The election of the next Senate and House of Representatives frontrunners by National Assembly members devoid of meddling by the executive arm of government and the All Progressive Congress (APC) will not only be good for our democracy, it will also enhance the credibility of President Muhammadu Buhari and his party.
Given the prominent role he allegedly played in the leaked tape that exposed electoral fraud in the 2014 gubernatorial election in Ekiti State shortly before he was nominated as Honourable Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, would Musiliu Obanikoro have been confirmed as a Minister if he had been screened by the House of Representatives led by Aminu Tambuwal instead of a Senate led by David Mark?
Probably yes, but most probably no. Unlike Mark who became the Senate President due to the intervention of the executive arm of government and the ruling party PDP in 2007, and in the process turned the Senate into a rubber stamp house for the executive, Tambuwal’s emergence as the Speaker of the House of Representatives was as a result of a democratic process initiated by members who felt they were entitled to choose their leader rather than the executive and their party imposing one on them.
Tambuwal, for all you can say about him, has shown loyalty to the House, the constitution and the masses, and has refrained from doing anything that impinges on the integrity of the House, in comparison to his counterpart in the Senate. The House of Representatives would probably have told Obanikoro to clear allegations of electoral fraud levied against him before he could be screened. But for Mark, the confirmation of Obanikoro was just one of the many undistinguished acts performed by the senate under him, all in his bid to return favours to his benefactors. Mark turned a hallowed chamber, peopled by distinguished men in saner societies, into a chamber of anything goes in Nigeria.
As we begin the era of change in Nigeria from May 29, the mere thought of any party or the executive arm of government meddling in the election of principal officers of the National Assembly is nauseating, it must not be entertained. It not only violates democratic principles, but will compromise the independence of the legislature which is duty bound to check the excesses of the executive. As we have seen with Mark in the last eight years, the senate was a rubber stamp one, an extension of the executive, which failed to perform its oversight functions.
Principal Officers of the National Assembly ‘imposed’ in the past always remained ‘good boys’. Whenever they tried to assert their authority, they were either impeached by the executive or forced to resign. When Olusegun Obasanjo was President from 1999-2007, we had a high turnover of Senate Presidents – from Evan Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Anyim Pius Anyim, Adolphus Wabara, to Ken Nnamani – because of the executive arm of government’s stranglehold on the senate.
The decision of members of the outgoing House of Representatives to shun the imposition of their leadership by the PDP, which led to the election of Tambuwal gave the nation an independent House that not only upheld the constitution, but also ensured that requests and demands from the executive were debated and passed on merit. The loyalty of the House was to Nigeria and Nigerians, and the constitution.
Imposition of leaders by either the party or the executive will also put a question mark on the integrity of the new Senate and House of Representatives. How will role models, human right activists, social critics, and other highly placed and respected Nigerians who have made their mark in several areas of human endeavour feel if they are perceived by Nigerians as members of a National Assembly whose leaders are selected for them to rubber stamp executive decisions, in the way village headmasters select prefects?
It is equally good for the incoming President, General Buhari, to have an independent National Assembly. Though he has shown over the years that he is a man of integrity and is highly disciplined, the high level of sycophancy in the presidency dictates that Buhari needs independent minded leaders of the National Assembly who will tell him when he is wrong, rather than leaders who will be massaging his ego, even when he is wrong, simply because of the patronage they desire.
In the past, getting members of the National Assembly to back candidates of the party or the executive as leaders were often done with bags of ‘Ghana Must Go’ changing hands. The mere insinuation of this will not be good for either the APC or the Buhari-led executive that won the election based on its promise to fight corruption, a cancer that is threatening the existence of Nigeria as a nation.
Lastly, rather than bothering themselves with the choice of the principal officers of the National Assembly, I think APC and Buhari should be scouring the nooks and crannies of Nigeria for credible and knowledgeable Nigerians who will work as ministers and provide solutions to national problems like power, corruption, education, healthcare, security, infrastructure and other aspects of our lives that need change.
If APC controls the leadership of the National Assembly but fails to deliver on it promises, Nigerians will give the party a red card in 2019, like they gave PDP during this past March 2015 elections, so the party leaders should concentrate on substance rather than chasing shadows.
Olukayode Thomas, a two-time winner of the CNN Africa Journalist of the Year Award, writes from Lagos.