Democracy cannot be democracy without healthy competition and free choice. Competition serves to showcase the hidden qualities and virtues of each candidate or aspirant vying for any political office. Without competition there is no game. A football tournament is a good example. The thrills and frills of any round robin is what makes the encounter. The encounter is the game because there can be no game without opponents – be it in Ludo, Monopoly, Chess, Basketball, and all manner of track and field events. There is a saying that ‘it takes two to tango’. An opponent is sine qua non to the success of any match. Opponents on each divide have their supporters. The best team may not always carry the day. The winner is the man who is both popular and acceptable to the electorate in a free, fair and credible contest. To be popular and acceptable comes with preparation of the highest order, self-confidence and ability to carry along or connect with those you seek to lead. Above all, providence, which is the father of all the determinants, crowns the aforementioned efforts and qualities with an outcome that is known as success.
Our democracy is still evolving. We are both operating yet learning on the job. Granted that in the past political parties hiding under the cover of party supremacy subverted democracy through imposition of candidates or political appointees at all levels. Nigerians have since returned a verdict of guilty as charged for all such infractions that had crowned mediocrity as king, doomed our economy and destroyed our social life. For these, Nigerians unanimously gave the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a bloody nose in the last election as a payback. They overwhelmingly rejected the devious party based on their penchant to impose anything- forgetting that imposition breeds impunity. A leader that is imposed on any people is by nature not accountable to those he leads. His allegiance is somewhere else – his benefactor. That the PDP (whose stock in trade is imposition) was swept away during the March electoral tsunami, shows that our democratic journey has recorded growth. We have grown a notch higher. A new generation of political actors have garnered knowledge which was not there in 1999. The knowledge has emboldened them to question the status quo and reject it by insisting that the right things be done. The right thing is the rule of law. The law provides the bedrock on which good governance and orderliness in any society can flourish. The law sets out the principles of freedom, justice and equality without which man would relapse back to the Hobbesian state where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. The law makes for fairness, equity and justice. It sets the ground norm. It is said to have no respect for persons or positions.
Why should we then be afraid to give vent to the rules we have set? Why do we fixate on the good and reject the better or on the better and reject the best? Based on the principle of party supremacy, it is good for political parties to ram their choice down the throats of their adherents but it is better for the members to be allowed to choose who should lead them. The good is the enemy of the better just like the better is enemy of the best. Even the scriptures admonishes us to move on unto perfection. Are we supposed to retrogress in our 16-year democratic odyssey or advance to the next frontier? That a culture of imposition had been the norm does not make it the right thing to indulge in because right doing begets righteousness. And righteousness according to the Holy Writ, exalts a nation. Impunity which is a corollary of unrighteousness is reproach to any people of political party.
The change the APC represent cannot fruit unless we follow laid down rules made for order and good governance in the society. The party will become asphyxiated should it allow itself to be pushed to serve the gods of the PDP which manifested in wagon imposition, impunity and recklessness while they held sway. The people have rejected them and turned to the APC for succour. We cannot afford to disappoint them so early in the day. President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) is the face of the new dawn in this country. He had stated unequivocally that he will not interfere in the process of electing presiding officers or appointing principal officers in both chambers of the National Assembly. He has kept tenaciously to that pledge even though people would have loved him to Obasanjolise the recently elected NASS leadership. They keep pressurising him to act – not minding whether such act would have undemocratic consequences. They want him to eat his words. But he is characteristically faithful still. They want to project Aremu into him, but he remains Buhari. Nigerians respect him for that. I think the leadership of the party ought to follow the footsteps of PMB who has been leading by example. He recognizes the right thing and he is doing the right thing. I don’t think a battalion of arm-twisters would be able to sway him to do wrong on the issue of who presides of the Senate or House of Representatives including other principal officers. He is more experienced and sterner in stuff than those presently goading him to yield to the gospel of self adulation and personality cults which crippled the PDP rather than allow the distinguished and honorable members to get their act right. Methinks it was the attempt to get him to intervene, albeit reluctantly, that led to the botched International Conference Centre (ICC) meeting on June 9 which shut out most APC Senators from the election of Deputy President of the Senate, won by PDP’s Ike Ekweremadu.
Besides, I see the supposed crisis in the National Assembly as resistance to the fast fading concept of business as usual. Business as usual has not helped us as a country. The unemployment, social dislocation, infrastructural decay and corruption that has dragged our country down the rubble in the past 16 years are a direct function of business as usual mentality. It ought now to be discarded by truly embracing the spirit of true change as epitomized by the APC in all aspects of our national life. Why do we seek to cook with the same ingredients all the time yet expect different taste from our pot of soup? How far did impunity, recklessness and other crude application of power take the PDP? APC lawmakers are saying let’s get it right by allowing laid down rules and procedures to guide our modus operandi from inception. They say the journey starts from the choice of its leaders. The argument of party supremacy comes in. The Constitution says that a political party shall sponsor candidates for positions in any election. This has been complied with. We today can say that the APC controls majority in both chambers of the NASS, the winners having been endorsed for the elections by the party. However, it is true that the Constitution provides that the lawmakers shall elect their presiding officers without any mention of political parties. The hard bone to crack stems from the standing orders of both chambers which stipulate that principal officers shall be nominated from a party with the majority. The question is both that of ‘where’ and ‘who’ should so nominate. Why the party claims it is its right to bring forward names of principal officers as obtained in the draconian era we had gladly put behind, the lawmakers are insisting that the principal officers be nominated by the party caucuses from the various zones the positions have been zoned to in accordance with its rules.
Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah in his contribution on the floor of the Senate last week threw more light on Order 28 (1) of Senate Standing Rules, by saying, “By the popular rules of interpretation of documents that has been agreed by parties, the ordinary letters and words used must be given their effective meaning.” He continued: “With your permission I am going to read sir: ‘There shall be a majority leader of the Senate. The Majority Leader shall be a Senator nominated from not by.’ What this seems to do is to debar the internally displaced side (PDP) from nominating the majority leader and to confer it on the All Progressives Congress which incidentally happens to have the highest number in the 8th Senate.”
Na’Allah added: “So with due respect, the point of order raised by my bosom friend and brother, Gbenga Ashafa, even goes further to explain the raison d’être, as to why the President shall not proceed to read that letter allegedly sent to this chamber by the All Progressives Congress, and therefore, we should go ahead with the functions and exercise of this Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria based on what we have accepted as majority party. That change is the platform that we will ride to move this country forward. So, I urge that this matter cannot stand.”
Imposition is dictatorship through other means. We cannot say we have arrived the promised land but still revel in the Egyptian style which unfortunately, was PDP’s cherished mantra from 1999 to 2015. Law and order must be seen to take precedence crude and outdated practices in this brand new era of change. Yes, imposition in the garb of party supremacy was allowed to override extant parliamentary practices in the past, but this is a new day, an epoch where old things have passed away and all things must become new. It must be a period when all men of goodwill and conscience must fight to enthrone rule of law, which makes for fairness, equity and justice, in any egalitarian society.
It is time for our great party, the APC, to allow a thousand flowers to bloom in its nascent garden of democratic leadership. To seek to impose leaders on the National Assembly in the name of party supremacy would not only weaken the moral capital of the party, but lay the mines that may eventually torpedo its majority ship in both the green and upper chambers. Most people have argued and I agree with them, that party supremacy if it must be implemented, must not be confined to the choice of National Assembly leadership alone. Analysts contend that now that the party is insisting that its will must be respected as stated in its letter to the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, they must also extend the same measure throughout the gamut of leadership of the party both at the Federal and state levels. In essence, they are saying that the party must supply the list of all Ambassadors, Ministers, Commissioners, Special Advisers, Special Assistants, Directors-General be appointed by PMB and all the State Governors in the fold of the APC.
Notwithstanding the distortion of information and apparent falsehoods being spread around to achieve political ends, PMB must continue to be his own man. He should not deviate from his pledge of “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”.