Stuck in the Mud

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Dan Agbese

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| By Dan Agbese |

I WELCOMED APC as the cure for our political headache. Now it has become our political headache. When I look up, I see my hands up in the air in despair. It does not feel good.

The party appears to be offering itself as an offensive disappointment to the millions of its supporters who believe in it and its leadership. It has so far proved inept in handling the leadership crises in the national assembly. It caused the crises in the first place. We are all victims of the ineptitude. An anxious nation is on tenterhooks. If a party cannot enforce discipline among its members, it cannot build cohesiveness and offer a united front in tackling the problems the people and the nation face – and expect President Buhari, more than anyone else to have the courage and the commitment to tackle them.

Some of us may find what the party is doing to itself at the national assembly amusing. We gotta laugh only to cry. It threatens to cripple the progress we have made so far with sixteen years of unbroken civil rule under our belt. If you can afford to laugh at that, then your sense of fun is in a free fall.

The sight of the honourable members of the House of Representatives going at one another last week did not bother me. Italian legislators were quite good at this sort of thing. Flying chairs and flying fists were part of the legislative fun, Italiana.

The house members added comic relief to the sad saga in the national assembly. It was not the first time that they settled their argument that way. Ask Senator Dino Melaye, former member of the House of Representatives. Nigerians who are old enough would remember the pictures of honourable members of the Western House scrambling through windows for dear life in the first republic. The rule appears to be that if it takes fisticuffs to settle a legislative argument, then give the fists a chance. If it takes a few broken heads and torn clothes to make our lawmakers honourable men and women, then so be it.

The honourable members whose clothes were torn to shreds have nothing to worry about. They have a dress war chest at public expense. Yes, we feed them; we house them; we provide them with state of the art cars, we clothe them and we put oodles in their pockets. It is the way the cookie stands.

So, what exactly is happening to APC, the party in which the nation has invested its hopes in legitimate changes that would at least begin the delicate and tortuous process of rebuilding our nation? The answer begs not to be ignored. Within only one month of taking over, the green field of hope is turning into the brown colours of a dim future for the party and its millions of supporters. Everyone can see that the party is riven because no one seems to know any longer who is driving it. Its leadership is shaky now at best.

All right, Chief John Oyegun is the national chairman of the party but I wonder who listens to him. The members of the party in the national assembly treat him with contempt. Senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki, would not even condescend to read Oyegun’s letter to his colleagues in the national assembly in which the man conveyed to the senators the considered thinking of the party in the sharing of leadership positions in the senate. I wonder what name we have for this. Legislative arrogance?

Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu is the national leader of the party but like Oyegun, he is sidelined and similarly treated with contempt by the honourable members elected on the platform of the party.

Their treatment of President Buhari is not pretty either. They make the man look detached from the realities and the crises his party is going through that threaten to either cage him or cripple him or both.

The legislators are clearly questioning the right of their party to give them legitimate instructions on how it should go about its business. It would be difficult to find anything more disappointing. This is not, in my view, a dawn in legislative independence. In their macho ambition to assert their so-called independence, the APC members of the national assembly appear to forget that political parties, being the only legitimate platforms for elective offices, are the primary custodians of the democratic culture. All cultures are nurtured. What the honourable members do to their leaders today have implications and ramifications well beyond these times. It may, if not properly handled and checkmated, force the party to look into the water and see the unpleasant face of its uncertain future staring back at it. The word doom pops up.

The legislature occupies a special place in growing our democracy because it is the youngest and the least experienced in governance among the three arms of government. It is only 16 years old. It was the only arm of government that disappeared during the military regime. Therefore, it has no legislative culture to speak of.

During the first eight years of the return to civil rule under his watch, President Obasanjo dictated the leadership of the national assembly. The senate leadership was zoned to the South-East. Being liberal democrats, the Igbo ensured that each of the five states in their zone produced a senate president. Each senate president, except the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, was Obasanjo’s personal choice.

The fine point is that his interference was an abuse of the separation of powers and I would imagine that it traumatised the honourable members. He left nothing to chance in beefing up his power, even at the expense of democracy itself, if it came to that. That was extreme but Obasanjo has never been uncomfortable with the extreme.

Former senate president, David Mark, spent his eight years in office establishing, nurturing and growing the legislative culture. The primary duty of the legislature is to make laws for the good governance of the country. But the proper discharge of that primary duty rests on the moral pillar of the lawgiver being the first in line to obey the law. Mark’s fine work too may turn out to be a victim of the current legislative arrogance.

President Buhari was right to choose to do things differently. He takes the separation of powers seriously. He refused to tell the legislators who their leaders should be. He made it clear he would work with anyone they chose as their leaders. Good. But the legislators took his hands off policy to mean that the party has no right to decide and enforce the due process by which the choices would be made.

Now we have this sweet anomaly of one nation, two presidents. From the way he is carrying on, it seems that Saraki sees himself as president of the legislative branch, equal in all respects to Buhari, as president of the executive branch.

I wonder who knows his game plan or whose script he is acting. I hope there is no conspiracy to cage or cripple the president or both. This country is yearning for change. The crises are a veritable drag on the expectations of the people. APC leaders cannot afford to let the crises linger and push us back to our immediate past history none of is proud of. While the crises last, Buhari is a lonely man. He has no team to work with and it will thus take him longer to unfold his plans for the kind of country he wants to turn Nigeria into.

I know the crises will eventually be resolved with the usual patch-patch compromises. It won’t do. The party should take the challenge by its legislators seriously and rise to it. Its leaders must insist on enforcing the decisions of the party and make it binding on all its members, no matter how important they think of themselves. Patch-patch compromises give the deceptive feeling that all is well, at least in the short term. In the long run, they resolve nothing, solve no problems and postpone the rainy day.

— Jun 29, 2015 @ 17:25 GMT

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