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By Alabi Williams
31 May 2015   |   2:24 am
FOR more than two months, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is still grappling with the issue of getting its best hands to manage principal offices in the 8th National Assembly, which responsibility it now assumes after winning majority seats at the March 28 polls. Since 1999, until 2011, when opposition members staged a coup, using…

APC National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun

FOR more than two months, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is still grappling with the issue of getting its best hands to manage principal offices in the 8th National Assembly, which responsibility it now assumes after winning majority seats at the March 28 polls. Since 1999, until 2011, when opposition members staged a coup, using former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal to upset the game for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it used to be the responsibility of the majority party to decide where principal officers come from.

Though he was elected into the parliament on the platform of the PDP, Tambuwal was eventually propped by the opposition, and in no time, returned to where he belonged.

For the PDP, the language had been some sort of zoning, aimed at sharing principal offices among the geo-political zones. If a president comes from the Southwest, for instance, his deputy would come from Northeast.

Then the Senate president would come from Southeast and so on. Apart from giving a sense of belonging to all sides, it helped in no small way to keep the stage from being rowdy, just as the Constitution of the Federal Republic envisaged, when it decided that the principle of Federal Character should be applied in appointments, both at the Federal and the states to entrench equity and discourage the domination of one group or people over others.

What made the journey rough for the PDP was the greed by politicians to take their own share of the national cake and still desire to add to it that of another zone.

That was the situation, in 1999, when Aso Rock was interested in who becomes the Senate president, in order to subject that arm under the control of the executive. That brought about a flurry of musical chairs as Evan Enwerem was replaced with Chuba Okadigbo within months. Then came Pius Anyim, Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani, all in eight years. That made the first years of the Senate very unstable and gave Nigerians a bad impression of what the parliament might be all about, a place of sleaze and intrigues.

Outside the National Assembly, PDP also did not stand firm on zoning as a central policy, even though it purports to have it as a provision in its constitution.

Some members do not feel bound by it as was witnessed, in 2003 when there was jostle for elective offices. It turned out that what the Southwest got in the name of zoning in 1999 was a concession, more for Obasanjo, as a person, than outright and sincere formula to help solve Nigeria’s power question.

By 1999, the stage was set naturally for a Southern president because all presidents and heads of state since 1979 had come from the North. The only time a southerner got elected into the number one office was in 1993, but as victory was just a few minutes away, the military government of Ibrahim Babangida annulled it.

The winner, MKO Abiola, was not only denied that victory, he was clamped in solitary confinement from which he did not come out alive. It was to appease that particular loss and others that Obasanjo was himself unveiled from Gen. Sani Abacha’s gulag and installed as president in 1999.

In 2003, Obasanjo fought tooth and nail to win the ticket of his party for a second term. If his party actually believed in zoning, his vice, Atiku Abubakar would not have lusted after his principal’s office. He would have waited patiently for the man to complete his eight years, after which the position will revert back to the North, where it had been.

If the framers of the 1999 Constitution got endorsement from Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar and the other kingmakers from the North to make a provision for zoning or rotational presidency, they would have done so.

Or, if they were told to make the provision on Federal Character to explicitly include the Presidency and other principal offices, there probably would be less rancour in the APC than there is today.

What has made zoning most uninteresting today, perhaps, is the way matters turned out for the PDP in 2010 and 2011. Former President Jonathan was not expected to run, in 2011, but for the demise of his boss, Yar’Adua, in May 2010. Before then, it became a herculean task for Jonathan to even exercise some powers, as vice president, while Yar’Adua was undergoing medical treatment abroad because some kitchen cabinet people felt power at that point belonged to the north, where it had been zoned by the PDP. It took some deft move by the parliament (Doctrine of Necessity) to create some role for Jonathan as acting president on February 9, 2010, so that Nigeria does not grind to a halt.

At that point, if Jonathan had no plans to run in 2011, in order not to ruffle the zoning order, the clamour by Nigerians from across board was all he needed to prompt him.

Nigerians were miffed at the role played by power mongers from the Northwest, who were bent on holding the country to ransom. Were Jonathan to have been extraordinary in terms of delivery between 2011 and 2015, the same Nigerians who voted for him in 2011 would most likely have done so again. That, perhaps, would have put the zoning palaver permanently out of the way. There, perhaps, wouldn’t have been an APC too and its current headache with zoning.

Jonathan did not, unfortunately, and that engineered another round of clamour to seize power from him and take it anywhere.

In conceiving their party, owners of APC did not bother about zoning because the PDP experience was nothing to talk about. They wanted to stay far from anything that would remind them of their archenemies. Otherwise, the simplest way for today’s ruling party to get out of an apparent logjam would have been to zone its principal offices. And that was the original idea, when tacitly zoned the office of Senate president for the 8th Assembly to the North-central.

But when it appeared that zoning would make it too smooth for a particular candidate to emerge, vested interests had to take over. From North-central, it went to Northeast. They even wanted to stage primaries to sanitise the numbers, but that did not work.

Then the leadership of the party realised, suddenly, that zoning was not in the APC constitution, even though a good number of party members, especially those who defected from the PDP have a strong preference for zoning.

The party’s preference is now for merit, experience and ranking. That means for two months APC did not set out any criteria for those interested in occupying offices of Senate president, Speaker and others. It allowed interested candidates to run from pillar to post and waste money before realising that merit and experience will decide the race.

In all of these, the party has betrayed the image of cluelessness. The APC has shown in this matter that it is made up of members who are human after all. They have foibles and could run into trouble when it comes to taking crucial decisions.

That, I suppose, is easy for Nigerians to comprehend, so that politicians and parties do not create larger than life posture they do not have. Building a party or government is work in progress and the ruling party should be aware of that at the onset.

Now, we need to remind ourselves that the APC came together in order to take over the Federal Government, which it has done successfully, with the inauguration of president Muhammadu Buhari at the weekend.

The next hurdle is for them to have a parliament that shares in Buhari’s ideals, so that together they can intervene to quicken the rescue. I do not think Nigerians want the same tradition, whereby the legislature has little passion for what they do. Nigerians, I’m sure will not like a parliament that is remote-controlled by party chieftains, which recommends the Buhari model of willingness to work with anybody. When politicians scramble for offices the way they have done in the APC since March 28, they seem unmindful of the watching public.

Nigerians are yearning for a parliament that will match the discipline Buhari will unveil soon, men and women who are not absentee lawmakers; who are not asleep most of the sessions.

Nigerians want men and women whose salaries and allowances are publishable, not those who have things to hide.

The parliamentarians we want are those who will not hustle for committee appointments, because of what they expect to gain. Nigerians are tired of lawmakers who take crumbs – sewing machine, grinding machine, motorcycle, helmet etc. – to their constituents when elections are approaching. That is insult.

That is the criteria APC should spell out for their incoming legislators. That is the change we want.