Battle For The Soul Of National Assembly

The search for political relevance in the build up to 2015 polls is taking its toll on legislation at the National Assembly, reports Omololu Ogunmade

A pall of darkness has fallen on federal legislation in the country in the last two weeks, as both chambers of the National Assembly have put the two chambers of the federal legislature under lock and key.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, defected from Peoples Democratic Party to All Progressives Congress on October 28 and announced the adjournment of sittings till December 3, while PDP senators last Tuesday shut down legislation in protest against alleged losses at the party’s ward congresses on November 1.

According to the PDP lawmakers, President Goodluck Jonathan has handed PDP structures in their various states to the governors, leaving the legislators in the cold. Therefore, they opted to employ the boycott of legislative activities as a way to compel the president to guarantee them return tickets to the Senate next year.

The situation shocked many Nigerians, as they frowned on the situation where a key institution like the federal legislature was turned into a tool for the pursuit of lawmakers’ personal political ambitions.

All through last week, the social media was awash with rain of curses and abuses on the representatives at the National Assembly. They were accused of taking the people for a ride by choosing to use an institution meant for the advancement of the collective national interest as a tool of vendetta in pursuit of self-centred goals.

The Genesis
When Tambuwal shut down the House of Representatives on October 28 by adjourning sittings to December 3, his intention, obviously, was to exploit the tool of adjournment in violation of the 2014 legislative calendar to avert repercussions that would follow his defection. Tambuwal believed frayed nerves would have been calmed when the House reopens for legislation on December 3.

The speaker, who is also a lawyer, has been accused of defecting in violation of Section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that any defection that is not predicated on factionalisation of the lawmaker’s original party or its merger with another political party is null and void and ultra vires.

The constitution provides that anyone found culpable under this provision shall have his/her seat declared vacant. But Tambuwal alleged that there was “a development” in the PDP chapter of his home state which warranted his defection.

It would be recalled that in the same House of Representatives in 2012, a member who represented Akure South federal constituency of Ondo State, Ifedayo Abegunde, lost his seat after a court ruled that his defection from Labour Party to the then Action Congress of Nigeria was unconstitutional because there was no division in LP at the time. The judgement was later upheld by the Court of Appeal.

However, while Tambuwal’s defection did not come to many as a surprise, the action of senators took many by surprise as the Senate had been noted as an ardent supporter of Jonathan since inception. Any request from Jonathan sailed through largely unhindered, despite objections from opposition senators.

Many were shocked last Tuesday when PDP senators wore long faces into the chamber. The session was presided over by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, while Mark was attending a National Council of State meeting at the Presidential Villa. The day’s drama started after the adoption of votes and proceedings for October 28.

Thereafter, Ekweremadu read a letter addressed to Mark by the president, imploring the Senate to confirm one Okwu Joseph Nnanna as a Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria.

Few minutes later, the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, who had reportedly lost out at the ward congress in his home state, Cross River, immediately moved a motion that all items on the Order Paper be stood down and sitting adjourned till the following day to enable them attend a caucus meeting of PDP senators.

The motive behind the suspension of the day’s sitting was not immediately known until one of the senators volunteered information on why the action was taken and how the trend would continue for so long.

According to him, PDP structures in the states had been handed to governors while senators on the party’s platform were stripped of return tickets. This, he said, implied that their political careers had been ruined. He also insisted that the president should redeploy the governors for whom he had shown preference to legislate for his government.

The senator talked tough, saying in expression of their bitterness and betrayal, they had declared support for the defection of Tambuwal from the PDP to APC. Not done yet, he added that the upper chamber would team up with the House of Representatives to impeach the president if it became necessary.

Indeed, the senators made real their threat to sustain boycott of legislation as they repeated the same action on Wednesday, throwing out all matters slated for deliberation on the Order Paper as they again marched out of the chamber, shutting it down the second time.

But unlike the situation the previous day, when there was no serious opposition to PDP senators’ action, their opposition counterparts tried to no avail to stop them from halting legislation the second day but Senate President David Mark ruled in favour of the former. In their desperate bid to let the president know that they merely wanted to use legislation during the period of budget consideration to settle scores, the Senate didn’t adjourn Wednesday’s sitting to the following day (November 6) but rather till November 11.

Angry Youths
As if torrents of abuses poured on the senators on the social media during the week was not enough, a group of angry youths opted to take their anger further on Wednesday as they stormed the National Assembly under the aegis of Nigerian Youth Movement for Peace Empowerment and Transformation. The group besieged the National Assembly complex, threatening fire and brimstone in protest against the senators’ action as well as the simultaneous closure of the lower chamber.

The group issued a 10-day ultimatum to the federal lawmakers to resume legislative business or face violent and forceful take-over of the National Assembly, which they claimed the senators were not worthy to occupy. The youths, who came in their numbers, said they were enraged by the federal lawmakers’ decision to shut down both chambers of the federal legislature in pursuit of their selfish objectives.

The group’s spokesman, Rex Anighoro, described the Senate’s decision to shut down the chamber as a show of impunity, selfishness and an aberration that will not be allowed to go unchallenged.

Anighoro said, “The odious oddity is the senators’ decision to engage in macabre dance. Nigeria’s union is sick and needs medical attention. These people are serving their personal and parochial interests. They expressed solidarity for Tambuwal’s defection not on the basis of morality but because of their selfish interests.

“Because they lost at their ward congresses, therefore, they shut the Senate and declared solidarity for Tambuwal with the intention to put the president under pressure. That is why we are saying no to impunity in every stratum of government. This is an aberration.

The people of Nigeria are not in their calculations. They are only concerned about the survival of their selfish interests.”
On Tambuwal, Anighoro added, “It’s a shame for Tambuwal to go on recess when he’s needed most. Members of Nigeria’s National Assembly are the highest paid in the world while our military are the least paid in the world. They shut down the National Assembly when Adamawa, Borno, Yobe are on fire and yet money keeps coming into their pockets. It is a sin on them. People ought to rise up against this impunity. It is a disservice to us.

“Tambuwal ought to be representing the youth groups. All over the world, leadership age is coming down. We expected Tambuwal to give us hope but, sadly, he is eating the same pie. We are saying the House should reconvene. If they don’t reconvene in the next 10 days, we will mobilise all youth groups to compel them to reconvene, else, we will pull down this gate and the congress of the people will take over the National Assembly. If they don’t reconvene, it shows they are the real Boko Haram (which should be fought).”

Also speaking, Bishop Amakiri, said since Tambuwal, a lawyer, knew the constitutional provision in Section 68(1g), he should have honourably resigned after announcing his defection on October 28.

Opposition Senators Enraged
Unlike the situation on Tuesday, when APC senators looked indifferent to the sudden suspension of legislative business, they attempted to stop PDP senators from further adjourning proceedings in pursuit of their personal goals on Wednesday.

Expectedly, however, they could not muster the number to halt the trend, thus, affirming the age-long axiom that the minority will have their say while the majority will have their way.

After the adjournment, one of the opposition senators, Babafemi Ojudu (APC, Ekiti Central), lambasted his PDP colleagues, accusing them of foisting on them and the entire nation the alleged impunity reigning in their party. Ojudu said the PDP senators were the architects of their own misfortune, as they were reaping whirlwind from the wind they had earlier sown. He also threatened that if APC senators had their way, they would reopen the chamber on Thursday and carry out their legislative assignment.
“Now, they have seen injustice, they are fighting. We have seen injustice for more than two and half years. We wanted to fight, our colleagues did not allow us to fight. Why must it be when it affects us that we act?” he queried.

“People should have standards. Now that they have seen that a lot of them are no longer welcome back in their homes, they have realised that they have made themselves slaves to the executive, they are shouting. When you present yourself as a slave, definitely, you will be treated as a slave. That is the consequence of their actions over the years. But Nigeria voted them here to come and work. We must work… It is unfortunate that the 2015 budget will be affected but we are in the minority, we have our say but they have their way.”

President’s Attention
The central idea of the PDP senators’ action was to force a change in the attitude of the president and the PDP leadership to the legislators and ensure their return to the Senate next year. And since there are obvious threats from APC to break the seeming invincibility of PDP as the dominant political party since 1999, Jonathan did not fail to summon the aggrieved senators to a meeting on Wednesday night. But the meeting scheduled for Wednesday night did not hold until Thursday, probably, because of the president’s trip to Ougadougou, the Burkinabe capital.

The meeting was also attended by members of the National Working Committee of PDP and governors. It was learnt that the meeting adopted a proposal that at least two senators from each state would be allowed to return to the National Assembly next year. It remains to be seen how this will work out, as the resolution does not stop governors itching to seek election into the Senate from doing so. Having got some relief, the senators would be eager to work this week.

Senators Who May Not Return
At the last count, PDP senators whose governors are warming up to replace include James Manager (Delta South), Barnabas Gemade (Benue North-east), Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu West), Nkechi Nwaogu (Abia Central), and Alloysius Etok (Akwa Ibom North-west).

In states such as Akwa Ibom, Benue, and Enugu, the battle for supremacy over Senate seats has been so fierce in the past one year that the affected senators and their governors have engaged in open confrontations in the media.
Other senators whose governors want to replace are Paulinus Nwagu (Ebonyi Central), Isa Galaudu (Kebbi North), Sardiq Yar’Adua (Katsina Central), and Adamu Gumba (Bauchi South).

While Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State is said to be preparing to replace Nwagu, his Kebbi State counterpart, Saidu Dakingari, is also said to be eyeing Galaudu’s seat. In the same vein, while Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema of PDP may wrest power from Yar’Adua of APC, his Bauchi State counterpart, Isa Yuguda, is said to be interested in taking Gumba’s seat.

But the case of Ndoma-Egba (Cross River Central) is quite different from that of his counterparts, as Governor Liyel Imoke has declared that he would not seek any elective office in 2015. However, Imoke is said to have anointed John Owan-Enoh, who currently represents Obubra/Etung federal constituency of Cross River State in the lower chamber.

Ndoma-Egba, hitherto said to be Imoke’s friend, fell out with the governor after he allegedly took one Jedy Agba to the Presidency to solicit presidential support for his governorship ambition without the governor’s prior knowledge.

The governor was said to have viewed this as an affront and vowed to ensure he doesn’t have his cake and eat it. Since then, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria has been fighting the battle of his life. But it ended in his alleged loss at the November 1 ward congress.

It was, however, learnt that Mark had been working to ensure that Ekweremadu and Ndoma-Egba return with him next year. Will he succeed? Only time can tell.

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