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Between party supremacy and legislative independence

By Samson Ezea
08 July 2015   |   2:53 am
THE crisis rocking the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) over the election of principal officers of the National Assembly has once again opened a new debate on the issue of party supremacy and constitutionalism in legislative matters.

Buhari and OyegunTHE crisis rocking the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) over the election of principal officers of the National Assembly has once again opened a new debate on the issue of party supremacy and constitutionalism in legislative matters.

This is because the recent election cum appointment of the principal officers has pitched party leaders and members against one another.

While some members of the legislature and the party have argued that in line with the doctrine of party supremacy, the decision of the leadership in the election should prevail, other members believe that the 1999 constitutional provisions, and the National Assembly’s Standing Rules should take precedence over party supremacy.

Political observers have since predicted that the festering crisis is capable of tearing the party apart and impede smooth governance if not well tackled quickly by the stakeholders involved.

In line with the French philosopher, Montesquieu’s principles of separation of power, which is one of the major tenets of democratic practice in a presidential system, the framers of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution as amended recognise the independence of the National Assembly in making choice of its leaders and carrying out its legislative roles.

That was why provisions for such legislative independence were inserted in Section 50 (a) and (b) of 1999 Constitution which says (1) There shall be:- (a) a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves; and (b) a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.

But despite this clear provision, legislative independence and party supremacy in the choice of National Assembly leaders in Nigeria since 1999 have not been consistent, absolute or pragmatic. It is neither here nor there, depending on interests, and circumstances. In most cases, the situation has been hijacked, bastardised or compromised by the various interests in the legislature, party or government.

As has been witnessed since 1999, the presidency’s supremacy, and sometime legislative independence have always taken precedence over party supremacy in the choice or election of National Assembly leaders and other legislative matters.

While the law recognises party supremacy in an election contest because there is no constitutional provision for independent candidature in elections, the same law does not recognise party supremacy in day-to-day activities of its members in the assembly.

Again, what is the make up of the party leadership that is supposed to enforce the party supremacy on members and how do they emerge? The party leadership comprises members of the National Working Committee (NWC) that is led by the national chairman. They are in charge of day-to-day running of party activities.

The emergence of party leadership and its occupation of the office has not been done on merit or democratic process, but on intrigue, compromise, whims and caprices of the few powerful leaders including those in National Assembly, a practice that often negates party constitution and no one raises eyebrow, even those who try to do so are quickly suppressed by the power-that-be in the party.

That is the reason that whenever there is need to enforce party supremacy and discipline on members as clearly enshrined in the party constitution, the party leadership becomes helpless, confused, clueless and divided.

In rare occasions where such enforcement was carried out by the party leadership – NWC, the National Executive Committee (NEC), which is the highest organ of the party which members comprise NWC members, president, vice president, leaders of the National Assembly and others always overrule them, depending on where their interests lie. So it can be said that the party leadership (NWC) lacks absolute power to enforce party supremacy on members in most cases.

That was what happened in 1999 when the presidency under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other party hawks, against the choice of the National Assembly members and the party leadership, imposed Senator Evans Enwerem and Alhaji Salisu Buhari as Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives respectively.

This was at a time the majority of the PDP senators had penciled down the Senator representing Anambra North, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo as their preferred choice for the Senate president seat. When the senators impeached Enwerem in less than four months in office and elected Okadigbo, the presidency quickly facilitated Okadigbo’s impeachment and paved way for the emergence of Senator Pius Anyim as his successor.

In the House of Representatives, when Speaker Buhari was indicted over certificate forgery, the House members quickly elected Umar Ghali Na Abba as Buhari’s successor against the wish of the presidency. Throughout Na Abba’s tenure, the presidency and House of Representatives never worked closely. There were several failed moves allegedly sponsored by the presidency for Na Abba’s removal.

Many political observers believed the development was responsible for Na Abba’s failure to win re-election in 2003 following his defeat by the candidate of All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), Mohammed El Yakub who was allegedly supported by the presidency.

Throughout Obasanjo’s administration, the presidency was greatly instrumental in the emergence of the National Assembly leaders on the PDP platform with the exception of Senator Ken Nnamani, late Senator Okadigbo and Speaker Ghali Na Abba. During such situations and despite the fact that the PDP lawmakers normally court their opposition colleagues to spite the presidency and the party leadership, they never allowed the opposition to take what does not belong to them in the leadership of the national assembly. This is because they always had overwhelming majority in the National Assembly then.

Sometimes, the leaders of the legislature were merely chosen on consensus arrangement after the presidency and few party stakeholders have cowed every member of the party with the carrot and stick. The situation remained the same at national level and state level where the state governors are the overlords. That is why Nigerian legislators are often tagged “rubberstamp.”

That was the case during President Yar’Adua’s government which took a different dimension during President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 2011 with the Tambuwalisation of the House of Representatives.

Against the dictates and wishes of the presidency, and the PDP leadership, who had wanted Mrs. Mulikat Adeolu-Akande from Southwest to emerge the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal in connivance with some PDP members and members of the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) defied the presidency and the PDP leaders’ directives to elect Tambuwal and Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Speaker and deputy respectively of the House of Representatives.

The then leadership of the ACN described the incident as democracy in action, while the PDP complained and later moved on with the situation. Throughout Tambuwal’s tenure, though a PDP member, the House leadership was more of opposition than ruling party.

Ahead of the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly on June 9, the APC failed to come out clearly on its position on the election of the principal officers. They played the ostrich for long, leaving room for manipulations, hatred and intrigues among various interests in the party.

Adding salt to the party’s injury on the issue was the earlier position of President Muhammadu Buhari that his government was not interested in who would emerge as principal officers of the National Assembly. The party leadership that had earlier denied zoning of the offices and appeared to be sitting on the fence, later made a volte-face at the dying minute to conduct a mock election, where they picked some preferred senators for the positions. It was a decision that didn’t go down well with some few APC, and all PDP senators who saw it as undue interference and imposition by the APC leadership.

Relying on the APC’s lack of two-third majority in the Senate, and absence of 51 APC senators in the chambers on the inauguration day, some APC senators and majority of PDP senators elected the Senate president Dr. Bukola Saraki of the APC and Senator Ike Ekweremadu of PDP as his deputy. This was against the APC leadership’s preferred choice of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Senator George Akume for the positions. It was almost the same scenario in the House of Representatives with a slight difference, as the PDP didn’t produce the deputy.

Despite President Buhari’s insistence and emphasis on party supremacy at the recent APC NEC meeting in Abuja, Nigerians are yet to see the APC leadership, presidency, and party leaders enforcing party supremacy in National Assembly matters as they have preached and canvassed in recent times.

Does it mean they are helpless or constrained by the provision of the 1999 Constitution as amended? Has it not become obvious that party supremacy only has a place in presidential system when aspirants are looking for platform to contest election, and the party has the final say? It appears that immediately election is won to the National Assembly the lawmakers’ loyalty goes to somewhere else as being witnessed.

Many lawmakers, and majority of politicians have always seen political party as a vehicle to take them to their destination where they will alight if the need arises. So it seems that there is nothing absolute and sacrosanct about political party and its supremacy, except on the issuance of tickets to its candidates.

If truly the party is supreme in presidential system as many people want Nigerians to believe, why shouldn’t APC leadership hand down ministerial list to Buhari and list of commissioners to its state governors with a clear instruction and insistence that it must be followed in line with the principle of party supremacy?