NASS Leadership Polls: Colours, Imports Of Polity

As is clearly evident now, the constitution of the Eighth National Assembly (NASS) and the election of its leaders, have thrown up issues in the Nigerian polity. It is no longer news that the former Senate member, former Governor of Kwara State and scion of the Saraki family and political dynasty of Ilorin, Kwara State-the patriarch of that family, Alhaji Olusola Saraki, was once the Leader of the Nigerian Senate-is now the President of the Senate, otherwise called the red chamber, and is to be assisted by Ike Ekwerenmandu, as the Deputy President of Senate.
In the lower chamber of the bicameral legislature-the House of Representatives-Yakubu Dogara was elected Speaker, to take over from Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, his mentor, and creator and symbol of the principled rebellious philosophy of Tambuwalism-revolt against party directive-who is now the Governor of Sokoto State. Dogara’s deputy is Yusuf Lasun, from Osun State .
The rest, as they say, is now history.
The outcome of the NASS leadership polls, as is also self-evident, has thrown up issues that have split public opinion, with many saying that it is proof of the tardiness of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and others holding it as the effect of the resilience of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which had been roundly trounced by the APC in the March/April 2015 general elections.
Backdrop To Polls
The diversity in public opinion as to why and how the polls yielded the results that they did, have foundation and expression in the political configuration of the membership of the NASS in the Eighth Assembly.
In the Senate, the APC has 60 members-now short by one after the death of Ahmed Zannah of Borno State- while the PDP has 49. In the House of Representatives, the APC has 213 of the 360 members, leaving 147 for the PDP and the other parties. Given our primordial politics and its undue slant on party loyalty, it was expected that the choice of APC leadership is automatic conferment of legitimacy which would transform to automatic victory for those so endorsed by the party and its leadership. This,with the clear exception of what is now called the Tambuwal case, had been the trend with our polity.
However, as is real today, the choice of the APC as publicly declared, did not hold sway. Why?
Why Did The Polls results Come Out The Way They Did?
A great deal of guesses have been made as to why the polls did not come out the way the national leadership of the APC had desired. While it is impossible to say with pin-point accuracy what really goes on in the coven that is Nigeria’s polity, it can be held, with some level of assurance, if not outright certainty, that various factors created the scenario that has since played out.
First, the ambiguous position of the APC leadership on the issue of zoning, its hazy unwillingness to initially enforce its will on members elected on its ticket, as well as its late minute efforts to rein in members, some of who had caked on their perception of the way to go this did not help matters. This poor use of discretion, manifested in the efforts, at the last possible minute, to use the presumed huge influence of President Buhari to rein in defiant members, worsened things not only because, as is clear, the President did not only not attend the 9am meeting scheduled for the International Conference Centre (ICC), but has actually gone ahead to deny that he summoned the meeting. The clear thing here, is that, in a virtual display of ebbing self-confidence and frustration, the leadership of the party had resorted to name dropping in a last ditch effort to rein in its members.
But that was not all; the situation was to worsen for the APC and its leaders when, as it turned out, while the majority of its members in NASS were at the ICC for the meeting that never was, the PDP had capitalised on the situation-together with elements of the APC, it must be acknowledged- to elect the President in Bukola Saraki. While it can be argued that Nigeria’s interest would have been better served by every Senator participating in the election to enhance its credibility, the point must be made-and I salute President Buhari for acknowledging this in accepting the poll outcome and vowing to work with those chosen- that the lead up processes and the elections of both Saraki and Ekwerenmadu meet the constitutional requirements. The fact that the Unity Group-reportedly made up of at least 51 members of the chamber, and their leader and envisaged candidate and APC favourite, Ahmad Lawan-did not participate in the polls is just political, and it is gratifying to note that, while the APC is threatening to sanction its members who worked against its interest-which it has the right to do without infringing the constitution and the right of the Senators to exercise their rights, those aggrieved Senators have reportedly opted for court action in order to seek redress. What does this show? Nigeria’s democracy is deepening.
While those who feel they have lost have a right to mourn, and those who say they won have a right to celebrate, the clear issue is that the last may not have been heard of the Senate leadership polls and their outcome; a bruised APC may react in far more subtle ways than one.
That Is For The Senate.
For the House of Representatives, the facts differ slightly, though the enabling philosophy and its under-pins remain largely the same.
Before the election, the general expectation was that the preferred candidate of the APC, Femi Gbajabiamila, would trounce his opponent, Yakubu Dogara. But two things altered the calculation, to significantly change the outcome.
First, the APC failed to rein in all its members intent on obeying-as it has come out now-the in-house members determined to cut down the rising influence of Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, whom many have accused of tendencies gearing towards despotism regarding how influential he had become in the party and its decision-making process, without necessarily creating a bad face for the party and President Buhari, who is now the national rallying point and the face of change that Nigerians voted for. The support of these ‘rebellious’ APC members, together with the block vote that the PDP bloc gave Femi’s opponent, led to his defeat, and the victory of Dogara.
The second factor is that, with what happened in the Senate, where the absence of Lawan’s supporters paved the way for the election of Saraki, the ‘rebellious’ APC members were strengthened in their resolve (after all, if it can happen in the Senate, why not the House of Representatives?) to disobey their party leaders. So, they not only voted as they were determined to, but also had the additional support of members of the party from the North West,with 87 APC members, the highest regional bloc support for the party. And the reason is this; with Saraki’s victory in the Senate, and Ekwerenmadu’s success, it meant that the North Central, via Saraki; the South-East, via Ekwerenmadu, had had key NASS posts most APC members felt that the North-East would have nothing in terms of NASS leadership, if Dogara loses, hence the support for him. In fact, it was in deference to the import of the Senate Presidency election that Femi’s supporters, shortly before the poll, unsuccessfully urged him to step down and be deputy to Dogara, rather than lose it all, given his support base. Had the outcome of the Senate Presidency election been any different, perhaps, just perhaps, Femi would have been the Speaker of the House.
Again, that is now history.
Interpretation And Predicate
What reasons could have led to the emergence of Saraki, in place of the preferred choice the APC, Lawan?
Again, there have been many guesses as to why what happened happened; the tardiness of the APC national leadership and its eventual inability to rein in its members intent on Tambuwalism; the still controversial absence of most APC faithful from the venue of the voting that produced Saraki and Ekwerenmadu; the relative strength of the tactics and strategies of the PDP which was propelled by the strong survivalist desires-which made the polls the first staging post for its fight for self-reclamation after its crushing defeat in the last general elections- and the tactical clandestine role of a bloc of the APC intent of whittling the growing influence of the Tinubu pro-Lawan group.
It is essential that, in examining what happened, particularly in relation to the APC, acknowledgement is placed on a crucial factor-the fear of President Buhari. Every sane APC member realises that the party’s huge public image is largely predicated on the public image of Buhari as an incorruptible man, who can rise, in the light of his campaign vow, above sentiments and fight the ills that have ached the national project to virtual terminality. Nobody, at least, publicly, wanted to go against the vow of Buhari not to interfere in what goes on in NASS, particularly since he is perceived as the face of Change is Possible Mantra.
However, unlike the scenario affecting the APC, the PDP had a far-stronger motivation going into the NASS polls-the imperative for survival. By wanting to control the NASS leadership by producing its leaders, the APC probably sought to earn comfort for its key operatives, particularly in relation to the presidency. But the PDP, in respect of the elections, sought to survive, after its woeful outing in the presidential and other general elections. This philosophy of we still dey, we never die was the strong motivation that drove the PDP dream in that direction in pursuit of which the party’s core figure, including governors elected on its platform, literally relocated to Abuja, and the premises of NASS, just to ensure that nothing went wrong.
A third element of the predicate was the unspoken resolve of some APC leaders and members who felt that their national leader, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, needed to be checked before he pockets the party, having been instrumental to the emergence of its National Chairman, Chief John Odigie Evbuomnwanyonwan Oyegun; President Buhari, Vice-President Femi Osinbanjo and a host of the party’s other leaders. The Tambuwal/Atiku Abubakar bloc in the APC is the arrowhead of this strategic move; incidentally, both Tambuwal and Abubakar-who had yet to respond to the party leaders’ threat to sanction them as I wrote this piece yesterday-have congratulated the new leaders of NASS in separate statements/remarks.
Implications Of Development
Like the millipede’s multiple limbs, the implications of the NASS leadership drama are legion for number. These implications range from those for the APC; NASS; the PDP; Nigeria and others.
For the NASS, Tuesday’s was a replica of an earlier incident when the opposition parties, led by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and others, supported Tambuwal to beat the preferred candidate of the then ruling PDP, Mulikat Adekola. So, in a way, history repeated itself on that score.
For the PDP, it was sweet revenge time, having suffered a similar fate at the hands of the opposition in its heydays as the ruling party, after all, who can prevent a child from elating for seizing a timid cub in its mother’s den, after failing to catch fish in its artificial stream with which it had had unusual familiarity? As it elates, it must realise the import of subsisting in its pre-general election disposition that cost it the all-important polls It can be argued, if, in jettisoning the old for a new order, Nigerians would have, if they had a choice, preferred to have other symbols of the PDP in NASS leadership positions, than the likes of Ekwerenmadu and co. Could other equally worthy persons not have been nominated in place of these?
However, it must not unduly elate, seeing that, while it may have claimed a battle victory, the war is yet to be over, and a scorched APC and Tinubu may fight back, I hope, clean. It must not be carried away- as Bode George and a few others seem to suggest-that the development marks the end of Tinubu’s leadership of the South West; how does the development in NASS amount to the perfect erasure of the fact that Tinubu , in concert with others, ran the APC to literally grind and ground the PDP in the region?
As for the APC, it is compelled to swallow the poisoned chalice; it must contend with the fact that being a mega party of strange bedfellows, APC cannot have the kind of in-house cohesion of a single-parent party, as it is said, and it does not-as of now- have the luxury of the bonding that shared political and other benefits of being in power confers on party members, that the PDP members enjoy. Given the primordial politics we play, and the fact that its only glue, for now, is the hope of personal benefits for members (which, in itself, in the light of our circumstances, is the trigger for all manners of selfish campaigns) is to tread softly; it must never simultaneously test the depth of a strange river-it has not been in effective leadership at that level-with its two feet. If it must be a reckonable player in a field it has the number and potential to lead, the kind of tardiness it exhibited in relation to zoning, and its incapacity to rein in its errant members, must never be repeated.In spite of its resounding defeat at the last general polls, the PDP knows what power at the critical centre of the federal government, means in terms of influence, reach and potentials; it cannot readily give up on that. For the Asiwaju himself-Bola Tinubu-he needs to imbibe the lesson that it is not a good leadership trait that he has to have his hand in every pie; he must concede part of the benefits of the APC victory –real, imagined or potential-to other interests in the party, to have peace.
The reported attempt to sanction the party members for disobeying the party in regard of the NASS polls, must not be an over-reach; it must learn not only from the lessons of the tragic error of judgment the PDP made in regard of expelling governors Rotimi Amaechi and others, and equally importantly, the fact that both Saraki (who had beaten his father in partisan politics) and Tambuwal are not political neophytes, especially in the light of the ominous silence of some of APC central figures, including Amaechi and others. Restraint is the key operational word; virtue lies in the middle, as the philosophers say. It must show positive discretion in choosing between the haste of the ignorant and the reluctance of the philosopher and the wise.
The Nigerian Press, though greatly acknowledged as free and fair, by its handling of the polls and their outcomes, did not handle matters in the most professional way; many betrayed their socio-economic, political and ideological cleavages and leanings. Some ran the polls and their outcomes as a defeat for the APC and ran streaming headlines in prop of that, others just chose, again for much the same reasons as listed above, to lead with the reaction of their preferred party-APC, in this case-to the emergence of Saraki as Senate President. In truth, both sides failed to capture the whole essence of the entire leadership drama-at least, in terms of its peg and beauty- the implied defiance of the APC leadership by President Buhari, in lieu of the larger interest of the country. The Fourth Estate of the Realm must realise that Nigerians are watching them; they must live out the sacred import of the impartiality inherent in their calling.
Nigeria; The Future
For Nigeria and its future, the development holds a double-edged sword, which can be both beneficial and harmful, depending on how it is wielded. It is gratifying to note that, even at press time yesterday, those who felt ill-at ease with the development were only threatening legal action, in the main, not self-help or any of the other dirty antics for which Third World politics is renowned. This is good for national growth and development.
We wait to see how their threatened legal challenge to Saraki’s Senate Presidency will play out.
While we do the wait, there is something soothing to celebrate-that President Buhari has conceded to work with the NASS leadership, even though he would have preferred that his party’s choice of leaders prevailed. In deferring to his election campaign vow to steer clear of the running of the NASS, the Buhari Presidency has set a tall order different from what his predecessors in office could not dream of, not to talk of putting into effect.
The challenge for us as a people is for the NASS leaders, in concert with other stakeholders, to rise up to the democratic challenge President Buhari-ironically a former military despot- has thrown at us all-PDP and APC membership or support not withstanding. What the Buhari challenge means is for us all, particularly the political elite, to learn to abide by basic principles, under the same flag of a country of diverse peoples, bound by a common desire, in indestructible brotherhood, in which our children must be raised as true patriots, differences in tribe and tongue not withstanding.