There seems to be no let in the crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress in the National Assembly. The crisis triggered by the emergence of the presiding officers of both the Senate and House of Representatives and which has scuttled the distribution of other principal positions in the parliament led to a postponement of the scheduled July 21 resumption of the two houses to July 28. As the Senate and House get set to resume on Tuesday, July 28, Political Correspondent IBIDAPO BALOGUN examines the development and previews what may happen next…
The crisis rocking the Senate and House of Representatives over the emergence of their presiding officers is now a matter for the law court. The pro-Senator Ahmed Lawan group called the Unity Forum had last week headed for court to challenge the June 9 election of Senator Bukola Saraki as Senate President and Chief Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President. It was a signal that the peace talks to end the leadership crisis in the Senate had collapsed. The resolve of the Unity Forum Senators to head for court is said to be hinged on the failure of the Sraki group, the Like Minds, to yield grounds and share the remaining principal positions in the Senate in line with the directive of the All Progressives Congress. A few days later, a similar path was taken in the House, as lawmakers loyal to Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila also dragged House Speaker Yakubu Dogara to court over the appointment of principal officers. The suit was filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja by Hon. Abubakar Lado Abdullahi and Hon. Olajide Abdul Jimoh asking the court to grant them an order restraining the Speaker and Deputy Speaker Lasun Yusuf and the Clerk of the House, Sani Mohammed Omolori, from preventing the announcement of the list of principal officers as forwarded to the APC by Speaker Dogara. Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers in the House have deplored the crisis rocking the APC in the House, condemned the postponement of the July 21 resumption to July 28 and insisted on the sanctity of the new resumption date.
Court to the Rescue?
The million dollar question on the lip of every discerning analyst is of what essence will the court be in this matter? Of what degree will the court’s intervention be? The pro-Lawan group, the Unity Forum, are praying the court in Abuja to nullify the elections of Saraki and Ekweremadu. Their decision to go to court is hinged on alleged lack of quorum in the chamber on June 9 when Saraki and Ekweremadu were elected and the use of alleged forged 2015 Senate Standing Orders (Amended) to conduct the election. A top member of the Unity Forum, who spoke on the court case, told a national newspaper thus: “We have decided to seek legal redress to contest the validity of the election of the Senate President and his deputy based on forged Standing Orders.
“We want to lay all the cards on the table before the court. If at the end of the day, the court affirms the validity of the Standing Orders and the election of the Principal Officers, we will abide by such judicial pronouncement. We have discovered that the Like Minds are not ready to yield ground despite the intervention of the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a panel raised by the APC Governors Forum. Is it not better to follow the rule of law than impunity? The management of the National Assembly is expected to tell the court how it came about the forged Standing Orders”.
In the House, an originating summon served on Defendants in the suit instituted by the two pro-Gbajabiamila members last week showed that the lawmakers are asking the court to determine whether Section14 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, on federal character applies to the internal workings of the National Assembly, and in particular the House of Representatives, with respect to the appointment of principal officers and, in particular, the positions of Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader, Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip. The two lawmakers had argued that, “it is an indisputable fact that the positions in question are party positions, that is principal offices of the APC, albeit that they concomitantly are also principal positions within the House of Representatives. “Consequently, the first and second defendants (Speaker and Deputy Speaker) shall, in accordance with Article 9.2 of APC Constitution which states that ‘members of the party shall be obligated to affirm the party’s aims and objectives’, implement the party’s aims as contained in the party’s nomination letter”.
The APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, on June 23 sent the party’s position to Saraki. In the letter, Oyegun had said: “Please find below for your necessary action names of principal officers approved by the party, after excessive consultations for the 8th Senate as follows: Sen. Ahmed Lawan (Majority Leader)—North-East; Prof. Sola Adeyeye (Chief Whip)—South-West; Sen. George Akume (Deputy Majority Leader)—North-Central; and Sen. Abu Ibrahim(Deputy Chief Whip)—North-West.
In Oyegun’s letter to House Speaker Dogara, the APC Chairman had proposed Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for House Leader. The party had zoned the Majority Leader to the South-West; Deputy Leader to the North-West; Chief Whip to the North-East; and Deputy Whip to the South-South. But the Speaker refused to read Oyegun’s letter on floor of the House and after a few weeks, he flatly rejected the suggested composition of the remaining principal offices in the House, saying following the path suggested by Oyegun would negate the principle of Federal Character.
The new twist in the disagreement within the APC camp in the House is what to give the South-east caucus in the House, and this, according to WESTERN POST sources, is being amplified by the pro-Dogara group in order to break the Gbajabiamila camp. The South-East APC caucus had written to the APC Chairman Odigie-Oyegun to demand that it must hold one of the principal offices in the 8th House. The letter was a response to last weekend’s letter by the APC Loyalists Group, the Gbajabiamila group in the House, where it opposed the resolve of the House to fill the remaining principal offices based on the federal character principle. The APC Loyalists Group, which is led by Gbajabiamila, had told Odigie-Oyegun that the South-east zone was not qualified to hold a leadership seat because its two members were “new” and would be in breach of House rules to hold such a position. The group had written Odigie-Oyegun to insist that the original zoning of principal offices recommended by the APC must be adhered to as a mark of party supremacy.
However, the 8th Assembly Consolidation Group, led by Speaker Dogara, in its own letter to Odigie-Oyegun, argued for an even spread of the principal offices to include all the six geopolitical zones of the country. The APC Chairman’s letter had left out the South-east in his recommendation for the filling of the remaining leadership positions. But Dogara had proposed that the majority leader should go to the North-West; deputy leader to the North-Central; chief whip to the South-South and the deputy whip to the South-East.
In its letter dated July 21 and signed by Mr. Austin Chukwukere on behalf of the South-east caucus, the zone said: “The APC South-East Zonal Caucus aligns itself completely with the position of the Hon. Speaker, House of Representatives, Dogara Yakubu’s letter to the national chairman of the APC on the issue of election of the principal officers of the House.” It said it considered as “marginalisation” any move aimed at sidelining the zone from the sharing of principal offices in the House.
What Will the Courts Do?
It is difficult to say what the court would do. But how far can the courts go having been invited to intervene in the APC trouble in the National Assembly. One legal expert, who pleaded not to be named, said the court could only examine the procedure for the emergence of the principal officers of the two houses and base its judgment on that. “What the court has powers to do is to examine the procedures to see if due process was followed. Its only if there is a deviation from due process that there could be a nullification of what has happened,” he said.
“On the allegation that the rule of the Senate was doctored in the emergence of the Deputy Senate President, the court will like to establish the veracity or otherwise of the allegation. Was the rule doctored and by who? What was the original procedure and what has changed? These are questions that the court has to look into and resolve,” he said.
PDP House Caucus Insist on Sanctity of July 28 Resumption Date
Meanwhile, in the midst of the crisis rocking the APC in both chambers of the National Assembly, the PDP caucus in the House has warned against a further postponement of the resumption of the House. The PDP lawmakers said they would resist another postponement in the resumption date. According to the caucus, the 360-member House had hardly settled down for any serious legislative business since the House was inaugurated on June 6, owing to the raging leadership tussle in the caucus of the majority APC.
Speaking for the caucus in Abuja, former House Deputy Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, said the PDP members were ready to work and could not afford to continue to wait for their APC colleagues because of their internal crisis. The lawmakers had embarked on a four-week forced break after a free-for-all on the floor of the House on June 25 over the leadership tussle in the lower federal legislative chamber.
The members were scheduled to resume on Tuesday July 21, but the date had been shifted by another one week. Ogor, who is poised to become the Minority Leader of the 8th Assembly, stated that his caucus examined the implications of frequent postponement of sittings and resolved that the next resumption date (July 28) must remain unchanged.
He said, “The new resumption date should be a day that is non-negotiable because resumption must take place on that day. We are ready to work; we were elected to come and legislate for our people and there are lots of issues that have started having some level of negative impact, even in the society. We take it as a matter of fact that the APC as a party should please urgently put their house in order so that they can come to the floor and carry on with their legislative business.”