Can PMB, no, APC afford another political faux pas? By Femi Orebe

buhariIf the president would not move to stop this self interest-induced camaraderie with the PDP by its National Assembly leaders, then APC needs be told that Nigerians are watching, and waiting, as the party makes fools of them, knowing pretty well that the next election is even less than four years away. 

Let me rephrase that question: Can President Muhammadu Buhari survive a second damning political miscalculation? If he does, will he, and his party, succeed in positively affecting the country as they promised us all during the campaigns, or as the PDP never ceases to chorus, is all that change mantra nothing but a chimera? In an event that, in retrospect, can now be described as sleeping on duty, President Buhari surprisingly showed not even the faintest interest in who and who became the Senate President or the House Speaker when, given a clear understanding of the critical role of the National Assembly, he should have shown much more than a passing interest in who emerges in those positions. The result was that  a clever Senator Bukola Saraki did not only end up defying both the party and the president,  shredded the party’s  well choreographed  preferences but also traded off a key position that rightly belonged to the majority party, his. For me, it remains a puzzle till this day whether the president simply did not understand the role of the National Assembly, as in the senate constitutionally having to confirm some of his key appointments and such other things apart from its primary function of law making, where his government would, willy nilly, have to depend on its majority in the two chambers.

Nigerians are already getting to see the effect of that tactical error especially as it is beginning to play out in the Senate.  The consequences of a second faux pas would, of course, be far worse and the National Assembly is already furiously working towards that, relying on a nebulous claim of separation of powers, as if in our own Electoral Laws, it is not the party that was voted for. I refer here to the ongoing constitution of the membership of committees in both chambers where the leadership is dramatically orchestrating a parity between both the APC and the PDP simply because of the highly flawed manner in which they got to their high offices. Indeed, so  unreflective is the National Assembly now that while the president, well aware of our parlous financial circumstances, is doing everything to cut down the cost of governance, restructuring ministries and planning to have ministers without portfolio thereby, among other things, cutting  down on the number of ministerial aides, its (the  National Assembly) leadership,  is creatively, and unilaterally, increasing the number of committees just so their members could dig deeper into the little money the country now has consequent upon the down turn in the price of oil. Were they not being driven by their own survival instincts, since it is now payback time, they should have been mindful of what obtains in the U.S from where we copied the presidential system.  Even with all the hue and cry over the president’s single-minded determination to restructure the bureaucracy, the U.S, a much more endowed country than ours, has only about 15 departments, namely: State, Treasury, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labour, Defence, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veteran Affairs and Homeland Security. In place of  our  House of Representatives’ 96 committees, the U.S  Congress,  equivalent to the  House of Representatives,  has only 24 committees  made up of  the following: Agriculture, Appropriations, Armed Services, Budget,  Education and the workforce, Energy and Commerce, Ethics, Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, House Administration, Judiciary, Natural Resources, Oversight and Government Reforms, Rules, Science, Space and Technology, Small Business., Transportation and Infrastructure, Veterans Affairs, Ways and Means, Intelligence and some select or special committees like the one on Benghazi. The senate has an almost identical committee structure. In constituting  these committees, it is customary for members of the majority party to hold the chairmanship but even if, for purposes of  attempting  to further unify our country the leadership wants to concede  chairmanship to PDP, it should only have  been tokenistic but because  they got to office ugly, the leadership  thinks  nothing  of  rubbishing the Nigerian masses who voted  massively against  the  same PDP in the last elections. If neither the president nor the party would move to pro-actively stop these politicians keen only on their own survival, with some of them serving on two or three committees, we would again have lost a golden opportunity to put a stop to the unspeakable profligacy going on at the National Assembly. It would be remembered that somebody who should know once alleged that the National Assembly consumes 25 percent of the national budget though they tepidly denied it. But that, in fact,  is only a part of the problem as the Speaker has already constituted the House committees virtually at par between APC and the PDP  while , from the grave vine, we  learnt  the senate president would be  toeing  the same line. This will be very disrespectful of the Nigerian electorate who made a clear choice in that election and is keen on seeing some concrete change.

It never ceases to amuse me when our politicians behave as if they own us all – something akin to a master class – believing their personal interests supercede the peoples’. It will be a huge surprise if the National Assembly leadership does not appreciate how very much President Buhari would need all the support he can get from his party members in driving his and the party’s agenda. One would have thought it a no brainer to appreciate that the president would need their support, working, especially through the committees, to translate his campaign promises and programmes into action. That is the window of opportunity they have again thrown away. Or how on earth did Speaker  Dogara get his 48/46/2  ratio  in the distribution of chairmanship positions which he allotted to APC, PDP and the other  two  opposition parties, in that order? How does that reflect the parties’ numerical strength in the House?  I ask again, is this what is rumoured the senate president is about repeating in the red chamber? Are they such strangers to the practice in the U.S where no minority party member chairs a committee? This is what happens when overarching ambition drives politicians to disrespect their party and become unequally yoked with members of the opposition party whose only prayer is to defeat, and replace, the ruling party at the next election.  Can’t they see? Are these the president’s party members who will help him kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria? Indeed, I have a sneaky feeling that, by allegedly gifting the PDP the chairmanship of critical committees as Finance, Petroleum, upstream and downstream, and Gas, Aviation, Environment, Foreign Affairs, Science and Technology and Works, somebody is already strategising for that party’s presidential candidacy come 2019. Or has  the PDP not announced already that it has zoned it to the north, deliberately remaining silent as to what exact zone in the north, so they could play some politicians, one  against  the other?  Can’t the non complicit APC members, apparently presently keener about serving on juicy committees, see the larger picture and put on their thinking caps? Can’t they see that there are some of their colleagues who care not a hoot as to whether or not APC survives beyond 2019 as long as they achieve their own political ambitions? It is left to President Buhari and the APC leadership to know exactly what they have coming or they would have kissed victory at the 2019 elections bye long before they know it. As I have repeated severally above, what concerns the National Assembly leadership, as well as many of its members, is not the well-being of the country. Rather it is calculations towards 2019 and whatever else, in addition to their humongous salaries and allowances, they can make even when Nigerians are hoping, apparently against hope, that they will appreciate our current circumstances and reduce their totally disproportionate earnings. If the president would not move to stop this self interest-induced camaraderie with the PDP by its National Assembly leaders, then APC needs be told that Nigerians are watching, and waiting, as the party makes fools of them, knowing pretty well that the next election is even less than four years away.

NATION