones. They also get their leaders by consensus or by election. Therefore, this idea of parties appointing and conveying names of principal officers is erroneous and offends the Standing Rules and the Constitution. And in reality, it has never happened until 2015 when APC wrote, suo moto, to Saraki and Dogara. That arbitrary and unparliamentarily letter was the sole reason for the delay in announcing the majority caucus leadership in 2015. We can still easily recall all the troubles that came with it and how it eventually dealt APC a great blow. The party eventually lost so many lawmakers, including the Senate President and Speaker to the PDP.

“Please, also note that this privilege of a party writing to convey to the Speaker members of the leadership of the minority caucus cannot apply when the PDP is not the only minority party. There are about eight parties involved. Will the leadership of all the eight minority parties also write the Speaker? I guess that was why members of the minority extraction did the joint letter that the Speaker read. Those who are saying Gbajabiamila is trying to impose minority leadership on the PDP are just trying to whip up sentiments or don’t know what they are talking about.”

 Is suspension the answer?

Meanwhile, a meeting between the PDP NWC and key actors in the House impasse, notably members of the Elumelu-led minority principal officers and Chinda appear to have worsened the PDP crisis as members of the Elumelu-led minority principal officers were suspended after they were unable to honour the invitation by the NWC, claiming in a letter by the Minority Leader that they were already out of Abuja. A statement released by PDP National Publicity Secretary read in part, “The party noted the roles played by the under-listed members, which resulted in the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, reading another list for minority leadership of the House other than the list submitted to him by our party, the PDP. Consequent upon this, the above mentioned members of our party are hereby suspended for one month and this matter is hereby referred to the National Disciplinary Committee of our party, in keeping with Section 57(3) of the PDP Constitution.”

However, Elumelu said the invitation to the meeting was received by his gateman at 7:47pm after the last day of plenary for the week, Thursday, when most members had already travelled out of Abuja. He added that he directed his Special Assistant, to convey his regrets in writing on behalf of the others and suggested new dates to the party. He expressed surprise at the hasty decision to suspend him and his colleagues, saying he smelt premeditated action.

A senior party member who preferred his name not to be mentioned since he was part of those to mediate on the matter expressed disgust at the entire episode. He warned that the PDP was fast descending into another troubled waters soon after the Ali Modu Sheriff crisis. He said, “Leadership at the highest level of any party or government should be a student of organisational behaviour; and one of the lessons you learn from organisational behaviour is that you must eschew impulsive decisions.

“This type of impulsive decision led to the recruitment of Ali Modu Sherrif by Nyesom Wike and Ayo Fayose in 2016. That decision nearly ruined the PDP. Today, the same persons are directing undigested decisions at the parliament, which is completely outside their purview. The same people who recruited Sheriff are the ones trying to disorganise PDP parliamentarians. If this is happening, you begin to wonder what manner of leaders the PDP has now. The idea of suspending the lawmakers for activities within the parliament is even an aberration. There is something parliamentary immunity. After 20 years of democracy, the PDP leadership should know this and not continue to behave like delinquent adults. Are you suspending the lawmakers for carrying out legal actions covered by the Constitution and their House Rules? Are you suspending them for resisting illegality and breach of parliamentary conventions? If they are to be removed from the minority offices they occupy, it has to be by their colleagues in the House, not even the party.

“Besides, trying to impose leadership on the legislature without the legislators’ consent is completely outside the scope of work of party leadership. Was it not the same decisions we all criticised APC for in 2015? Are we not being hypocrites here? Again, in taking decisions, one expected the party to consider how it will carry the decisions through because when they are unable to carry out their decisions, they end up diminishing themselves. When Ali Modu Sheriff brought by the same people threw us out of Wadata Plaza, it was the PDP House caucus that provided the party with a comfortable office accommodation. As a party, we have pilloried APC and Buhari’s presidency as homes to bigotry and injustice. Yet, here we are insisting that Rivers State must have both National Chairman and position of Minority Leader. How will people trust us with power to do things differently if we can’t do justice in our own little space?

“You would expect that visionary and strategic leadership should calculate the benefits inherent in any decision. In terms of law and facts, the suspension of Elumelu and his colleagues is of no consequence because it would neither lead to loss of leadership position nor their membership of parliament.  It is a waste of time that would rather throw the party into deeper crisis as it is apparently doing already. If we continue in this track when we should be providing formidable opposition, rallying our forces, then it could well be Nunc Dimittis for our party. The NWC is overreaching itself on this matter and I will tell them my mind when we meet on Monday.”

 Will the falcon heed the falconer?

While it appears the PDP has good counsels to benefit from, keen observers of the development believe that it is one thing to get quality advice and another to heed it. They point to a retinue of acts of impunity, which they say led to the breakaway of the New PDP and series of events that cost it power at the centre and in most states

Will the PDP heed wise counsels? Will the falcon heed the falconer? It looks like the PDP is returning to a well-trodden path.

QUICK FACTS:

*Members of the minority caucus in the House of Representatives traded blows on the floor of the House recently. This ugly turn followed the announcement of Hon. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP Delta State) and others to fill minority leadership offices

*There are eight opposition parties in the House including Action Alliance (AA), African Democratic Congress (ADC), Allied Peoples Movement (APM), All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). These parties supported the emergence of Elumelu

*The PDP leadership, however, wrote to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, indicating it wants the minority leadership offices occupied by Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers State) and others

*The PDP leadership claim that as the major minority party, it should determine leadership of the minority caucus. It argued that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila is trying to impose minority leadership on the PDP

*The PDP is not the only minority party. There are about eight parties involved

*Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution provides, “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have power to regulate its own procedure, including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House.”

*The House Standing Rule, Order 7 Rule 8 of the House Standing Rule provides, “Members of the minority parties in the House shall nominate from among them, the Minority Leader, Minority Whip, Deputy Minority Leader, and Deputy Minority Whip.”

*Neither the Constitution nor the House Standing Rule gives the party any official role in the election of minority leaders in parliament

*The House of Representatives comprises of 360 members drawn from the 36 states of the federation and FCT

*The minority caucus of the House is made up of 147 opposition lawmakers. Of the number, 111 signed the letter to the Speaker communicating their choice of Elumelu and other principal officers

*Emergence of principal officers of the parliament is usually by consensus or election conducted by members

*The PDP NWC has suspended the Elumelu-led minority principal officers for one month for their role, “which resulted in the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, reading another list for minority leadership of the House other than the list submitted to him by our party, the PDP.”

*Suspending lawmakers for activities within the parliament is an aberration, which disregards parliamentary immunity

*The suspension of Elumelu and his colleagues is of no consequence because it would neither lead to loss of leadership position nor their membership of parliament.  It is a waste of time