Many will not envy Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives’ Speaker Yakubu Dogara. After a process laced with intense intrigues and intricate web of politics, the duo emerged victorious, but peace is anywhere near their hallowed chambers. The Green Chamber exploded in a huge commotion last Thursday over the sharing of the remaining House leadership positions. It was a free-for-all before sanity returned and the House was adjourned till July 21. Legislative business at the Red Chamber is static, still bogged down by contestation over the sharing of the remaining principal offices, even though Senate President Bukola Saraki has announced his own remaining principal officers, defying his party, the All Progressives Congress, in the process. For how long will Saraki hold out? IBIDAPO BALOGUN, who has been following developments in the National Assembly after the June 9 election, writes with additional information from ALEX AGBO in Abuja…
Perhaps there is now a respite for Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara. But it’s only for a short while. It’s like leaving a snake on the roof and going to bed without first smoking it out. It will hunt the sleep. And so the leadership crisis rocking the National Assembly is yet to abate, even as the two chambers have adjourned proceedings till July 21. Before the sudden adjournment, Senate President Bukola Saraki had braced all odds and defied his party in the matter of the appointment of remaining presiding officers of the Senate to wit-Senate Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader, Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip. He refused to read on the floor of the Senate the letter written by the All Progressives Congress Chairman John Odigie-Oyegun, giving him a list of those the party had endorsed for the positions. The Senate President announced Senators Ali Ndume from Borno as Senate Majority Leader and Senator Bala Ibn Na Allah from Kebbi as Deputy Leader, as opposed to Senators Ahmed Lawan from Yobe and Senator George Akume from Benue proposed by the party. It was in the same manner Saraki had defied the party, contested for the Senate Presidency against the party’s wish and defeated the official candidate of the APC for the position, Senator Lawan, by cutting a deal with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party Senators.
In the House, Speaker Dogara adjourned proceedings after a commotion by members as he made to announce the remaining principal officers. It was a free-for-all during which some members attempted to reach for the maze, the symbol of legislative authority, but they were prevented. After some long moment of madness, sanity prevailed and the adjournment followed. The almost settled issue over the distribution of the remaining leadership position particularly that of House Leader, which seemed to have been given to Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos State, the official candidate of the APC for the Speakership, who was defeated by Dogara, soon began to develop complications as the North-Central, South-east and South-South caucuses began to kick. Meanwhile, APC Chairman Oyegun had also written Dogara a similar letter he wrote to Saraki detailing the list of nominees the party had endorsed for the positions.
One political analyst examined the development at the National Assembly and told WESTERN POST that it marked the death of party politics. “The Senators were elected on the platform of the party. None of them came in as an independent candidate. They ought to toe the party line. When the party positions are consigned to the dustbins in a place as sensitive as the National Assembly, the lawmakers are already saying goodbye to party-based democracy”.
The opposition PDP is already poking fun at APC over the development, blaming everything on President Muhammadu Buhari. PDP said the mayhem was “a direct consequence of President Muhammadu Buhari’s lack of democratic credentials”. In a statement by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, the PDP said that “the barbaric attempt to physically assault a duly-elected Speaker, seize the mace, the authority of the House, is a direct attack on the Nigerian parliament which embodies the supremacy of the people and our freedom as a democratic nation”. He said further that the crisis simply showed that the APC has exhausted its excuses and has now imported its internal contradictions into an independent arm of government as a way to further cover its lack of ideas for governance. “The brawling APC lawmakers ostensibly acted on instructions from the Presidency, an obvious indication that President Buhari is largely an interested party whose involvement is beyond mere body language.
“We state unequivocally that the onus lies on President Buhari to ensure that all democratic institutions are harnessed for effectiveness, a responsibility he has apparently abdicated by allowing his personal interest to instigate division in the parliament, a tendency that poses great threat to the survival of our democracy and the stability of the nation,” the party said.
Party or Caucuses?
But the issue is not the way the PDP had portrayed it. The contentious issue being debated in some quarters is –who is constitutionally empowered to decide National Assembly party leadership positions, the party or the caucuses? Senator Gbenga Ashafa from Lagos who belongs to the Unity Forum group, which backed Senator Ahmed Lawan had specifically requested the Senate President to read APC Chairman’s letter. Ashafa who came under Standing Orders 15, 28 (1), 29 (1), 30 (1) and 31 (1) said his privilege as a senator had been breached by the refusal of the Senate President to read his letter. For instance, Order 28 (1) says Majority Leader of the Senate shall be nominated by the party with the highest number of seats in the Senate. That provision does not specifically address who will do the nomination. Is it the party or the party caucus?
The Unity Forum group, which backed Senator Lawan insists it’s the party while the Like Minds supporting Saraki says it’s the caucuses in the Senate. Like the Unity Forum, the party leadership, President Muhammadu Buhari and the party’s governors are asking the Senators to toe the party line. The governors had insisted the Senators toe the party line. The Chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum and Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha, who spoke after a meeting with President Buhari, urged the Senators to toe the party line.
President Buhari, speaking through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Mallam Garba Shehu, had also said: “The party did a straw poll – an open and transparent one – which should have been respected. There is no confusion about anything. The party did a process, the President had wished that the party would take that to the very end but that didn’t happen.
“The President has a responsibility to the party; the President has a responsibility to the nation and as far as we are looking at the situation, it has not gotten out of control. It is still within manageable parameters; it is a little storm. We will overcome and Nigerians better get used to it,” Shehu told Channels Television.
We Stand by Our List of Principal Officers, Says APC
Meanwhile, the APC has continued to insist on its list. In a statement on Thursday, the party said: “The All Progressives Congress (APC) has strongly condemned what transpired at both chambers of the National Assembly on Thursday, June 25th 2015.
“The party stands by the list sent by the party to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“The National Caucus, Board of Trustees (BOT) and National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party will meet within the next few days to discuss the evolving developments in the National Assembly.”
The 2 Opposing Lists
On APC List for the Senate are Senator Ahmed Lawan (Majority Leader); Prof. Sola Adeyeye (Chief Whip); Sen. George Akume (Deputy Majority Leader); and Sen. Abu Ibrahim (Deputy Chief Whip).
The list for the House has- Hon Femi Gbajabiamila (House Leader); Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa (Deputy House Leader); Hon. M. T. Monguno (Chief Whip) and Hon. Pally Iriase (Deputy Chief Whip).
But that same Thursday Saraki announced the following as the remaining principal officers: Senate Leader Ali Ndume (Borno South), Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (Kebbi) Deputy Leader, and Francis Alimikhena (Edo) Deputy Chief Whip. The name of the Chief Whip was not read.
For how long will Saraki and Dogara hold on over their defiance to the party’s decision, only time will tell?
Contending Groups’ Hit Men
Like Minds: Unity Forum:
Senator Danjuma Goje Senator Marafan
Senator Bala Ibn Na Allah Senator Gbenga Ashafa