One crisis to another By Emeka Omeihe

161212F1.National-Assembly-The National Assembly is increasingly acquiring the unenviable image of an institution in a crisis of relevance. That would seem to be the reading of the bitter disagreements that have dogged its affairs since inauguration. Early signs of schism appeared as both chambers prepared to elect their leadership. Attempts by the ruling All Progressives Congress APC to get its members support its preferred candidates as both the president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives met brick walls.

As events turned out, both Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara who subsequently emerged were not the choices of the party leadership. They emerged contrary to party preferences and permutations. The APC was seriously embarrassed by its inability to rein in its members such that saw to the election of Ike Ekweremadu of the PDP as Deputy Senate President.

Various meanings have been read into the issue. Even those pencilled down as principal officers did not eventually make it as Saraki defied party directive on that. Dogara, after much hesitation, aligned with his party on the matter. The APC found itself handicapped in wielding the big stick for fear of the likely consequences of the action. It has since come to terms with that reality.

But trouble is yet to be over in both chambers as another round of crisis is threatening to tear members apart. This followed the sharing of the 96 standing committees by Dogara. In the sharing formula that he unveiled, the APC is heading 48 committees as against 46 by the PDP. Also both the Social Democratic Party and APGA were assigned one slot each.

Saraki has on the side of the Senate, unveiled 65 standing committees with APC getting 41 slots while the rival PDP had 24. Whereas the sharing formula in the Senate has yet to attract adverse reactions, the House of Representatives has been very volatile. Saraki may have learnt from the criticisms that trailed the sharing by Dogara. With the bitter criticisms Dogara has faced since that exercise, he may have opted to play safe given his utter disregard for his party’s preferences in the appointment of the principal officers of the party.

At the last count, two APC members have rejected the chairmanship and deputy chairmanship positions respectively assigned them by Dogara citing sundry reasons. There are speculations that more will follow suit as pressure mounts on the speaker to reconstitute the committees.

Those who have expressed views on the matter are piqued that the APC has no clear edge as a majority party over the PDP. They reason that the sharing formula runs contrary to extant practices in the sharing of committee positions between the majority party and the opposition. They want the committees reconstituted to reflect the majority/minority status in the house.

There are others not happy that all top and juicy committee positions were given to the PDP. They accused Dogara of compensating the PDP members for supporting his election into the speaker-ship position. Yet, there are some others who contend that the committees assigned to the PDP were very critical to driving the change philosophy of the APC.

For now, it is not clear what Dogara intends to do about the welter of protests that have trailed his sharing of committee positions. But if his immediate replacement of Garba Datti who rejected his chairmanship of the House Committee on Solid Minerals Development is anything to go by, the matter seems foreclosed. How this will affect the smooth running of the house in the days ahead is a matter for the future.

No doubt, the APC members are within their right to seek a clear edge in the composition of the committees given their status as the majority party. That is politics. This is more so when the current composition of the committees in the house appears out of tune with the ratio that had previously guided sharing between the majority and minority parties. If that is the grouse of the lawmakers, it is difficult to fault them. From the list released by Saraki, the APC commands a preponderance of the committees. For now, it is very unlikely that APC senators are going to react the same way house members did.

However, some of the issues that have been canvassed to support the raging anger over the sharing of house committee positions do not seem to derive from altruism among members. The immediate impression one gets especially when such terms as juicy and key committees are applied is that the bickering is all about who gets what.

Though overt references have not been made to this for very obvious reasons, but the body language of those who have complained so far, indicate that their grouse is more with what they intend to get from heading the committee rather than the altruistic motives under which they have sought to hide. That is the interpretation of their contention that Dogara, through the sharing of the committee positions, has compensated those who helped him emerge as speaker.

The word compensation, immediately connotes the impression that those so appointed, stand to gain material benefits from the positions they have been assigned. This inference is clearly not in doubt. And that is where the main reason for the agitations is exposed. If the PDP house members stand to benefit through their headship of key committees, there is nothing to suggest that their APC colleagues given the same opportunity will not avail themselves of the perquisites which those offices offer.

That seems to be the major issue to the disagreement rather than the selfless promptings that have been copiously canvassed. It is not surprising some have hidden under the cover of the argument that the headship of key committees by PDP members will stall the driving of the change mantra of the APC. It is curious how that will happen.

If previous handling of oversight functions is anything to reference upon, they have largely served the selfish interests of our legislators rather than those they act on their behalf. It has been an avenue to fleece the nation. There is no guarantee that the situation will be different irrespective of the party that controls a preponderance of the committee slots. What will make the difference is the credibility and integrity of their headship. That seems a better approach to the argument.

More seriously, we must tread very cautiously the way opposition is perceived in the current dispensation. The festering feeling of total exclusion for those who did not vote for the government in power will serve no useful end. It may turn out polarizing the polity as those excluded invent other ways to vent their grievances and frustrations. Once a government has come to power, it should take every section as its constituency. That is why statements from key leaders of this regime which show disdain for those perceived not to have voted for them must be totally discouraged.

Above all, our legislators must come to terms with the fact that the business of lawmaking has suffered seriously since their inauguration on account of avoidable disagreements. They must now settle down work as a team and confront the daunting challenges of the ordinary people irrespective of party affiliations. We have had enough of this fretting over who occupies what position. Our common problems know no party boundaries.