News Analysis: Burden of NASS new leadership
THE election of principal officers of the ninth National Assembly, on Tuesday, turned out to be an anti-climax. There were anxiety and apprehension that things could turn awry because of the belligerence of the major actors.
For weeks, the political space was filled with a huge dose of intense horse-trading and subterfuge by stakeholders. The uncanny utterances of a few main actors heightened political temperature across board. In particular, stalwarts of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) engaged in diatribes over multidimensional issues. Central to the tug of war was the need to guarantee the independence of a critical arm of government: the Legislature.
The decision of the APC leadership to anoint a set of contestants for the position of the President of the Senate and that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives was seen as a calculated attempt by the Executive arm of government to cage the Legislature, castrate it and subvert the cardinal principle of democracy: autonomy of each arm, including the Judiciary. It was argued that the move by the APC was designed to turn the Legislature into a mere rubberstamp or a toothless bulldog that would not be able to perform its oversight function; act as checks and balance, a vital ingredient for democracy to bolster.
Such serious concern was not limited to the rank and file of the opposition parties, as well as a perceptive section of the larger society. Members of the APC, including members-elect of the National Assembly who indicated interest in the principal offices and their allies, renounced the policy of APC to anoint aspirants. Accordingly, they remained resolute on their individual ambitions which they clung to till the end.
Conversely, the PDP had displayed high-tech political engineering as it occasionally appeared aggressive, while in another breadth exhibited comradeship. Most of the time, the party kept APC, its aspirants and leaders guessing about its game plan as horse-trading became more intense.
The tactic compelled the APC and its leaders to descend from their Olympian height/high horse and swallow their pride in their inherent claim that the party could discountenance the influence of the opposition in determining the president of the Senate or the Speaker of the House.
Convinced about the fact that politics is all about achieving compromise and cultivating one another, the aspirants embarked on serious campaigns to lobby members of NASS elected on PDP ticket weeks to the crucial election.
Signs that the ruling party had come to terms the fact that it could not afford to leave anything to chance were equally evident in the desperate lobby team formed by serving and former governors elected on the APC platform, coupled with the relocation to Abuja by the power brokers within the ruling party. The series of consultations, meetings and discussions that bothered on compromise and bargain continued till a few hours to the historic election.
Democracy is a game of numbers. That is why lobbying constitutes a powerful tool in promoting democratic culture. There is no room for muzzling the opposition, because while the majority must always have their way, the minority should never be barred from having their say in any circumstance. The rules of the game must remain sacrosanct. It is a gross abuse of process to, out of desperation, attempt to change the goal post midway into a match. The use of secret ballot for the election resonated the beauty in democracy and should be consolidated.
Now that the new leadership has emerged and the ruling APC succeeded in having its preferred choices to lead the National Assembly, the country has, again, demonstrated that the culture and ethos of participatory democracy are fast being ingrained in the psyche of Nigerians.
Though the process was not without a few blights, the ability of the lawmakers to comport themselves and showcase maturity is an added value to democratic practice in the country.
It was interesting that the opposition tried to spring a surprise and create an electoral setback at the last minute of the contest for the post of Deputy President of the Senate. The suddenly candidacy of outgone Deputy President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, for the same position this time round was fascinating. That again is part of the hallmark of civil rule, where every individual has the right to vie for the position of his choice within the ambit of the law and constitution.
Finally, the emergence of the principal officers of the parliament in the new political dispensation is just one of the numerous steps expected to firm up the institution for the task ahead. How the new leaders handle the sharing of committee leaderships without compromising standard, integrity and capacity and efficiency is key.
Both Borno State born-Senator Ahmad Lawan as the President of the Senate and Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos APC) as Speaker of the House must reallise that their emergence poses a lot of burden on them to uphold the independence of the legislative arm of government, while ensuring seamless interrelationships with the Executive and the Judiciary to serve the citizens who are yearning for good governance and real benefits of democracy.