By Emmanuel Aziken, Clifford Ndujihe & Luka Biniyat
The proposed amendments to the Electoral Act which aim to grant membership of the National Executive Committees of political parties to federal legislators is the subject of criticisms from many stakeholders who describe the legislators’ motif as selfish.
But the legislators say that the bill is aimed at freeing them from the yoke of equally selfish governors. As governors swoop on the legislators in a battle of wits, Vanguard examines the lawmakers’ crusade and the governors’ self-centered bid to retain maximum power even while the populace watch askance at the fight of two elephants:
As the Senate debated the controversial constitution amendment proposal to give a third term to executive office holders in 2006, one of the surprise onlookers at the gallery when the Nasarawa State senators spoke was Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, the then governor of the State. Like a monitor, Adamu watched with approval as the Senators from his State endorsed the controversial proposal that would have benefitted him and his then patron, President Olusegun Obasanjo and kept the Senators in perpetual servitude to him.
In his days as governor his words were supreme and all legislators, irrespective of his performance, heeded his every whim.
Such overbearing influence of serving governors is undoubtedly connected to the influence they bear in effecting the political viability of the legislators.
Now the legislators seem determined to throw off the unholy yoke of the governors over the parties and principally the dominant Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Their means of freedom is the proposed amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act which aims to grant membership of the National Executive Committees of all parties to all serving federal legislators.
Though kicked on all sides over the move the federal legislators who are returning to duty today are themselves determined despite the seeming pressures from their governors.
The undaunted lawmakers are bent on whittling down the powers of the governors in the NEC and would not be ‘blackmailed’ into abandoning the project in what is panning out as a battle for the survival of the fittest.
The states’ helmsmen are also not letting off without a fight. They have swooped on lawmakers from their states to back track and the moves appear to be yielding dividends.
Lapping on the request of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC for an amendment of the amended Electoral Act to give it more time to conduct credible polls, the legislators proceeded to propose more adjustments including enlarging the parties’ NECs.
Among prominent Nigerians, who berated the lawmakers over the move are former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, legal icon, Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
The controversial amendment
Among others, the controversial bill seeks to provide for the admission of former presiding officers of the parliament to join the NEC of their political parties.
One of the proposed amendments pertains to section 87(4) of the Principal Act and states:
“Every political party in Nigeria shall establish in its Constitution a National Executive Committee (NEC) which shall be the highest decision making body of the political party.”
The membership of the National Executive Committee(NEC) of a political party shall be as follows: (i) The president and the former President who are members of the party; (ii) The Vice President and Former Vice Presidents who are members of the party; (iii) Governors who are members of the party; (iv) Members of the National Assembly who are members of the party; (v) former presiding officers of the National Assembly who are members of the party; (vi) Chairman and secretary of the Board of Trustees, where applicable; (vii) Former National Chairmen; (viii) Former Chairmen, Board of Trustees; (ix) State Chairmen of the Party; (x) Zonal chairmen of the party where applicable and (xi) National Officers of the party.”
The bill also proposes that the quorum for meeting of the NEC of a political party shall be one half (1/2) of its total membership while all NEC decisions on electoral matters require two–thirds of its quorum.
If the amendment sails through, the 469 members of the National Assembly (109 Senators and 360 Reps) would be unleashed on the decision-making organ of the political parties with far-reaching implications for the former members, especially governors, who hold the lever of control currently.
Na’Abba backs lawmakers
Indeed, former House of Representatives Speaker, Alh. Ghali Umar Na’Abba, who is expected to benefit from the provision, weekend endorsed the legislators’ move.
Alleging most of the political parties had been hijacked by some key players in the executive arm of government and political godfathers who run the parties like their personal estates, Na’Abba argued that the proposed amendment to enlarge the NEC membership would strengthen internal democracy in the parties.
By virtue of their position as elected members of the National Assembly from their respective parties, the federal legislators ought to sit in the National Executive Council of the parties to ensure that the parties benefitted from the experience of the legislature, he added.
“Presently, some persons have tended to hijack the parties. The political parties heavily patronise the presidency and the respective state governors, but the National Assembly members who are also key stakeholders in the parties are left out without any major input into the decisions of the parties. So I think the current amendment will address some of these problems,” he said.
As elected political office holders, he continued, there was nothing wrong if serving legislators were made members of NEC as their membership would place them on a good pedestal to articulate and promote the positions of their respective parties in the parliament.
Na’ Abba acknowledged that though legislators being members of NEC might have some disadvantages, he said the advantages outweighed whatever disadvantages, adding that democracy in Nigeria would receive a major boost when the political parties begin to encourage the full participation of parliamentarians in the formulation of party policies and control of political parties.
Determined to torpedo the move, the nation’s Governors have launched an offensive including the use of carrot and stick to kill the proposed law.
The two-prong offensive is laden with reward for yielding lawmakers and punishment for the stubborn ones. One of the rewards is the offer of return tickets to the legislature.
Governors’ move bear fruits
And the offensive seems to be yielding results. The leader of the South_South caucus in the House of Representatives Rep. Andrew Uchendu, Rep. John Eno (PDP/Cross River) and Rep. Patrick Obahiagbon (ACN/_Edo State) weekend backed away from the bill and denounced it as undemocratic.
Said Uchendu: “I want to warn that this proposed amendment is inimical to this democracy. It is infringing on the independence of political parties to carry out their normal functions. It would lead to anarchy in political parties with serious implication to the polity. If supporters of the bill are saying that the essence of the bill is to promote internal democracy in political parties, why don’t we start by promoting internal democracy at the National Assembly? Why don’t we expand the number of Principal Officers in the National Assembly and make open the selection of Chairmen of Committees, away from the Selection Committee?”
On his part, Obahiagbon called on the opposition parties, the media and other progressive institutions to stage a forceful protest against the proposal.
“I call on all my colleagues in the National Assembly and all progressive forces outside the precincts of the National Assembly_and this includes the progressives and critical media, to deprecate, remonstrate, pooh pooh and consequently reject all attempts to use the opportunity offered at amending the electoral law to engage in political brinkmanship and parliamentary megalomania,” he said.
Reps disown back trackers
However, House Representatives Spokesman, Hon Eseme Eyiboh and other pro-amendment Reps have disowned Uchendu and his colleagues.
Joined by other members such as Rep. Clever Ikisipo (PDP/Bayesla), Chairman House of Reps Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) and Rep. Ita Enang, chairman of the House committee on Rules and Business, Eyiboh, described the bill as the legislators’ only means of leveling the immense power presently held by the governors over the parties.
Pro-amendment lawmakers weekend nudged their colleagues on to fend off the governors’s onslaught and push the bill through because it was the sharpest means of cutting the governors to size.
“The governors don’t want to be challenged and they are today the major power brokers in the party and have the power to do and undo. Can you imagine that the President launched the PDP registration exercise and once the governors discovered that it could loosen their grip on the party they went to meet the President and the next day the registration exercise was stopped.
“So, you can see that it is only the governors that are against this bill. The president, the party and even the presidential candidates are not against it. You can even see the tepid statement from Atiku Abubakar, they all know the vicious grip the governors hold on the party and this is the first major effort to free the party from the governors and that is why they are fighting back, using the media and everything they have,” one House member who is playing a central role in canvassing for the passage of the bill told Vanguard.
“What we are telling our colleagues is that it is better for them to protect themselves by supporting the bill and be able to protect themselves in the NEC rather than somebody promising to protect you. This is the bill that will finish the grip they have on the NEC,” the PDP member representing one of the states of the Southeast, said.
Said Ikisipo: “Why do you have to make Governors members of NEC of parties and exclude us? The Governors have hijacked the NEC and we are just going there to ensure that there is fairness. If the Governors where to make laws, would they not make laws that would favour them? So you want us to make laws that would put us at a disadvantage? This is the survival of the fittest.”
Senate urges restraint
However, the more-matured Upper Chamber is playing down the controversy, stating weekend that the proposed law was still subject to public input.
Chairman Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Eze said since the process of the amendment was still on going, every Nigerian who was opposed to the proposal should avail themselves of the opportunity of the public hearing on the bill to make their positions known.
Senator Eze said that contrary to up welling impression in the polity, ‘we are not self serving as Nigerians try to portray us. We are not making laws for ourselves because we are not going to stay in the National Assembly forever.
“The battle cry of Nigerians has been that they want internal democracy within the political parties and we think that if you key in the legislators within the decision making organs of the parties, you are making it more democratic because you would be bringing in more voices, more views and enlarging the political space within the parties and increasing the participation of its members in the decision making process’.
He explained that ‘but for one or two political parties, most of the members of both houses of the National assembly are members of the National Executive Committees of their parties so there is nothing strange in what is happening.”