BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DAPO AKINREFON, EMMAN OVUAKPORIE & LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU
The call by the All Progressives Congress, APC on its lawmakers to stop the passage of government bills was what some thought to be an ordinary act of democratic expression. But not so to many others, who believed it was suggestive of anarchy.
Rising from a closed door session of its National Executive Committee, NEC last Wednesday, the APC had directed its lawmakers in the National Assembly to stall the process of government bills and the confirmation of Federal Government nominees. The order inevitably was an order to shut down government.
The order was the party’s response to what it claimed was the reign of impunity in Rivers State, a fact underlined by the administration’s failure to heed National Assembly resolutions on stopping the crisis.
The resolution was immediately flayed by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and its agents which said it was a confirmation of its earlier claims that the APC was determined to foist anarchy on the country.
The PDP was also followed by a number of other partisan and sectional groups who flayed the APC directive as capable of derailing the country’s efforts in consolidating democracy.
Given the APC’s minority status in the Senate, it was not surprising that the directive has not been largely effectual among senators. It is, however, in the House of Representatives where the APC has a slim majority that the PDP and its sympathizers fear the damage would be done.
Yesterday, against expectations the House failed to proceed with the consideration of the 2014 budget proposals of the Federal Government, a fact underlined by fears that the APC had determined to stymie it.
The partisan considerations nonetheless, civil society organizations, lawyers and aligned groups were divided on the issue as presented as follows:
It is an invitation to anarchy –Afenifere
Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, described the APC directive as an invitation to anarchy.
Afenifere Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “The APC do not know when to draw the line between politics and anarchism. It is an invitation to anarchy. One would have even understood if they directed their members in the National Assembly not to clear ministerial nominees, but when they said they should not clear service chiefs, in a country that has crisis, you are asking for mutiny.
“As a party that is poised to take over the leadership of the country, when you are asking your members to take the laws into their hands and embark on self help, it calls to question the degree of responsibility to which the APC can be trusted with power.
Continuing, Odumakin also berated then party for tying its directive to the resolution of the crisis in Rivers State. “APC is full of hypocrisy .What is happening in Rivers that did not happen in Ekiti? Road transport thugs were deployed to stop Opeyemi Bamidele from launching his Bibire Coalition and two of his supporters were killed at different times.
Not a word on these barbaric acts has been heard from APC on this till date. Asking that service chiefs should be not cleared is an incitement to mutiny in the armed forces. And for a party that wants to govern Nigeria throwing responsibility to the dogs by calling on their members to resort to “self help” confirms the fears that the APC may eventually turn to be Nigeria’s version of Egypt’s Muslim brotherhood.”
It’s a balance of terror—Sagay
Constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), in a telephone chat with Vanguard, described the stand off as a balance of terror. He said: “It is a counter to the president particularly and the Federal Government that is allowing killings and mayhem in Rivers State and also allowing Joseph Mbu (Rivers State Commissioner of Police) to go on a one-man stampede which is bringing down the whole state.
If the state is going to be shut down and anyone, who supports the APC is going to be maimed if he or she shows his or face outside, and if the governor is going to be undermined and paralysed by a police officer, who is behaving as if he is the real governor, then, the APC has seen an area it is strong in the National Assembly and hit back. It is using its National Assembly powers to frustrate the Federal Government. For me, it is a balance of terror. It is a question of who is stronger or who is ready to give up first.”
APC has no capacity to enforce the directive—Aturu
Rights crusader, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, said: ”My problem is that the APC as a party has power to take whatever decision they feel is correct, but my worry is whether it has the capacity to enforce that decision, as far as our constitution is concerned. APC has to examine its position thoroughly in accordance to the constitution so that it will not take a position, which at the end of the day will become hurtful to the party.”
It is climbing a tree beyond the leaves – Ben Obi
Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Inter-Party Affairs, Senator Ben Obi said the directive was uncalled and amounted to taking opposition too far.
His words: ”I do not know the circumstances under which APC leaders said their National Assembly members should block the 2014 budget, screening of ministers and confirmation of the service chiefs. With all due respect, the budget is not only for politicians.
“I was a senator. Then we sit down and review issues. We had executive sessions where we ask ourselves: ‘what we are discussing now is it a national issue or partisan issue?’
Senators are respected because they discuss national issues: they don’t allow partisan political interests to overwhelm the discourse.
“Until last week, no President had ever forwarded the names of service chiefs to the National Assembly. President Jonathan did it. The next thing is the opposition says, ‘no, block it!’ Things that affect the military is not something we should rush into and get deeply involved in but I am happy that the current Senate President is a highly respected retired general and one of the longest serving legislators in this country. So he combines the experience of a war general and that of an accomplished legislator to navigate.
He also urged caution in the House of Representatives where a leadership tussle is raging between the PDP and APC with the latter claiming that it now has majority and should be recognized as such with leadership positions.
“We have legislators from APGA and Labour Party. Have you taken their numerical strength? Where do they stand? APC has 172 and PDP 171 members, if you add APGA and Labour, who then constitutes the majority? It is always better we do stocktaking before we come to the public domain because once you come to the public domain you make the issue look elementary. It is a serious parliamentary issue that I believe serious discussions will be engaged by all and sundry. I must commend the Speaker for the matured manner he handled the issue that day. Both camps, APC and PDP poured encomiums on him,” he said
Shun directive, lawmakers urge colleagues
Meanwhile, a group of members of the House of Representatives under the aegis of Concerned Lawmakers, have urged members of the National Assembly to shun the directive, saying it was a ploy to “massage the ego of a few, who are consumed by their own sense of bloated ego.”
Led by Hon. Yakubu Barde (PDP, Kaduna), other members of the group include Gideon Gwani (PDP, Kaduna), Shehu Garba (PDP, Kaduna), Kyari Gujbawu (PDP, Borno) and Ka’amuna Khadi (PDP, Borno) and Emmanuel Udende (PDP, Benue).
In a statement read to reporters in the National Assembly on Monday, they said the excuse that the Rivers crisis must be addressed was just a guise under which the APC seeks to hide to call for anarchy.
The statement read in part: “These directives, especially the one calling for the non-passage of the 2014 budget is a desperate attempt to frustrate the government from consolidating on its transformation agenda and delivering dividends of democracy to Nigerians and in the process, present the government in bad light”.
Alleging a plot to incite violence, the legislators noted, “it seems the directive to block the confirmation of nominees to fill vacant sensitive military positions is to ensure that all our military and security agencies are denied competent leadership in order to prepare grounds for the mayhem APC plans to unleash on innocent Nigerians.
“The planned violence which is APC’s real intentions was subtly passed in a carefully laced threat to the collective peace and security of Nigeria and the Nigerian state. To discerning minds, APC’s actual message in the directive is the threat that it may have no alternative than to ask its members all over the country to take whatever step that is necessary to protect their lives and property.
Urging their colleagues to continue in the usual non-partisan method of attending to legislative business, they added: We urge you to disregard any directive which consequence you know will be detrimental to the interest of a larger population of Nigerians. Let us remind ourselves that government shut down or filibustering has never been employed by any legislature to massage the ego of a few who are consumed by their own bloated sense of importance”.
While appealing to PDP Reps who defected to the APC to return to the PDP, they asked security agencies to be on alert to avert threat to lives and property of Nigerians, saying: “Nigerians have in the past been taken unawares when such threats were dismissed as mere ranting of aggrieved politicians. In fact, we call on all security and intelligence agencies to as a matter of duty, pick up any Nigerian or group of Nigerians who make seditious comments inciting the public to violence or self-help justice.”