Of all the arms government in presidential democracy, the legislature is considered the most germane. The legislature is so highly rated in presidentialism for a number of reasons. The first is the fact that of all the arms or organs of government, that is, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, the parliament is the most democratic in its decision-making process. And that process is principally underlined by deliberation, debate, free speech, open hearing, public enquiry and a highly contemplative disposition.
Second, the legislature is the closest to the citizens. Whereas the president can boast of a nationwide constituency, the legislature consists of individual members representing different micro constituencies within the country. In other words, any gathering of a Nigerian parliament can be said to be a gathering of all the citizens of our vast and disparate peoples. Yes, it is true that the legislature in this Republic has never approximated this ideal by the conduct of its members, yet that does not vitiate the logic of representative democracy.
Thus, even as the executive appears to wield enormous powers in its responsibility of implementing the decisions of the government, the legislature can best be regarded as the brain box of any government. And this explains why no government can perform better than its lawmaking body. And this is very apt in describing President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term in office, which appears to have been defined by incessant executive-legislature squabbles.
In fact, the greater failings of the Buhari government cannot be divorced from the lack of synergy between and among the three arms of government. If anything, the executive, legislature and judiciary came across as working at cross purposes with each holding tenaciously to its ground against the very interests of the people who put them in government. It was therefore no longer news hearing the president complain about how either the parliament or the judiciary was frustrating his policies!
With the election over, the attention of the Nigerian people is now turned to the possible complexion of the National Assembly, particularly the leadership of the Ninth Senate. It is however worth noting how our monetised politics is rubbing off badly on the National Assembly, particularly the Senate and robbing it of its dignity and integrity. Sadly, the bastion of our contemplative policymaking has been reduced to a safe sanctuary for corrupt politicians, especially former governors running away from the law. Although through the just concluded general election, some of these oligarchs of corruption have been shown the way out of the Senate by the electorate, sadly some other more dangerous fugitives sequestered in Abuja are running to take cover at the hallowed chambers of the Senate. Well, democracy does not ensure that only good people are elected; it also ensures that popular but corrupt candidates are equally elected!
And this explains why the choice of the Senate leadership this time must be guided by national interests. True, the legislature is an independent arm of government and ought to operate autonomously even in choosing its own leaders. Unfortunately, it appears that ideal has been lost to the experience of the immediate past when perhaps a naive President Buhari closed his eyes to the politics that threw up Dr. Bukola Saraki as Senate president. Now Buhari is getting advice even from those not paid for the job, to show keen interests in who leads the Senate. Even his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is digging in on that. Both the ruling party and Buhari’s unsolicited advisers are perhaps right—with the benefit of hindsight.
Fighting corruption remains the core policy of the Buhari administration and perhaps the major reason Nigerians were attracted to him in the 2015 general election. And after taking the oath of office, the President appointed Ibrahim Magu as acting chairman of the EFCC and forwarded his name to the Senate for confirmation. The Senate leadership refused on two occasions to confirm the president’s nominee. This was a direct dagger to the heart of Buhari’s anti-corruption fight by a Senate dominated by his party members but led by a disloyal party man. Four years down the line, Magu is yet to be confirmed as chairman of EFCC, with all its consequences on the fight against corruption.
Even then, Senator Ali Ndume, who literally became a lone voice in lobbying for the President to have his way was firstly removed as Senate leader in his absence as he stepped out of the chambers to observe his daily prayers, and later unjustly suspended for a long period of time until he ran to the court for reprieve. What was Ndume’s offense? He suffered because he chose rightly to support the president and his party’s position in the Senate!
As part of the direct fallout from the Magu debacle in the Senate, and the adversarial politics of the leadership of the Senate towards the President, Ndume who had lost his position of Senate leader to perhaps a more pliable colleague had no other choice than to rally support for the president in the Senate to ensure that his bills are promptly passed as expected. One thing that stands Ndume out on the floor of the Senate apart from his legislative prowess built up over the years, is his fearless candour when speaking to issues, be they about the need to establish the North East Development Commission (NEDC), to mitigate the havoc wreaked by several years of insurgency in the region, or about the imperative for members of the Senate themselves to come clean on allegations of corruption against them to preserve the integrity of the parliament. Over time, Ndume became the only senator brave enough to challenge the high handedness and arbitrariness of Senator Bukola Saraki both in the day and at night and thus became the symbol of APC’s resistance to the antics of a renegade Senate president.
Although it is not yet clear where the ruling party, APC, would zone the position of the Senate president, it is very important that in taking that decision, the party must make up its mind on the quality and the antecedents expected of the new Senate president. First and foremost, a former governor is a no-no. People with an executive background do not have enough democratic temperament to lead the legislature. They tend to create a tyrannical or fascist legislature as Senator Saraki has exemplified.
Second, before zoning, the APC leadership and presidency must scout and encircle a very loyal senator with unimpeachable integrity who is also a loyal party man and experienced parliamentarian and thereafter zone to benefit that individual. There are many senators now positioning themselves for the Senate presidency who are known to be only pro-Buhari in the day while working for Saraki in the night.
Any senator who sat in a leadership position and watched any of his colleagues suspended for defending President Buhari’s interests must not be touched even with a long pole in the race for the leadership of the ninth Senate! Above all, the next Senate president while not being a vassal of Mr President must be on the same page with the president and the ruling party on policy choices for national development.
Ugboajah, a public policy analyst, writes from Abuja.