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NASS leadership election and consequences

By Martins Oloja
11 June 2023   |   5:00 am
There will be an election for our bi-cameral National Assembly leadership on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. The two critical positions that seek to alter the balance of power in Nigeria are number three and four positions according to the National Order of Precedence...

There will be an election for our bi-cameral National Assembly leadership on Tuesday June 13, 2023. The two critical positions that seek to alter the balance of power in Nigeria are number three and four positions according to the National Order of Precedence – the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The President of the Senate is number three citizen because he will lawfully be the Chairman of the Joint Session of the National Assembly while the Speaker, number four citizen, will be the Deputy Chairman of the Joint Session of the National Assembly. So, whoever heads the Senate as its president is the presiding officer of the Legislature in Nigeria. And instead of building inter-party consensus on how to get the best chairman and deputy chairman of the joint session of the 10th Assembly, at the moment, Nigerian political leaders and the members-elect have to deal with an ancient grudge inherent in our ticklish national question. Where the president of the Senate and speaker of the house come from has become the issue. As I was saying here the other day, the president’s controversial Muslim-Muslim Ticket has hauled into the fray the same national question the federal character provision in the 1999 constitution is supposed to deal with. In other words, if the core North’s (north-west) candidate sails through for the senate president and speakership, the first five citizens of Nigeria would be Muslims since the first two (president and VP) and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) are Muslims, in this regard. And that will be deplored by a section of the faithful in the country just as it will be celebrated by another section that will regard the development as a conquest as a former governor from the same North West has been heard to have noted in a trending video evidence.

Ordinarily, that shouldn’t have been a subject of commentary for this kind of column in a significant country. We should be celebrating the dividends of an unbroken 24 years of democracy and democratisation and the change it has brought to Africa’s most populous nation and hope of the black race. Here we are, debating why particular sections of the country should produce even nincompoops as presiding officers of the National Assembly that will shape the destiny of Africa’s most significant country.

Anyway, today is another opportunity to join the groundswell of opinions to remind all members-elect and all the stakeholders who are involved in politicking and jostling for the National Assembly positions that federal characterisation of positions isn’t an excuse for recourse to election and selection of mediocrities and scoundrels for our National Assembly. Yes, It is our, not their National Assembly. Enough is enough, the world has been waiting for Nigeria to make democracy deliver development for its people. Indeed the black people of the world have been waiting for Nigeria to allow democracy to blossom for the country to be a source of pride and confidence. The people of Nigeria have been waiting for Nigerian politicians and political leaders to nurture democracy and its processes to deliver some common good. And so because the Legislature is doubtless, the most important institution that can set the tone for processes that will trigger development through reform agenda to fight corruption, check executive and even judicial excesses and rascality, manage waste in the economy, according to our constitution, that body should not be led by mere men, who are just prominent but not significant in the country. Yes, Rick Warren, an iconic author and cleric I have often quoted here says some people can be prominent but not significant just as some people can be significant without being prominent in the polity.

On October 17, 2021, I wrote here in an article titled, ‘2023: Let Good Aspirants Prepare For National Assembly’. I had then noted the expediency of getting most of the presidential aspirants to leave the presidential race for National Assembly where they could also serve the country significantly. Here is an excerpt from the article:

‘…This power-to-the-people law (electoral law) has enabled me to call on all the good people who would like to contest presidential election to look before they leap this time. This is the executive summary of my submission here: let most of the presidential aspirants including governors, ministers, professionals and technocrats who think they are capable of serving Nigeria consider their strategy and platforms for the service of their country that is at the moment in a state of anomie. I would like all the powerful faces being listed by even the media not to be carried away by the prominence they freely get or procure from the media. They should consider first the feasibility and risks of their campaigns. Can those who have the resources or war chest to campaign mobilise enough votes to be president? They should note that oratory nurtured by intellectual power alone cannot give you presidential tickets on the platforms that can win presidential elections here. Let’s not speak in tongues to good people here:

Why can’t Professors Pat Utomi, Kingsley Moghalu, HRH Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, Mr. Peter Obi, Mr. Femi Falana, Fela Durotoye, Babagana Kingibe, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, Professor Attahiru Jega, Abdullahi Ganduje, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, Dr. Doyin Okupe, Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd); Ibrahim Dankwabo, Chief Nyesom Wike, Abubakar Malami, Babatunde Fashola, and a host of other aspirants get set to be in National Assembly?

I think we should not lose these prominent people to the vagaries of presidential election aspiration alone. After all, only one of them will be elected president. Why can’t we take advantage of the new electoral law to serve Nigeria at the powerhouse of democracy? I mean here that the National Assembly is the most critical arm of government. It is the most significant training ground for leadership – just like president Joe Biden. Look at the significant impact of just one Senator from Abia State, Enyinnaya Abaribe whose legislative artistry exposed the shenanigan and peccadillo of the Senators who either voted against electronic transmission of results provisions or were deliberately absent when the vote was taken. The former deputy governor of Abia State has been one-man squad from the time he was elected to the Senate. If we have at least 40 strong voices such as Abaribe’s at the 109-member Senate, there would have been more robust legislative service and representation at the Senate. In the same vein, if we have even 50 hardworking, resourceful and research-oriented members of the 360-member House of Representatives, there would have been better service delivery even at the executive arm.

The National Assembly has enormous powers to check executive excesses, fight corruption, curtail senseless borrowing for consumption if their membership foundation is strong and if they can elect their leaders freely at the inauguration of their session. Look at what the leadership of the current session of our bicameral legislature has been delivering. Where in the world would presiding officers of the National Assembly proclaim to the people who elected them that they would accept without question whatever the president brings to them because they would be good for the nation?

My suggestion that most of our significant politicians and leaders who would like to serve the nation should begin from the National Assembly should not be seen as an attempt to cast aspersion on their stature and knowledge power. The parliament is a citadel of representative democracy where policies through laws are made to serve the common good. It is a place where appropriations or budgetary details are constructed in the language and data of development plans. If any democracy is on the brink as a result of executive excesses or mediocrity, the representatives of the people can rise up to the occasion to call the tyrannical executives to order. The U.S Congress saved their country from threat of tyranny in a bi-partisan mode early this year.

That is why most learned constitutional scholars agree that legislative power is, “the distinctive mark of a country’s sovereignty and the index of its status as an independent state…” And so if significant citizens begin to announce their readiness to get elected to the National Assembly, that will have a positive bandwagon effect as even skilled younger people with some political skills and ambition will begin to follow such footsteps and aspire to serve at State Assemblies and even Local Governments. Why should we continue to allow charlatans and never-do-wells to be in the National and State Assemblies where the majesty of democracy is supposed to be celebrated? Let’s, therefore, call on all who would like to serve the country in any capacity to begin to renew their minds: that you don’t have to be president or governor to serve your country. You can also serve significantly from your State or National Assembly…’

As I have also noted here before in another treatise on ‘Deconstructing our chaotic National Assembly’, our 469 National Assembly members hardly care a hoot about their image before the people. They would like to be addressed as Honourable Members and Distinguished Senators.. They hardly reflect on the weight of their responsibility to the more than 200 million people they represent. From the way they carry on and speak, they don’t research on the needs of their constituents who perceive and call them ‘legislooters’ and lap dogs to the executive arm of government. They don’t know the implications of their tag as the First Estate of the Realm. They don’t believe that members of the public they serve have the right to know how much they earn. They have worked out a strange remuneration package that the economy of the country can’t cope with. They are the most comfortable yet they receive ‘hardship allowances’. What is worse, in their cocoon, the representatives of the people in Abuja hardly know that the people they represent know that they are not serious about the state of the nation at any time. This is a reflection of poor leadership recruitment processes at the National Assembly at all times.

This is a time to tell our representatives and leaders in Abuja and 36 state capitals that we the people are quite desperate to see development in our country. In our country where we still grapple with basic needs, we continue to celebrate mediocrity and frivolities of our leaders. Sixty-two years after independence, our elected leaders are still building classrooms, providing school chairs, bore holes, school uniforms and commission them with fanfare.

History shows us that tumultuous times bring change, but we have heard for too long that our change variant is a gradual process. Even as we wait for the dividends, we can interrogate some of the institutions that are designed by law to help the change process. Certainly, one institution that actually symbolises functional democracy is the legislature. That is why the election of National Assembly leaders in Abuja on Tuesday June 13, 2023 should not be sold to bigots and sycophants who will condone executive inertia, laziness, and recklessness again. Doubtless, the leadership of the National and State Assemblies should be strong enough to protect the power, independence and relevance of that remarkable institution of democracy.

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