By Ikechukwu Amaechi
‘THERE he goes again’’ was the defining phrase of the 1980 U.S. presidential election. Ronald Reagan, governor of California and the Republican presidential candidate deployed it dexterously in gibing his Democratic opponent, incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
But it is a political phrase that concentrates my mind today as the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Comrade Adam Oshiomhole, huffs and puffs about the leadership of the nintth Senate. It is déjà vu because Nigerians have lived through the present situation where the executive arm of government arrogates to itself the exclusive right of deciding who gets what in the system.
We will come back to the meat of the matter shortly. Suffice it to say that democracy is a universal concept and Nigerians didn’t have to reinvent the wheel when they threw away the yoke of military rule in 1999 and once again embraced Abraham Lincoln’s government of the people, by the people, for the people.
In Montesquieu, the 18th century French political philosopher’s separation of powers concept espoused in his magnum opus, “Spirit of the Laws,” the need for the political authority of the state to be divided into legislative, executive and judicial powers, acting separately and independently, was brought into sharp focus.
To limit the chances of any one branch usurping the core functions of another and to promote the liberty of the citizenry, Montesquieu said government responsibilities must be divided into distinct branches. Preventing power concentration limits the prospects of dictatorship and tyranny.
John Adams, second U.S. President agrees. “It is by balancing each of these powers against the other two, that the efforts in human nature toward tyranny can alone be checked and restrained, and any degree of freedom preserved in the constitution,” he wrote.
So, while the legislative branch is responsible for enacting laws and appropriating the money needed to run government, the executive is responsible for implementing the laws and the judiciary is responsible for interpreting the constitution and the laws.
To avoid anarchy which will be the consequence of absolute separation of powers, Montesquieu moderated his view with the principle of checks and balances which creates a healthy balance when each arm acts as a check on the powers of the other two.
Back to the issue at hand, the endless quest by the executive arm of government since the era of President Olusegun Obasanjo to foist leaderships on the National Assembly affronts the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances.
In his desperate bid to dominate the political landscape, Obasanjo deviously manipulated the election of the president of the 4th Senate in 1999 leading to the dramatic upstage of Chuba Okadigbo by Evan Enwerem, former Imo State governor. But it was a pyrrhic victory. Enwerem was in office for only six months before stepping on the axiomatic banana peels. But Okadigbo’s ascendancy did not deter Obasanjo who wilfully reduced the Senate presidency to a game of musical chairs as he himself was sacked in August 2000 by 81 to 14 votes following an internal investigation into contracts awarded by the Senate leadership instigated by the presidency.
In eight years of Obasanjo’s presidency, five Senate presidents – Enwerem (Imo), Okadigbo (Anambra), Pius Anyim (Ebonyi), Adolphus Wabara (Abia), Ken Nnamani (Enugu) – emerged from the South-East. With the exception of Okadigbo, the other four were foisted on the Senate by the executive. Most of them were also pulled down from their high perch by the machinations of the master puppeteer. The National Assembly suffered grievous instability. Nigeria was the worse for it.
The House of Representatives did not fare better though the lawmakers in the Green Chamber were more robust in their rejection of such impositions. At the state level, governors reduced the state Houses of Assembly to mere rubber stamps.
After winning the 2015 polls, APC decided to follow in the foolhardy steps of the PDP. But their imposition gambit backfired when the two chambers revolted by electing Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu president and deputy president of the Senate respectively while the lower chamber elected Yakubu Dogara and Yusuf Lasun speaker and deputy speaker.
That revolt is what the APC apparatchik refer to as the 2015 mistake which they have vowed not to repeat in 2019; the most trenchant voice being Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman. “This time around we must ensure that we have a leadership of the National Assembly that shares the vision of the executive,” Oshiomhole told newly elected members of the House of Representatives at the Shehu Yar’adua Centre, Abuja last week.
“Although we speak of separation of powers, there is only one government and unless the various arms pursue the same agenda it is difficult for the executive to realise its purpose because legislative backing is often required for the executive actions,” he added.
Oshiomhole then spelt out in clear terms what the lawmakers must do to be considered loyal party men and women. “We have the numbers to produce the speaker and we will produce the speaker, who must be a member of the APC. We have the numbers to produce the deputy speaker and we will use the numbers to produce the deputy speaker, who must be a member of the APC. We have the number and we must use the numbers to elect a House leader who must be a member of APC. We have the numbers and we will use the numbers to produce a chief whip and a deputy whip who must be members of the APC.”
There is nothing wrong with that position. Even in the so-called mistake of 2015, with the exception of Ekweremadu, whose election as Deputy Senate president was an ‘aberration’, all other principal officers of the 8th Senate and even the House of Representatives were APC members.
In spite of the constitutional provision that lawmakers shall elect from amongst themselves their presiding officers, the global norm is that the responsibility falls on the party with the majority. But the lawmakers must be allowed to choose such officers. It is insulting for the party leadership in the name of party supremacy or the executive to whimsically appropriate such responsibility.
That can only lead to resentment and revolt as it is the case in the Ali Ndume challenge. APC’s penchant for politics of exclusion is the real mistake. It is sheer power grab and a recipe for crisis for the executive branch to unilaterally foist leaders on the legislature.
APC’s 2015 mistake is not the fact that Saraki and Dogara emerged Senate president and House of Representatives speaker respectively. No! That was the necessary outcome of the real mistake – the incessant appetite to impose the National Assembly leadership from outside. Those who are favoured by such impositions will gloat but those holding the wrong end of the leadership recruitment stick will always kick as Ndume is doing now.
Since APC has near absolute majority in both chambers, the wise thing would have been to allow the lawmakers to elect their leaders on the floor using their rules and regulations as a compass. If the party had allowed a free and fair contest in 2015, devoid of arbitrary exclusions, Saraki and Dogara may well have lost.
APC under Oshiomhole is making the same mistake John Oyegun made in 2015 and the result may not be different. Even if the party succeeds this time in coercing the lawmakers to toe the nebulous party line, the victory may be pyrrhic.