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The 9th Senate

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The battle for the headship of the 9th Senate which will be inaugurated in June is hotting up in earnest. This is so because whoever heads the Senate is also the head of the National Assembly. Besides, the Senate is the arm of the Assembly specifically assigned by the Constitution for confirmation hearings of Ministers and other important holders of public office at the Federal level. So whoever heads the Senate is positioned to perform a very important national assignment when the confirmation hearings are held. In the last Senate, the Executive arm of Government had a hard time getting some of its nominees confirmed because both arms of government seemed to be working at cross purposes with each other. This situation arose because by some error of judgement the former Chairman of the party, Mr. John Oyegun tried to impose his own anointed leaders on the two arms of the National Assembly. That imposition failed miserably and the party tried in various ways, fair and foul, to whip the two leaders that emerged into line. This big stick approach caused more problems than it was able to solve. The two leaders of the National Assembly, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Mr. Yakubu Dogara worked seamlessly together in defiance of their party leadership and defence of what they saw as separation of powers.

Throughout the four years the turbulence rocked the National Assembly disrupting the nation’s work. Many analysts blamed the situation on the decision of the ruling party, APC, to hand pick those who would lead the National Assembly. Those they handpicked, by some fortuitous circumstances, failed to get the nod of the members of the National Assembly. That scenario is about to play out again as the party chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, has named his preferred candidates for the coveted posts. His choices, Senator Ahmad Lawan (senate) and Representative Femi Gbajabiamila have been accepted by some of their colleagues but not by all of them because there are other candidates in contention. The senate position, for example, is being eyed by Senator Ali Ndume, former Senate Leader from Borno State in the North East. Others threatening to run too are Mr. Danjuma Goje, former Governor of Gombe State, and Mr. Abdullahi Adamu, a ranking Senator from Nasarawa State and a formidable Muhammadu Buhari supporter.

Ordinarily the ruling party, APC, which has a comfortable majority in both arms of the National Assembly should have no problem in getting its party people to occupy the seats of the presiding officers. But the problem is that the party wants some specific persons not just any experienced and loyal party man. So it is not sufficient to be an experienced and loyal party man. You must also be acceptable to those who take decisions for the party. Those who approve that stance call it party supremacy. Its opponents name it imposition. Between party supremacy and imposition there is a problem. Both sides have apparently convincing arguments to support their positions. The party supremacists argue that it is the party that gave birth to the candidates and therefore the candidates are the servants and the party the masters in the relationship.

Besides, they argue that if the party does not have its way the parliament may not support the bills of the President no matter how transformational they may be. The implicit assumption in that argument is that the parliamentarians are expected to behave like robots, or rubber stamps on a stamp pad and not as thinking Nigerians imbued with the wisdom to decipher what is right and noble from what is wrong and ignoble. The anti-imposition campaigners talk about the separation of powers among the three arms of government, Executive, Legislature and Judiciary and the need for each to be independent. It is such independence, they contend, that guarantees that there will be sufficient checks and balances among them to stand guard over our fragile democracy.

The arguments on both sides are almost unassailable but for the system to work smoothly there must be no extreme independence, no extreme separation of powers, and no extreme party supremacy. What works is what can be called interdependence, a term that is difficult to break down in terms of dos and donts. Even if the term is not as clear as sunlight it is a term that can be generally understood by those who want to make our society work. The problem, really, is extremism and the attempt at the primitive accumulation and dispensation of power by those who wield it either at the party level or the National Assembly or anywhere else that power resides. For us in this part of the world it is often the case that when we do have power we yield to the temptation to use it excessively to the exclusion of others who are also expected to use power, a little bit of it, for the good of our society. For most power wielders in Nigeria it is all or nothing. That basically is the problem. People hate to share power even if the Constitution prescribes it. There is always some smart lawyer somewhere who must locate some fine prints hidden somewhere that must be utilized to ensure that power is not shared for the benefit of society. What happened in some of the states, Imo and Ogun for example, during the last elections exemplifies this vaulting ambition to grab all – or nothing – of the power available.

Eventhough the APC has made its preferred candidates known for the Senate leadership position it would be unruly and undemocratic if it should seek to stop with a horse whip any other candidate from exercising his democratic and constitutional right to seek office in the parliament to which he is elected. That would be highhandedness. That would be dictatorship. What the party needs to do is to campaign for the candidate of its choosing and convince its party people to vote for that person. What will the party leaders tell the faithful members of its party if their own leaders from their own states or zones who belong to the same party are not even allowed to vie for whatever office is available to be vied for? That would be discrimination by the party against its own members simply because the party henchmen have made their choices even if they are whimsical or selfish choices.

It is such high-handedness in party organization that rocked the APC boat last year and led to the row in the National Assembly and in the party. If human beings can learn from history they would learn but they hardly do Why? The reason is because people always think that what happened before can never happen to them, that thunder cannot strike twice in the same place because they are smarter and they have all the accoutrements of power in their hands to achieve even the unachievable. That is the colour of eternal optimism but the truth is that no one ever has everything in his hands. Some other things are always in other people’s hands. So no one can has perfect control of any situation except God.

My advice to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who are the main champions of party supremacy is to tread softly, respect the feelings of the Senators Elect and allow them to make their choices by themselves. Then build your plans for the National Assembly around the people they have chosen. The interests of the National Assembly members are variegated because they represent various Constituencies with interests that clash.The expectations of their constituents from those they have elected may also be different from the position of the party on issues that matter most to them. That is why it is difficult for all Senators elect to sing from the same hymn book.

If the party chooses to forget the lessons of 2015 it may be dejavu in 2019. We don’t need the rabble-rousing that occurred in the 8th Senate to repeat itself in the 9th. Several bills that could have been passed were withheld or delayed. Several persons for confirmation hearings were not attended to in time because the Senate leadership wanted to exact its pound of flesh from an Executive that it perceived as hostile to it. We can do without an exchange of hostile acts between these important arms of government in the next dispensation.


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