Last week’s piece in this column—N/ASSEMBLY: ANOTHER RUBBER-STAMP TALK-SHOP LOADING? which called on the membership of the incoming Tenth National Assembly to shun tendencies that manifest as, or even suggest the imposition from outside of its ranks, the leadership for the two chambers of Senate and House of Representatives, provided a herald for this current piece. This is due to the enormity of the challenges facing the country’s legislative establishment which need to occupy the attention of every Nigerian that wishes the country’s democracy well.
As the country’s apex and central legislature, the National Assembly remains duty bound to view beyond its precincts and drive the process of consolidating the fortunes of the country’s legislative establishment, comprising itself, the 36 state assemblies and the legislative chambers of the 774 local government councils – most of which presently exist only on paper, or at best, shadows of themselves. For if the anticipation of the Constitution is anything to go by, then the country is still pre-democratic as long as the full complement of the appurtenances of the legislature across its length and breadth, are still inchoate.
For even as the leading lights of the legislature remain besotted with the processes of inauguration and politics of who gets what in the leadership tussle, they are seemingly yet to factor in the challenges of who can lead the institution to drive the long awaited reforms and upgrades, that will define the future of democracy in the country, given the pivotal role of the legislature in that respect. It is for the reason of the country having a legislature that will serve in robustness and independence, that the Nigerian Constitution provided that every member of the National Assembly should assert the liberty to elect their leaders directly from among themselves, and ostensibly without interference from any external factor.
This condition remains fundamental to the effectiveness of the legislature as it is the eye and voice of the country. Whereas, the members may come from different parties, their enterprise manifests in the consensus they build as if they are one body and one voice. This is the distinguishing feature of the legislature, and makes it the crucible of national consensus.
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It is against this backdrop that some tendencies manifesting in the course of the politics of the leadership of the incoming Tenth National Assembly clearly lower the bar with respect to the expected decorum that should govern even the process of power mongering. A case in point is the recent meeting of a caucus of the House of Representatives at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel Abuja last week, where reportedly, the trio of Femi Gbajabiamila Speaker of the outgoing Ninth House of Representatives, Godswill Akpabio, who is purportedly the anointed candidate for President of the Senate by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC, and Tajudeen Abass who is also purportedly anointed by the APC NWC, for the post of Speaker of Representatives held court.
Of significance was that at the meeting, Gbajabiamila and Abass told the gathering how dangerous it will be for them to resist the APC and in particular the President-elect, with respect to voting for the leadership outside the anointed choices, during the inauguration. To buttress their point, the duo took turns to recall the dip in personal fortunes of members of the National Assembly in 2011 during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan. As is easily recalled, the House of Representatives had in asserting their independence jettisoned Mulikat Adeola, who was the anointed choice for Speaker of the House of Representatives by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and voted for Aminu Tambuwal. In citing that scenario, the Transcorp Hilton gathering was told tales of woe of what befell the legislators under Jonathan.
However, even as former President Goodluck Jonathan may not be disposed to defend himself against such scurrilous attack on his reputation, the apparent intent of such comment was to arm-twist the incoming legislators to do the bidding of the APC anointed candidates and their anointers. This is the low in respect of what politics in Nigeria has got to.
However, while the duo of Gbajabiamila and Abass may be expecting plaudits for their enterprise, they may also have conjured some unsavoury implications. First is the tacit de-marketing of Bola Tinubu the President-elect by primarily questioning his credentials as a democrat. What they achieved with their advocacy includes simply casting Tinubu as a despot, who may not tolerate opposition or dissensions to his views. Their alert also paints Tinubu as likely to launch a vendetta on all legislators who challenge the purportedly APC anointed candidates for the leadership of the National Assembly. Thirdly is the scare that there may be a diminished premium on democratic norms and tendencies under the administration of Bola Tinubu as President. For if a matter as sensitive and strategic to national interest as the emergence of the leadership of the National Assembly, can be subjected to a rule of the thumb dispensation, it can be imagined what will be the order of the day with respect to other matters of state, in the country’s public space.
However, juxtaposing the foregoing with the myriad challenges lurking just beyond the inauguration of the Tenth National Assembly, offers little cheer to whoever succeeds to occupy any of the coveted offices. Topping the challenges is the age-long denigration of the National Assembly in the composition of the Council of States where past leaders of other arms of government such as former Presidents and heads of government (including military leaders), as well as former Chief Justices are members. But past Presidents of the Senate and Speakers of the House of Representatives are not. This needs to be corrected as it denies the country the valued benefit of the experiences of these icons of the country’s political history.
Another challenge remains the consolidation of the circumstances of the legislature at the three tiers of governance in the country. There needs to be statutorily guaranteed, regular and direct interfaces between the National Assembly – not only with the state assemblies but even with the legislative chambers of the local governments across the country. The strategic importance of this consideration cannot be over emphasized, as the other arms of government are doing so and benefitting in terms of harmonization of operational issues across tiers of governance.
However, ahead of these seemingly exotic issues, lie the traditional in-house challenges of fostering a sustainably conducive working environment for both legislators and staff of the establishment. As at present the internal working environment of the institution can do with significant up-grade in terms of working equipment and operational funds. Legislative bureaucracy demands copious flows of financial, logistic and human resources, which are presently in short supply in the establishment.
In the final analysis, these and other challenges not mentioned here due to space constraint, should guide the choices of leaders for the incoming Tenth National Assembly.