Saraki, Dogara, Tinubu and National Assembly leadership

IN their responses to Senator Bola Tinubu’s recent public statement on why he is backing President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s choice of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila for the positions of Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives respectively, the duo of Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, and House of Representatives Speaker, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, appear to completely miss the critical import of the APC national leader’s intervention.

Obviously reacting to the widely-peddled insinuation that he is trying to ‘impose’ a particular leadership on the National Assembly, Tinubu vehemently and unambiguously dismissed this view. He argued that in supporting Lawan and Gbajabiamila, he is only acting in the best interest of both President Buhari’s government and the APC. He cited the hardly disguised hostility of the National Assembly to the Buhari government under the leadership of Saraki and Dogara as being a critical factor in the inability of the administration to perform better than it did in its first term.

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Tinubu cited the persistence of such widely-condemned practices as budget padding, arbitrary diversion of funds from critical projects to those of the legislature’s fancy as well as avoidable delays in the budgetary process in the National Assembly under Saraki and Dogara’s leadership as some of the reasons a change of leadership in the National Assembly is not only necessary but urgent. The APC national leader was also understandably actuated by his desire to ensure that his party avoids this time the lapses that enabled Saraki and Dogara to emerge as leaders of the eighth Assembly in 2015 against their choices of the party.

Let me quickly say here that I am not writing as a card-carrying member of the APC. Indeed, as Senior Special Assistant on Public Relations to President Goodluck Jonathan, I identified proudly and with firm dedication with the PDP. Even when I served with the PDP administration, I never hid my admiration for the energy, intellectual and strategic resourcefulness and unrivalled sense of sacrifice that Tinubu commits to any party to which he belongs. I always wished that PDP could have somebody like Tinubu who passionately believed in the ideology and philosophy of the party and was fully, uncompromisingly and self-sacrificially committed to its cause, even without necessarily holding any formal position in the party hierarchy.

Of course, I am saddened that Dr Saraki and Honourable Dogara were among those who defected from the PDP before the 2015 polls and thus weakening the party and contributing significantly to the defeat of the then ruling party in the 2015 presidential election by the newly emergent APC. Ordinarily, a fledgling party like the APC should not have been able to defeat a formidable ruling party such as the PDP which had been in power for 16 years, within such a short time of its formation. Alas, the likes of Saraki and Dogara, in company with other defectors from the PDP at the time, placed their own personal ambition above the interest of their party and did not mind helping to ensure its defeat at the polls.

It is instructive that failing to realise their personal ambitions within the APC, the defectors from the PDP quickly again defected back to their previous party, hoping to weaken and destabilise the APC and possibly contribute to its defeat in the 2019 polls. I am happy that this did not happen, not because I love the APC, but because I cherish the emergence and consolidation in Nigeria of a viable, solid, cohesive and enduring party system, with members passionately supporting their party’s programmes and values, rather than perpetually being peripatetic political vagrants traversing from one party to the other in pursuit of elective political office by all means and at all costs, with negative implications for the stability, efficacy and effectiveness of the dominant political parties.

This in my view is where Senator Tinubu differs. In all the parties with which he has been involved from the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the Action Congress (AC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to the APC, Tinubu has always demonstrated an uncommon fidelity and commitment to the best interest of any party with which he identifies.

It is noteworthy that Tinubu has not held any office since serving out his two-term tenure as Lagos State governor in 2007. He has not sought to be elected to the Senate as has become the fad with governors moving from various state houses to the Senate at the expiration of their tenures. Tinubu has not sought to be national chairman of his party or chairman of its Board of Trustees (BOT), both positions of great influence that he would be perfectly entitled to seek. Yet, it is indisputable that in terms of investment of time, energy, resources and intellect to promote the interest of the party, nobody can rival him within the APC.

It is most certainly for this reason that party members across various tendencies defer to Tinubu as national leader, even when such a position does not exist in the hierarchical structure of the APC. This is indeed most amazing as the APC is only just striving to overcome deep internal schisms to evolve into a cohesive political organisation. Yet, across all intra-party divides, Tinubu’s leadership role and contributions are widely acknowledged, accepted and respected.

Saraki and Dogara portray Tinubu’s support for his party’s candidates for the leadership of the ninth Assembly as an entirely personal affair without any link to the political party to which he belongs. They write as if Tinubu is synonymous with the APC and vice versa. Nothing could be most misleading from the point of view of an objective analyst. The APC is simply too large, still largely organisationally-inchoate, suffused with competing factions and tendencies for any individual to single-handedly foist his choice for any position on the party. Could Tinubu have foisted his choice for the leadership of the National Assembly on the APC both in 2015 and 2019?

This would imply forcing his choices on the party, including the APC leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Executive Committee (NEC) and National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, the powerful Governors’ Forum as well as Senate and House of Representatives caucuses of the party and the APC’s regional power structures. If any individual could perform that feat, he should surely be described as superhuman. By this kind of exaggeration of Tinubu’s power and influence within the APC, Saraki and Dogara mystify the APC National Leader and clothe him in the illusory garb of a deity.

In any case, if indeed Tinubu’s support for Lawan and Gbajabiamila is due to his 2023 presidential ambition, as stated by Saraki and Dogara, in what way will the offices of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives avail anybody in a national election? Yes, these are influential offices. But despite Senate President Saraki and Speaker Dogara supporting Atiku Abubakar’s presidential bid in the 2019 elections, how come the latter was still defeated at the polls? It seems to me that Saraki and Dogara exaggerate the influence and electoral potency of the offices they currently occupy.

Does the support of the Senate President and Speaker necessarily translate into the support of the entire National Assembly or even legislators of the ruling party for any presidential aspirant? It is unlikely that a political strategist of Tinubu’s caliber will harbour any such illusion.  Can anybody guarantee that once the Senate President or Speaker emerges, they will automatically support any preconceived candidate for the office of the president? This kind of simplistic submission betrays a gross misunderstanding of the nature and dynamics of power and politics in contemporary Nigeria.

Did Tinubu conjure the allegations of budget-padding or arbitrary transfer of funds from critical projects to those of the legislators’ fancies out of thin air? To the best of my knowledge, it was a member of the House of Representatives, Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin, who brought the term, padding, into the popular consciousness. Not only did he accuse his colleagues of budget-padding, he swore an affidavit in court to buttress his point.

It was Senator Shehu Sani from Kaduna State who first revealed to the public the outrageous monthly take-home allowances of his National Assembly colleagues to the consternation and alarm of the nation.  And a number of ministers have had cause to decry the arbitrary transfer of funds by legislators from critical projects, such as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, to just name one to other projects of their fancy.

Eminent Nigerians, such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo,  Emir of Kano, Alhaji Lamido Sanusi, and Professor Itsey Sagay (SAN),  are on record as severely pillorying the proportion of national resources expended by the National Assembly as well as the opacity in the management of the National Assembly’s finances. Senator Tinubu was, therefore, not saying anything new in this respect. He was only re-stating what has been in the public domain long before now.

The term, ‘budget-padding’, has become a generic term for describing the assortment of alleged financial infractions perpetrated in the management of the National Assembly’s finances. True, these perverse financial practices predated the tenures of Saraki and Dogara.  However, on assumption of their respective offices, they promised to enhance transparency and accountability in the management of the National Assembly. Did they do enough in this regard? Certainly no! The good thing is that with Tinubu raising this issue, the next leadership of the ninth Assembly will be forced to take concrete and decisive steps to address and rectify these lapses.

Saraki and Dogara place the blame for incessant budgetary delays at the feet of the executive, particularly, non-cooperating ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) which consistently failed to meet specified timelines for defending their budgetary estimates before the respective committees of the National Assembly. If true, this is most condemnable. But did the duo of Saraki and Dogara, as leaders of the National Assembly, do enough to sensitise both the presidency, the MDAs and, indeed, the general public to these critical issues? I am afraid it is difficult to answer in the affirmative. Once the National Assembly was aware of its budgetary timelines for the fiscal instrument to be passed on schedule, it should have cried out to the public once the various dates were being approached with no necessary action by the MDAs.

The widespread negative perceptions of the National Assembly obviously, in my view, must have informed Tinubu’s assertions, which Saraki and Dogara vehemently resented and disagreed with. But it is significant that a sizable number of members of the eighth Assembly were not re-elected to go back to the National Assembly, which implies that an appreciable number of Nigerians are not convinced of the superlative performance of the National Assembly, as portrayed by Saraki and Dogara.

Could Tinubu have been influenced for his stance on Saraki and Dogara by the alleged role of the Senate President in preventing the emergence of Tinubu as vice presidential running mate to Buhari in 2015? I am not a member of the APC but this does not sound to me as a plausible argument. How much influence within the emergent APC did Saraki have at that time to have played a major role in the emergence of Buhari’s running mate? Was he in Buhari’s inner cycle? If so, how come he could not get the support of Buhari for his Senate President ambition within the APC and had to take the fraudulent route to bag the position?

If he successfully prevented the emergence of Tinubu as a vice presidential candidate on religious grounds, how come he could not get a Christian vice presidential candidate of his own for Buhari with Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), Tinubu’s nominee, being picked for the office? Again, if Saraki ever worked against the perceived Muslim-Muslim APC presidential ticket, as he claimed, was it not self-serving, characteristic of his politics, as a Muslim-Muslim presidential pair would have automatically sounded the death-knell of his own Senate President’s ambition? I think trivialities like that should simply be disregarded in serious discourse.

For me, the issue of internal party discipline and cohesion is one that transcends partisan divides. It is in the best interest of political parties, the political elite and Nigerians as a whole that we have stable and viable political parties, comprised of dedicated members who are passionate about their parties’ programmes, Ideology and values. And one way of ensuring this is through adherence to the dominant parties’ position on the choice of leadership of the National Assembly whether the majority party is PDP, APC or any other party at any given point in time. That, to me, is the critical import of Tinubu’s intervention.

 

  • Awosan (PhD), a political analyst, was Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Public Relations to President Goodluck Jonathan.

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