There is impasse in the ruling All Progressives Congress as members are still divided over the sharing of leadership positions at the National Assembly
| By Olu Ojewale | Jul 6, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
LIKE a festering sore, the discord in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, appears to be worsening by the day. Since the election of Bukola Saraki and Peter Yakubu Dogara as Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, the ruling APC has not known peace as interest groups in the party remain at daggers drawn defending their own interest. All efforts towards enthroning peace to enable them work together for the common good of Nigeria have so far not yielded any positive result.
Consequently, the election of principal officers to occupy certain positions which should have taken place once the National Assembly resumed for business on Tuesday, June 22, could not hold as the ruling party was divided by personal and zonal ambitions. There was almost fisticuffs in the Senate on the day. Renegades in the party ensured that the expected election could not hold on Wednesday either. When the two houses resumed for plenary on Thursday, June 25, there were lots of expectations about the election of principal officers of the National Assembly.
However, by the time the two houses adjourned sitting to Tuesday, July 21, it was clear beyond any iota of doubt that members remained divided as they were when Saraki seized on the moment to get elected as Senate president on Tuesday, June 9.
While the Senate was able to make some progress towards electing the key leaders, the House of Representatives chose to settle their affairs with fisticuffs and seizure of the mace to settle their differences. When eventually sanity returned, Dogara appealed to members to calm down and promised that their differences would be ironed out before the next sitting.
Before the adjournment in the Senate on Thursday, June 25, the Senate president announced that the APC Senate caucuses had nominated Ali Ndume as the majority leader of the Senate, in apparent defiance of the party’s directive that Ahmed Lawan be given the role. Lawan lost the Senate presidency to Saraki, despite being the party’s anointed candidate. Similarly, he announced the nomination of Bala Ibn Na’alla, a senator from Kebbi State, as deputy leader.
Similarly, the Senate also nominated Francis Alimikhena, from Edo State, as deputy chief whip. There was no nomination for the chief whip. All the nominations are subject to the Senate approval. The names announced by the president were clearly at variance from the directive of the party, which had insisted its preferred candidates, who failed to be elected president and speaker for the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, be elected majority leaders in both chambers. So far, the crisis has stalled legislative business in both arms of the National Assembly for weeks.
The preamble to the event in the Senate on Thursday had its roots in what transpired in the upper chamber on Wednesday, June 24. At the plenary session, the Senate rejected attempts by the leadership of the APC to compel it to accept and adopt its anointed members of the Senate on the composition of majority positions in the upper legislative chamber.
John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of the APC, had in separate letters to Saraki and Dogara, presented the party’s position on the principal officers of the Senate and the House. In the letter to the Senate president, Odigie-Oyegun said Lawan, who lost out to Saraki in Senate president struggle, should be made Senate majority leader; George Akume, a senator, who was similarly penciled down as deputy Senate deputy president, should now occupy the position of deputy majority leader; Olusola Adeyeye, a senator from Osun State, should be chief whip and Abu Ibrahim, his deputy whip.
But members argued that the letter from Odigie-Oyegun ran contrary to the Senate rule and could not be read by Saraki, let alone being adopted. Invariably, the Senate adopted its 2015 Standing Rule and declared all amendments therein as valid.
The decisions were consequent upon a motion sponsored by Gbenga Ashafa, a senator from Lagos, seeking to compel Saraki to recognise and read Odigie-Oyegun’s letter. In his argument, Ashafa cited rule 28(1) of the Senate Standing Order and declared that Oyegun’s letter was proper because, principal officers should be nominated by the majority.
Ashafa said: “Yesterday, most of the media houses carried a letter that was written by the chairman of our great party, the APC, and we were expecting that that letter which has been received in your office will be read in order to see to the resolution of the party leadership tussle.
“I believe that that letter should have been read to the hearing of all senators here present. Perhaps that will be the solution to the leadership tussle in the Senate”.
Unimpressed by Ashafa’s submission, Na’alla urged the Senate to ignore him, stating that the rule of the Senate had no provision that its principal officers should be nominated by a political party. He argued that what was allowed by the Senate rule was for the principal officers to be elected by the party that had majority in the Senate not that the party should nominate leaders for the Senate.
Ruling on the matter, Saraki said: “I have listened to senators Ashafa and Na’ala. Going by the rules and what has been said earlier, I think I will just note what Senator Ashafa has said and we will leave the matter as that. And in that case, I rule that out of order.”
The House of Representatives did not fare better. On Thursday, June 25, there were fisticuffs as rancorous members disrupted its session as arguments ensued over the election of principal officers of the House. This prompted the House to break into two factions, one supporting the APC, which sought to choose the House principal officers and another backing the speaker, who like Saraki, insisted on defying the party directives by allowing the party caucuses in the House to chose their leaders based on principle of zoning system.
In view of the earlier disagreement and the brawl in the House, Dogara adjourned sitting to next Tuesday, June 30, with the hope that tempers would have subsided for sanity to prevail.
Nevertheless, the APC leadership would be disappointed that despite its efforts, it could not sway the National Assembly to accept its directives. In trying to get both the Saraki and Dogara groups to conform to its directives, the party enlisted the assistance of the state governors elected on the platform of the party, who also met with President Muhammadu Buhari on the same issue.
Worried about the ongoing leadership tussle in the National Assembly, the governors invited their senators in order to prevail on them on the need to respect party supremacy on any matter. The decision was taken at a late night meeting 16 APC governors had with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Tuesday, June 23. The meeting, which was held behind closed-doors, ended in the early hours of Wednesday, June 24. At the meeting, the governors were said to have assured the president that they would prevail on the warring National Assembly members to sheath the sword.
At the end of the meeting, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, who addressed the State House correspondents, said that the governors were worried by the development in the National Assembly and decided to rub minds with the president on the matter.
Okorocha, who described the meeting with the president as more reassuring, said: “We have resolved that we came from a party and our party’s views should be respected. So, we feel that there is the need for us to invite our senators and look more into the matter and see how we can all make peace.
“We believe that everyone should respect our party from which we all came from and for that reason, we have decided that we are going to invite our senators and rub minds with them. We are saying that there should not be a winner-takes-it-all; that we should carry everybody along and accommodate others as suggested by the party.”
Similarly, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, said that what the governors agreed on was that senators should adopt the position of the party. “We were all elected on the platform of the party. We are not just a collection of individuals, we are a political party and when the party has spoken we must listen, otherwise if it was a game of individuals like golf then individuals can go their way.
“I think it is very clear at this point that the party has the responsibility to keep the system going, so we as progressive governors, we have listened to the president and we have discussed extensively and we are clear that the party’s position should be supported by the senators.”
But members of the National Assembly appears not to be in tandem with the governors and the APC leaders as they have vowed to maintain their independence. The meeting convened by Saraki in an attempt to unite members of the Like Minds Senators, which Saraki belongs, and the Senate Unity Forum, which Lawan pitches his tent with, almost led to a free-for-all fight on Tuesday, June 23. The meeting was also aimed at arriving at a common position on the selection of principal officers. But argument between Kabiru Marafa and Tayo Alasoadura, two APC senators, degenerated into a physical combat, as the opposing camps refused to yield ground.
Trouble started immediately after Saraki had delivered his speech and urged his colleagues to dissolve into zonal caucuses to produce their representatives for the posts of Senate leader, the deputy Senate leader, the chief whip and the deputy whip. It was at that stage that Suleiman Hunkunyi, a senator from Kaduna State, showed his displeasure, insisting that the meeting should rather ratify the names already sent to the office of the Senate president by the APC leadership on Tuesday. According to him, the party had forwarded a letter recommending the four needed principal officers of the Senate. Hunkuyi’s utterance apparently infuriated some of his colleagues in the Saraki camp, who disagreed and maintained that the Senate caucuses would determine their representatives.
In the ensuing commotion, Alasoadura faulted the choice of Adeyeye, saying Ajayi Boroffice was also qualified for the position. It was at that stage that Marafa accused the Like Minds senators of trying to scuttle the party’s position. It was then Marafa pushed Alasoadura.
It took the intervention of Rafiu Ibrahim, one of the senators, and others to prevent Marafa and Alasoadura from going fisticuffs.
Investigations showed that the North-West caucus had rejected the post of deputy chief whip and the choice of Ibrahim. A senator said of the situation: “Saraki’s proposal almost sailed through, except for Lawan’s case. But the insistence of the party on having the principal officers from the Lawan group compounded the problem. The North-West has rejected chief whip. If Akume is picked as deputy senate leader, that means the senate president and deputy senate leaders are from the North-Central. The South-South has been dropped.”
In the letter to Dogara, the APC presented Femi Gbajabiamila, South-West, as the House leader; Ado Doguwa, North-West zone, as deputy leader; Mohammed Monguno, North-East, as chief whip; and Pally Iriase, South-South as deputy chief whip.
As it happened in the Senate, members from the two zones, North-Central and South-East that would be denied office by the recommendations of the party were also believed to be gearing up for a fight for being marginalised.
The North-Central caucus in the House led by Ahman Pategi from Kwara State said that the party’s position was taken without consulting the caucus and wondered how it arrived at its recommendation. Pategi said: “We are also amazed by the directive of the party to the leadership of the House to take necessary action on the purported choice by the party, which we see as a clear usurpation of the powers of the zonal caucuses and their members as guaranteed by the constitution and the standing rules of the House of Representatives…
“It will be inconsiderate of the party to consider North-East and South-West that had produced the speaker and deputy speaker for other positions. The exclusion of two zones is not acceptable.”
Also enraged by the development was Austine Chukwuere, representing Ideato South/Ideato of the South-East caucus of the APC, who condemned the attempt to exclude the zone in the process of decision making in the House. He said: “We can’t stand here and allow the party sweeps us out.” Chukwukere stated that if the South-East was not carried along in the appointment of principal officers, their representatives would lack the moral courage to convince their respective constituents and the entire five states of the South-East that the party was fair to every Nigerian.
Be that as it may, Rabiu Kwankwaso, immediate past governor of Kano State, said it was sad that the APC should be in such position. “Well, I think the party unfortunately is divided but it is not too late to correct many things but the party should take certain steps to ensure such things do not happen again. “I am one of those who advised Bukola that he shouldn’t go too far with that ambition under the circumstances. At his level people should be more careful and cautious in what they do and what they don’t do especially as the situation is even worse than the case of (Aminu) Tambuwal because during the 2011 elections, the Tambuwal’s case was going out of the zoning but all the positions went to the members of the party but this time because of the ambition of these members of our party, they went and connived with people who are not only opponents but enemies of the party to fight the party after the people of this country have discarded these people. Now because of ambition, these people were made relevant. I don’t think that is the best way to go,” Kwankwaso said.
Henry Balogun, a lawyer, said one of the problems with the APC is that many of the members are in the party to use it to feather their nests. “They are in the APC but they are not of the APC. Their behaviours will continue to show. Our mistakes is that we were only looking at General Buhari who is now President Buhari as a person who could help the nation out of its problems but we failed to look deep down to see the kind of people around him. Now we are seeing the ugly side of the APC. What we have here is a deep issue, and it is not going to help us to get the kind of change we all clamoured for,” Balogun said.
On his own part, Cyril Abutu, an analyst, said those who were jostling for power were not doing it for the nation, but their selfish interest. “They are all guilty of power grab,” Abutu said. He, however, appealed to the leadership of the APC to eat the humble pie for the sake of the nation and reach a consensus with the warring factions within its fold and work together.
The power struggle in the National Assembly, Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and human rights activist, said should be a sort of warning to Nigerians that the kind of change they voted for might not materialise after all. He said: “The National Assembly has been hijacked by a group of cabal and if something is not quickly done by the president now, he may not be able to deliver on his election promises. The president should have a closed-door meeting with Saraki and Dogara in order to tackle what is going on. This is not the kind of change we voted for and the kind of change he represents should not be hijacked by the cabal.”
Ubani feared that the next four years of the current administration might be distracted by the leadership conflict at the National Assembly. “I am very alarmed about what is going on and every Nigerian should be alarmed about what is happening in the National Assembly… There is crop of cabal that has hijacked this process and if care is not taken we may not be able to achieve our ambitions with the level of crisis going on. The APC should find a way to solve its problems. If the party fails, it would give the Peoples Democratic Party room to return to power. They should be mindful of what they are doing by bringing this matter to a reasonable end,” Ubani said.
Indeed, the PDP is already cashing in on the crisis to lambast the ruling party as a rudderless entity. The party, in a statement by Olisa Metuh, national publicity of the PDP, accused President Buhari of bias in the crisis rocking the National Assembly. And on the fracas which disrupted proceedings at the House of Representatives, Metuh described the brawl by “disgruntled APC members” as an ugly development which “brings to question, President Muhammadu Buhari and his party’s commitment to democracy, unity and the stability of the country.” He said it was also a direct consequence of the president’s lack of democratic credentials “to reign in his party to respect the independence and sanctity of the legislative arm of government, the very citadel of democracy, as enshrined in the nation’s constitution.”
On Thursday night, Mai Mala Buni, the APC national secretary, issued a statement titled: “National Assembly Crisis: We Stand on Our List of Principal Officers.” The statement said in part: “The All Progressives Congress, APC, has strongly condemned what transpired at both chambers of the National Assembly on Thursday, June 25th, 2015. The party stands by the list sent by the party to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The National Caucus, Board of Trustees, BOT, and National Executive Committee, NEC, of the party will meet within the next few days to discuss the evolving developments in the National Assembly.”
That notwithstanding, the one-month recess given by Saraki may be the necessary break that would help the APC stakeholders to regroup and trash out their differences. But if they are not able to do this, it is feared that the change that the nation so much craved for by voting out the PDP may be a forlorn hope.