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The politics of the twists and turns of NASS leadership

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Saraki at the 8th Senate Valedictory. Photo/Twitter/NGRSenate

Whereas the election or inauguration of the principal officers of the National Assembly is ordinarily a matter within the exclusive purview of the members of that body, so much extraneous interests have been generated unsolicitously.

A not-too-disinterested set of prescriptions for playing according to certain seemingly benign rules or conventions is being preached. These rules, often couched as flawless dogmas, are inimical to the achievement of an enabling environment for peace, tranquility and a seamless performance of roles within the National Assembly.

Members of the National Assembly are by virtue of the provisions of s.50 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as altered) empowered to elect their principal officers by themselves and from among themselves. There is however being seriously canvassed at the moment a conflictive doctrine of party supremacy otherwise understood as the inherent power of a political party to insist that it will be done by its members willy-nilly. This dogma is being trumped just to circumscribe the constitutionally guaranteed unlimited freedom of members of the National Assembly to freely express their choice respecting persons they prefer as their leaders.

Many reasons may be adduced by an individual for preferring one candidate to another. In a situation of free choice as in a proper democracy, these reasons coalesce into a bundle of rights which may not be taken away from its holder cavalierly, by intimidation or by threat of harm to his person, economic interests or projected growth.

The right of every member of the National Assembly to take independent decision or make independent judgment with regard to his preferred choice of leaders of the legislative body is in-alienable. It is not capable of being taken away.

Members are however free to aggregate their individual views regarding a certain candidate and arrive at the conclusion that the object of their aggregation approximates to their idea of who the occupier of the position in question should be. This they may do at the sitting of the Assembly called for the purpose of election into the prescribed office.

It is proper to interrogate the claim of the proponents of the primacy of party interests over and above the right of conscience or of the independence of a legislator. It must be borne in mind that representative government is not the same thing as representation by delegates obliged to obey the mandate of electors or of their appointors.

A member of the National Assembly should follow his conscience and should not be coerced by external pressure either from pressure groups, his local constituency association or even his own party whips. It is to be noted however that the reality is different.

Notwithstanding, this should not lead us to forget or abandon the theory in its ornate or orthodox purity. Although decisions are taken collectively by simple majority vote, they ought to be taken after debate; and the result of the individual votes when they are cast, will invariably be influenced by argument or by the robust debate preceding it.

Total independence in a member of the National Assembly is in theory and practice and impossibility. It is however necessary that a large measure of discretion be permitted the legislator particularly in matters or situations where the consideration of ability, competence, fairness, etc is key but is being rudely challenged by the vices of cronyism, mediocrity, in-experience or inequity.

The legislator must be allowed to exercise his conscience in favour of the values that redound to our cherished goal of a free, fair and self-possessing society.

This writer insists that usurpation of power – the type the APC is proposing with regard to its insistence that only party-nominated candidates will be cleared for election into the principal offices of the National Assembly – is a violation of the official oath of members not to act against their respective consciences. Further violations we have observed include favouritism, notorious partiality and nepotism.

Any informed person must appreciate that it is in the interest of the doctrine of separation of powers that the legislature be kept sacrosanct and independent of the executive arm of government. It is proper for members of the National Assembly to insist on the free exercise of their independence to pick their officers from among themselves on the basis of unflagging industry, devotion, outstanding skill, ability and fairness. It is within the power of the members of the National Assembly to disavow and repudiate their respective parties’ interference in the election of the officers of the legislature or of the attempt to direct their course in matters affecting the due functioning of the legislative arm.

Previous or earlier legislatures from 1999, probably lacking in requisite knowledge, may have been misled into accepting the manipulation by the executive of their right to free choice of their officers.

Shorn of the subterfuge in the circumstances of the election of principal officers of the Senate in 2015, the outcome of that election is a classic exemplar of the exercise of independence or assertiveness by a legislature that is desirous of being truly independent or one refusing to be hamstrung by unduly partisan positions of the party to which many of its members belong.

It must be recognised that human beings do not cohere for long periods simply from sentiment or in the hope of
common benefit or advantage. Ambitions, desires and hopes change rapidly to ensure that people do not remain pals for life. But there is a force whose binding power is beyond all human strength.

This force inheres in our sense of a common grievance based on the denial of a right that we hold inviolate or that we ordinarily presume undeniable or in-alienable. Our system cannot survive for long if any of the core principles of human liberty are tampered with for personal, political or sectarian purposes.

The stage for a long-drawn battle in the otherwise un-dramatic or sober business of the selection of the principal officers of the legislature is being choreographed from behind the scene by persons with less than altruistic motives or desires for the plum offices of state come 2023. It will be humiliating to members of the legislature to allow the country to follow the lead of such men even as the independence of this arm of government will be frittered on the altar of crass partisanship.

The seemingly sonorous sing-song of party supremacy being chorused by the hatchetmen of the party in power is a thinly-disguised ploy to circumvent the requirement of reasoned personal predilections or rational consideration in the choice of persons for the prescribed offices of the legislature. It is a raw attack on the independence of the men and women who are mature enough to make their own judgments free from the prodding’s, goadings or even stratagems of party whips, big wigs or godfathers.

Since the end of the general elections, one abrasive incident has followed another in rude succession. Adams Oshimohole, for instance, inflamed the whole country by boastfully suggesting that his party was not in the mood to share positions in the National Assembly with any other party, declaring that his party had the wherewithal to go it alone.

Oshiomhole never apologised even as he conveyed the impression that he was representing his party in any but the ablest sense. Noblesse oblige has no entry in Oshiomhole’s dictionary. But his party understands the game and the implied issues better.

The party coolly advised its members who were in the race for the elections into the offices of the National Assembly to constructively engage or seek the cooperation and understanding of their colleagues in other parties particularly so of members of the rival PDP. This wise directive has been manifesting in reported bi-polar or bilateral talks and meetings for resolving the needless impasse.

Accommodation is the other name and the apt description of the art and practice of politics. Strategy is its template or modus operandi and modus vivendi.

The sky is wide enough to accommodate all who dare to fly. A give and take programme of engagement is sure to re-route the direction of our journey away from desultoriness, perfidy, damnation or perdition.


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