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National Assembly: A Crisis Mismanaged? By Chidi Oguamanam

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Expectedly, the National Assembly crisis has degenerated into mudsling among politicians, a situation now further escalated by often misleading and conflating of the issues at the heart of the crisis along ethnic and geopolitical lines. A predictable section of the press has continued to demonize Saraki and Dogara, but much of the heat appears to be on Saraki.

The top hierarchy of the ruling APC is fuming and the so-called crisis in the National Assembly is to blame. Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, and Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, are both in the eye of the storm sweeping across the ruling party and the legislative arm of the government at the national level. Indeed, the two officers are not only in the eye of the storm, they are perceived to have stoked the storm. As far as APC is concerned, both leaders of the National Assembly defied the ruling party by goading their factional supporters toward a rapprochement with the opposition PDP. That strategic move, which has since put the two leaders on collision course with the APC, resulted in a lifeline of relevance for the opposition and a weakening of cohesiveness of the ruling party with implications for its legislative agenda.

Expectedly, the National Assembly crisis has degenerated into mudsling among politicians, a situation now further escalated by often misleading and conflating of the issues at the heart of the crisis along ethnic and geopolitical lines. A predictable section of the press has continued to demonize Saraki and Dogara, but much of the heat appears to be on Saraki.  A general review of the trend of criticisms includes accusation of sabotage, over-ambition, arrogance, recalcitrance, and indiscipline. Some have gone as far as accusing the newly constituted National Assembly leadership as harboring a hidden agenda; of sabotaging the change Nigerians voted for; and of engaging in treasonable conduct that requires the invocation of the full legal consequences.

Regrettably, the manner in which the APC has approached the crisis has not done much to douse the tension. Without any significant attempt at reconciliation, the APC presented its alienated National Assembly leadership the party’s list of preferred principal officers for adoption. In both arms of the National Assembly, the issue of adoption of principal officers is now a matter for continuing tension and, in the case of the House of Representatives; it led to shameful fisticuffs unbecoming of parliamentarians. As at the time of writing, the Senate has adopted a list of principal officers different from the one the ruling party proposed. For the avoidance of doubt, it is the prerogative of the APC or even the opposition party for that matter to name its principal officers in the National Assembly. That is unlike the election of the presiding officers of the National Assembly – a constitutionally recognized arm of the government – empowered to elect its presiding members across party lines. That process yielded the emergence of Saraki and Dogara even against the wishes of APC.

One can conjecture a few reasons why the APC seems to have problem with ratifying its preferred principal officers in the National Assembly. The APC’s list of preferred principal officers constitutes mainly candidates that it had originally sponsored for the National Assembly leadership. By that act, the party appears to have settled for a middle ground. As commendable as that seems, it is not clear how much the APC has invested in confidence building among all stakeholders, especially the presently alienated leadership of the National Assembly. Since the new leadership emerged, rather than embrace the reality, the APC hierarchy and factions have continued through utterances, acts, omissions and body languages to further alienate the new leadership, which it now wants to work with rivals and declared antagonists. Yet, the seeming reluctance of the new leadership of the National Assembly to embrace the opening for peace has not helped matters. Not many efforts seem to have been invested toward calming frayed nerves. There is little deliberate initiative by all factions to work toward genuine reconciliation in the interest of the nation. Rather than become an opportunity for compromise and reconciliation, the fact that the issue of adoption of principal officers is proving problematic points to APC’s management failure over the National Assembly crisis.

APC has piled everything on the heap of “party supremacy” or “party discipline”. In principle, party discipline is good for the stability of the democratic order. We do not need to look too far to make sense of that assertion. I tender the PDP as my exhibit. But party discipline is not a magic wand. It is not what you invoke and, pronto, it happens. It is like a culture that evolves through practice and experience. It is nurtured. Let the truth be told, the APC is a contraption of strange bedfellows who hurriedly came together to exploit the apparent failure of PDP.  The list of such bedfellows is open-ended. They include the old AC, ANPP, CPC, faction of APGA and the nPDP, to mention the few. Faint but worrisome signal of what is happening now in APC was discernible during the presidential campaigns. It would be unrealistic to expect that suddenly the invocation of party discipline would check every ambitious element within the constitutive factions in APC. Entrenching party discipline requires hard work, compromises, nurturing and confidence building. Where necessary, wielding the big stick may not be ruled out. The last option is only a matter of the last resort. And for a party that has yet to fully constitute the government, APC must thread softly at this crucial foundational stage. It must see the crisis in the National Assembly as a stress test it must strive to pass, rather than an ego quest of its various leaderships and factions.

Expectedly, many have sought to put the entire blame for the National Assembly crisis on the Presidency. Time and again, the Presidency has been accused of not being assertive and proactive enough on the matter. So far, the Presidency has pushed back, identifying with the position of the APC on party discipline, but cautiously expressing its reluctance to interfere with the independence of the National Assembly as a constituted arm of government. The same folks who pressure the Presidency on this matter would be first to crucify it for meddlesomeness. What many have failed to realize is the conceptual dichotomization of party leadership and the Presidency under the APC, which is in sharp contrast to the immediate past PDP administration. I predict that it is a matter of time before that arrangement undergoes it own stress test. But in the meantime, the Presidency has walked a delicate balance through the crisis and seems to have retained more credibility than the APC as a party.

*Law Professor University of Ottawa,  follow him on twitter @chidi_oguamanam

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