Defections: Saraki Must Surrender the Crown, By Ugoji Egbujo
If Saraki refuses to surrender the crown, he invites chaos. The leadership of a legislative house is not dedicated to the majority party for only moral reasons. It belongs to the majority party for pragmatic reasons as well. If the majority feels shortchanged, it can make the Senate ungovernable… And Saraki must prioritise the interest of the country.
Adams Oshiomhole is right. Saraki must surrender the crown. The position of Senate president is the birthright of the majority party in the Senate. It is not transferable. Saraki is free to switch parties, since he and his reformist colleagues smartly created the impression of factionalisation to avoid the anger of the law. He can even switch citizenship. But he is not free to travel with the legislative mandate given the majority party by the electorate, to a minority party.
The law is made up of legal rules and conventions. That the Constitution isn’t explicit about such usurpation does not mean it endorses chicanery. The Constitution flourishes on moral hygiene. Legal rules are basic minimum acceptable standards of conduct. The law expects society to function at much higher standards than those set by legal rules.
It is not even debatable. But if any is in doubt, then he must look at the jurisdictions. We borrowed this practice. The majority party in any house of legislature leads that house. Conventions are agreed social rules that bind. While they are not justifiable, democracy cannot function without them, without such background understandings. If the Peoples Democratic Party accepts this position, then we can all move into the question of who constitutes the majority after these defections.
Democracy gives qualified power to the majority. The decision of the majority is the assumed decision of all, except where it contravenes the Constitution. When Nigerians go to the polls to elect legislators, it is assumed that they have been asked to weigh the legislative agenda of the contesting parties. When a party wins the majority seats in the Senate, for instance, the right assumption is that Nigerians preferred the legislative agenda of that party in the Senate. And the legislative agenda of the party cannot be prosecuted by a leadership of the Senate headed by a member of a minority party; an opposing party. The minority party lost the contest. Inherent in its minority status therefore, is the rejection of its legislative proposal by the people.
The mandate given a party in the Senate cannot be transferred to any other party, except where that party loses its majority standing. When senators defect, their constituencies possess the power to recall them if they feel betrayed. Until they are recalled, it must be assumed that the defections are the wishes of their constituents. So, it is possible that a sufficient number of defections can convert a minority party into a majority party and transfer the mandate in that chamber.
Saraki retains the powers of Senate president, even when the Senate is on recess. He retains the power to reconvene that house. Such an important power cannot lie in the hands of the minority for one more night. Saraki has to reconvene the house immediately and announce his resignation.
But the onus must rest on the party claiming a newly attained majority status to prove its claim. And until it can prove such a claim, it cannot be bestowed rights and privileges of the majority party. The party that should be in a haste to prove a new status, if it exists, is the PDP.
The PDP has not convinced anyone it has the majority in the Senate. The PDP is hesitant. So Saraki must drop the crown.
But can Saraki do it at his own time? No, he has to do it now. The argument that he can wait for the Senate to resume in September is flawed. Saraki retains the powers of Senate president, even when the Senate is on recess. He retains the power to reconvene that house. Such an important power cannot lie in the hands of the minority for one more night. Saraki has to reconvene the house immediately and announce his resignation.
Some have argued that Tambuwal didn’t resign when he decamped in 2014. Tambuwal was a bad precedent. Bad precedents can’t be followed. And that is why Saraki must not follow Tambuwal and entrench a very ugly precedent. Edwin Ume-Ezoke has been cited. In 1979, Ume-Ezoke became the speaker of the House of Representatives. He belonged to a minority, the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP). In 1979, the NPP and National Party of Nigeria (NPN) went into a political alliance. No party had a workable majority to run the legislative business of the National Assembly. So the two parties agreed to work together and the NPP was given leadership of the House of Representatives.
The 1979 scenario wasn’t an anomaly. The electorate, in giving no party a functional majority in the legislature, must have intended an alliance to be made. The right interpretation must be that the electorate was unconvinced of the legislative agenda of any one single party. It must have preferred a marriage of agenda. And it must have known that in such marriages, there would be give and take, and inevitable political power sharing. So Ume-Ezoke was intended and endorsed by the electorate.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) may not have the numbers to impeach Saraki. The stringent requirements for impeachment were inserted to curb fickleness. They were not crafted to protect usurpers. The APC, if it keeps its majority status, will have the numbers to shut down the Senate until it retrieves its mandate.
The legislators, in choosing the leadership of the chambers, must respect the wishes of the electorate. And they are not expected to ask if it is in the Constitution that they respect the wishes of the electorate. They are not free to award the leadership of a house to the minority party, except that minority is part of a majority coalition. And it is not important that parties in Nigeria have no real legislative agenda. A mind must be ascribed to the electorate. And that mind can be read only in electoral outcomes.
If Saraki refuses to surrender the crown, he invites chaos. The leadership of a legislative house is not dedicated to the majority party for only moral reasons. It belongs to the majority party for pragmatic reasons as well. If the majority feels shortchanged, it can make the Senate ungovernable. The country cannot afford a dysfunctional Senate. And Saraki must prioritise the interest of the country.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) may not have the numbers to impeach Saraki. The stringent requirements for impeachment were inserted to curb fickleness. They were not crafted to protect usurpers. The APC, if it keeps its majority status, will have the numbers to shut down the Senate until it retrieves its mandate. The majority party has a duty to the electorate not to cede its mandate to the minority.
The resolutions in the Senate are carried by a simple majority. The decisions to discipline any erring member must be supported by a simple majority. Our politicians must build a political culture underpinned by democratic principles. Enduring political traditions are not built on mercenary ideas. The position of Senate president is allocated by the electorate to the majority party. Not even all the senators acting in unison can change it without undermining the electorate. Except they change party affiliations.
Our politicians claim statesmanship. But they seem married to short-termism. The defections have polarised the Senate. It’s control has acquired a new national significance. Saraki must find a sufficient number of defectors to the PDP or honourably abdicate the throne.
Ugoji Egbujo is a member of the Board of Trustees of Centre for Counter Fraud Awareness.