By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Pity the lot of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the new national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC. In a desperate drive to stem a crisis sown from the formation of the party, five years ago, the immediate past governor of the Edo State through his unique interventions, is precariously navigating around constitutional issues that, if not well managed, could spell danger for the country’s democracy.
At the centre of the evolving crisis is the singular determination of the national chairman to retrieve what he has termed as his party’s crown from the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki.
“Saraki cannot run to another party with the crown of APC,” Oshiomhole told State House correspondents on August 1, after a meeting between APC senators and President Muhammadu Buhari. That meeting happened a day after Saraki despite the desperate interventions by Oshiomhole, formally announced his exit from the party that he, Saraki, helped to win the 2015 presidential election.
Just about one year after he stepped down as governor of Edo State, Comrade Oshiomhole had the mixture of the experience of a labour leader and governor entering the office of the national Chairman of the ruling party.
Before him was Chief John Odigie-Oyegun who had the unique record of being the first national chairman of a party to defeat an incumbent party in power at the federal level.
That experience and success were apparently not sufficient to prepare Odigie-Oyegun to navigate the crisis that came to overtake the party after it came to power.
Before Odigie-Oyegun and Oshiomhole, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, while in power also had its opportunity to produce national chairmen who raised controversy almost like Oshiomhole. The closest of the national chairmen in the PDP with that pedigree was undoubtedly, Col. Ahmadu Ali (rtd.). Col. Ali at the height of his reign came to be referred to as the garrison commander upon his repeated efforts to enforce discipline in the ranks of the party.
Before Ali, Chief Audu Ogbeh, after he emerged as chairman of the PDP in 2002, also had a nasty experience with the Senate and with Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim.
However, none of the past former chairmen of the ruling party has had the kind of faceoff that Oshiomhole is now having with senior officials of the legislative branch of the Federal Government – while not leaving out even ministers.
Saraki, who was elected President of the Senate with the backing of PDP senators and a sprinkling of APC senators, had, upon perceived discontent, defected from the party to the PDP on July 31. The defection followed the siege to his residence by security operatives on July 24.
Oshiomhole’s contention is that Saraki should leave the crown behind for an APC member to wear as according to him the office belongs to the majority party.
As he said:
“Once you lose the majority, without further ado, you step down. Let me restate that we cannot be subjected to minority rule in the Nigerian Senate and, therefore, whether it is convenient for Distinguished Senator Saraki or not, the truth is whether by morality or by law or by convention, Senator Saraki can only avoid impeachment by toeing the path of honour, step down so that the APC can take over the leadership of the House,” he said at a press conference at the party secretariat.
However, the assertion by the APC for Saraki’s resignation is yet to find traction among many.
Prominent lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, in a statement following Oshiomhole’s deposition cited section 50(2) of the Nigerian constitution which specifically states the method of removal of the Senate President. That provision stipulates a vote of two-thirds of all the members of the House.
That is a tall order for the about 50 members of the APC in the Senate. Even at that, many of the APC members are also supportive of Saraki and are going along with Oshiomhole simply because they want the party’s return tickets.
Indeed, Ozekhome contends with Oshiomhole’s claim that the ruling party must provide the presiding officers of the National Assembly.
“There is nowhere in the extant 1999 Constitution where it is provided that the ruling party must provide these principal heads of the bicameral legislature. Indeed, APC was lucky in June, 2015, when Saraki, then in APC, was narrowly elected Senate President and Ike Ekweremadu of PDP as his deputy. It could have been the other way round as has happened many times in the USA and heavens would not have fallen. Section 47 of the Constitution provides that the Senate shall consist of 109 members and the House of Representatives 360 members. By virtue of section 50(1) (A) of the Constitution, the president of the Senate and the Deputy President of the Senate shall be elected by members of the Senate. By section 50 (1) (b), the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be elected by members of the House. There is nowhere it is stated that such officers must come from any political party, whether ruling, or opposition.”
Whereas the offices of Senate President and Deputy Senate President are specifically provided for in the constitution and have always been elected by all senators, the other principal officers’ positions such as party leader and whips are elected by party members.
Oshiomhole and those supportive of his claim may actually be riding on Buhari’s well known antipathy to the PDP. The President it is claimed is vexed that after being serially humiliated by the PDP, that a PDP person would be allowed to take position in an administration anchored by the APC.
That aversion, it is alleged, was the offspring for the initial hostility to Saraki after the Senate President cut the deal that allowed Senator Ike Ekweremadu to emerge as Deputy President of the Senate. That hostility saw the interrogation of Senator Saraki’s wife and the serial prosecution of the Senate President and his deputy over issues that the court overruled or were dropped. That aversion apparently shows the failure of the APC and the administration to understand the essence of separation of powers in a presidential system of government.
The APC will also be put to task to defend its stance given the tradition in Nigeria. Mr. Edwin Ume-Ezeoke (Nigeria Peoples Parry, NPP), even though he was not from the majority party, was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives upon an accord between his party and the majority National Party of Nigeria, NPN, in 1979. Senator John Wash Pam was also elected as deputy president of the Senate under the framework of the same accord.
The APC itself had in the past also defended the sustenance in office of a presiding officer after defecting from the party on whose platform he came to power.
Just like Saraki, Aminu Tambuwal became Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2011 against the desire of his party, PDP. Also, just like Saraki, when in 2014 Tambuwal thought he had had enough of the PDP, he defected to the APC and the APC acclaimed him. Even President Buahri hailed Tambuwal.
As the party’s spokesman Lai Mohammed said in December 2014 after Tambuwal defected: “Those who are saying that the speaker should resign have forgotten history. In 1982 when the NPN and NPP accord broke down, Ume-Ezeoke did not step down as the speaker neither did Wash Pam step down as the deputy president of the senate.” Continuing, the APC spokesman at that time said: “It is not about the fortunes of the party it is about the fortunes of the country. Now we are going to have more qualitative laws, and this is a man who enjoys support across board so we have a speaker who is accepted on the right and the left,” he said.