If President Muhammadu Buhari is actually poised to do well by the people of this country, he must lead members of the All Progressives Congress to an instant reconciliation of the crises that have taken permanent residence at the National Assembly since its inauguration in June.
And for the sake of everything that is decent, Buhari and his party should stop insulting the intelligence of Nigerians by insisting that the President has no part in the leadership tussle rocking the National Assembly. For all intents and purposes, the President does not only know about the issues, he is in fact the architect of it all.
Before the inauguration of the National Assembly last June, Buhari told the world that he was not going to influence the elections of leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives. He promised to work with whoever emerged.
As a public relations stunt to give pull to Buhari and the APC’s promise for a deviation from the well-known tendency of the executive arm to dictate what happens in the legislature, this is a huge success. But in the reality of the murkiness of the politics of Nigeria, that promise has proved to be an untold disaster. Take it or leave, the APC, the National Assembly and by extension Nigeria, would not be at this juncture had the President stamped his feet and insisted that party lines be towed from the outset.
And since Senator Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara emerged the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively five months ago, the President has refused to take a position that would rein in the warring factions in the National Assembly and deliver good governance to Nigerians.
Buhari agreed to meet with Dogara on a number of occasions. That possibly resulted in the decision of the Speaker to yield grounds and agree to the party’s choice of Femi Gbajabiamila as Majority Leader of the House. I have however argued that the peace brought by the concession was that of the graveyard, that it was only a matter of time before the bubble would burst. But at least, the House of Reps pretended to be at peace at some point.
On its part, the Senate has forever been in the eye of the storm. Since Saraki emerged as President of the Senate against the wishes of his party, senators loyal to Ahmed Lawan, Saraki’s main competitor have almost always laid ambush for the Senate President with his own loyalists always waiting to also return the favour. Unlike Dogara, Saraki has not had the privilege of sitting with the President privately until last week when he possibly sneaked an issue or two into his decision to personally present the list of approved ministers to the President. Naïve Nigerians took the relatively easy approval of the list of ministerial nominees as an indication of the settlement of the crisis. But again, they are wrong.
Both chambers are back on the battle turf with the release of the list of chairmen and deputies of special and standing committees in the two chambers. Penultimate week, Dogara constituted 96 committees while Saraki announced 65 committees for the Senate and all hell has been let loose since.
Things got to a head last Tuesday in both chambers. Although issues of a level of unfairness in the distribution of membership of the committees were raised on the floor of the Senate, the issue did not get out of hand like it did at the House.
Close watchers of the House would have got a whiff of trouble when Gbajabiamila and some of his allies failed to attend the inauguration of the committees on Monday. Some members loyal to him would later call a press conference to denounce the Speaker for his action and advise him to show respect for the party. Things got significantly worse on Tuesday.
Reports indicate that two members slapped each other in the open lobby of the National Assembly Complex over issues related to the contentious committees. This was after the caucus meeting of the APC in the House broke down with some members walking out on the meeting.
One of the reasons why the APC members are angry with Dogara is that he gave too many slots to members of the PDP. The Speaker allocated 48 of the committees to the APC, while the PDP got 45 slots. This seems like a legitimate concern which both factions should have found a way to resolve without heating up the polity. But that is not their only grouse and I find the second one most pathetic and unimaginable, especially with the change mantra of the APC.
The APC members quietly complain that PDP members were given what they describe as more of the juicier committees than the ruling party. Committees headed by the PDP include the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream); Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream); Committee on Gas Resources; Committee on Aviation; Committee on Power; Committee on Works; Committee on NDDC; Committee on Niger Delta; and Committee on Air Force. While the APC have the Committee on Appropriation; Committee on Finance; Committee on Customs/Excise; Committee Defence; Committee on Communications; and Committee on Agricultural Services among others. Members of the APC apparently feel that committees in the oil and gas sector should be the right of members of the ruling party. Again, maybe, they are right but that position raises a few questions that Nigerians should ask these representatives.
The first question is whether the bickering over the juiciness or otherwise of committees is in the interest of millions of Nigerians who are wallowing in poverty or the shallow interest of less than 500 men and women who are in the two chambers.
Secondly, does Nigeria need a total of 161 committees in the National Assembly when the United States has a total of 42 committees between its Senate and House or Representatives? This question is more pertinent in this time of financial complications and when the Federal Government was voted on the strength of its campaign to reduce the cost of governance.
I do not know what is on the mind of the President but having lost the opportunity to establish healthy relations which would be to the advantage of the people with the National Assembly in his first days in office, the time to wade into this crisis on behalf of the people is now.
The President says he wants to change Nigeria but he needs the legislature to achieve that. His fight against corruption, restoring the dignity of our institutions, tackling insecurity, reversing the comatose economy and making lives better for Nigerians depends on the cohesiveness in the National Assembly is especially as his party is in the clear majority.
Buhari cannot claim not to understand the situation in the National Assembly at the moment even as I heard Ahmed Kaita, one of those opposed to Dogara, insist that unless the Speaker “aligns with the manifesto of the party and wishes of the President, he would not have a smooth ride.” Now, you must wonder whether this President is in office to protect the interest of the APC or to govern Nigeria.