Omoniyi Salaudeen and Daniel Kanu
The 9th National Assembly was the cynosure of all eyes on Tuesday during its formal inauguration. The election of the new leadership, which ordinarily was supposed to be an internal affair of the two chambers assumed a national dimension. And understandably so because of the intense horse-trading and vigorous campaigns that heralded the new dawn. Learning from past experience of the 8th Assembly, the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adam Oshiomhole, was conspicuously present like a sheriff monitoring the process to ensure that members voted for the preferred candidates of the party. Ultimately, the party had a field day. It got all it wanted even with the support of the opposition lawmakers.
While Senator Ahmad Lawan emerged the President of the Senate with a total of 79 votes to defeat his main challenger in the APC, Ali Ndume, who scored 28 votes, the senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District, Ovie Omo-Agege, won the Deputy Senate President seat with 68 votes, as against 37 votes scored by the immediate occupant of the seat, Ike Ekweremadu, who suddenly and surprisingly threw his hat to the ring.
For the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila emerged the Speaker with 283 votes to defeat his rival, Mohammed Umar Bago who had 76 votes. His deputy, Idris Ahmed Wase was returned unopposed.
Analysis of the figures showed that the leadership of the two chambers had a fairly spread appeal across party lines, which is perhaps, why the opposition PDP acknowledged the transparency of the process and commended “all those that made the contest robust for helping to deepen our democratic practice.”
A statement signed by the party’s spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “The PDP will always stand on the side of decency and utmost respect for the institution of the National Assembly and the values we hold as a people.
“Our party, therefore, charges the federal lawmakers, as representatives of the people, to place the welfare, wishes and aspirations of Nigerians above every other consideration by ensuring a strong and independent legislature that upholds the tenets of democracy and the dictates of our constitution.”
Delivering his remarks at the end of the inauguration of the Ninth Senate, Lawan assured that his leadership would do justice to all. “Today means so many things. It is the commencement of another decade of our democracy and we will work to ensure best global parliamentary practices,” he promised as he canvassed the support of his colleagues.
“We will not settle for anything less than the best. We will dream big, aim high and take good initiatives,” he asserted.
Power politics and the attendant horse-trading having been over, the immediate task before the new leadership is to reconcile the various tendencies within the National Assembly. The earlier that is done, the better for the smooth take off of the legislative business.
Senator Ayo Arise, who represented Ekiti North Constituency in 2007, speaking with Sunday Sun, submitted that the management of the fallout of the election would determine the direction the respective chambers would follow.
He, therefore, charged the new leadership to put the horse-trading behind it and reconcile the different interest groups for stability of the legislature.
His words: “Regardless of horse-trading that might have preceded the election of the Senate President, they should reconcile their differences and move on. Once that has been resolved, every senator will give his or her commitment to legislative duty.”
But to whom much is given, they say, much is expected. While reconciliation is imperative, it is also not unexpected that those who played a major role in the election of the new leadership are likely to be rewarded with juicy positions in the composition of various committees and appointment of chairmen. Already, Sunday Sun gathered that intense lobbying has already begun in earnest. The fallout of the scheming may also possibly widen the fault lines if not properly handled. But Senator Arise dismissed the fear of any possible discontent, provided the rules guiding the selection process are strictly followed.
According to him, seniority and experience is a major criterion that would determine who gets what. “There are certain parameters for nominating chairmen of committees. Seniority is one,” he stressed.
Even at that, he advocated fair play in the constitution of various committees and appointment of committee chairmen. He said: “I believe those that will not be satisfied will be in the minority. Those who will get what they want will be in the majority. There is no way you can satisfy everybody in any situation. Some people will feel that they have done more than they are getting. But for me, service is not about getting all you want. Some ranking Senators who have been in the Senate for 20 years with their experience will probably get more juicy positions than those who are new in the two chambers. Some who played a leading role in the emergence of the new leadership might get as well. There will be selection committee that will be put together in the two houses. I expect them to be fair enough to every member, but certainly you can’t get 100 per cent satisfaction from all members.”
Senator Rufai Hanga, also corroborating the same view said: “In the short term, things are going to be alright. I don’t think there will be any problem with the composition of committees. There are certain committees that are automatic to the opposition parties as provided by the Constitution. Those ones, no one will tamper with them. That’s much I know.”
He said with high number of new members, 80 per cent of positions in the two chambers would go to the ranking legislators. “The number of old members of the House of Representatives that returned is not many. Not up to 20 per cent of the old members in the two chambers are re-elected. Since the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are old members, they know their colleagues and they will give them what they deserve.
“For now, 80 per cent of members of the new Assembly are new. They will be content with whatever they can get from the leadership for now because they are new and for sometimes to come, they will be on orientation.”
With the APC now effectively in control of the two chambers, he predicted a short-term cordial relationship between the executive and the legislature, which, according to him, may be thwarted in the long run by the intense pressure on the lawmakers from the their constituents, who are already complaining about lack of federal presence.
He argued: “If in the long run, they are seen to be a rubber stamp or they begin to dance to the tune of some people, there may be problem. Even some members of the ruling party may be incited. Members from the North will be under pressure from their constituents to make sure that they have enough federal presence. If they fail to do so, the pressure on them will be so much that they will want to revolt. There is a general discontent in the North that there is no enough federal presence in the last four years of the Buhari administration compared to what was spent in the South. A lot of money was spent on roads and so many projects in the South. Now, they will want to make sure that the interests of their constituencies are well captured in next year’s budget. At that time, you will see a lot scramble from the states in the North. If they are allowed to have their way, maybe there may not be any problem. Otherwise, we may see what we are not expecting.
“Unless the president decides to change some of his lieutenants and aides, you cannot expect to see anything different from what happened during the tenure of the 8th National Assembly because it is a matter of style, it is a matter of initiative; it is a matter of know-how. Some of his former lieutenants failed woefully. They showed amateurism in the discharge of their duties. And I think part of the reason is because Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was not given a chance to contribute to selection process. He is very good in selecting good hands. He has that gift of selecting good hands. This time around, I hope he will be given the opportunity,” he added.
But Senator Arise disagreed and expressed optimism that there would be a cordial working relationship between the two arms. He said: “It is certain that there will be a cordial relationship between the new legislature and the executive. The party members and the non-party members supported the candidates of the party. I expect a very cordial relationship and a good working relationship between the National Assembly.
“Besides, most of them emerged as a result of support they got from the president and the party. Based on antecedent, they’ve been supportive of the party. I don’t expect them to change overnight.”
The National Chairman of the UPP, Chief Ckekwas Okorie, also weighed in on Arise’s argument, saying a friendly working relationship between the two arms would guarantee good governance.
“The outcome of that election was precisely what APC wanted and they didn’t hide their preference for their candidates. Some governors and the National Chairman were visible to see that party members voted in line with their preferences. And that is what it came out to be. What we Nigerians expect is a kind of cordial relationship between the executive and legislature. I also expect the legislature to be more objective in some of the demands they will make from the executive. Of course, nobody will expect them to be a rubber stamp legislature. I am optimistic that we will have a robust National Assembly,” he posited.
He, therefore, tasked members of the PDP in the two chambers to be constructive in their criticisms and engagement with the executive. “If the PDP plays a robust opposition, they may win more support. But if they continue to play the kind of opposition they have been playing before, Nigerians will reject them. They should play the kind of opposition that will help Nigeria move forward so that the executive will not have the kind of excuse they had before. Everybody wants a budget that will run from January and end in December.”
Also speaking, an elder statesman, Senator Olabiyi Durojaye, urged the lawmakers to put the interest of the nation at heart. “They should put the nation first. They should not deny the people they set out to serve the benefits of a stable administration. What we experienced in the last National Assembly cost us a lot time and money. There was one year that approval of budget was not approved until towards the end of the fiscal year. These are acts of gross indiscipline detrimental to the economic welfare of the citizenry. Time is of essence. So, such things should be avoided. If they are out to serve the nation, they must show greater discipline and cooperation,” he insisted.
However, a chieftain of the PDP and former Minister of Transport, Ebenezer Babatope, who bemoaned the dismal plight of the economy under the Buhari administration, called the members of his party not to let the people down by being rubber stamp of the executive.
“My appeal to the new National Assembly is to ensure that they adequately cater for the needs of Nigerians. The hunger in the land is too much. They must take measures that would alleviate the suffering of the Nigerian people who voted for them. Members of my party should follow the example of the last National Assembly by playing the role of a vibrant opposition. When Olujimi was there, she represented the party very well. I want to implore the new members to ensure that they represent the interest of the people who elected them,” he said.