Posted By: OBIORA IFOH, GEORGE OJI and TORDUE SALEM
•Lawmakers settle down for business
For more than 50 days after its inauguration, the eighth National Assembly had been under conflagration over leadership tussle. However, last Tuesday, the crisis came to an end with each arm of legislature agreeing to sheath the sword for greater interest of the nation. OBIORA IFOH, GEORGE OJI and TORDUE SALEM bring the undercurrents that led to the resolution of the crises.
The National Assembly which has been in crises over leadership tussle finally last Tuesday resolved all differences and gets ready for legislative business for which it was in place to conduct.
How Saraki stemmed Senate crisis
Since the event of June 9, which marked the election of the former chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, and former governor of Kwara State, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, as President of the eighth Senate, that arm of the National Assembly has hardly known any peace. The same also goes for the election of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as the Deputy Senate President, DSP. Indeed, if the election of Saraki could be tolerated in any way, that of Ekweremadu is seen by the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, as complete abomination.
The circumstances leading to Saraki’s emergence as Senate President on that eventful June 9 are still fresh in the minds of most Nigerians. However, Saraki’s emergence is against the wishes of the leadership of the APC, under which platform the Kwara-born politician got to the Senate.
APC leadership’s favored candidate is no doubt, Senator Ahmed Lawan, a four-time senator from the North- East geo political zone of the country. Unfortunately, the party’s support was Lawan’s greatest undoing. Thus, while Saraki was busy building bridges of friendship and understanding among members of his APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Lawan was relying and counting on APC leaders’ support alone.
The final death knell on Lawan’s political ambition of becoming the Senate President was however delivered on June 9, when, instead of mobilising his supporters to face Saraki in an election on the floor of the Senate, he rather, led his team to attend an illegal meeting purportedly with President Muhammadu Buhari and some other supposedly party chieftains at the International Conference Center, ICC, Abuja, on a day that the Senate was to be inaugurated by the President, which also had as the only business of the day, the election of its presiding officers.
Also more worrisome to APC leadership, and indeed Lawan’s supporters, was the emergence of Senator Ekweremadu as the DSP. Although there is nowhere in the nation’s constitution or indeed any other statute in the country that the party with the majority of elected senators that must constitute or produce the presiding officers of the Senate, APC as a party, felt that it was their right to appropriate those two prime offices as the PDP did in the 16 years that it was the ruling party in the country.
Thus, this situation set the stage for ceaseless crisis for Saraki as the Senate President, right from that very day he emerged. To get him out of the way, all manners of plots and traps were laid against him.
First, there was the argument by Senator Kabiru Marafa from Zamfara State that his privilege as a senator was breached on June 9, when he could not participate in the election of Senate’s presiding officers, as an elected member of the Senate.
When Marafa could not explain convincingly who prevented him and some of his co-travelers from participating in the election process, he was forced to abandon that line of action.
Again, Marafa was also the arrowhead of those who rose in opposition to the 2015 Senate Standing Orders, the rule book through which Saraki emerged. On three separate occasions on the floor of the Senate, he unsuccessfully attempted to impress it upon his colleagues that the 2015 Senate rule book, which gave birth to the saraki Senate Presidency, was forged. The basis upon which he wanted Saraki and Ekweremadu’s election nullified.
Marafa’s major argument was that the Senate Standing Order 2011, made provision for open ballot system as the mode for the election of the presiding officers of the Senate, whereas the 2015 version of the document conversely provided for secret ballot.
If Marafa had successfully sustained his arguments, the implication was that the election of Saraki and Ekweremadu as the Senate President and the DSP would have been nullity.
Ekweremadu’s counter argument to Marafa’s was that by virtue of section 64 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended, every new Senate must come with a fresh rule book to govern its activities and proceedings.
Not satisfied with Ekweremadu’s explanations, Marafa and his group petitioned the Inspector General of Police, seeking a probe of the alleged forgery of the Senate rule book. In the said petition, which was signed by the Secretary of the Senate Unity Forum, SUF, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, the group implored the police to unravel those behind the alleged forgery with a view to bringing them to justice. SUF comprises senators who were pushing for Lawan’s candidacy for Senate President.
This was also as the same members of the SUF took another step to initiate legal action to, again, press for the probe of the 2015 Senate Rules, with a view also to nullifying Saraki and Ekweremadu’s elections.
Even though there are conflicting reports as to the outcome of police investigations, the truth of the matter, according to political pundits, is that nothing concrete will come from the said investigations. This is because the issue of Senate Standing Rules is purely an internal affair of the Senate, which results from the constitutional rights of section 60 of the 1999 constitution for the senators to design the rules to govern their procedures or activities.
The same goes for the legal action on the same matter. The truth of the matter is that at the end of the day, the senate will very likely move against Marafa and his colleagues for externalizing what constitutionally ought to be a purely an internal matter of the Senate.
While all these were going on, Saraki maintained his cool, and again continued to consolidate on his election as Senate President by winning more supporters to his side, even as he masterminded some high profile visits to his office as part of efforts to legitimise his election.
Saraki also ensured that he got his foot soldiers to be appointed into the remaining positions of the principal offices of the Senate. For instance, he successfully ensured that Senator Ali Ndume emerged as the new Senate Leader as opposed to APC leadership’s choice of Lawan from the same North-East zone.
He also successfully ensured that Bala Ibn Na’Allah, Kebbi, North-West, emerged Deputy Leader while France Alimikhena, Edo, South-South was the new Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate.
By last Tuesday, the composition of the principal officials of the Senate was completed with the successful appointment of the minority officials by the opposition PDP.
In a letter written by Ekweremadu on behalf of the PDP Senate caucus to the Senate President, and read on the floor by Saraki, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio, emerged as the Minority Leader and Senator Emmanuel Bwacha. Taraba South, the Deputy Minority leader.
In the same vein, Senator Philip Aduda, FCT is now the Minority Chief Whip, while Senator Biodun Olujimi, Ekiti South, emerged Deputy Minority Whip.
What ended the crisis and finally brought respite to Saraki was the vote of confidence passed on him on Tuesday by 81 senators, who cut across all the two political parties in the Senate, as well as across the two warring factions of the Senate.
The number, more than two third members of the 109-member Senate, was made up of 46 PDP and 35 APC senators.
Incidentally, some of the most vocal antagonists of Saraki, like Senators Marafa, Abdullahi Adamu and Shehu Sani were among those who supported the vote of confidence motion.
In addition, the senators also resolved to call on the Nigeria Police Force and all other security agencies in the country not to allow themselves to be used by any person or persons to harass, intimidate or blackmail the Senate, senators and or their spouses.
Entitled, “Vote of Confidence on Principal Officers of the Senate,” the motion was sponsored by Senator Samuel Anyanwu, Imo East.
Anyanwu noted Senate’s dismay at the continued harassment of the Senate and senators, the National Assembly management and spouses of senators by security agencies, expressing the Senate’s determination to continue to perform its constitutional duties and responsibilities without fear or favour, as well as focusing on matters of interest and importance to the ordinary people of Nigeria in view of the enormous challenges facing the nation.
Dogara bows to pressure for peace to reign
In the Greek Legend of Hercules, we see a great warrior in a gruelling battle to take a throne designed for him. Though anointed for the apex seat by circumstance, he will have to exhaust the skills of negotiation and his battle prowess to assume the crown.
A week before the June 9 election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila was seen by many, as the most suitable for the position of the helmsman of the green chamber.
But things started falling apart, and on the day of political reckoning, he was thrown overboard for Hon. Yakubu Dogara, in one of the most keenly contested Speakership polls in the political history of Nigeria.
‘Gbaja’, as he is fondly called by his supporters, literally kissed and made up with his tough opponent, but his camp sneered at what they thought Dogara got by sheer subterfuge and foul play.
Gbajabiamila’s backers closed ranks with the formidable Bola Tinubu machine to hit the trenches afresh and insist that the APC anointed for House Leader must take it, notwithstanding the fact that Hon. Yusuf Lasun, Osun-APC, from the same South-West as Gbajabiamila had taken the number two slot.
The Gbajabiamila camp later settled for the position of Leader, but the Dogara camp said even that won’t be available, citing the equity principle that says one zone could not take more than a slot in a power-sharing equation.
The battle dragged on for several weeks, with the Speaker sticking to his guns, but with the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari and APC leadership, the Speaker on Tuesday, conceded the position to Hon. Gbajabiamila.
In a post-plenary press briefing, the spokesman of the House, Hon. Sani Zorro, Jigawa-APC, said despite initial hitches, the crisis was resolved with the intervention of the President.
Zorro said: “Because today, we have resolved all the problems that brought that circumstance. What transpired today is the triumph of the internal democracy of the House of Representatives and this triumph is also anchored on four factors.”
Zorro said the resolution of the crisis was a demonstration of reason over blind ambition, adding: “It is anchored on patriotism, constitutionalism, reason and rationality, this is what guided the steps taken by the entire House of Representatives led by its leadership and all the contending groups that were party to the various negotiations.”
He also attributed the resolution of the tiff to the intervention of President Buhari, saying: “We want to use this opportunity to thank Mr. President for a 20 minute meeting, it was very very crucial, what Mr. President did was a fatherly engagement, what he did has clearly shown that he is not the so called dictator that our opponents wanted to paint him as. He said let the National Assembly follow its own democratic processes and its leaders will emerge and that is what happened.”
The former House Leader-designate, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa had earlier on Monday, declared that in line with the Federal Character principle, former Minority Leader; Hon. Gbajabiamila could not be the Leader of the House.
Doguwa who spoke during a television programme, said it will be lopsided for one zone to take more positions than any other zone in the country.
He said: “At a point, precisely on July 3, the party held a NEC meeting, the highest decision making body of the party, where Mr President attended. What is more important to me is that the party has conceded to Dogara and accepted him as a legitimate son of the party. On that day when Dogara was recognised by the party, I should have no problem with Dogara, because my own political party has accepted and pardoned him. I have no cause to fight him.
“The formula is with equity, fairness and justice, and it has not contradicted the provision of our rules neither does it contradict the provision of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“It will only amount to marginalization if one zone takes more than one position like what is being contemplated by the letter purportedly signed by the chairman of our political party.”
Hon. Doguwa who has been a member of the House since 2003, and was also Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, said Hon. Gbajabiamila was still his friend, despite his decision to take sides with Dogara.
On his decision to dump the APC loyalists group for the position of the Leader, he said politics was about interests and not permanent allegiance to certain groups.
On the issue of the supremacy of the party, he said: “When you’re talking of party supremacy, as far as I’m concerned, it is a subjective thing. What you may think is the supremacy of the party may not be the same to me. I want to believe no matter how supreme the party is, the provision of our rules and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should be more supreme.”
He advised that the struggle he and Gbajabiamila undertook against Dogara was not for a particular individual, but for the involvement of some members of their group in the leadership of the House.
He said: “What we are doing may sound funny and selfish but it also forms the fundamental of our operations in the House. You cannot continue to face your legislative business until you have your principal officers. Those principal officers must be elected on the basis of the rule of law to be in tandem with justice and reflect fairness.”
But the group loyal to Gbajabiamila for the position of the House Majority Leader, had earlier kicked against the Principle of Federal Character stance adopted by the Speaker Dogara for the allocations of posts in the green chamber.
The group in a lengthy statement issued to the media last week and signed by Hon. Nasiru Sani Zangon Daura, APC-Katsina,said the Federal Character principle adopted by the pro-Speaker group only applied to appointive positions and not elective ones.
He claimed that should the principle be applied, it will mean that one of the Chambers of the National Assembly would be headed by a lawmaker from the South.
He said: “We stand on our earlier position that whilst we accept and agree with the principle of Federal Character, the constitutional provisions in that regard are strictly in reference to the appointment to the Federal Executive and its agencies.
“The principle of Federal Character is not intended to be given such elasticity to the extent that it would extend to the running and internal workings of the House which is not a government agency and whose members are not appointed but elected.
“Furthermore to accept the Speaker’s arrangement would mean the two most powerful positions in the Senate and House after the presiding officers would be occupied by the North.”
He, on behalf of his group, warned that the “Change Principle” should not be ditched on the altar of zoning positions.
Dogara’s opponents insisted that “subject to the provisions of this constitution, the Senate or the House shall have power to regulate its own procedure.”
They dismissed the Speaker’s letter to the party asserting his position, saying that “in copiously quoting our House Rules, the Speaker’s letter did not address the most important Rule of all as it relates to appointment of principal officers. Order 7 Rule 37 of the House Rules states: “Only members with cognate legislative experience as members of the National Assembly shall be eligible for appointment as principal officers”.
How Buhari achieved peace in 20 minutes
APC National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun was mandated by the President to ensure that peace reigns in the National Assembly, particularly, the House of Representatives. The fate of Gbajabiamila, Tinubu’s alter ego was the only issue. He must be accommodated as a principal officer, at all cost.
So, who would be sacrificed? The Speaker has refused to entertain any other position short of equity. To him, all the six geo-political zones must be accommodated in the sharing of the House principal offices which coincidentally are six in number.
Deputy Speaker Lasum also vowed not to relinquish his position freely given to him by the entire members of the House, arguing that his position was not a party affair but lawmakers’.
Faced with these challenges, Chief Odigie-Oyegun, who was already running out of time and desperate as well had to involve some notable political leaders from the South-West, including the governors to plead with TInubu to prevail on Gbajabiamila and his supporters to accept the political situation as it were. That strategy also fell on deaf ears.
He had last week summoned the Deputy Speaker alongside his state governor, Rauf Aregbesola, to the party secretariat to persuade him to step down for Gbajabiamila, a plea that was also flatly rejected.
However, a weekend call by the President to Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha did the magic. South -East has only two APC members from Imo State who are loyal to the governor. It was agreed that the South-East, with the least representation in the lower chamber give up their claim to the principal office for the South=- West so that peace can reign both in the House and the party.
With the development, Speaker Dogara had to succumb to the new arrangement, as the South-East representatives who had already being briefed by the governor did not object to the new position of the party.
Having achieved the needed peace; President Buhari had to convene the Monday meeting with the elected lawmakers to appreciate them for their ‘efforts’ and pledge to work with them to ensure that APC regains needed stability.
President Buhari, according to sources had warned of the dangers of allowing PDP room enough to manipulate the system to the collective interest of the party.
Shortly after his emergence, Gbajabiamila paid a surprise visit to APC national secretariat, where sources close to the National Chairman believed was a “thank you visit”
Odigie-Oyegun had commended the Speaker and entire House for their sense of patriotism, adding: “It is my hope and expectation that the wounds will now be totally healed that the APC family will now reunite fully as one.
To Nigerians, Oyegun said: “ I have already offered our regrets. This is part of growing, we are new to government and we are democratic and above all, progressive movement. We are in the process of welding all the various tendencies into one and today we have scored one major victory and I can assure the country that the party has begun the process of healing all the wounds and becoming one strong force. We are moving from being a movement into a one strong political party that will back the President for the good of the entire country.”
Regarding the crisis in the Senate, he said: “Senate is a different level and different situation. It is totally different if only we have sore thumb in the form of a PDP Deputy Senate President. So I think it is totally different and the approach and the way we are going to handle the situation will be totally different. But at the end of the day, even the Senate issue will be sorted out too.”
Though, peace may have returned to the National Assembly, however there are several unresolved issues which may still hunt the National Assembly, including the promotion of inequity in the lower chamber as a zone was left out in the sharing of principal offices while another zone got two offices.
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