By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Ahead the 2007 general elections, one of the two-term Governors, now a Senator, had in a simulation of raw political power lined up loyal federal legislators and some of his trusted aides as he dictated what would be the portion of each of them in the then forthcoming election.
“You, you will go to Senate,” he pointed at one of the aides. To another, he said, “you will go to the House of Representatives.” And to yet another of the legislators, he said, “you will retire.” So the outgoing Governor carried on in a spate of worldly glory until he came to the crown in the pecking order as he beckoned one of his most subservient and seemingly docile commissioners, who he gloriously crowned to replace him as Governor.
Remarkably, that former Governor now a Senator is faced with the near impossible hurdle of returning to the Senate himself on account of the sharp differences between him and his one-time subservient commissioner and former acolyte, who is now Governor.
Indeed since the Governor stepped down from office, it is on record that he had only seen the face of his successor once, and that was in 2007. Such is the power of the office of Governor that it changes the character and clout of the weakling.
It is thus not surprising that members of the National Assembly are now determined to leverage on the power and influence of Governors, especially, in respect of determining the fate of the lawmakers.
The platform the legislators have decided to use is the Electoral Act which a group of them in both chambers of the National Assembly have decided to amend for the purpose of imposing themselves on the National Executive Committees, NEC of their parties.
The proposed amendment to the electoral act has understandably raised concern in the polity with many stakeholders condemning the proposal.
Remarkably, the proposed amendment in the Senate, according to Vanguard sources, was inspired by the Senate Committee on Constitution Review (SCRC) and hence the fact that all members of the committee have been listed as sponsors of the bill.
Whereas the bill in the Senate provides that committee chairmen and their deputies in the National Assembly shall be members of the NEC, the proposal in the House of Representatives is even more daring, going to the extent of saying that all members of the National Assembly from the party should be members of the NEC.
The contentious clause in the bill proposes that:
“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.
The import of the bill in the words of most of the legislators is essentially self-preservation. If the Governors now have unwieldy powers over the NEC then it is their argument that the only way that they (legislators) can preserve their relevance in the polity is by taking charge of the highest decision making organ of the political parties, which is the NEC.
Such argument is not surprising given the beef many of the legislators have with their Governors. Indeed in the House of Representatives where the proposal is very popular, the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole is famously known to have fallen out with his home Governor, Chief Gbenga Daniel.
But is amending the law the best way to stem the arbitrariness on the part of Governors?
That was the issue that came up for discussion last Monday as the two chambers of the National Assembly had a joint public hearing on the bill.
The President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, who opened the hearing on that day was straight to the point when he said that neither him nor the National Assembly had a fixed position on the issue.
Senator Mark may have been open on the issue given the fact that he presently has no issues with his home Governor, Mr. Gabriel Suswam who has gone the extent of thumbing him up for re-election.
However, not many of his colleagues or bosses as Senator Mark prefers to call fellow Senators would share his opinion. Certainly not Senator Lekan Mustapha (PDP, Ogun East) whose seat in the Senate, Governor Daniel is now aiming to take over from next May.
Remarkably, the lawmakers have had support on the issue from very few sections of the polity. Among those who have backed them is former Speaker Ghali Na’Abba in whose view the parties have to be retrieved from the Governors.
At last Monday’s public hearing the Governors who had earlier promised to seek dialogue with the legislators on the issue seemed to have pulled back. The Governors it was learnt are now bent on taking the offensive against the lawmakers in a brutish contest for power.
The feelings of the Governors was echoed by the State chairmen of the PDP who were represented at the public hearing by the Chairman of the Conference of State Chairmen of PDP, Dr. Emmanuel Agbo.
As the state chairmen of the PDP are universally known to be “parrots” of the Governors it was not surprising that the Governors gave vent to the sentiments of the Governors.
Dr Agbo, in his submission said that allowing the amendment would lead to choking the parties with over regulation noting that it would amount to
‘a particular constituency trying to take undue advantage of its functions to the detriment of other reasons’ warning that ‘as we move towards the 2011 elections, whatever would erode the confidence of the public in the national assembly should be avoided.
“In the interest of our nascent democracy, that aspect of the amendment (inclusion of NASS members in the NEC of parties) should be expunged to give room for dialogue between the caucus and the leadership of the political parties” he concluded.
The national chairman of the PDP who has had his own issues with the Governors, however, collaborated the submission of his State chairmen saying that if the amendment went through that the legislators would would “overwhelm other members and this may precipitate a crisis. The national assembly members may take decisions that would favour them and always get away with it. The national assembly should throw away the amendment since the party is considering a concession that would make national assembly have more representation. It is not something to legislate on,” he affirmed.
The national chairman of the Citizens Popular Party, Maxi Ukwu equally pooh-poohed the amendment saying:
“Uniformity as is being sought by the amendment is military tendency. There should be differences in the political parties. We seek that parties should be allowed to run their affairs. We cannot regiment them. We cannot control them. Members of the National assembly seeking by fiat to write themselves to the national executive committee of their political parties are improper. They have the powers to do that but it is improper” he said.
Opposition to the bill also came from the National Chairman, All Progressives’ Grand Alliance (APGA) Chief Victor Umeh who while admitting the right of the legislators to make laws for the parties urged them to stop the move. It was, however, the erstwhile secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed who pointedly told the lawmakers that the “Proposal to include yourselves as members of the National Executive Committees of your parties is morally wrong”
But given the mantra that there is no morality in politics, Baba-Ahmed and his fellow speakers have had their say. Remarkably, they have no vote on the issue.
This is indeed a contest of will and raw power that evokes the words of the 19th century British historian and writer, Lord Acton that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Nigerian legislators who have come to subject themselves to the absolute powers of their Governors indeed are now in full rebellion.