There is a need for the majority party to undertake a full appraisal of the facts and circumstances which brought about the development, particularly when it is considered that what is ultimately at stake is not the interest of the party but the interest of Nigeria.
Last week I discussed the controversy sparked by the recently concluded elections into the leadership of the 8th National Assembly. I stated that the elections complied with the law as the required quorum was formed before the commencement of the elections.
Without a doubt the elections which produced Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively continue to draw attention and if media reports are anything to go by, continue to present some difficulties for the ruling party whose preferred candidates lost at the elections. That this is so is apparent from the press release of the ruling party’s spokesman in which he stated as follows amongst others:
“Senator Bukola and Hon Dogara are not the candidates of the APC and a majority of its National Assembly members-elect for the positions of Senate president and House speaker. The party duly met and conducted a straw poll and clear candidates emerged for the posts of Senate president, deputy Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives, supported by a majority of all senators-elect and members-elect of the House of Representatives. All National Assembly members-elect who emerged on the platform of the party are bound by that decision…The party is supreme and its interest is superior to that of its individual members”
The spokesman also stated that the party would in a bid to install discipline, sanction members who had refused to obey its decision on its preferred candidates for the positions. It is clear from the above that the ruling party feel betrayed by its own members who were elected into public office on its platform. It is also obvious that the party feels that its interests, as indicated by its choice of candidates must prevail over whatever is the individual choices of its members. This stance has left many wondering whether the party was not asking too much of its elected members. As a matter of fact, many who have been quick to congratulate both Saraki and Dogarahave hinged their support on what they term as the positive significance of their emergence, despite the opposition of their party, for the democratic process in Nigeria. I intend to examine this against the background of the procedure in the United States of America in the election into the office of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
UNITED STATES SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Like Nigeria, the United States operates a bicameral legislative system comprised of the Senate and the House of Representatives. However unlike the Nigerian Senate which elects a President as was done in the case of Senator Saraki, the Vice-President of the United States actually doubles as the President of the US Senate. However in modern times most Vice-Presidents have not taken up this responsibility and same is normally taken up by an elected president pro tempore (Latin for “president for a time”) who acts in the absence of the Vice President.
However in relation to the House of Representatives, the situation is similar to what obtains in Nigeria. Like in Nigeria, the speaker is elected on the very first day of the sitting of the House. In modern practice, the Speaker is firstly pre-selected by the majority party from among its senior leaders. Wikipedia reports that it is usually obvious within two or three weeks of a House election who the new Speaker will be. As a matter of fact, when a minority party becomes the majority, the minority leader of the House is often selected by his party to become the speaker of the new House. It is on record that the Democrats have always followed this pattern while the Republicans in 1919 refused to select their then minority leader James Robert Mann as speaker when they assumed power. This point is significant for Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila who was reportedly the choice of the ruling party was the minority leader when the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was in the majority.
Furthermore, it is expected that members of the House in the United States would vote for their party’s candidate. If they do not, they usually vote for someone else in their party or vote “present”. Those who vote for the other party’s candidate often face serious consequences, up to and including the loss of seniority. The last instance where a representative voted for the other party’s candidate was recorded in 2000, when Democrat Jim Traficant of Ohio voted for Republican Dennis Hastert. In response, the Democrats stripped him of his seniority and he lost all of his committee posts. Again this is significant for it shows that the action of the ruling party which has described the conduct of its members who voted against its preferred candidates as a betrayal and threatened to sanction them, is not without precedent.
Consequent upon the above, the stance of the All Progressive Congress (APC) since the outcome of the elections must be placed in the proper perspective of a party which understandably feels that it has been denied that which is its right.
However it is also my view that the party must not stop at bemoaning its plight and threatening to sanction its members who went against its directive. There is a need for the majority party to undertake a full appraisal of the facts and circumstances which brought about the development, particularly when it is considered that what is ultimately at stake is not the interest of the party but the interest of Nigeria. This is why the argument that the emergence of Saraki and Dogara demonstrates a coming of age in Nigerian politics is one that cannot be easily discountenanced. Many share the view that their election portends the best for our democracy as Nigerians are by it guaranteed a leadership of the National Assembly that will in the discharge of its duties act without the constraints of party or even personal considerations, which howsoever desirable they may be at times, have as shown by experience, hampered effective legislative duties and reduced the potency and efficiency of what should be an important arm of government. It is difficult to disagree with this view.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, SAN CON