What will Lawan, Gbajabiamila do differently?
With the new power structure in the National Assembly, the stage appears set for the take off the ninth legislative business. But, in this piece, Kunle Oderemi asks what difference the new leaders can make during their tenure.
LEADERS of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), no doubt, are still savouring the victory of their preferred choice as the principal officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives.The national chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has threatened against those who remained resolute in pursuing their aspiration to a logical conclusion despite the endorsement of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila for Senate President and Speaker of the House, respectively. Yet, President Muhammadu Buhari, on his part, sounded reconciliatory after the battle had been fought and won on the floor of the National Assembly.
Some governors elected on APC ticket, including Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello have congratulated the duo on their emergence. Bello also congratulated the senator representing Delta central senatorial district, Ovie Omo-Agege who emerged as deputy Senate president. Similarly, Delta State governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, congratulated the newly elected presiding officers and members of the ninth National Assembly on their successful inauguration. He parised them for their resilience and political sagacity.
On their part, Lawan and Gbajabiamila have unveiled their individual vision and focus after victory for the Senate and the House under their tenure. The speech of Lawan shortly after his victory gave an insight into how he plans to steer the ship of the Senate when it resumes for business proper. He promised to run a Senate that would be responsive to the needs of the masse. He added: “Elections are over. It shows that we voted for a united Senate and it is clear that the outcome is bipartisan. All parties including the Peoples Democratic Party and Young Progressives Party voted for me and with this outcome, the 9th Senate is ready to take off as a united Senate.Today means so many things. It is the commencement of another decade of our democracy and we will work to ensure best global parliamentary practice among other things.”
Similarly, Gbajabiamila while responding to his victory, acknowledged that the challenges ahead were enormous and required that all hands should be on deck. Accordingly, he has promised an all-inclusive system, defend the constitution, and uphold the tenets of justice, equity and fairness in my dealings with his colleagues, as well as apply the ideals of transparency, probity and accountability in the management of the affairs of the House.“The Contest for the Speakership of this 9th Assembly is now over and it’s time to move on. Our country is presently confronted with a myriad of problems and it is our responsibility as members of this institution to set aside political, ideological and other differences that may distract us from the assignment the Nigerian people have sent us here to perform. There’s a lot more that unite us than divide us,” he stressed.
Gbajabiamila admitted that they was huge public expectation and that the ninth Assembly must not let Nigerians down, especially because of the enormity of problems confronting the citizens. “Whatever political party each one of us may belong, we must be conscious of the fact that Nigerians are truly desirous of good governance and are looking to us to be the agents that will through meaningful legislation combat security, poverty, corruption, and other problems and contradictions that have held our country back and stunted our development,” he emphasized.
Part of his broad-based agenda include reforms, which he assured would be carried out in phases According to him, “Moving forward therefore my dear colleagues, it will not be business as usual and we will be shaking the table just a little. We will be introducing various reforms that will reposition this institution but please rest assured that they will be for the greater good. On our shoulders lie the responsibility of working together as a House to safeguard the future of our great country. The House must be reformed before the country can be reformed. We simply cannot and must not fail.”
One of the groups that has reacted to the emergence of the new NASS leadership is the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, which expressed reservations on the process that culminated in the election. It claimed that the South-East geopolitical zone was shortchanged.A statement yby its National Publicity Secretary, Uche Achi-Okpaga, stated: “We are not surprised a bit. He that is down needed fear no fall; we are not expecting any favour from this administration.The government of President Buhari does not place any premium on the South-East. So, all his political foot soldiers and adherents in the National Assembly and elsewhere watch and identify with his body language.” It alleged that the unfavourable disposition of the administration was a sharp contrast to the spirit of friendship the zone had been extending to the government. “Government has succeeded in igniting an orchestrated gang up against the South-East.We have continued to extend our hands of fellowship but on each occasion, it is trampled with the feet of hatred buoyed by the air of ethnic chauvinism,” it claimed.
In his quest for the seat of the president of the senate, Dr Bukola had rolled out a comprehensive legislative agenda. It read in parts: “One of the things I have observed and in looking at all our areas of responsibility, it’s largely the fact that in our engagement with many Nigerians out there, they wonder, ‘what do they do there? What happens in the National Assembly? There’s no connect between the National Assembly and the Nigerian people…I hope that the Eighth Chamber, under our leadership, would begin to bring a closer relationship, a better connection between the Senate and the Nigerian people. Some of the laws that we would pass are laws that would have direct impact on the lives of our people. Secondly, in the areas of representation, we must improve in being able to connect, and interact with the people we represent. There must be openness and transparency in even what we do at the Senate. In some of the things that we do, we must ensure that there’s accountability…
“Some of our responsibilities in the area of oversight, we really need to improve on that. No matter and whatever we say, some of the issues that we have seen, on things that have happened over the last few years, we cannot but take responsibility, that, there’s poor oversight…and that’s an area we must improve upon. We must improve on some of these things; particularly on Boko Haram, the issue of security, and we must have better oversight in those areas and as such, these are priority areas for us. We must also, be able to make sacrifices, too, that are necessary. We must have a legislative agenda that also works closely with Mr. President’s agenda….There are issues as revenues. We must work on issues of budget. We have to look at the budget process and make sure that the budget process can have more impact on Nigerians. We must also improve the capacity of senators because I believe that there’s need for lots of research, there’s need for capacity-building and need for better information-gathering. I also think there are some bills that are priority bills in doing that, I thinks one is in the area of delivery of Justice; I think it’s a key area. All the things we talk about, whether its security, rule of law, anti-corruption and even on the commercial side, we need to look at that. We need to look at electoral reform because that would strengthen our democracy. These are bills I believe are key. We need to prioritise these bills…”
The extent the eight Assembly was able to achieve those lofty aims and objectives will remain a subject of public debate, though many have given them thumps up.
But how far can the new principal leaders of the National Assembly go towards achieving their vision in the unfolding political dispensation? What will they do differently, given their antecedents and members of the legislature over the years? What is their support base? Can they take any radical step without stepping on some perceived big toes? It will also be curious how they had the challenge of reconciliation with the aggrieved camps, whose aspirants were unsuccessful at the poll on Tuesday, and worthy of mention is the case of Alli Ndume, who lost the seat of the President of the Senate to Lawan.