The on-going fight over the leader- ship of the 9th National Assembly leadership is throwing up issues reflecting on the imperfection of the 1999 Constitution as it concerns the provisions of Section 50.
Section 50 of the constitution states that: ‘There shall be a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves; and (b) a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.’
Section 90, 91 and 92 of the constitution also states: ‘There shall be a House of As- sembly for each of the states of the federa- tion. Subject to the provisions of this consti- tution, a House of Assembly of a state shall
consist of three or four times the number of seats which that state has in the House of Representatives divided in a way to reflect, as far as possible nearly equal population: provided that a House of Assembly of a State shall consist of not less than twenty-four and not more than forty members.’
Section 92 states: ‘There shall be a speaker and a deputy speaker of a House of Assem- bly who shall be elected by the members of the House from among themselves.’
In other democracies, especially the Unit- ed States of America, where Nigeria borrows her presidential system from, the party that wins majority seats produce both the Presi- dent of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. But, the Nigerian Constitutional provision was silent on which party should produce the National Assembly leadership.
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With such a lacuna, the minority Peoples
Democratic Party, PDP, is currently control- ling both the Senate and the House of Repre- sentatives following the defection of Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara from the majority All Progressives Congress, APC.
The emergence of Saraki and Dogara re- sulted in confusion among the lawmakers, especially those from the APC, who felt slighted that the minority party produced the National Assembly leadership.
In 2015, Saraki, then a member of the rul- ing party had outfoxed leaders of the APC, who were favourably disposed to Senator Ahmad Lawan, to become the senate presi- dent. The PDP had earlier lost its prime posi- tion as the ruling party to the APC. However, Saraki’s emergence had the backing of the strong 49 PDP members and leaders in the chamber, who were in the minority.
Saraki’s victory at the upper chamber paved the way for the emergence of Yakubu
Dogara as speaker of the lower chamber, against the preferred choice of Femi Gbaja- biamila, who was also strongly backed by the national leader of APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
With backing of some rebel APC senators- elect, who teamed up with the 49 senators- elect from the PDP, Saraki, against all odds emerged the senate president.
The ruling party, in a bid to underscore the supremacy of the party rejected the outcomes and described the incident as treachery.
“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 Sen- ate 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 su- preme and its interest is superior to that of its individual members,” the party had said in a statement issued by its then National Public- ity Secretary, now Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
Saraki’s defection to the PDP generated calls from the ruling party for him to resign his position as senate president having joined the minority party.
“But whatever is the reason, we can de- camp from the party but we can’t decamp from Nigeria. The only thing is that there are other consequential issues that every man or woman of honour, who had taken such deci- sions, would be expected to follow through.
“I mean you should not collect a crown that belongs to a family and wear it on behalf of the family; if for your personal reasons, which he has enumerated that he has gone to another family, it is just a matter of hon- our to leave the crown in the house that the crown belongs to,” said APC National Chair- man, Adams Oshiomhole, while challenging Saraki to vacate his position.
Pressures were mounted by APC on Saraki to vacate the seat. Among those who insisted on Saraki’s resignation was the legal expert, Prof. Itse Sagay, who asked Saraki to, as a matter of honour, vacate his seat. Likewise, some youths in the North marched to the party’s secretariat in Kaduna, demanding Saraki’s resignation.
The APC, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, had said ‘all over the world, the leadership of the legislature is provided by the political party with majority members’ and pointed out that “Saraki capitalised on the absence of many members of the APC to connive and conspire with members of the opposition PDP to be- come Senate President.”
Nabena further said “even after defecting to the opposition PDP and with APC still in the majority in the Senate, Saraki still has the impudence to present himself as the Senate President.”
With the ninth assembly about to be con- stituted, tussle over who become leaders is also brewing crisis between the indepen- dence of the legislature and party supremacy.
Four lawmakers, namely Lawan, Abdul- lahi Adamu (Nasarawa West), Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central) and Ali Ndume (Bor- no South), have expressed their interest in the race, but the leadership of the party has thrown its weight behind Lawan and Gbaja- biamila respectively for the position of Sen- ate President and Speaker of House of Rep- resentatives respectively.
This decision has not gone well with Ndume, who accused the leadership of the party, especially Oshiomhole of imposing a candidate without the input of lawmakers in- terested in the race.
Oshiomhole had vowed to ensure the mi- nority party, PDP, does not produce the lead- ership as witnessed in the 8th Assembly.
“We have the number to produce the Speaker and we will produce the Speaker, who must be a member of the APC. We have the numbers to produce the Deputy Speaker and we will use the numbers to produce the Deputy Speaker, who must be a member of the APC. We have the number and we must use the numbers to elect a House Leader who must be a member of the APC.
“We have the numbers and we will use the numbers to produce a Chief Whip and a Deputy Whip who must be members of the APC. I think the only position that we are not interested in is the Minority Leader. Let it re- main minor in the hands of the minors in the
opposition. “We will not share power in the House of
the Representatives and the leadership must ensure that critical committees that drive gov- ernment are chaired only by the APC mem- bers. If the Nigerian people wanted them to be chairmen of committees they would have voted for them,” Oshiomhole vowed.
But the PDP, in its reaction had faulted the position of the ruling party, arguing that the executive cannot force leaders on members of the legislature.
The opposition party, apparently buoyed by constitutional provisions also said that it has every right to push candidates forward for the leadership position of both chambers.
“It is wrong to force lawmakers or coerce them to follow a particular road or a particu- lar candidate who they do not have confi- dence in. The President and his party should not plant moles as the leaders of the National Assembly,” said the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus.
A former member of the Lagos State House of Assembly Adebowale Olasoji, in an interview with The Nigerian Xpress had condemned the present formation of the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives in which Saraki and Dogara belong to the minority party, and called for amendment of the constitution to favour the party with majority members.
The former lawmaker had expressed opinion that Section 50 of the constitution should be amended to make provisions for the majority party to mandatorily produce the leadership of NASS, unlike the way it is presently constituted.
Asked if it is constitutionally right for the minority party to lead the National As- sembly, Olasoji had said: “We are practising the presidential system of government and politically, we borrow whatever is going on right now from the United States of America. I have been fortunate to have studied in the US. As a matter of fact, I spent all my years in Washington DC, where you have all the government machinery. Today, if you look at the makeup of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the United States, may be the margin is about three of four senators.
“Although, over there, the Vice Presi- dent is the president of the senate, but in the House of Representatives, if a party has just a simple majority, it produces the Speaker. Whether it is in their constitution or it is a convention; that is what plays out there. But in Nigeria, we always look for loopholes to subvert our genuine intentions. How can a minority party be aspiring to lead the major- ity? It’s never heard of. Yes, they will always refer to the constitution. Even at that, there is
what we call the letters and spirit of the con- stitution. Here, we always follow the letters of the constitution; they will never follow its spirit.”
He continued: “If that is the makeup of Nigerians, I think the legislators are to blame for what is happening today in both houses. Since 1999, if you look at sections 50 and 90, but let us concentrate on Section 50 because it deals with the National Assembly; it says clearly that the legislators will choose the senate president and the Speaker of the House from among themselves. But we know that we are Nigerians; we always like to jettison the spirit of our statues. We must take care of this fundamental area of our legislature. I believe section 50 should be amended with a proviso that the majority party in that house must produce the leadership of the National Assembly and other principal officers.”
The latest development has thrown up reaction from legal practitioners. While re- acting, the former First Vice President, Ni- gerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr Osas Er- habor said since the legislators were voted by Nigerians to serve the interest of the people, they are responsible to Nigerians and not the parties that brought them in.
He added that the lawmakers have the
right to choose among themselves who leads them whether such person belongs to the ma- jority party or not.
According to him, political parties can only influence their members on who to choose but not decide for them.
“It is simple. You cannot legislate on how people should vote. You can only legislate on mode of appointments. There is no other democratic way to choose leaders of the Na- tional Assembly. You cannot do it through appointments by the executive arm of gov- ernment. That will destroy the very demo- cratic foundation secured by the concept of separation of power between the three arms of government.
“It is the political parties that can reign in their members and influence their voting preferences. Even in advanced democracy like the United States, we have seen mem- bers voting against the positions of their par- ties. If they act in the overall interest of the country, there is nothing wrong in senators putting the nation first before parties. It is for the senators and members of the lower cham- bers to determine. They are senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not of APC or PDP,” he said.
In his reaction, another legal practitioner, Mr. Don Akaegbu, said it is not a ‘must’ for the majority party to produce the leadership of the House, adding the members are at lib- erty to choose who leads them.
He said: “Election of principal officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives is part of political culture and politics is a game of number where majority carries the votes. In view of this reality, I agree with the for- mer lawmaker only to the extent that majority party in the House ‘would’ produce the leader- ship of the National Assembly. It is not a must.
He further said: “Majority party is favour- ably disposed or positioned to produce prin- cipal members because it outnumbers other parties in the House. Where this happens, it does not detract from the extant provisions of section 50 of the Constitution that members of the House should elect their leaders.
“I do not believe that the said section 50 should be amended to give majority party the exclusive right to occupy principal positions in the National Assembly. If members of a majority party decide to elect some members of the minority party or parties into some principal positions, so be it. That is in confor- mity with section 50 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
Mr. Johnson Ezesebor, a constitutional lawyer said there is nothing wrong with sec- tions 50 and 90.
“There is no ambiguity in Sections 50 and 90. When you talk of National Assembly vis-à-vis party and government, if each as- sembly member, which is usually composed of members from different parties decides as National Assembly, to appoint somebody from the minority party as Senate President or Speaker, that is the Act of the National As- sembly itself. However, it is a difficult sce- nario to find that National Assembly that is composed of many parties anointing a leader from the minority.
“Assuming it does happen, the implication is that the person elected is entrusted with the responsibility of championing the whole interest of National Assembly in the scheme of things. It is not championing the politi- cal party. It is because they are all greedy of power. The leadership should be dispassion- ate in their operation.
“Secondly, in the case of Saraki and Dog- ara, the leaders of the party were riding over its members so the lawmakers needed to show they were not stooges of their leaders because it was alleged then that Bola Ahmed Tinubu was trying to plant his cronies every- where. So the present National Assembly has the right to choose whoever they want as their leaders.”
It remains in the womb of time which posi- tion will reign supreme.