Despite many peace moves, warring parties in the ruling All Progressives Congress have stuck to their guns on leadership crisis rocking the National Assembly
| By Olu Ojewale | Aug 3, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
THE ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is still at the daggers drawn over the election of key officers of the National Assembly. The Assembly which supposed to resume on Tuesday, July 21, had to shift its resumption date to Tuesday, July 28, because all the parties involved in the leadership tussle were unable to resolve their differences. There have been no indication that the problem is going to be resolved soon either.
Instead, the rancor between the APC members of the National Assembly appears to be widening every day. The latest brouhaha in the House of Representative is the bid to make Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, a member of the House from Kano State, the majority leader instead of Femi Gbajabiamila, who is from the south west, whom the APC leadership had tipped for the position. This move is set to divide Gbajabiamila and Ado-Doguwa who belonged to the camp of APC House members who are loyal to the party hierarchy. The smart move was said to have come from the group supporting Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the House, who has been vehemently against allowing Gbajabiamila to occupy the position.
The Dogara group in order to resolve the leadership crisis in the House agreed to cede the right to nominate the remaining leaders to the Gbajabiamila group. In its proposal, the group zoned the House majority leader to the North-West, deputy House leader to the North-Central, chief whip to the South-South and deputy chief whip to the South-East, excluding the North-East and South-West because the zones already have the speaker and deputy speaker positions.
A statement issued on Tuesday, July 21, by Abdulmumin Jibrin, a member of the Dogara group, said the group unequivocally supported the Dogara formula in the distribution of principal offices in the House of Representatives because it is in tandem with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the spirit of federal character and the need for equity, fairness and justice. “For the benefit of enlightenment, it is important to state that in terms of the leadership status of these vacant positions, the House Leader is the most senior, followed by the chief whip. In the spirit of reconciliation and unity, Speaker Dogara has graciously conceded the positions of House Leader and Chief Whip to the Femi Gbajabiamila group.
“Consequently, the Consolidation Group has decided to adopt Alhassan Ado-Doguwa (North West) as House Leader, Buba Jibrin (North Central) as deputy House leader, Pally Iriase (South-South) as chief whip and Chika Okafor (South East) as deputy chief whip. “We, therefore, call on our supporters to intensify lobbying at the zonal caucuses to ensure that these members emerge to assume the positions. Kindly, note that Alhassan Doguwa is head of the Gbajabiamila Group while Pally Iriase was in the speakership race but stepped down for Gbajabiamila and assumed a very prominent role in his group.”
The Dogara formula was derived from a long standing tradition on the sharing of principal offices, which was always guided by the principle of federal character and that the eighth Assembly had decided to maintain the tradition for the sake of fairness to all the six geo-political zones.
This may be why Ado-Doguwa appears to have fallen for the bait as he was quoted as saying on Wednesday, July 22, that he considered the offer made to him to become the majority leader of the House as a possible solution to the impasse in the House. “I consider this offer good if it is genuine; the speaker has given the assurances that he is ready for peace to prevail in the House. This offer, to my mind, is a good gesture and we can work with it – given the assurances by the speaker,” Ado-Doguwa said in Abuja.
“I am just expressing my own view on this matter; that we have to accept this offer so that we can move ahead. I believe that the general opinion of Nigerians is that this crisis has dragged on for too long and we should end it and allow the government to move on,” he added.
Despite Ado-Doguwa latest cant, Nasiru Zango-Daura, the spokesman for the Gbajabiamila group, insisted that the group would not go against the stance of the APC. The group on Monday, July 20, accused Dogara of being hypocritical as he had jettisoned zoning during the election of presiding officers of the House on July 9. In a letter to the APC chairman dated July 18, 2015, Zangon-Daura said on behalf of the Loyalists Group that party supremacy must reign in the selection of four principal officers in the house. The group also insisted that Dogara’s position was fraught with fundamental flaws and that going by the House Standing Rules, the South-East that had only two APC members, who as first time members of House, were not qualified to occupy any principal office.
But the two members of the group on Tuesday, July 21, claimed that they were not aware of the letter purportedly emanating from the camp to John Odigie-Oyegun, APC chairman, and that there was no time the group met to take such decision. In a statement signed by Muktari Dandutse, a representative from Katsina State and Tijjani Abdulkadir Jobe, a representative from Kano State, the members said there was no time they agreed to write the letter to the APC national chairman.
Dandutse and Jobe insisted that the views expressed by Zangon-Daura was his personal opinion and that the “Loyalists Group never met or agreed to write formally to the leadership of the party in reaction to last week’s Speaker Dogara’s entreaties to the national chairman of our great party on the way forward. For the avoidance of doubt, the last time the group met was immediately after the maiden meeting of the APC National Executive Committee, NEC, held in Abuja, on July 3, 2015, where we accepted to engage the Hon. Aminu Tambuwal’s-led Reconciliation Committee” They stressed that it was at the NEC meeting that the party recognised Senator Bukola Saraki as the Senate president and Yakubu Dogara as the speaker of the House of Representatives, adding: “Similarly, it was after this NEC meeting that we accepted to cooperate with the Tambuwal’s Reconciliation Committee under the aegis of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Governors Forum.”
The two party men, however, urged the party to accept Dogara’s olive branch to resolve the lingering crisis rocking the House in order to bring about peace, stability and progress to the country. “We want to also use this medium to call on all members of the Loyalists Group nationwide to bury their hatchet, embrace peace and put Nigeria first, above personal interests,” the twosome said in their statement.
Similarly, the South-East caucus of the APC in the House on Tuesday, July 21, disassociated from the Gbajabiamila group and pledged support to Dogara and his proposal on the leadership issue. In a statement signed by Austin Chukwukere, an APC member from Imo State, said the caucus flayed the Loyalists group for saying the South-East members were not qualified to hold principal office on the basis of the House Standing Rules.
This notwithstanding, the National Assembly brouhaha worsened on Tuesday, July 21, when two members of the House in the ruling APC, took the case to court to force Dogara and two others to follow the party’s directives on the sharing of leadership positions in the House. Joined in the suit filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja, are Yusuf Lasun, deputy speaker, and Mohammed Sani-Omolori, clerk of the House.
In the suit filed by Abubakar Lado-Abdullahi and Olajide Abdul-Jimoh, representatives from Niger and Lagos states, respectively, the applicants want the court to restrain the defendants from announcing the names of principal officers not recommended by the leadership of the APC. Specifically, the plaintiffs want the court to determine whether Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution, dealing with the Principle of Federal Character, was applicable to the sharing of principal offices in the National Assembly. The court process was reportedly served Dogara and other defendants on July 16. But none of the parties involved would like to address the press on the development.
The House, which began a forced break on June 25, after a fight broke out on the floor over the sharing of the principal offices, was scheduled to resume on Tuesday, July 21, but it did not because all the parties involved could not reach a compromise. Indeed, the APC had zoned the position of majority leader in the House to the South-West and recommended Gbajabiamila to occupy the seat. It recommended Ado-Doguwa from the North-West to be deputy leader. The party similarly zoned the offices of chief whip and deputy whip to the North-East and South-South, respectively.
However, the Dogara group kicked against the party directive, saying since a South-West person had been elected deputy speaker, it would only be morally and constitutionally correct to elect someone from the North-West to become the majority leader. It was, indeed, the refusal of Dogara to zone the offices as recommended by the party that led to the fracas on the floor of the House on June 25, forcing lawmakers to proceed on a four-week break. The speaker argued that his decision was in the interest of “federal character,” but the Gbajabiamila group insisted that party supremacy must prevail.
The same scenario is also playing out in the Senate, where Bukola Saraki, a senator from Kwara State, emerged as Senate president and Ike Ekweremadu, a senator from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, emerged deputy Senate president, on June 9.
Indeed, many had thought that the acceptance of Saraki as Senate president by the APC leadership would douse the tension in the party and the National Assembly. But that has not been the case as the crisis continues to fester. Saraki had refused to acquiesce to the party’s demand that Ahmed Lawan and George Akume should emerge as Senate majority leader and deputy senate majority leader, respectively. Rather, Saraki announced Ali Ndume as Senate majority leader. This was clearly against the letter from Odigie-Oyegun.
In response to the letter on the issue, the Senate president said his hands were tied. The development forced both chambers to postpone their resumption from a short recess until Tuesday, July 28. But there are serious indications that next sessions would be stormy. Already, supporters of Lawan have instituted court action challenging the election of Saraki and Ekweremadu as Senate president and deputy Senate president, respectively. Analysts say that the outcome of the court action, whatever it is, would not settle the issue. They argued that if the court granted the prayers of the aggrieved senators and nullified Saraki and Ekweremadu’s election, it would not translate to an automatic emergence of Lawan as Senate president because there would still be an election to fill the positions and his supporters votes alone will not be enough to help him win because the PDP caucus will definitely vote against him.
They said the only option to get Saraki and Dogara out would be through impeachment. That option also appears to be tricky because 72 senators and 240 House of Representatives members would be required to effect a leadership change in the Senate and House of Representatives. But it is not certain if those opposed to the leadership of Saraki and Dogara would get enough support to throw them out. This is why the APC have no other option but to stick with the leadership of the National Assembly as currently constituted or pursue a genuine reconciliation amongst its members within and outside the federal legislature in its interest.
In any case, there have been insinuations that the leadership crisis rocking the National Assembly is a straight power struggle between former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and national leader of the APC, for the control of the party structures ahead of the 2019 presidential election. It is fervently believed that Saraki has the support of Abubakar because once he emerged as Senate president his first port of call was to the former vice-president’s residence in Abuja. The action was said to have angered Tinubu, who was said to have refused to recognise Saraki’s new status as Senate president. Besides, the emergence of Saraki and Dogara as leaders of the National Assembly is seen in many quarters as slap on the faces of those who originally started the APC. Both Saraki and Dogara and indeed, Abubakar had crossed over to the APC from the PDP.
This is not the first time the National Assembly will be enmeshed in this kind of leadership crisis since 1999. The first time, something close to the current situation happened, was in 1999. At the inauguration of the fourth Senate, the late Evan Enwerem had emerged Senate president against the wish of some interest groups in the legislature. A few months later, he was eventually replaced by the late Chuba Okadigbo, after his supporters lost out in the power play in the Senate. This must be why Ken Nnamani, a former president of the Senate, on Tuesday, July 21, urged the APC to be careful in matters relating to the National Assembly and not jeopardise the delivery of good governance.
Speaking on party supremacy and the election of National Assembly leaders, Nnamani said the party ought to have instilled discipline in its members before they were elected, adding that legislators were only loyal to Nigeria, the constitution and the National Assembly immediately they were elected, thereby relegating party loyalty to being mere formality and secondary. Nnamani warned that the National Assembly should not be treated as the secretariat of any political party but an arm of government responsible for making law for good governance.
Perhaps, Nnamani’s statement made Odigie-Oyegun to admit that the APC made a mistake, which led to the crisis in the National Assembly. Speaking with journalists in Benin, Edo State, on Wednesday, July 22, the APC chairman, said the party was working hard to fashion out “a workable solution to the problem.” He stated that the expected solution would address the issue of indiscipline and also “create an environment in which everyone within the party will find very comfortable to work.”
Odigie-Oyegun said: “I think the reality is there, I don’t think there is any leader that doesn’t realise that Dogara and Senate President Saraki are reality, they are part of life. There is also no leader of the party who does not recognise that this was against the basic position of the party and that has created problem which has brought out issues of discipline, issues of supremacy of the party and others. That is what is engaging us at the moment to hammer out a workable solution to the problem which will address the issue of indiscipline and at the same time create an environment in which everyone within the party will find comfortable to work.
“I hope that at the end of this week, we will arrive at a workable arrangement to put this issue behind us. But it attracted all the attention it had attracted because it was, so to speak, the only subject in town. But now, there are other issues that are beginning to engage the media. I think we will get a little bit less attention as to what is going on in the National Assembly.”
The APC chairman also admitted that the party made a mistake which gave room to the election of some principal officers of the National Assembly. He faulted the position of Ike Ekweremadu as the deputy Senate president under the platform of the opposition PDP. He said there was a parallel meeting among some members of the APC which gave way for the emergence of some key principal officers in the Senate and the House of Representatives but assured Nigerians that the issues “would be taken care of in due course.”
Odigie-Oyegun said the emergence of Ekweremadu as Senate deputy president was an aberration, caused by a big mistake on the part of the APC. “You all know the way it happened; we had an unfortunate incident on the very day of the inauguration of the National Assembly. The situation could easily have been worse, there was a mistake that was made and we have paid for it but that too will be taken care of,” the APC leader said.
Other party chieftains agree with the APC chairman. Tunde Daramola, a chieftain of the APC in Lagos State, also blamed the party for the leadership crisis in the National Assembly. He said if the party had zoned the positions in the National Assembly, the crisis would have been averted.
Similarly, Saraki told journalists in Abuja, that: “If the party had said it had zoned this position to the North-East, Abubakar Bukola Saraki would never have contested for the office of Senate president. But the party said there was no zoning and that it would use merit and all that. It also said anybody from the two zones could contest. That was the point number one.
“On the issue of procedure of the emergence of the principal officers of the party, it is true that the party did send a letter but as you all know, we are guided by the Constitution and the Standing Orders of the Senate. These are two documents that I have taken an oath to ensure that whatever I do as the Senate president, I will abide by their rules. Also, by parliamentary practices and procedures and things that are done as convention, you know that the contents of that letter clearly was not the norm or what they practice in that place. It generally has been the convention that majority of these positions go to the different caucuses of the party and from there, the party meets and recommends. We must be guided by the Standing Orders and by the Constitution. Again, this letter by our party chairman, all the Senators knew the content of the letter, not that it was known only to me. So, there were opportunities also in those zones to implement the content or leave it.”
By Saraki’s stance, it appears that unless the warring groups are able to adopt a give and take attitude, the crisis will not end soon. Consequently, Monday Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and human rights activist, said many Nigerians would be poorer for it. Ubani said the only person to resolve the crisis in the National Assembly is President Muhammadu Buhari. “It is time for President Buhari to come in and help to resolve this crisis. He cannot fold up his arms and says it doesn’t concern him. It does and the only way out for him is to call the two interest groups and talk to them to drop their personal ambition for the common good of the Nigerian society. They will respect and listen to him,” Ubani said.
But will Buhari call his party men to order or will he allow the situation to continue at the expense of good governance the nation has been yearning for? Only time will tell.