Leadership succession in the coming 9th National Assembly, which would be inaugurated in June has dominated political discourse since the emergence of members-elect after the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly elections. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) with its number advantage in the two chambers is expected to produce the principal officers. But the consensus arrangement proposed by the leadership of the party is still largely contentious owing to the open disagreement of some members, who are also eyeing the plum offices. Out of 109 senators-elect in the red chamber, APC controls 65, while it also boasts of 223 members in the House of Representatives consisting of 360 lawmakers. With this clear majority, the party may not necessarily need to seek the support of the opposition to elect any of its favoured aspirants to lead the National Assembly.
By the same token, expectations are high that the APC-dominated National Assembly would use its numerical strength to work in harmony with the executive and also formulate laws that would serve the best interest of the nation. This is to ensure a radical departure from the current experience characterized by executive/legislature friction, power intrigues, and undue muscle flexing. If public opinion is anything to go by, the much talked about issue of restructuring would be part of the agenda of the coming National Assembly. Some stakeholders have expressed a strong desire to see the lawmakers taking a look at all shades of opinions on restructuring across party lines and then forward their resolution to the executive arm of government for consideration. This, they say, would help to restore the lost confidence among all geo-political regions, which is a recipe for political stability in the country. The lawmakers have also been urged to take a look at the existing electoral laws and introduce amendments and reforms that would discourage proliferation of political parties. With the necessary enabling laws, some of them argued, all the mushroom political parties which could not make appreciable showing in the just concluded general elections would be forced to regroup into one or two mega parties that can face and chase the old order out of power.
One of the proponents of restructuring is the National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie. Speaking in strong support of the issue in an interview with Sunday Sun, he urged the coming National Assembly lawmakers to take a review of the necessary aspects of the constitution to achieve genuine restructuring of the country without necessarily convening a national conference.
“There is no doubt that there is a strong agitation for the restructuring of Nigeria. As far as I am concerned, the issue of restructuring is 80 per cent legislative and 20 per cent administrative responsibility which goes to the executive arm of government. So, they should be able to use this period, without necessarily having to convene a national conference, to look at all of those areas of the constitution that have become impediments to national development. If they make far reaching constitutional amendment and the president refuses to assent to that, and there is unanimous resolution, they can over-ride the president,” he argued.
In addition to this, Okorie advocated harmonious executive/legislative working relationship to avoid unnecessary budget delay which often leads to poor implementation.
“They must undertake within themselves to have a harmonious working relationship with the executive arm of government without necessarily being a rubber stamp. And that is not difficult to do, if they put the interest of the nation above personal partisan interests. A situation where our budget will be going forward and backward resulting in late passage of budget should be a thing of the past. We will like to see Nigeria return to where our budget debate is concluded at the end of December and implementation begins at the beginning of the New Year. If they are good at their oversight functions, there is no reason there will be poor implementation. We will like to see a situation where budget implementation will increase up to 70 per cent or more at the close of budget year so that it can engender development,” he said.
But contrary to Okorie’s high expectation, a former Minister of Transport and chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ebenezer Babatope, expressed deep reservation in the capacity of the incoming National Assembly to make a difference in the political life of Nigerians, arguing that the members-elect are product of a flawed election.
His words: “The fact that we didn’t have free and fair elections, I don’t see them as true representatives of the people. The elections that brought them were rigged and manipulated by the INEC. The majority party in the National Assembly is APC and they have not shown any evidence that they want to serve the people of Nigeria. So, the National Assembly must not Cotoe to whatever APC is doing.
“But that notwithstanding, we must urge them to stay by the side of the people. What I want them to do is to make sure that they stay on the side of the people of Nigeria and not by the side of individuals who are in government. The government has failed the Nigerian people; so, the National Assembly must not fail Nigerians. They must do things that the Nigerian people want. They must ensure that they do not sell the rights of the Nigerian people to members of the executive who have no interest of the country at heart. It is clear that the executive cannot meet the yearnings and aspiration of the Nigerian people.”
Also, a member of the Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu, sharing the same sentiment, dismissed the new National Assembly as consisting mainly of moneybags who have no interest of the common people at heart.
“I have no good expectation from anybody in government in Nigeria today. They are not in any way better than those who have been there before. All those in politics now are just looking after their pockets. Let’s all assume that we have no government. As long as we continue electing people on the basis of money, as long as we keep electing billionaires who have no plan for the people that is the way we shall continue. As much as money dictates our politics that is the way we shall continue. We don’t have a government that cares for the people. We don’t have a government who is there to see to the progress of the nation. We have a government composed of people who are looking after their own pockets, who want to make money for themselves. They are going there to serve themselves, make money and become rich,” he fumed.
Also the Second Republic governor of old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, in his reaction, took a radical approach to the issue, urging Nigerians to rise up and organize a peaceful protest to push for a change of the status quo. Speaking in an interview with Sunday Sun, he painted a very gloomy picture of the current political development in the country, saying: “I don’t expect the current incoming members of the National Assembly to do anything better than what we have experienced since the 1960s. The situation with them now will even be worse because they are now more than ever before the direct product of the deciding factor in politics and election: money power. So, I expect the worse from them. How they came about is the worst ever. The irregularity that brought them about is the worst in the history of Nigeria. We have never had experience of scientific rigging and massive use of money to buy votes. With the use of Card Readers, we are now involved in scientific rigging. We never experienced this reckless manner of writing results. So, how do you expect anything better, if not worse than before? This is the worst and we should expect the worst.
“For the sake of our own survival and that of our country, we have to engage in organized peaceful protest leading to really constitutional and peaceful change. We have to return Nigeria to the path of sanity. If this is impossible, then we should consider extra constitutional method because we are dealing with our lives and our fate.”
According to some political analysts, the tasks before the coming new National Assembly are as multifarious as they are challenging, especially considering the confidence deficit the lawmakers have to grapple with in the new administration.