The 10th National Assembly and leadership recruitment
If there is any perfect example in recent times that demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Nigeria is a nation reputed for doing one thing repeatedly and expects a different result, it is the present intrigues surrounding the nomination, or better still, selection of principal officers for the incoming 10th National Assembly.
For a better understanding of where the piece is headed, the National Assembly is one of the three arms that constitute Nigeria’s presidential system of government. It is statutorily referred to as the Legislative arm. It is independent from the other arms (Executive and Judiciary), and headed by the Senate President, who is assisted by the Deputy Senate President. The Senate President and his Deputy also work with the Principal Officers in the house, including the Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader, Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Chief Whip, Deputy Chief Whip, Minority Whip, and Deputy Minority Whip. The same is applicable to the House of Representatives, which is headed by the Speaker and assisted by the Deputy with other officers similar to those mentioned above.
Fundamentally, everyone in the National Assembly is, or ought to be, traditionally interested in the day-to-day existence of the average people in the country and honestly work hard to improve their lives by offering selfless service in the offices they occupy. From the above clarification, it becomes a worrying concern to this piece and other well meaning Nigerians as to why the present interference, distractions and involvements from outside particularly the incoming Executive arm, political parties, ethno-religious groups, region against another, powerful personalities against each other about how the 10th NASS leadership will emerge.
Qualifying the development as frightening is the awareness that this was a similar leadership recruitment interference witnessed by the outgoing ninth NASS. The house is arguably filled with the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of NASS in Nigeria, but could not make laws that enhanced the life chances of Nigerians. It is factually backed that the ninth NASS we have today is unrecognisable compared to what the nation used to have in the past. The facts are there and speak for themselves. There are so many distinguished senators and honourable members currently serving. Yet, the present legislative arm of the Federal Government operates as if it is subservient of the executive branch.
The mountain of foreign debt incurred by the present Federal Government and approved by the present ninth NASS, without recourse to its harsh impact on both Nigeria and Nigerians, is another example of glaring NASS leadership failure that must be avoided by the incoming 10th NASS. Ultimately, while this dangerous politicking and scramble for the soul and leadership of the yet to be substituted 10th National Assembly deepens and flourishes, what, however, made the present situation a very curious one is that an exercise like election of principal officers is constitutionally supposed to be an internal affair within the Assembly. But suddenly against all known logic got characterised by national intrigue, with the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) taking time to underline the advantages, and otherwise of having a particular lawmaker in a particular position.
Within this period, I have also listened and read different arguments by APC-advocates, outlining virtues and attributes in support of the current ‘interference’ in Nigeria’s 10th NASS leadership recruitment process. While some anchored their argument on the time-honored but deformed political ideology in the country, which insists that party is supreme and as a result, the ruling party has the ‘right to detect who becomes what in the forthcoming NASS. Others argued that politics is a game of numbers and rides on the wheels of ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’. To the rest, the Executive arm of government should have every reason to be interested in the principal officers to emerge at the 10th NASS. To this group, their argument is predicated on the fact that Executive input will assist and promote a rancor-free relationship between the two arms of the government, while ensuring equity, justice, and compliance with Federal Character.
Despite the validity of the above arguments, if allowed to fly, this piece sees in the near future ‘a crisis’ approaching that will unnerve Nigerians and cause them to tremble. These present fears expressed cannot be described as groundless as there are grains of truth in all of its concerns. Aside from non-promotion of meritocracy, the greater consequences and hidden danger inherent in the ongoing selection and insistence on ‘anointed candidates’ by the ruling party without recourse to democratise process and independence of the House, is that in the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes, dishonesty encouraged and rewarded.
Viewed broadly, the decision to select, endorse or anoint more than anything else exposed systematised personal interest as well as amplifies the fact that our political players had not carefully read history and human drama surrounding the democracies of ancient Greece and the Roman Republic. From their actions and inactions in the ongoing debate, it is obvious that as a nation, political gladiators in Nigeria are unaware for example that democracy disappeared in Rome when Caesar crossed Rubicon in violation of the Roman Senate’s long prohibitions.
History bears eloquent testimony to the effect that right from the referenced moment, when Caesar unpolitically interfered as well as combined other arms of government with his Chief–of–State role, the Roman senate lingered only in form and humored for decades while the dream of democracy withered away. And as a result of that singular act, democracy for all intent and purposes disappeared, not just in the affected nation, but from the face of the earth for 17 centuries, until its rebirth in the United State of America.
This is a great lesson for Nigerian leaders to draw, particularly now that the incoming NASS will have members of the opposition in greater numbers. The truth is that even if such positions must be zoned to ensure equity in geographical spread, senator–elects must be allowed free hands to elect their principal officers from assigned zones. This author, like other well meaning Nigerians, considers allocation of positions to ‘anointed candidates’ as unpalatably undemocratic, and therefore should be discarded.
Again, even if the above advice and lesson are ignored, another reason Nigerians should be concerned about the increasingly sophisticated efforts to manipulate NASS leadership is predicated on the sensitive role that lawmakers are to perform in the nation’s representative and deliberative democracy. If allowed, its negative outcome could set the stage that will selectively control information relevant to collective decision making in a democracy and strip the house of its power to enact masses-focused legislation.
To, therefore, make the incoming 10th Assembly legislate for the poor, this piece holds the opinion that senator-elects must be given free hands to elect their principal officers as interference can set the stage for abridgement of the freedom of the lawmakers and by extension encroach on the rights of the masses. There is equally an urgent need for incoming NASS members to anchor their election of leaders on competence as against party affiliations and other mundane considerations. This shift in action is important as we cannot solve our political and socio-economic challenges with the same thinking we used when we created it.
Finally, in the words of Thomas Paine as captured in his pamphlet entitled, ‘Common Sense’, we must all recognise that the law is king and vigilant adherence to the rule of law strengthens our democracy. It ensures that those who govern us operate within our constitutional structures, which means that our democratic institutions play their indispensible role in shaping policies and determining the direction of our nation. This is the task ahead of the 10th NASS. Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Politics), Advocacy for Social and Economic Justice (SEJA), Lagos.
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