The election of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Hon Yakubu Dogara as the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively has thrown up an intense debate about the limits or otherwise of party supremacy (or party discipline) in the context of legislative autonomy in a democracy. Granted that a political party and the legislature are two important institutions without which democracy cannot be so called. Despite all their imperfections, it is germane to note, for example, that political parties are key in the workings of modern representative democracy. Their functions cannot be annexed by any other entity.
However, it is somewhat futile to speak of either party supremacy or legislative autonomy as an absolute (and mutually exclusive). It is routine for members of parliament (MPs) to traverse party lines in taking decisions in a presidential democracy often associated with weak party discipline; unlike parliamentary democracy where there’s strong party discipline. In practical terms, there’s no legislature that would ever have complete autonomy from the other branches of government; including pressures from political parties and their leadership. Nonetheless, the relationship between legislators and their political parties must be properly contextualised to establish the degree of individual member’s loyalty to their respective political parties and the extent of legislative independence.
Meanwhile, the imbroglio generated by the outcome of the leadership election/selection process in the 8th National Assembly which culminated in the emergence of both Senators Abubakar Bukola Saraki (APC – Kwara Central) and Ike Ekweremadu (PDP – Enugu West), as the President and Deputy-President of the Senate respectively, should be seen as in a positive light particularly for strengthening our growing democracy. It should be recalled that Saraki emerged as the Senate President unopposed, as majority of his colleagues from the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) had unadvisedly gathered at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja for a last-minute purported parley with President Muhammadu Buhari, even when they were aware that President had already issued a proclamation letter for the official opening of the new legislative assembly via an official correspondence to the Clerk of the National Assembly (CNA) in line with constitutional provision.
According to the Constitution, “the President shall issue a proclamation for the first meeting [of parliament] stating the date, time and venue.” Yet some legislators were deceived to stay away from the stated venue about the same time and date scheduled for their inauguration. The issue of quorum is also contained in the Constitution that “the Senate or House of Representatives shall be one-third of all members of the legislative house concerned.” Then, how can anybody blame Saraki or the CNA for following the constitutionally stipulated procedures for the opening of the new assembly under the pretext of short message service (SMS) convening the irregular and ill-advised ICC meeting? Can an SMS override a proclamation letter from the President to the CNA? Therefore, the blame for the events June 9 should rightly be situated squarely at the feet of few APC leaders, who, in an attempt to out maneuver Saraki out of the Senate Presidency race, shot the party in the foot by inadvertently paving the way for an opposition candidate – Ekweremadu – to regrettably, emerge as Deputy Senate President in a chamber dominated by the APC.
Yes. Parliamentary election is very important to every political party. There is no democracy in the world where the major party does not take interest in who leads the parliament, but the election of Ekweremadu – a PDP Senator – as the deputy senate president I dare say, has turned out to be a blessing in disguise in that it has helped to open up the space for inclusive politics. Yes. Misgiving persists. However, the emergence has somewhat given the South East geo-political zone to a greater extent some sense of belonging in the Buhari’s administration. In governance and politicking, whatever good practices PDP had instituted should not be dismissed but improved upon like the issue of zoning key political positions in both the executive and legislative branches of government to reflect federal character which has been bench marked by the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) as a best practice for other African countries that do not know how to manage pluralism. Even though there is no provision for zoning in the APC’s constitution, I believe some common sense accommodation would help the party to stabilise, consolidate and improve upon its electoral gains in the last elections. Who says Ekweremadu cannot be the gateway to the South-East for the APC during the 2019 election?
Therefore, the outcome of leadership selection process in the new National Assembly should not necessarily be viewed as an affront on party supremacy but strengthening legislative autonomy for sustainable democracy in Nigeria. It is imperative to respect the independence of the National Assembly by allowing lawmakers to take their own decisions. This is why President Buhari must be commended for maintaining a non-interference stance in the spirit of separation of powers even though he expressed feelings that the wishes of his party leadership be respected. The governors elected on the platform of APC should also be praised in their conflict management role aimed at putting the National Assembly leadership impasse behind us.
It is gratifying to note right now that all hands are on deck, both at the presidency, APC’s NEC and State Governors under the banner of the party to find amicable solution the unnecessary bickering over who becomes what in the National Assembly. I believe that commendable process should be allowed to run its full course without new obstacles being erected on the way of peace and harmony in the National Assembly. This is why the recent invitation of Ekweremadu by the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, should be seen as seeking to add fuel to an inferno. Aside being a misnomer tantamount to an encroachment on legislative independence, the invitation smacks of partisanship which a fine officer and gentleman like the IGP should eschew at this time. If the invitation or planned arrest of Ekweremadu is purportedly in connection with the new Standing Orders/Rules of the Senate, why is it that it is only Ekweremadu, the Presiding Officer of the past Senate that is being invited by the IGP? What about the other Principal Officers, chairmen of committees with direct bearing on the Rules and Business of the Senate, in the last dispensation? Why has the police not included the management of the National Assembly on the list of those it wants to quiz? Be that as it may, Solomon Arase has shown through his words and actions since coming on board that he is out to restore the lost glory of the Force with the Wisdom of Solomon. He has demonstrated capacity to re-orientate and bring back professionalism to the Force. This is why I think it is too early in the day to engage in endeavours that may ultimately turn out as political vendetta. Yes, Ekweremadu’s ascension in the present dispensation remains painful, but we must learn to allow the institution of the Senate to correct itself. Any attempt to induce Ekweremadu’s removal from outside could further put the legislature on a permanent political boil. This is least needed at this time.
Even though, the party strongly believes it should present candidates for the positions of principal officers in both the red and green chambers in consultation with their elected members, the National Executive Committee of the APC has ignited its internal conflict management mechanism to address contentious issue. Needless to say that prolonging the brawl would negatively affect the onerous business of good governance for which majority of Nigerians casted their lots for the APC in the last election. The big lesson learnt in all these imbroglios is that political parties should allow parliament to determine who should be their leaders and stay out in order to avoid splitting their own membership along unhelpful contending camps.