Apologies are in order, for a start. The office of Femi Adesina, veteran journalist and newly appointed spokesman for President Muhamadu Buhari, was merged with that of Akinwumi Adesina, newly elected President of the African Development Bank, on this page last week. The error is regretted.
Femi has been functioning in his new office, as can be imagined, since the President obviously has to speak now and then, especially when there is a matter of national import as we already have with the inauguration of the National Assembly. This was supposed to pass by as gently as a breeze. The former opposition party, The All Progressives Congress, APC, had scored a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It would be therefore no major problem to elect a speaker among themselves. That was what most of us thought. The APC surprised most of us still by holding a “mock” election among their elected members to choose the Speaker and his deputy. The erstwhile Minority Leader in the House, Mr.Femi Gbajabiamila, then emerged as the winner. It was, in the opinion of many people, just the right way it should go.
But in the view of many members of the party, it was all a “mockery” and they made it look like that by voting against him on Election Day. However, Mr.Gbajabiamila, it should be noted, congratulated the man who beat him by shaking hands with him and embracing him….echoes of former President Goodluck Jonathan who seems to have truly set the pattern of enviable sportsmanship for the reaction of losers in a political contest. The APC subsequently announced that the party rejected the result despite its openness and probity. So much for the Lower House.
In the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, strongman of Kwarra politics as his father was before him, won the presidency, hands down. He was returned unopposed as no one was nominated beside him. But in the case of the House of Representatives, a robust election was conducted from which Yakubu Dogara emerged the winner as the Speaker. But there was no election necessary in the Senate as the APC members were AWOL, (away without official leave) so to say. Saraki had given notice that he would not abide by any “mock” election arranged by his party, by boycotting the arrangement, but would vie for the Senate Presidency. There was no one to challenge him, and he won.
It turned out that some executive members of the APC had invited themselves and the President to a last-minute meeting which clashed with the time for the inauguration of the Senate. Did they not know the time of the Senate inauguration, or did they expect it to be postponed because of their absence? In any case, the President did not turn up for the meeting, and one wonders if they had secured his acceptance of the invitation to the meeting, in the first place. Or could it be that they felt the President should be at their beck and call? That would smirk of an arrogance born of a sense of impunity, which saw off their predecessors in office.
In any case, President Buhari had delivered his position bluntly in his inaugural speech:” I belong to everybody, and I belong to nobody.” He gently extricated himself from the entanglement of the party squaring up to its own members publicly. Nothing weakens a political party as swiftly as that. And the lesson of the Peoples Democratic Party is too recent to have been forgotten, or discarded. When Bamanga Tukur adopted an unacceptable avuncular stance in his treatment of the PDP governors in the past PDP administration, he seemed to be unaware of their status as full-blown politicians who were more concerned about their constituency than the party, as a reference point. His stand was in the defence of the superiority of the party, which he believed was vested in his position as the Chairman of the party, but he lost out in the end.
For quite a period of time, there had been the dispute over the superiority of the party and that of the people, not only in Nigeria but throughout any territory pierced by the philosophy of, “one man, one vote”. It further became apparently sophisticated in the idea of, “one party, same voice”. But the people have always baulked at that directive all over the world. Even in Nigeria, there have been issues with the idea which was strengthened by the abrogation of the independent candidacy in our Constitution, after the Civil War. Efforts are now being made to re-insert it into our Constitution.
It is very clear that some politicians are able to have a show-down with their party, and the sooner the party realizes it the better. All the talk about discipline and unacceptability of an open ballot is reminiscent of the old PDP. How do you discipline a member who wins election into office even though it is against the power and purpose of the party? And where is the betrayal in a situation which did not carry along any promise of support or agreement from the beginning? Yakubu Dogara had walked out in protest during the process of the mock election conducted by the APC for the position of the Speaker. Bukola Saraki did not even attend the version for the Senate President. The reaction of the APC to the leadership elections of the National Assembly, if we may say so, sounds hollow and dumb.
Perhaps it would have been much better for the party to have shrugged it all aside and retired to lick its wound away from sight. It is simply too early in the day, after a resounding victory at the polls, to expose the damaged seams of disunity within the fabric of the party. A calmer attitude would have paved a way to bring everybody back to a position where an amendment would be easy to devise. Since the two principal leaders of the National Assembly are still in the APC, it may not be too difficult to close ranks. But there are a few lessons to be learnt.
The staging of a mock election, especially with such ballyhoo would appear not to be a right course to take in future. It hardly demonstrates true “internal democracy”; rather, it could be counter-productive in that regard.
The party— any political party—may take notice from now on that there are some “big boys” who will not be subdued by the mammoth image of the party. Saraki, for instance, has spent the maximum term for a State Governor, been elected as the head of the National Governor’s Forum, and is in for the second term in the Senate. He deserves some respect. If members of a political party are pushed forward for their potential of bringing in new members into the fold, Saraki has it all. Thus his legitimate ambition may not be back-heeled casually into a corner.
It would also not usually solve any issue to invite the President into, or mingle his name with rows that are purely of a political hue. His position should be insulated from all but matters of policy and governance. This would protect him from petty issues of intra-party manoeuvres and foibles. For instance, Senate President Saraki was involved in a plethora of intrigues and horse-trading of mammoth volume some 48 hours prior to his emergence as the “No.3 man” of the nation. But not one speck was allowed to filter to the vicinity of the President.
It would appear, on the whole, that the APC is still in the grip of the opposition mentality which orders an attack for every situation. If they will go to pieces over a matter of a member wresting a position from another member, what are they going to do when real challenges in governance come up later in the next four years—as they surely will? It is apparent already that the centre is of dubious strength. If it does not hold we will all be here when “things fall apart.”