By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Ben Agande, Tordue Salem Tony Edike & Luka Binniyat
ABUJA—The nation’s governors have launched an offensive including the use of carrot and stick to kill the proposed law aimed at integrating members of the National Assembly into the National Executive Committees of the political parties.
In a seeming success of the offensive, the leader of the South-South caucus in the House of Representatives, Andrew Uchendu, yesterday, backed away from the bill denouncing it as undemocratic. He was, however, immediately disowned by a leading member of the House, Eseme Eyiboh, the House spokesman who said Uchendu was speaking for himself. Eyiboh was joined by some other members who described the bill as the legislators only means of levelling the immense power presently held by the governors over the parties.
Meanwhile, the legislators were yesterday reinforcing their defence against the onslaught from the governors with encouragement to fellow members to push the bill on the fact that it was the sharpest means of cutting the governors to size.
The Senate on its part also yesterday played down the controversy as it affirmed that the proposed law was still subject to public input.
The bill aims to make all Senators and members of the House of Representatives members of the NEC of the political parties under which they were elected.
Sources in the National Assembly told Vanguard yesterday that governors who are very uncomfortable with the bill have launched pressure on the lawmakers to kill the bill.
“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 not even the presidential aspirants are 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 the passage of the bill told Vanguard yesterday.
It was equally learnt that governors were mounting tremendous pressure on the legislators with the intent of having the legislative proposal killed. One of such pressure is the use of the offer of return tickets to the legislature.
“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 hold they have on the NEC,” the PDP member representing one of the states of the South-East said last night.
Bill anti-democratic-Rep. Uchendu
Also, the leader of the South-South caucus, Rep. Uchendu (PDP, Rivers) in a seeming attestation of the pressure on the legislators washed his hands off the bill, describing it as anti-democratic and capable of derailing the nation’s democracy.
He was joined in opposing the bill by some others in the South-South. Among them were Rep. John Eno (PDP/Cross River) and Rep. Patrick Obahiagbon (ACN/_Edo State).
“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”, Uchendu said in a press conference yesterday.
“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?”, he argued.
“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,” he asked?
Obahiagbon calls for rejection
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 progressive 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 brinksmanship and parliamentary megalomania,” he said.
Uchendu was immediately countered by some others including Eyiboh who said he could not have been speaking for the caucus. Eyiboh in a telephone interview said that there was no occasion the South_South caucus met to discuss the matter as he affirmed that Uchendu was speaking for himself.
Bill divides S-South caucus
The division in the South-South caucus was further shown in the support for the bill from some other members of the caucus notably, 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.
“Why do you have to make Governors members of NEC of parties and exclude us?” Ikisipo asked yesterday.
“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 not favour them?.
So you want us to make laws that would put us at a disadvantaged? This is the survival of the fittest”, he said yesterday.
Senate plays down controversy
However, the Senate yesterday played down the controversy over the bill, saying that there was nothing strange about the bill.
Addressing Senate correspondents in Abuja yesterday, chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Eze said since the process of the amendment was still on going, every Nigerian who is 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 contrary to the impression being created by some Nigerians, “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.”
“We are only saying entrench this, deepen it because in other democracies like the United States of America, all the senators and members of the Congress are members of the NEC of their parties”.
The Senate spokesman said democracy is deepened by conventions and practices, adding that “democracy is guided by rules, practices, conventions and association.
But I think that when new things happen and people do not understand, they complain.
We are going to hold a public hearing on the Electoral Act so that people can come and air their views, so that all these armchair critics sitting in their homes and pontificating can come and participate in the process,” he said.