Samuel Ogundipe, who monitored the recent change of guards at the National Assembly, the build-up and follow-up to the ‘coup’ carried out in that new parliament on June 9, presents an interesting account of how it all went and answers the most frequently asked questions about the election.
The 8th National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was officially inaugurated on Tuesday, June 9, 2015. While this is a recurring practice that shouldn’t carry much news weight for so many, an unprecedented and potentially perilous history was made as part of the inauguration activities of our distinguished lawmakers for that day. The National Assembly is a bicameral parliament with Federal House of Representatives and the Senate as its two independent arms. The inauguration of new Assembly is usually preceded by the election of new principal officers that will govern the new deliberative body. Most senior of these officers are the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
After the elections, Senator Bukola Saraki (APC-Kwara-Central), against ferocious opposition from his own party, emerged the President of the 8th Senate. Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP-Enugu-West) was re-elected as the Deputy Senate President. At the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara (APC-Bauchi) emerged the new Speaker of the House of Reps. His deputy is Hon. Suleiman Lasun (APC-Osun).
The outcome of both elections did not go down well with the plurality of national leaders of the APC, with the most prominent amongst them, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, reportedly describing it as a “Kangaroo arrangement” that he “will never recognise.” Others have described the outcome as a betrayal and called for condign punishment against the errant party members involved. While these fights are expected to linger for quite some time, perhaps up to the Supreme Court, many Nigerians are still left flummoxed about what really transpired at the National Assembly.
Most Frequently-asked Questions
The fact that the Senate President and the Speaker are members of the APC makes the fallout even more mysterious to most Nigerians who don’t have enough time to browse or sit through all the analyses in both the print and electronic media. Against this backdrop, the WESTERN POST has decided to aggregate the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the historic event and brings readers an insightful analysis in plain English.
What happened at Abuja on June 9?
The new lawmakers were inaugurated for the 8th National Assembly. They also spent most of the day electing their principal officers. Senator Bukola Saraki, a former governor of Kwara State and a returning senator, was elected the new Senate President. Yakubu Dogara, a Christian from Bauchi State, was elected Speaker. Both of them are members of the ruling APC.
Okay, that sounds like we’ve just placed more siren-blaring politicians in even higher positions to court our commonwealth to help their family and friends while the rest of us continue to live our miserable lives. So why should I care, especially since President Buhari has already promised us a change and we trust him?
Well, it doesn’t work that easy. Remember: Nigeria is a constitutional republic. This means our democracy cannot run without the National Assembly which is more like the people’s parliament. For President Buhari to do things that will positively affect your life, he’ll need to first go to the lawmakers to get approval. He needs their approval for virtually all the critical things.
Okay, let’s agree they’re important in our complicated democracy then. But why are people like Bola Tinubu and Lai Mohammed threatening fire and brimstone against Saraki and the gentleman who became the Speaker? Didn’t you say they’re all members of the APC?
Yes, they are. But the answer isn’t as straightforward as the question. Therefore, we’ll need to travel back a few months to 2013 when APC was formed as a political party in the country. You see, many Nigerians believe the PDP had been in power for long enough to make significant changes in their lives, but they’re disappointed that the party not only did little for them, but also didn’t appear ready to address the yearnings of most of us; electricity, education, infrastructure, proper sanitation and the rest of those stuffs we lament about in our daily musings. Despite the fact that many Nigerians didn’t want the PDP, the party continued to maintain power because it was the only party that had a true national identity. By true national identity here we’re talking about a party that has support of big political players and strong grassroots politicking in all the six geopolitical zones that make up the country.
There were other political parties, but none of them wielded as much power as the PDP. Since 2003, the party had continued to humiliate other political parties at the polls. While most of the mushroom parties were just on INEC’s ballot papers for virtually ornamental purposes, there were a few of them that could be said to be serious. Among them were the Congress for Progressive Change, which had the face of General Muhammadu Buhari, the Action Congress of Nigeria which is largely associated with Asiwaju Tinubu, and the APGA which is a platform for many who believe in late Col. Odimegwu Ojukwu’s political philosophy.
As you can see, all of these parties had one thing in common: They were all regional. With the PDP’s perceived shenanigans in mind, these regional political powers decided to merge together and become a stronger force with a national identity similar to that of the PDP. With this, they believed they could mount an arduous challenge against the PDP. They succeeded, as we can see in the outcome of this year’s elections. But while the conferences and political horse trading to form the APC were still underway, some strong elements within the PDP were playing a role that is essentially indistinguishable from that of a fifth columnist. They ended up forming a rebel group called the New PDP or nPDP.
People like Alhaji Kawu Baraje, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Senate President Bukola Saraki, then Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, former Kano Governor Rabiu Kwankwoso and a host of other A-List politicians within the PDP were pulling down the party from within. And shortly after the APC was officially announced formed, all of these PDP members who were sabotaging their party from within decamped to the new party. The infamous 16-is-greater-than-19 urban fiasco was part of the public relations nightmare that the errant PDP leaders wrought on the Goodluck Jonathan administration, which directly favoured the novel APC.
Apart from depleting the PDP ranks in terms of political capital, the powerful politicians also brought their huge tactical war chest to the APC. It is believed that Amaechi provided the private jet used by Buhari to crisscross the country during the campaign. Therefore, we can say the APC is an amalgamation of roughly five political groups: the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and factions of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the People’s Democratic Party (nPDP). Each of these blocs brought something to the party: the ACN brought South-western influence, the CPC brought Muhammadu Buhari and his cult following in the North-east and North-west of Nigeria, the ANPP, like the CPC, brought Northern clout, the APGA brought a foothold in South-eastern, and the nPDP added a band of savvy political operators with access to money and efficient political machines. The nPDP bloc also simultaneously had the effect of weakening and demoralising the ruling party.
Now to the answer proper:
We can say Saraki was being ambitious, may be over ambitious. He wanted political advancement. But in a way, he could also be said to have done what he did on Tuesday because he was fighting for fairness and equity in sharing the fortunes of the party he’d been very crucial to. He believes the only way he and his nPDP group could get anything out of the party is by becoming the Senate President. This is because the CPC has provided the president, the ACN provided vice president, and someone from the South-east has been tipped for the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Why is Tinubu kicking against Saraki as Senate President?
In kicking against Saraki, Tinubu would want people to believe he was fighting for a more experienced Senator Ahmed Lawan who is in the Senate for a third term and was the official candidate of the party. But Asiwaju Tinubu was also seeking to advance his grip on the party because Lawan will more likely kowtow to him than Saraki. Political analysts believe that the Kwara politician’s apparent independence is the key reason. They say Tinubu does not give power to anyone he won’t be able to control, which is why he’s supporting someone else against him. The Saraki group also adopted this position largely because Tinubu has allegedly packed the National Working Committee of the party with his utmost loyalists. To become the Senate President, Saraki sought for support from the PDP, which has 49 senators at the current National Assembly. As has become the norm in politics, you have to give to take.
Thus, in exchange for the block votes of all the 49 PDP Senators, Saraki offered to give the party, now in the minority, the position of Deputy Senate President. But since 50 votes, 49 from PDP and himself, would not be enough to make him the president, Saraki simply convinced a few more senators within his own party.
Shortly after 10 a.m., the news of Saraki emerging the Senate President overwhelmed the media. About 51 senators who were towing the line of their party, APC, in choosing the Senate President, were gathering somewhere in downtown Abuja on the instruction of their leaders. They were supposed to meet with the president at the venue where the leaders would resolve an impasse on the persons that must be elected.
Once the election of Saraki started blaring from the NTA’s multi-layered chyron, the senators scampered for their vehicles and rushed to the National Assembly. By the time they reached the place, they discovered that the die had already been cast. A terrible precedent had been set; a member of the minority party had become the Deputy Senate President.
So did the meeting with the president ever hold or did they storm out of a meeting with the president?
The meeting never held. They were still taking their seats when the news broke that the agenda they were strategising over had already been concluded at the National Assembly which is about 3 KM away from the International Conference Centre, venue of the supposed meeting with the president. In fact, we now have contradicting official statements from the president’s team. While Mr. Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, said the president never called any such meeting, his associate within the administration, Mr. Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media Matters, said the president called the meeting and was getting ready to attend it when someone advised him not to go against his own words. The president had maintained a hands-off approach on the matter of the National Assembly. The initial announcement of the mysterious gathering was publicised by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the national spokesman of the party.
So, how can one describe this rigmarole in political parlance?
It depends on whom you’re asking. As noted above, Tinubu has described it as a kangaroo arrangement. Some believe it was a tactical legislative manoeuvre — betrayal works for certain people, especially those within the party — and palace coup is what many prefer. In the lead of this story, we called it a political typhoon. So, it all depends.
If CPC got president and ACN got vice president, it sounds like the party has arrangements in place to compensate all the powerful groups within its ranks, what was the compensation package for the nPDP and Saraki?
According to a top APC chieftain who craved anonymity during a conversation with WESTERN POST on Thursday, there was no arrangement in place for the nPDP wing of the APC. He said top leaders of the party did n’t really trust many of the nPDP chieftains in the party so they didn’t put them in any consideration. He, however, noted that they can aspire to any position on their own on merit. They’re also expected to be given a few ministerial portfolios, but nothing consequential.
It’s also worth noting that apart from their massive financial contribution to the APC, Saraki and a host of other former PDP politicians like former PDP Chairman Barnabas Gemade also helped deliver that region to the APC in the last elections. The region has traditionally been a PDP stronghold.
It seems they have a genuine reason to put up a fight, but since the way they went about the fight seems to go against the party, can the party punish them for this treacherous act?
Any organisation should ordinarily be able to mete out condign punishment to errant members, but a lot of things are usually put into consideration before taking such measures. Questions like, who are the errant individuals? What is the magnitude of their offense? Will punishing them have any detrimental consequence on the organisation? Etc. Moving against Saraki, if ever the party can, may lead to self destruction for APC.
Okay, this is getting interesting. How can APC punish Saraki if the party really wants to do this if only to serve as deterrent to other would-be betrayals?
Well, it’s actually difficult to tell in particular. But one of the first measures will be to suspend the ‘rebels’ from the party. The party also says it has a strong disciplinary mechanism in place to deal with errant members. There are so many statutory terminologies in the party’s structure and in the National Assembly that many of us may not care about, but they’re all capable of punishing individuals or groups that go against the party. But doing any of these could prove counterproductive for the party. For one, the Senate President could convince his associates in his home state of Kwara to factionalise the party over there and he’ll use that to decamp to the PDP or another party. This will permanently seal the fate of APC in the Senate.
We know that politicians always threaten to go to court whenever they get scorned or something, so why’s no one talking about the legal phase of this matter?
Actually, they’re talking about going to the courts, and it seems Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC-Yobe) who was the favourite of the party for the Senate President position has already approached the High Court in Abuja for interpretation. But the chances of Tuesday’s outcome being overturned at the courts are slim, very slim. This is because President Buhari had written to the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salihu Maikasuwa, to inaugurate the new lawmakers for the 8th Assembly since June 3rd. The two houses normally sits from 10 am.
Also, remember the immediate-past Senate President, David Mark, was amongst those who participated in the exercise. He’s very shrewd in legislative procedures; if this wouldn’t work out, he’d have known.
How come Saraki has been the only one on the receiving end of a barrage of vituperation from his party stalwarts, why is no one talking about the Speaker, Hon. Dogara, who also emerged against his party’s favourite, is he a sacred cow or something?
This is a good observation. The answer lies more in the process than the outcome. The APC is more angry about the outcome in the Senate because it gave PDP enormous power to meddle in the affairs of the APC. The government is supposed to be an APC-led government but, with the outcome at the Senate, the PDP now has a say in what gets done. But in the House, not so much. Dogara went against his party’s dictates to contest against and defeat Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC-Lagos) on the floor of the House. But this is acceptable because it was a free and fair process unlike what transpired in the Senate that appears to be free but not fair.
Therefore, Dogara’s issue should be easy to settle within the party, if only to avoid unnecessary intra-party crisis.
It sounds like the party is caught between a rock and a hard place then. So where’s the president in all of this?
Well, as earlier noted, he’s trying not to tow the path of President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose insatiable meddling in the affairs of the legislative arm of government was largely deplored as it resulted in protracted crisis and change of leadership in the Senate. Thus, he’s been rather quiet and many have continued to praise him for this decision.
Well, maybe the personalities that become leaders of the National Assembly don’t really matter to him, after all?
That would be incorrect. Only a political neophyte would assume that the president doesn’t need to have his core loyalists at the helm of affairs at the parliament. It may be difficult for Buhari to get anything through the National Assembly now the way its leadership is currently formed. But Saraki has promised to work with President Buhari and that he is not leaving APC for PDP as being speculated. But anything should be expected, remember Saraki emerged by forming alliance with the PDP.
Does this mean we shouldn’t expect any change under Buhari?
Ahem! That’s a million-dollar question. Buhari’s administration is still in a very early stage to quantify, but with the ongoing crisis at the National Assembly and dwindling oil prices, a realist will deplete his hope of much change under this administration by a factor of 10.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC has also mentioned that the party may not be able to deliver on its promises because it will be almost impossible to work with the Senate leadership which includes the top PDP chieftains.
The PDP keeps coming up, isn’t this the party that we voted out? Nigerians believe the PDP is now a dead party but it sounds like that may not be the case?
The demise of the PDP was greatly exaggerated even before the event of Tuesday. The party has 49 senators, hundreds of House members, over a dozen governors and hundreds of state assembly legislators. While those may be semantics, they cannot be easily wished away in the body politic, to be candid. But the outcome of the Tuesday election has doubled the political stature of the party. The PDP having the DSP as its member has placed it in a strategic position to be a factor to reckon with if APC want its requests to sail through in the Senate.