Tomorrow’s projection ranges from an unprecedented landslide at the lower house and a decisive victory at the upper house for the president’s men. That way, president Buhari and the APC may get two for the price of one. And, if it’s true that the National Assembly leadership had been the stumbling block along the nation’s pathways to progress, we would start to see what’s different when tomorrow downs.


Dateline: National Assembly, Tuesday June 11, 2019.

Barring circumstances beyond the purview of man to handle, the proclamation of the Ninth National Assembly will happen tomorrow, its members sworn-in to the oaths of office and allegiance and its presiding officers and their deputies elected.

Unlike the events that shaped the emergence of its leaders in the eigth session that lapsed last Saturday, the predetermined factors that will throw up tomorrow’s leaders of the national assembly are manifest and obvious and the contest in both the Senate and the House of Representatives is highly predictable. State power will triumph over powerless forces and the combined resolve of the ruling party and the mighty executive arm of government will be in display and would prevail.

The 2019 process is programmed to deliver on the will of Nigeria’s dominant power centres which have congregated, united and forged a consensus on the direction that tomorrow’s National Assembly elections would assume. Unlike four years ago when opposing factions within the All Progressives Congress (APC) took advantage of their ill-prepared ruling party and a less than two weeks old Presidency, tomorrow’s strategies and arrangements appear sealed and delivered and would therefore not produce the strange leaders that the stakeholders and wielders of state power do not want to handle the gavel, or to be escorted into the legislative chambers by mace-bearing sergeant-at-arms.

In a non-Westminster system like ours, Nigerians keep wondering why the executive branch of government led by the president and state governors would rather poke-nose into the affairs of the parliament, the doctrine of the separation of powers, notwithstanding. What is it that explains the appetite of the federal and state executive branches not to bother at all when the press brands them (contemptuously) as control freaks? Incidentally, 2019 is the 70th anniversary of George Orwell publishing of 1984, his grand classic that captured the instinct of man for the control of another, under a totalitarian setting.

Four years ago when President Muhammadu Buhari was asked if he had preferred candidates for the leadership of the upper and lower chambers, he was quoted as having said, “I can work with anybody!” With the unending drama between President Nicolas Maduro and Parliamentary Speaker Juan Guaido in Venezuela, for example, I am not sure if that scenario alone is not enough a disincentive for the president to retreat, and say in self-reversal, “I can no longer work with anybody”.

A few days ago, American House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took her mutual enmity with President Donald Trump too far when she reportedly expressed her wish for him to be handcuffed and bundled to prison, after serving his term of office. In contrast, Ms. Pelosi was supportive of and submissive to her democratic party’s President Barack Obama, whose name she enjoyed extolling to the high heavens at every opportunity before his exit from the oval office. Apart from securing themselves from the ‘mischief’ of their parliamentary rivals, there are numerous other reasons why a nation’s president will prefer a collaborative, nay supportive, parliamentary leadership to work with, in a hand-holding fashion.

While the executive is charged with policy-making, the legislature supplies the framework with which the president’s instruments are wrapped in legal cover. In Nigeria, as in anywhere else, the rivalry often expressed in altercations between the executive, on one hand, and the legislature, on the other hand, have been more pronounced in the 20 years of the Fourth Republic. And of the four presidents we have had since 1999, it is obvious that the intensity of the conflict between the two institutions have been more severe under Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, than during the governments of late Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.

In the period under review, the presidents become restless every budget circle on account of the long-drawn haggling and trade-offs before appropriation bills are processed. Even at that, each of the four presidents of the Fourth Republic only grudgingly signed the annual budget document year-in-year out, after it would have been turned upside-down by the parliament. Although part of the blame resides at the doorsteps of the president’s incompetent aides and an overstretched Budget Office, the stalemate ritual has remained a source of recurring conflicts between the warring arms of government without resolution.

On account of their military background, Obasanjo and Buhari would seem to perceive the parliament as an irritant and could only tolerate it as another “necessary evil.” Conversely, the duo of Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan – as civilians and former state governors – showed, to the contrary, that the National Assembly can indeed be in a happy catholic marriage with the executive branch on the basis of mutual understanding that necessitates co-habiting and functioning in the same space, with as less squabbles as possible.

As proof of the amity and affection between House Speaker Dimeji Bankole and late Umaru Yar’Adua in the past, there was nearly zero-friction between the Presidency and the green chamber. Indeed, as one of the trusted confidents of the late president outside the Yar’Adua family, Speaker Bankole was reputed to have unimpeded access to the dying president in the course of his terminal illness, between 2009 and 2010.

Senate President David Mark too posted a successful leadership tenure largely because he and President Jonathan had cultivated each other and led their institutions to jell very well, the animosity between House Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and the former president notwithstanding. Far from being so, there is no rule that renders the legislature as a “rubber stamp” on account of its leaders’ relationship with the executive arm on the basis of constitutionally-derived mutual respect for the doctrine of the separation of their powers.

On two occasions, I witnessed how the steep mien of President Muhammadu Buhari instantly gave way to radiating smiles at the sight of Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, revealing the good mix in their chemistry. In governance, the end more often justifies the means. And so be it, if the harmony between a parliamentary speaker and a country’s president is all it will take to improve on governance processes, political stability and development. That is the promise tomorrow holds if Gbajabiamila’s team ascends to the leadership of the Ninth House of Representatives.

In 2015, the National Assembly was more or less designated an enemy institution by regime hawks as a consequence of how Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara emerged as presiding officers, contrary to the will of their party leaders.

Apart from state power, however, commentators and analysts would need to take note of other enablers which, taken together or otherwise, propel candidates to power in the politics of the National Assembly. Geo-political alliances would play the most significant role in tomorrow’s contest. Although a few APC members in the House of Representatives are still in the race for the hot seat as of the time I am writing this, the Femi Gbajabiamila/Wase ticket is more convincing, and sure-footed, following its firm root in the marriage between the three political zones in the North and the South-West zone, in addition to the votes of progressive members of the PDP caucus, mainly from the South-South and South-East zones. As at last night, members from the mainstream APC states In the North had mustered 155 out of the 181 votes (86 per cent) for the Femi/Wase group to climb to power. They were endorsed by over 280 members in what looked like an open electoral fair. Therein lies the optimism of their supporters as a done deal.

Incidentally, in as much as politics is rooted in sentiments, elections into the National Assembly in Nigeria are not always predicated around the worn-out songs of alienation, marginalisation or even the decimation of a so-called race, nation, or ethnic nationality. Since the institution of the parliament is run through a system of standing committees, the elections would be won and lost on the basis of negotiations for the committees’ leadership on individual and group basis.

As the law suit against Femi’s candidature looks fated to be entangled in arguments around issues of locus standi of the litigants, the organisational strength of his team, its outreach and the citizens’ goodwill it enjoys all point to the new speaker’s sight at this year’s maiden June 12 democracy day at Eagle Square, in company of the president, the Senate president and the acting chief justice of Nigeria, as heads of branches of government.

For me, personally, Femi’s selling points are in his outstanding competence, political dexterity and personal humility. A versatile attorney, he has been a principal officer twice – both as a minority, and majority leader in the Seventh and Eighth House of Representatives, respectively. I am not sure if any of those jockeying for the position have such items on their profile. His opponents say he is a god-son to an all-conquering godfather. The problem with this label is in the reality that all politicians are godsons of godfathers globally, or the lackeys of corporate sponsors everywhere. In the United States where corporations and lobby groups are most active in congress and at the White House, it is no news when the country’s president and congressmen are branded as puppets of the military industrial complex (MIC), agents of a farmer’s network, or a racist lobby.

In the Eighth House, I have witnessed how a motion eulogising the enterprising instincts of the chief executive of Innoson Motors passed through effortlessly, only for him to become a regular guest of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC), months afterwards. The fact is, the parliament, although regarded as the engine room of democracy, is but a vulnerable institution easily penetrable by vested interests everywhere. With the four-year brilliant performance of Speaker Yakubu Dogara, the emergent consensus is that the ascendancy of Gbajabiamila would guarantee the seamless continuity in confidence and knowledge required to drive the legislative wheels of the green chamber. Most importantly, a win by the ruling party in both chambers is expected to usher in an era of stable and predictable legislative-parliamentary relations.

Tomorrow’s projection ranges from an unprecedented landslide at the lower house and a decisive victory at the upper house for the president’s men. That way, president Buhari and the APC may get two for the price of one. And, if it’s true that the National Assembly leadership had been the stumbling block along the nation’s pathways to progress, we would start to see what’s different when tomorrow downs.

Sani Zorro was until recently a member of the House of Representatives from Jigawa State.