By Femi Ogunshola
Come June 4, Nigerians will witness the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, which will pilot the country’s legislative affairs for the next four years after the expiration of the current 7th National Assembly. Observers are quick to note that All Progressive Congress (APC) members will dominate the 8th National Assembly; as opposed to the 7th National Assembly, which is under the control of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
As the new National Assembly starts work on June 4, concerned citizens have been expressing some reservations about some leadership tussles that could crop up in the bicameral legislature. Such fears are quite logical because of the high expectations of Nigerians regarding the incoming government of retired Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, which is expected to work in concert with the legislature in all nation-building processes. Observers note that the envisaged leadership tussles and the zoning formula may negatively affect the APC and make its members to lock horns on who get what in the incoming National Assembly.
The APC is naturally expected to produce the leaders of the National Assembly due to the numerical strength of its members in the legislature, as stated by the House Rules, but the party appears to be in a dilemma as to where to zone each of the leadership positions.
The posts that are to be occupied in the National Assembly include the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Senate Leader, Deputy Senate leader, Chief Whip and the Deputy Chief whip.
On the other hand, elections in the House of Representatives have to be made to fill the offices of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, House Leader, Deputy House leader, Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip. Observers note that the composition of the principal offices in the upper and lower chambers of the legislature, in compliance with the zoning formula, has been a thorny issue facing the APC.
However, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Publicity Secretary of the APC, debunked such speculations, insisting that there was not iota of truth in the hearsay that the party was having problems with how to allocate positions and offices via the zoning formula. He stressed that all issues of public interest would be handled in a transparent way and conveyed to Nigerians via the usual communication channels Nevertheless, the existing tradition requires that six principal offices in the Senate and House of Representatives should be filled on the basis of a zoning principle that accommodates all six geo-political zones of the country.
Analysts note that since President-elect Buhari and his deputy, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, are from the North-West and South-West geopolitical zones respectively, the remaining four zones will be considered when other political posts are to be filled. In a nutshell, the North-East, North-Central, South-East and South-South geopolitical zones are expected to receive primary consideration in the nascent power-sharing procedures. Mr Samuel Akanbi, a political analyst, said that ordinarily, the South-East zone ought to produce the next Senate President but because of the overwhelming support of the people of the zone for the PDP, the zone might have lost out. He said that the situation could be quite problematic for the APC, while striving to abide by the tradition, because the South-East and South-South zones are not represented in its membership of the 8th Senate.
Chief John Oyegun, the National Chairman of the APC, while reacting to the emerging situation in the National Assembly, described the dilemma facing the party, in terms of ensuring equal representation of all geo-political zones in the legislature’s leadership, as sad.
He conceded that the near absence of APC members from the South-East and South-South zones in the 8th National Assembly was not too good for the party. Oyegun said that even Gov. Rochas Okorocha of Imo, who shared similar sentiments, had also expressed the same fears. “But we thank God we won and the same God will teach us how to go about it at both chambers in our efforts to carry along the two zones, particularly the South-East which has no single APC senator- elect, in the power-sharing processes,’’ he said.
Akanbi said that even though potential contenders to the offices were already showing interest, while lobbying other incoming members of the National Assembly, the APC should, nonetheless, strive to be fair. Some of the contenders to the Office of the Senate President include Sen. Bukola Saraki (Kwara, North-Central), Sen. George Akume (Benue, North-Central) and Sen. Ahmed Lawan (Yobe, North-East). On the other hand, contenders to the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives include Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos, South-West) and Rep. Yakubu Dogara (Borno, North East), among others.
Nevertheless, Mr Bode Towoju, an APC chieftain and Coordinator of Muhammadu Buhari Legacy Foundation in North-Central zone, said that his party would abide by the zoning principle while considering persons for offices. He stressed that since both chambers of the National Assembly had the tradition of electing experienced members as their leaders, the APC would strictly adhere to the existing practice.
He underscored the wisdom in sustaining the zoning policy, saying that it would aid efforts to stabilise the polity, as no geopolitical zone of the country would be alienated from governance. Mr Sheu Sanni, an APC senator-elect from Kaduna Central Senatorial District, however, kicked against the notion that experience should always be the primary factor while considering lawmakers for leadership positions in the National Assembly.
“If I have my way, all `experienced’ legislators should not hold any leadership position in the 8th National Assembly because they are part of the rot in the country,’’ he said. Mr Zailani Bappa, a political analyst, said that although the factor of experience could not be jettisoned while considering lawmakers for posts, tangible efforts should, nonetheless, be made to choose candidates with integrity, irrespective of their experience.
He, however, said that the positive inclination of the legislators to make laws that would facilitate national development would play out and set the country on “the path of truth’’. Mr Ayo Thomas, the Director-General/Chief Convener of Forum of Emerging Young Socio- economic and Political Leaders, a non-governmental organisation, however, warned that the APC must not toy with the idea of jettisoning the zoning formula He emphasised that the geographical design Nigeria was embedded in zoning, adding that all that the APC needed to do was look for a man of integrity from a particular zone that was expected to occupy a specific post in the NationalA ssembly.
“The APC should look for a man or woman of integrity to pilot the affairs of the National Assembly; no zone has a monopoly of integrity, the party should apply the zoning principle when selecting the Assembly’s leaders,’’ he said. He, however, underscored the need for the presentation of a credible candidate, who would be acceptable to all party members, by the particular geopolitical zone where a position was ceded to. Thomas said that a situation where one geopolitical zone was allowed to amass immense political power, to the detriment of others, would not augur well with efforts to promote the country’s unity and stability.
He reiterated that pragmatic efforts should be made to promote the principle of equity and fairness in all the country’s governance processes. He, however, said that from his personal observation and judgment, all those jostling for leadership positions in the National Assembly were men of integrity, adding that certain allegations being levelled against them still remained in the realm of speculation. All in all, analysts underscore the need to sustain the zoning principle while selecting leaders for the 8th National Assembly, saying that it will aid the fulfilment of Nigeria’s democracy. (NANFeatures)