National Assembly election and political lessons
WHETHER we call it a volte face or a retreat to political realism, the acceptance of the current National Assembly (NASS) leadership finally by the All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders makes a lot of sense. Clearly, it was not a war the party was not going to win and many of the leaders baying earlier on for a showdown with the members who played the political chess game as they deemed fit, were somehow ill-advised. Truth is, you can go to a political battle and return with an empty hand. What to do then is to take some lessons from that experience and make necessary adjustments to the new reality. Part of the new reality, and a lesson therefrom, is that political behaviour or expression of it, by politicians, may henceforth, never follow the directive of anyone, anymore. In addition, the APC party crisis following the NASS elections won’t just go away but will fester and because huge ego is at play, it will begin to take worsening dimensions unless well managed.
The presidential system of government does not actually ride on party supremacy as does, for instance, the parliamentary system. What matters is the level of ideological conviction and cohesion within the ranks of the party and not the rigid expectations of compliance with some central or one individual’s command. The freedom to express and hold views totally at variance with that of a political party despite being a member gives the presidential system its peculiar characteristics and vibrancy. At some point in the Reagan Presidency, there were those in Congress referred to as Reagan Democrats who often voted with the GOP. There were also several Republican members who had reasons not to follow, or be persuaded by some of the extremities of the right wing policies of the President or the leadership in the Congress. But more tellingly, there was Senator Jim Jeffords, who in 2001 deliberately defected from the GOP in the Senate, became an Independent and thus denied the Republicans the Senate Majority position which is as important as our Senate Presidency in Nigeria.
A party like APC formed by the coalition of four to five functioning parties – ACN, CPC, ANPP and branches of PDP & APGA should expect such political manoeuvers and realignment of interests from time to time. A few years back, ACN played same card in 2011 thus denied Hon. Mulikat Adeola the Speakership and Rt. Hon. Tambuwal benefited, making the PDP look bad in the South West of Nigeria in the last elections. Vice President Atiku Abubakar, though of PDP, was the first presidential candidate of ACN while still in office in 2007. Also, AD played same game in the first Senate under Obasanjo in 1999 denying Okadigbo the Senate Presidency in favour of Enwerem. That is why the AD/ACN wing of APC has been urged to lament less about the Saraki Senate Presidency because the precedents show that alliances of that nature are already a well-practised political tendency in our National Assembly.
One obvious thing so far, and this would help the independence of that arm of government, is that President Muhammadu Buhari is not ready to be drawn into the mish-mash of legislative politics with battle tested hands who cannot be dictated to by anyone however way such a fellow holds himself or is venerated by any group. The body language of Mr. President is that he is not ready to play anybody’s script, particularly as he famously said that he belongs to no one, but to everybody. In that sense, and this is another lesson, Buhari’s presidential agenda expected to be a product of a collective wide ranging engagement, not the outcome of private prescriptions, or the dictates of any IOU of self-interested political overlords. For good measure, things ought to be that way, to free our politics from conclave tendencies, so that government agenda, especially at the top, becomes drawn essentially, from the aggregation of our national interests.
To that extent, if it will take the President weeks and months to study, observe and learn on the job, so be it; if it will take him all that time to find some, or several usable positives in the persons and structures put in place by PDP while in power all these years, so be it. In this national enterprise, if PDP holds some of the answers, the President will make bold to collaborate with the party and the old regime to achieve some of the goals he has set for himself. Extreme partisanship will serve no purpose and the structure of APC is a major hindrance, particularly the diverse and divergent interests jostling currently for dominance in the party. Who should take credit for the party’s victory in the 2015 polls; what are the persons’ expected elevated roles, rewards and assured influence in the party’s scheme of things as a result? Who can deploy influence to fill positions at all levels and arms of government and the propriety of such in a fledging democracy? These questions and more as well as the political arithmetic thereto, are at the very heart of party’s crisis today.
Now, did President Buhari ever say that he will hit the ground running or achieve so, so and so in 100 days… No, it is the Lai Mohammeds of this world who put all that on the man and raised expectations of many some of who are already feeling disappointed. Much of those projected expectations are far from attainable. This is because APC has not achieved any ideological or organisational coherence yet, even with an election victory in its kitty. The responsibility of national leadership seems a bit above the party to handle for now and with the struggle for relevance and control by the various amalgamating units that aligned to pitch against PDP, it will be a difficult task to cross that bridge.
Whatever, may be the case, going forward, the political elephant –PDP – will be waiting to swallow up any fall-out from the APC crisis if the party continues to play the card of internal dictatorship leaving scores of their member disaffected and disillusioned.
In the circumstance, President Buhari should stay above the fray and focus on running his government with minimum partisanship. That means he has to look out for technocrats and men of knowledge to help him run the government and deliver more developments. With the enemy off the cockpit of power, the APC centre cannot hold with bickering and mortal struggle for power and influence by various party lords. The image that APC as a party should avoid is that suggesting it as still amateurish in power, fit only for opposition and grandstanding.
•Odiadi is a Lagos-based lawyer.