Leadership of 9th NASS: Will Buhari have his way?

Recently, some All Progressives Congress lawmakers hinted that President Muhammadu Buhari and the party will play a significant role in the  leadership choice of the 9th National Assembly. TAIYE ODEWALE and JOSHUA EGBODO look at the issue vis-a-vis reactions from some lawmakers across party lines.

With the excitement, joy and possibly cries that greeted the outcome of the National Assembly election, attention is being shifted to forming the leadership of the 9th session of the second arm of government come June. 

Unlike in the build-up towards the 8th NASS in 2015 when the system was hijacked by some individual members following ‘I am for nobody and I am for everybody’ statement of President Muhammadu Buhari, the president is ‘quite eager’ to be actively involved in the process.

As things stand at the moment, of the 109 lawmakers in the Senate, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) conveniently has 66, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) garnering 41 and Young Progressives Party (YPP) having one.

Similarly, in the 360-memeber House of Representatives, the APC proudly boasts of over 230, leaving the balance of 100 for the opposition PDP. 

Learning from history 

Against the position of their erstwhile party (APC), the duo of Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon Yakubu Dogara, incumbent Senate President and Speaker House of Representatives respectively, dared the APC and by extension the Presidency, by joining the leadership race. At the end of it all, the legislature proved its independence as members voted their choice persons into leadership positions. The seemingly odd arrangement saw Senator Ike Ekweremadu ( PDP Enugu West) emerging Deputy President of the Senate.

With the bi-partisan leadership of the 8th Senate, it obviously made the working relationship between the upper chamber and  the presidency a cat and mouse game. And the rest is history. 

And learning from history therefore, President Buhari and his party are not ready to leave anything to chance this time around. In fact, there are strong indications that the president will play a very active role in who gets what in the 9th NASS.

Kofa draws in Buhari

A pointer to this effect was recently brought to the fore by a re-elected member of the House, Abdulmumuni Jibrin Kofa representing Kiru/Bebeji Federal Constituency of  Kano state.

Kofa, controversially renowned for breaking the ‘budget padding saga’ in 2016, wants his APC colleagues in the 9th NASS to temperate their personal ambition in the interest of the party, and by extension the nation, for a rancorous process of  selecting the leadership. 

He says: “From the information I have, our party, the APC has the majority of members in the 9th National Assembly. We are advising our colleagues that everybody should suppress his ambition for now.

“We will approach the party leadership, and of course approach the president and engage with him and take instructions on what needs to be done.

“So, precisely, if you want me to put it in a categorical way, we will listen to what the president wants us to do and of course what the party wants us do, and that is exactly what is going to be done. We will not make the mistake of the past.”

 Omo-Agege too…

Echoing similar position, Senator Ovie-Omo Agege (APC Delta Central) says for peace to reign in the Senate, President Buhari and the party must be given free hand to select a loyal party man to lead the 9th Senate.

“Anybody who is going to be Senate President in the 9th Senate, must be somebody who is loyal to Mr President, the party and the constitution.

“The Senate President will be determined by Mr President. Mr President will indicate to us through the party who he wants to work with.”

On whether the party has any political zone in mind for the Senate’s top job, the lawmaker says “I do not know. But what I can tell you is that we are going to have a Senate that will work with Mr President.

“The era of allowing renegades who rode on the back of Mr President, who rode on the back of the party to go in there and trade the party’s mandate, I think that era is gone.

“I am very hopeful that this time around, Mr President will step in and decide not only the zone that will produce the Senate president and the leadership but also who it should be.

“We don’t want to erect another opposition leader in the Senate as we had in the 8th Assembly. There are a lot of us in the Senate who are returning to the next Senate who fits into that position. We are so many but any decision the president makes, we will all fall in line and abide.”

“Having secured majority of the seats for the 9th Senate, APC, this time around, will not allow what happened in June 2015 to happen again when its majority in the Senate in particular, was turned to minority with the emergence of somebody not wanted by the party as Senate President along with a senator from the opposition party as Deputy President of the Senate, leading to needless frictions between the Senate and by extension, the 8th National Assembly from June 2015 till date.

“I believe that such an unhealthy development will not be allowed to happen in the 9th Senate in the interest of our great party (APC), and most importantly, in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians yelling for better performance from President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government.”

APC Ahmad

For the senators, the word is caution as they do not want to comment on the desirability or otherwise of such an aforementioned position.

For instance, when asked how to guard against a repeat of the 2015 experience, Senate Leader Ahmad Lawan ( Yobe North)  was evasive.

Lawan, a top contender for the top job, begs not to be drawn into the debate, but insists it will be a Senate driven by productivity and harmonious working relationship with the executive.

“We thank God. We went for the election and we won, and not only winning, APC gained more seats than they did in the 8th Senate.

“I can assure you that the 9th Senate will definitely be different from what we experienced in this 8th Senate. I am not saying that there will not be dissenting voices coming from the opposition, but it will not be such that will be violent or abusive.

“We shall work to promote the interest and welfare of Nigerians by demonstrating our loyalty and commitment to the President, Muhammadu Buhari, and our party the APC.

“Being a Senate that will be more populated by members of the ruling All Progressives Congress ( APC), it will be on the same page with the executive arm of government on business of governance and not antagonistic in anyway .

“This will bring the required synergy between the Senate and by extension the National Assembly with the executive arm of government, particularly the Presidency.

“It will be a Senate that will have very positive disposition to aspirations and policy directions of the executive,” the lawmaker assures.

“Our prayer is that oil price in the international market should increase more than it is now.

And even daily oil production should increase from 1.9million to the projected 2.3 million in the 2019 budget so that the executive can rake in projected revenue for a friendly National Assembly to give the required appropriation.

“All in all, the 9th Senate and by extension 9th National Assembly will be one that will be on the same page with the executive in the next level agenda that will be characterised with robust and smooth business of governance.”

“As a party we believe in national development rather than the interest of politicians and I want to say that we will listen to the party in matters of legislative leadership. The ninth Senate will go full blast and we shall be loyal to the party, no matter our interests.”

Gbajabiamila confirms?

But majority leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, subtly confirms the speculation at a recent media parley with APC caucus in the House.

“The party will make a decision on which way to go, and we believe all faithful (APC members) in the House will subscribe to the party’s decision,” says Gbajabiamila, believed to be jostling for the speakership seat.

PDP senators’ viewpoints  

And to a PDP senator who also won her return bid, Rose Oko (Cross River North), the lawmakers will deal with the issue when the time comes.

She says: “I will not like to make any categorical comment on how the leadership or direction of the 9th Senate will be for now, more so, being a PDP senator. But since presiding positions of the Senate are to be decided by all the senators-elect, we shall all know how to cross the bridge when we get there. “

She however laments the failure of over 60 senators in their return bid, saying it won’t make for robust legislative engagement across the two chambers and quality representation for the various constituents.

In yet another submission, a PDP lawmaker from a north central state who speaks under anonymity, believes the 2015 scenario could still play out as the lawmakers would assert their independence.  

The senator says:  “Being the party with the majority seats, APC senators, by tradition, are entitled to the chief presiding officer position, but that does not mean that those of us in PDP will not profile whoever they want to bring and take action positively or negatively.

“One of them (APC) said it is the president that will decide who to lead the 9th Senate , we are waiting for the time to see whether it is the executive that will decide the leadership of the legislature.”

Rep Yunusa

Commenting on the development in an interview with Blueprint Weekend, a lawmaker and chairman, House committee on Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Abubakar Yunusa, believes both the party and President Buhari have a role o play to forestall the 2015 experience. 

The lawmaker, who also got re-elected, recalls: “When the party (APC) came into power in 2015, it showed a nonchalant attitude as far as the National Assembly is concerned. To them, they perceived that the constitutional laid down rules must be obeyed; that we select leaders from amongst ourselves, and I remember, the leader of the party by then, who happened to be the  elected president, saying he would work with anybody, so let the National Assembly be allowed to pick their leaders from amongst themselves.

“Now, they saw the consequences of that. Our democracy is yet to develop to that level, and with that experience; permit me here to define experience by psychologists; experience is the number of your failures in the past, that is what is termed to be experience. Now, from those things they (APC) experienced, they felt they need to take charge of their members.”

“There is no way we will form the executive, and then we are the majority in the National Assembly and we would be seen to have divergent views. It would portray us as a kind of strange bedfellows. That kind of abnormality has to be amended. So, the party, preparatory to the 2019 elections took charge of the party, they took charge of their members. They even prepared those who would be in the National Assembly for easy assimilation and understanding.

“This is what is happening. So, we are not waiting for Buhari per say, but President Muhammadu Buhari said after the governorship election, that he is going to call an expanded stakeholders meeting to discuss the issue of the National Assembly. So it is no issue waiting for his own endorsement, he is going to aggregate, even if he is going to make a proclamation, that would be a proclamation of what the party unanimously agreed on.”

On whether the push for such wouldn’t erode independence of the House, he says, “No. You see, do you even know that constitutionally, it is a political party that sponsors every member in the National Assembly, be it either in the red chamber or in the green chamber? For instance, I’m Dr Abubakar Yunusa, people did not just elect me, they elected me on the platform of the APC, if you understand that.

“The APC has the majority in the chamber. So, the party, who now owns the casket, if it decided the content of the casket, who are you to say no?”

It’s premature – PDP lawmaker 

However, an opposition PDP lawmaker from Benue state, Hon. Mark Gbilah, also re-elected for another term, holds a contrary opinion.

He describes the alleged move to install a speaker as premature at the moment.

“Any talk about the speakership right now is premature, when there are very real and critical national issues to be attended to. But if, according to your allegations on the position of the APC caucus, that they have to wait for Buhari’s endorsement of a speaker, then I would like to reinforce the provisions of our constitution; we do not require a presidential assent for us to elect a speaker.

“And this is a warning signal to Nigerians that we are going to have a lame duck legislature that would be under the apron strings of the ruling APC, and it would be an unfortunate development for this country, if that is what the APC caucus would shamefully want to do to this House.

“And within the powers, some of us cannot stand it, and we will ensure that it does not happen, and also ensure that whoever the president endorses loses on the floor of the House, because that is where it is determined.”

Buhari meets APC members-elect

Of course, the president appears to be good student of history and will be ready to do the needful. With his meeting with the NASS members-elect, the president has clearly demonstrated that the 2015 show of shame won’t be allowed to repeat itself.

APC

Also speaking, APC national publicity secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu assures that “the party is going to play an active role this time around. We will ensure the emergence of principal officers who will put the nation first and assist the executive to implement APC manifestoes.

“Our party wants National Assembly leaders who will work hard and assist the president to execute far-reaching programmes.  APC will mandate its members to cooperate with members of the opposition in the National Assembly to see that Nigerians get the best.”

Warning on the likelihood of anti-party activities by the new lawmakers, Onilu says, “We will not tolerate anti-party activities by newly elected senators and members of the House of Representatives and we have already demonstrated this. If a serving governor can be suspended by APC, then, it should be clear to all that we won’t condone indiscipline.”

It’s personal opinion   -CISLAC

Meanwhile, the executive director,  Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), says the statement credited to Kofa and Omo-Agege is their  personal opinion.

 “In the National Assembly, you have a lot of independent Legislators who will not want to submit to anybody to dictate what they want to do that will automatically undermine their independence, their autonomy and capabilities to do what they need to do and perform their legislative responsibilities.

“If the president and the party will do that, of course it is politics and they will want to have people they will work with.

“I think they will not want to undermine the independence of the legislature, they will have to account for whatever happens in the legislature. The legislature is meant to monitor and ensure compliance of government activities.

“I don’t think Mr President will want to be seen undermining another arm of  government. I think what is important is to allow democratic processes emerge in terms of electing or choosing its principal officers.

“I don’t think the statement by the honourable members holds waters because it is not all the members that are  of the same opinion because other people believe in thorough processes of electing  competent and qualitative leaders”.

Will this work?

The principle of separation of powers is germane at this point. While a school of thought is of the view that the ruling party and the president do have a role to play in the choice of who leads the 9th NASS, others contend this must be done with some level of decency in order not to erode the principle of separation of powers which democracy  is rested on.

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