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Imperative of rotating political positions

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ON May 29, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari will be sworn in for the second tenure in office. Thereafter, he will swear in the elected members of the National Assembly. Meanwhile, horse-trading and behind the scene manoeuvres have been going on to elect strategic and principal officers of two chambers of the national legislature namely: Senate and Deputy Senate President of the upper chamber, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the lower chamber, majority party and minority party leaders, chief whip, etc.

One of the cardinal underpinnings of constitutional democracy is separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judiciary. In the choice of the leadership of the legislature, both national and sub-national, members are expected to exercise freedom mingled with inter and intra lobbying to have capable persons to enable the legislative arm of government to discharge its statutory duties and responsibilities to the delight of the constituencies.

However, the political party that won the presidency would naturally want a leadership of the legislative arm of government to cooperate with the executive to avoid a stalemate in the execution of policies, programmes, and projects in the party’s election manifesto. There the problem lies because an attempt by the executive to strive to lord it over the legislative arm would portend dangers which more often than not, would be to the detriment of the general expectations of the country.

In other words, a do or die posturing of the executive or the party in power to always have it smooth in the legislature leads to a “rubber stamp legislature” which has been known to spell doom to constitutional democracy. Again, the tendency of the concept of winners take all and losers lose all inherent in presidential democracy, has not really served the general weal and welfare of the governed. Hence the deliberate attempts to temper the concept with balanced power sharing between the party in power and the major opposition party. The innovation has paid off but unhindered greed and unpatriotic tendencies has destroyed the gains and created social and political instability that dogged at according primacy to the basic needs of the governed.

During the NPN and NPP political understanding that led to the controversial two political parties’ accord for the sharing of principal positions in the national assembly, the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari took off smoothly and the legislature aligned with the visions of the party in power for the overall interest of Nigerians. Unfortunately along the line, ego mania took the centre stage leading to the collapse of the political accord. The country did not progress as expected while the masses bore the brunt of the greed and egotism found among the two party chieftains that called the shots.

In the 8th National Assembly, Dr. Bukola Saraki, formerly of PDP but then APC quite appreciated the essence of independent legislature and decided to save the country from dictatorship inherent in the concept of winner takes all and loser loses all and rubber stamp of a legislature which would be to the detriment of the welfare of the governed. In a political master stroke that looked like a bolt from the blues, the members present voted him as Senate President while PDP man was voted Deputy Senate President to the joy of Nigerians.

The 8th National Assembly performed to a reasonable extent to prevent dictatorship of the executive but Buhari in many instances had his way to the detriment of Nigerians. There were instances where political appointees, especially the headship of security agencies invited by the senate did not deem it expedient to present themselves to the red chamber to throw lurid light on issues that question the capability of government to assuage the deep yearnings and aspirations of the governed. These instances painted Nigeria in the outside world as not serious in the practice of constitutional democracy. It attracted international odium since the advanced democracies attach great significance in the rule of law which remains a pillar of democracy the world over. Moreover, the shunning of the invitation to appear in the red chamber by top political appointees led credence to the age-long impression that the executive in a presidential democracy is very powerful.

As Nigerians await the policies and programmes of President Buhari in his second tenure, there is lofty expectations arising from his declaration that his “Next Level” portends a tinkering of his infamous trajectories in governance like disrespect to the concept of “Checks and balances” between the three arms of government, failure to obey court orders, failure of his ministers and heads of strategic parastatals to honour the invitation of the Senate, failure to dispense with political appointees who were not confirmed by the Senate, and a situation where the inspector general of police goes with the impression that he is answerable to the president, and single-handedly removing the head of the judiciary unmindful of the fact that the three arms of government are equal and coordinate.

In the same vein, Nigerians expect that the national assembly will not be the proverbial rubber stamp in words and in deeds which will be an open sesame to “constitutional dictatorship”. This brings us to the unguarded statements of the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, who said that the party would fill all the strategic positions in the national legislature giving no room for what happened in the 8th National Assembly. Denouncing the skewed position of the loquacious chairman, Alvan Ewuzie, in his ‘Before the winner takes all’ said: “Chairman of the ruling All Progressive Congress [APC], Adams Oshiomhole is reported to have said that the winner will take all at the National Assembly in the coming dispensation. The concept of ‘power sharing’, perhaps, makes non-sense of the struggle and tussle which saw his party emerge with more members in the National Assembly. The party’s big wigs have met and decided the power sharing formula in the Senate and House of Representatives”.

Rumblings from even within APC and PDP trend in condemning the move to give all the strategic positions to the APC members. Ewuzie continued: “The game is on as the usual political moves has commenced. Already, there seems to be dissenting voices and actions within, and naturally, outside the ruling party. There have been both mild, and, if you like, wild protests against the party’s intrusion into the ‘internal affair’ of the National Assembly. Many people have held that the members should enjoy democracy by way of multiple contenders, which may be why 18 people have reportedly indicated their intention to vie for the position of speaker, in spite of the party’s backing and endorsement of Gbajabiamila of Lagos. The party insists that people who flew their ticket to emerge into elective positions should not kick down the ladder”.

APC should soft-pedal on the philosophy of its chairman who has been creating the impression of “being more Catholic than the Pope”. Nigeria’s image is at stake if the 9th National Assembly will be a rubber stamp being preoccupied in doing the biddings of the president. Ironically, the president who they are trying to help has publicly declared at the INEC’s office where he was given the Certificate of Return that he would back-pedal from his much-criticized style of appointments to make it inclusive of all the ethno-religious groupings in the country. The wider connotation of his “Next Level” in governance means that he would not be comfortable with a rubber stamp legislature.

In other words, APC loquacious and boisterous chieftains should rein their threats to engage in winner takes all and embrace the inclusive philosophy of a reformed or ‘born again’ Buhari. Southeast has suffered marginalization in terms of strategic political appointments in ‘kitchen cabinet’ and juicy agencies, departments, parastatals, bureaucratic positions in the national assembly, and judiciary.

APC should focus on national integration instead of reinvigorating ethno-religious irredentism and accompanying fractious tendencies. Inclusiveness of APC leader should create possibilities for a southeaster to be Senate President or Speaker of House of Representatives. Ewuzie reflected that “The politicians of 1979 seem to be more conscious of unity than the selfish ones of today. In practical terms, there may be not much to it than the psychological soothing balm of belongingness for the Deputy Senate President to be conceded to the zone. The National Assembly is an arm of government from which the zone should not be excluded. As the winner takes all, it should know that the nation exists on the basis of equity”.

Respect for rotation of strategic political appointments remains a panacea to wielding multi-ethnic and evolving nations together to achieve cohesion and greatness. Columnist Ropo Sekoni who has sympathy for APC deplores the effusions of the party’s big wigs when he said: “For too long, Nigeria has had to grapple with distractions from the most important goal: finding a political culture that can transform centrifugal into centripedal forces capable of creating one of the world’s largest truly modern multi-ethnic federal state.

“It is conceivable that the principle of rotational presidency may not be the best solution to the country’s many problems, it has since its inception in 1999 brought a measure of political stability, such as the country had not known until 1999. It may be too soon and too risky to throw away this baby with the bath water. Calling for cancellation of rotational presidency may feel unpleasant to many regions just as calling for restructuring has been to some regions since 1993. There is no better time for patriotic Nigerians to urge promoters of rule by one region to desist from restoring monopolization of power that spawned rotational presidency in the first instance”.

Encouraging Buhari to take full cognizance of the significance of having the opportunity to have second tenure and be conscious to be remembered as a statesman after his exit from power, Idowu Akinlotan who criticized Buhari for his shortcomings in the first tenure admonished him thus: “He was widely advertised as a fleet-footed sprinter. But instead he is running an appalling leg. If he is not to give his party a disastrous race in 2023, he must rejigger his leg of the race, assemble a far better team than he did in 2015, come down from his boastful and sanctimonious heights, select a great and inclusive kitchen cabinet of the brightest and the best from around the country, and, despite himself, lay a solid foundation for the rule of law, democracy and human rights”.

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