If the face-off lingers on for too long, then Nigerians may be in for another round of economic hardship… The question now is: who blinks first?
The ongoing political drama occasioned by the recent defection of the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) may be the last battle that would redefine the extent and limitation of powers between the executive and legislative arms of government.
Since the new realignment that saw many lawmakers defecting to the PDP, tongues have been wagging over the legality or otherwise of the action.
While the National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adam Oshiomhole, was quick to declare Saraki’s seat vacant and called for his impeachment, the National Assembly in a smart move adjourned the plenary till September 25, presumably to forestall any untoward development.
Already, the battle line has been drawn, as every move is now being made to ensure that Saraki does not return to the hallowed chamber as Senate President. Oshiomhole during his meeting with APC lawmakers in Abuja on Monday categorically declared: “As a party, we don’t believe in inducing lawmakers to achieve our legitimate goal of removing Saraki as Senate president. We will get the support of some PDP senators to get the required 2/3 vote and impeach Saraki. We are already talking to some of PDP senators who believe and support the direction of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to achieve our legitimate goal”.
He made this declaration against the backdrop of an alleged attempt by Saraki to induce lawmakers with the sum of N1million to prevent his impeachment.
Interestingly, all these are coming at a time when the executive is pleading with the National Assembly to reconvene to deliberate on some urgent national issues bothering on supplementary budget for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), approval of foreign loans to finance the 2018 budget, as well as approval of nomination of some new appointees of government.
The Senior Special Adviser (SSA) to the President on National Assembly, Ita Enang, in appealing to the lawmakers to reconvene, said that the supplementary funds would enable INEC to commence preparation for the 2019 polls. He also stressed the need for speedy approval of pending key appointments for the EFCC, ICPC, Deputy CBN Governor and AMCON, among others.
But as the lobbying continues, both Oshiomhole and Saraki have been at loggerheads, calling each other unprintable names. Oshiomhole in his recent vituperation described Saraki as the worst Senate President Nigeria has ever produced, adding that he has been working against the interest of the APC since the inception of the 8th National Assembly.
The intrigue that led to the emergence of Saraki as Senate President against the wish of his party at the inception of the present National Assembly is a familiar story. And now that he has finally jumped ship, APC could not contend with the opposition minority party leading the Senate. In a bid to regain the control of the National Assembly, all measures are, therefore, being pursued to ease out Saraki, including the promise of automatic return ticket to the loyal lawmakers.
“High turnover of legislators is not a value to be celebrated. What we should celebrate is experience, which cannot be read in books, but can only be acquired on the job. I want to reassure you that we will do everything possible to change the old narrative of heavy turnover every four years and the politics of ‘you have done enough’ will change over time for the good of Nigeria and for the sustenance of democracy,” Oshiomhole told the lawmakers.
Saraki in his response berated Oshiomhole for his poor knowledge of history of how parliament works. In a statement by his media aide, Yusuf Olaniyonu, Saraki said: “Perhaps, Mr. Oshiomhole needs to be better educated about our parliamentary history. For the first time in parliamentary history in Nigeria, we had a situation where the APC had majority of senators and went on to elect a PDP as Deputy Senate President.
“Where was Mr Oshiomhole when Senator John Wash Pam of the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) became Deputy Senate President in the Second Republic even when the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had the majority. The same thing happened in the House of Representatives when NPP’s Rt. Hon. Edwin Ume-Ezeoke was elected Speaker in an NPN majority house. But then, it would require a level of education to understand these things.”
Former Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee for the 2014 national conference, Senator Femi Okurounmu, lending his voice to Saraki’s argument in an interview with Sunday Sun, said there was no strange thing about the recent development in the National Assembly.
His words: “Oshiomhole is just crying like a frustrated man; there is nothing happening now that has not happened before. So, he should stop crying. There is nothing to compel Saraki to resign as Senate President. He has defected on the ground that there is factionalisation in APC. If people say there is no faction in APC, that is an issue to be settled by the court. Alliance for Democracy was the first victim of that constitution between 1999 and 2003 during Obasanjo regime when a number of AD were hijacked by the PDP on the ground that there was factionalisation in the party. So, Saraki does not have to resign on the ground of his defection because there is factionalisation in the APC.
Speaking on the threat of impeachment, he said: “Impeachment requires 2/3 majority of the Senate. And I don’t think any party has majority in the National Assembly right now. If they want to impeach Saraki tomorrow, they can do it if they have 2/3 majority. But I doubt if they have the number. Again, there is nowhere it is stated that Senate President must come from majority party. The only requirement is that the Senate must elect its own president.
“In 1979, the NPN had the largest seats in the Senate followed by the UPN. When it came to electing the Senate President, the UPN offered its candidate to contest. If the candidate had won, the UPN would have occupied the position of Senate President. So, the Senate President does not have to come from the majority party. It is the prerogative of the senators to elect their own president from among themselves.”
Okurounmu also urged the executive to desist from meddling in the affairs of the National Assembly in order to move the country forward.
“Saraki will not have problem in reconvening the National Assembly, if he is sure that executive will not remove him.
It is the attempt by the executive that is stopping him to reconvene the National Assembly. So, I think the executive should remove its hand from the National Assembly and let the legislature do its job. If the executive will stop meddling in the affairs of the National Assembly, all issues of concern will be addressed,” he maintained.
The National Chairman of the UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, while expressing concern over the lingering crisis in the face of urgent issue of national importance enjoined the lawmakers to set aside their personal interest.
He said: “The interest of the nation should be paramount to the two major political parties that are involved in the crisis. In civilised societies, anything that is of national interest takes precedence. The issue of election is of critical importance to the Nigerian people. And then, of course, the issue of budget has to do with capital projects. These are not issues to be playing politics with.”
He, however, maintained that Saraki has no moral right to continue to lead the Senate.
“But having said that, APC is righteously annoyed because the Senate president is there on the platform of the APC. Whatever the conspiracy that brought him to that position, he is first and foremost an APC senator. It is not really common for the Senate president to come from the minority party. Even if the law does not forbid it, there is a moral question there. I don’t know why the Senate president is afraid to reconvene the National Assembly to attend to the issues of national importance. If he is popular among his people, he should not be afraid. If he has lost popularity, he should face the music. He shouldn’t hold Nigeria to ransom,” he declared.
On his own part, Senator Ayo Arise, a chieftain of the APC in Ekiti State, called on the Attorney General of the Federation in collaboration with the party to approach the Supreme Court to declare the seats of defecting lawmakers vacant and finally lay the matter to rest.
He said: “The moment he moved from the party that elected him to another party, it is taken for granted that he has forfeited all his rights as a legislator because he has no locus standi to transfer his mandate to the PDP without consequences. Right now, all those who decamped are no longer members of the Senate as we speak. They have forfeited their rights. So, the party should approach the Supreme Court to declare those seats vacant. And this is an urgent constitutional matter. The Supreme Court can sit on this matter and give its judgment within three days. This is a national emergency. It is a crisis between one arm of government and the other. The Attorney General of the Federation and the party should go to court to seek interpretation of this matter. That is what we can do to ensure that this situation does not reoccur again. The moment the Supreme Court makes a pronouncement on the issue, it will become an illegality for people to move from one party to another.”
According to him, “if Saraki’s seat is declared vacant, the clerk of the National Assembly who did the first election will reconvene the plenary and conduct another election to elect a new president.”
Although opinions of stakeholders defer, one point of view on which all agreed on is that there is a need to seek intervention of the judiciary for a clear pronouncement that would serve as a precedent.
But for now, Saraki holds the ace, as he alone can reconvene the National Assembly. And it does not appear there is a leeway yet on how to get out of the logjam. If the face-off lingers on for too long, then Nigerians may be in for another round of economic hardship arising from budget implementation. The question now is: who blinks first?