Zamfara Tsunami, Ndume’s ‘recalcitrance’ compound National Assembly leadership race
Less than two weeks to the proclamation and inauguration of the 9th session of Nigeria’s National Assembly, the Supreme Court’s upturning of All Progressive Congress’s (APC) clean sweep of Zamfara election has upped the ante on the competing tendencies trying to define the nature of the next senate. The Supreme Court ruling, which reinforced similar rulings of the lower courts and the position of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has also pushed the various parties back to the drawing board or thinking court.
Apart from altering the positions of the political parties regarding their showing in the last general elections, the Supreme Court’s ruling was an indictment on the impunity that has been at the root of the lack of cohesion in the ruling party. The five-member apex court panel, led by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, maintained that APC had no valid primaries and as such could not have fielded candidates for the election, thereby rendering whatever votes allotted to it as none existent.
While declaring that candidates other than the first appellant with the highest votes stand elected, the court also awarded a N10 million cost against the appellant, ostensibly as a punitive measure for trying to sustain its illegal stance. As it stands, APC has paid dearly for its lack of decisive leadership in two states, namely Rivers and Zamfara, where the party had factions led by Senators Magnus Abe and Kabiru Marafa respectively.
As at the time of filing this report, the APC National Working Committee (NWC) was still holding an emergency meeting it called to review the development, even as INEC made good its resolve to carry out the orders of the court by issuing certificates of return to the beneficiaries of the court ruling, especially the governorship candidate of PDP, Alhaji Mohammed Mattawale.
While speaking after its meeting last Saturday, the INEC chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, stressed that political parties must take the conduct of credible primaries seriously, adding that properly conducted primaries are cardinal for internal functionality of political parties and the electoral process.
Altering NASS’ equations
WITH the recent development in Zamfara, the rank of opposition PDP has been swelled. How this rebalancing of political forces in the National Assembly would affect the ongoing jostling for the leadership of the Senate would be seen after the inauguration of President Buhari’s second term and proclamation of the 9th session.
Although the likelihood of a dark horse emerging as surprise factor in the ongoing jostle for the post of president of senate, the two front runners, incumbent Senate leader, Ahmed Lawan and his immediate predecessor, Senator Ali Ndume, would necessarily start negotiations afresh.
While INEC’s insistence on the invalidation of Zamfara primaries helped to assert the rule of law in the electoral process, Senator Ndume’s decision to remain in the race for Senate president of the 9th Senate sustained the air of competition surrounding the election of the floor functionaries.
Save for Senator Danjuma Goje, who is yet to publicly canvass the ideas he intends to espouse if he gets elected as senate president, his rivals, Lawan and Ndume, have presented contrasting blueprints of their anticipated presidencies. For Lawan, whose aspiration has received the tacit endorsement of the ruling party, if elected as president, the senate would adopt the approach of consultation and collaboration with the executive arm of government.
Ndume, who has continued to shrug off the partisan endorsement of his rival, maintains that the job of electing one among equals in the senate resides with the senators. Consequently, he says his senate presidency would entail fundamental restructuring and reforms starting from the very office he is aspiring to occupy.
It is obvious that while Lawan approaches his ambition with caution, ostensibly to ensure that he does not upend the expectations and idiosyncrasies of the APC leadership and the presidency, which form the backbone of his aspiration, Ndume is flying the flag of democracy, on which ideals he hopes to triumph.
At an interactive session with some journalists, Ndume had said: “The party has endorsed Ahmed Lawan. I am very loyal to the party, but I only go with the party to the extent that the party has followed the constitutional provisions on any matter.”
But, while explaining that his ambition to become president of Senate “is not a personal decision to take leadership,” Lawan expressed the view that “the 9th Senate would be guided by cooperation, collaboration, consultation, synergy and focus.” To the senate leader, there is nothing like total independence for any arm of government, since according to him that would amount to isolation.
Checking autocratic executive
WHATEVER the gladiators for the leadership of the senate plans to do with the senate presidency if elected, one basic issue stands out in the consideration of what form the 9th National Assembly should take. The way and manner the executive arm carried out some assignments that require constitutional stipulations in the outgoing four years underscore the need for a legislature that stands as a bulwark against autocracy.
Should the National Assembly be involved in the appointment of certain categories of officials of federal government parastatals and agencies in the light of section 171 of the constitution? That Ibrahim Magu has remained in acting capacity stands out as what would happen when the executive insists on interpreting and executing the law.
The payment for 403 Tucano aircrafts without appropriation as well as the spontaneous suspension and replacement of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) was also an instance where the executive tried to undermine the position of the legislature in democratic governance.
Although the singsong within the ruling party has continued to be about avoiding the mistakes of the outgoing 8th Senate, Nigeria’s democracy benefitted from the stout insistence of the Red Chamber that the equality of the three arms before the constitution should not be compromised.
Consequently, given the predilection of the executive, which is being led by a former military ruler, to have things done expeditiously without consultation, the 9th Senate should be assertive without being combative, as well as being proactive on issues of national cohesion without compromising good governance.
But the fact that the presidency did not breathe down on INEC or interfere with the judicial processed that led to the invalidation of Zamfara APC votes for National and State Assembly candidates gives the impression that President Buhari has migrated to ‘extreme democrat’ as insinuated by Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, during the valedictory cabinet session recently.
The implication of Buhari’s non-interference is also the likelihood that the incoming leaders of the National Assembly would be democratically elected by the lawmakers, regardless of the current argument over secret and open balloting as basis of the election.
Leadership selection versus legislative agenda
THERE is possibility that a dark horse would emerge as the president of 9th Senate. Not minding that the ruling party has endorsed Senator Lawan as its preferred choice for senate president, the fact that incumbent Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, was seen in the company of former Gombe State governor and Senator representing Gombe South, Goje, visiting the Presidential Villa, gives the impression that the race is not closed between Lawan and Ndume.
In the light of the various schemes attending the politics of the senate leadership selection, especially the fact that it is the senators that would determine who eventually becomes the primus inter pares, the surprise element remains. The implication of such a possibility is that the agenda being canvassed by the prominent contenders might not at the end of the day define the nature of the next senate.
Lawan said although the next Senate would avoid unnecessary bickering with the executive, it would not compromise the oversight function of the legislature, adding that specialization and interdependence would help both arms to work for Nigeria and Nigerians irrespective of political or other sectional considerations.
According to him, “I do not believe in complete separation of powers, because one arm cannot act in isolation; the principle is not an infinite elasticity. All arms of government must have a convergent relationship to project the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. We must not allow Nigerians to give up hope.
“For us in the National Assembly, the idea is for the emergence of leadership that would work collectively for the interest of Nigerians and Nigeria. We are consulting widely and doing everything together to ensure that we take the right decisions.
“I don’t want to start mentioning names. What we are doing is not just for APC but for every Nigerian irrespective of party or religious affiliation. When there is tragedy it does not ask for party affiliation. We shall consult widely in the election of floor functionaries.”
Earlier, Chairman of Lawan for Senate President Campaign Organisation, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North), noted that the group was back on its pursuit for the full implementation of the progressive agenda which was botched somehow in the recent past, saying “we did not fail.”
He said when the group’s aspiration was cut short in June 2015, “we accepted it in our strides. Now, we want a senate that works for the benefit of Nigerians. We have looked among ourselves and considered Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan as the proper person to steer the ship of the incoming Senate.”
Meanwhile, Senator Lawan has dismissed insinuations that the Zamfara ruling would reduce his chances.However, Ndume who represents Borno South Senatorial District maintains that nobody has dissuaded him from pursuing his goal of leading the 9th Senate, saying, “The party has endorsed Ahmed Lawan. I am very loyal to the party. But I only go with the party to extent that the party has followed the constitutional provision on any matter. I also believe that power belongs to God and He gives it to whoever He likes. I consulted widely before I made my intention public.
“I consulted President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Leader of the party, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and other leaders of our party and they gave me their blessings. I am in Lagos in continuation of that consultation. I am encouraged by the feedback. I wrote a letter to the party to inform them of my intention. So far, nobody has told me to suspend my aspiration because they know that doing so will amount to a denial of my constitutional right. Nobody should be imposed on the senate. I am insisting that democracy should prevail.”
As the country moves closer to the beginning of another legislative session, how far the intricate politics of election of NASS leadership would go to uphold democratic ethos would determine the prospects or otherwise of good governance in the next dispensation.
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