The venue of the induction of senators-elect and House of Representatives members-elect offered those seeking the leadership of the National Assembly to sell their candidature, reports Onyedi Ojiabor, Abuja.
The curtain was dropped on Friday on the induction of senators-elect and House of Representatives members-elect of the ninth National Assembly.
With the conclusion of the orientation for new members, the stage is set for the dissolution of the Eight National Assembly after the expiration of a period of four years which commenced from the date of the first sitting of the Assembly on June 9th, 2015.
President Muhammadu Buhari is scheduled to issue a proclamation for the inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly to hold on June 11, 2019.
The induction programme, no doubt, formed part of the preparation of the federal legislators-designate as they gear up to take the vital national assignment of lawmaking for the good and welfare of the country.
Beyond the induction of members, the orientation, which featured talk-shops on legislative procedures and nuances, was turned to a battleground by National Assembly office seekers.
It appears nobody wanted to be left out of the game. Sparks of what some of the incoming lawmakers have to offer emerged through questions.
The vexed issue of the struggle for the leadership of the National Assembly featured prominently at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja venue of the orientation.
It was a game of wits. While some contenders for the exalted positions of National Assembly leadership were discreet and exemplarily subtle in their approach to sell their candidature, others threw caution to the winds. To the latter group, “all is well that ends”.
Billboards of aspirants, especially those gunning for the speaker of the House of Representatives, dotted the nooks and crannies of the orientation venue. This was apparently to the distaste of other visitors to the high brow hospitality industry.
The venue was not spared of flyers of various sizes and colours. Front runners busied themselves moving from seat to seat distributing flyers and collecting telephone numbers. Nothing was left to chance as every second mattered to the office seekers.
“The battle is on” one of the newcomers who watched the high level of horse trading and scheming gleefully declared. “Which battle,” another pretentiously asked.
The selection of the Senate President, Speaker, House Representatives, deputy Senate President, and deputy Speaker House Representatives that should have ordinarily been a done deal for the All Progressives Congress (APC) with its clear majority in the two chambers, has been turned into an unsettled business.
To say that the end game of the selection process even with the clear position of the APC in the case of the Senate is dangerously tilting and leaning to unpredictability, maybe to put it mildly.
Interestingly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with its minority rank in the Senate and House of Representatives has effectively positioned its members to determine who emerges what in the two chambers.
That may be the nature of politics especially in this clime where the unexpected happens.
Money is exchanging hands, they say. Whether the positions of the leadership of the National Assembly will go to the highest bidders, is unclear.
It may be right to say that the expectation of Nigerians to get it right is high to avoid the hiccup of the event of June 9th, 2015 when Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki emerged Senate President against his party’s position.
It is also not in doubt that most Nigerians are looking up to the APC to learn from history and put its house in order to avoid a second fall in the leadership selection process of the National Assembly.
What may be in doubt is whether the APC has stimulated enough interest and compliance by its members to support the party’s candidates for the National Assembly leadership positions.
It is equally doubtful whether APC National Assembly members-elect has the strength of character to obey the party.
The Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, kicked off the orientation ceremony by giving an overview of the National Assembly and what the parliament represents in the country.
Sani-Omolori detailed the history of the National Assembly and the formations of the National Assembly bureaucracy.
Saraki took over from Sani-Omolori at the opening dinner for the new members by informing them that the legislature is the bedrock of democracy and the closest arm of government to the people.
Legislators, he said, are held in a position of trust by the people, and the responsibility is a great one.
For Saraki, senators-elect and House of Representatives members-elect, should at all times, ensure that the independence of the legislature is non-negotiable.
National Assembly members, he added, should lead the way in asserting the principle of separation of powers to ensure accountability and due diligence in governance.
On the leadership question, Saraki was of the view that National Assembly members should be left to elect who leads them without outside interference.
Saraki talked about how lawmakers should work to overcome any negative perception of the legislature by the public.
He recognised that the National Assembly is far from unique on the problem of perception.
All over the world, he said, studies have shown that the legislature is often the most misunderstood arm of government.
“In Nigeria, the misapprehension as to the role of the legislature is compounded by its being the youngest arm of government in our developing democracy, in a country that is not long out of military rule. The legislature also often appears to be the weakest arm of government. It is, therefore, necessary to focus on strengthening this important institution. The legislative arm of government must be strong because when the legislative arm is strong, democracy will be strong, he said.
Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, re-echoed Saraki’s sentiment on how the leadership of the National Assembly should emerge.
For Dogara, Nigeria should “learn from history” because “the leadership imposed on the National Assembly has never worked.”
“Some of us that have been a bit old in the field, we know how that is done. My advice is that we stay calm to understand the people going in for these positions of leadership in the National Assembly.
“I will advise members to actually look out for those who have thrown themselves into the race to see who is it that will aggregate their aspirations better and then will be able to surpass the record of this Assembly.”
On the role of party in the emergence of leadership at the National Assembly, he said “Well, I’m not here to dictate to parties, the parties have their manifestoes, the way to do their businesses but one thing I have said and if you followed the business during this induction, it is always better to allow the leadership to emerge from the people.
“Where leadership has been forced upon the people, the history in the National Assembly, and in fact, the history of Nigeria, it has never endured.
“The least we could afford in the National Assembly is a crisis on account of the leadership selection process.
“So whoever a party is sponsoring and supporting, they should make sure they have the backing of the legislature so that they (legislators) accept it because they own the process and they own the leadership.
“That way, it will be good but in a situation, it is forced, literally driven down the throat, in most cases, it doesn’t augur well. Even in the Senate, it doesn’t augur well. In the House of Representatives too, it doesn’t augur well too,” Dogara warned.
The orientation was also an opportunity for the military to explain its role during the just concluded 2019 elections.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin defended the military actions during profusely.
For Gen. Olanisakin if such actions were taken and deployment of the military personnel made, the security situation of the country would have been jeopardised.
The military chief insisted that the deployment of the military personnel during the election was constitutional especially when he said deployment helped to save the country from being thrown into a war zone.
Talking on “Issues on Security and governance” Gen. Olonisakin said:
“The armed forces of Nigeria derived its authority from p1 s3, 217 of the 1999 constitution which provides for the armed forces of Nigeria comprising of the Nigerian Army, the Nigeria Navy and the Nigeria Air Force.
“During the just concluded 2019 general elections, the success of the electoral process was almost hampered by the security in some parts of the country. Many crises prone areas were properly manned by security services to ensure that the voters were secured enough to carry out their civic duties of electing candidates of their choices.
“There have been various arguments by different positions of political parties and other stakeholders of the legality and otherwise of the military in support of the civic authority in the election process.
“A critical area of support that was provided and perhaps not very visible to the public is the deployment of military logistics capabilities. Especially naval and air access to support the movement of materials across the country.
“I need to reiterate that this deployment is in line with the constitutional role of the armed forces of Nigeria as earlier stated. Even in the last general election 2019, the security situation in the country during the election process is better imagined if the military had not been deployed to perform their secondary responsibility thus the effect of security on governance is an important aspect that lawmakers, military personnel and the civil public need to understand in other to make the right decisions.
“A good understanding of these dynamics would enable political leaders and public officials to make realistic decisions and enact laws to achieve national security objectives. Over the years, the armed forces of Nigeria have built various capacities to enable it to perform our various goals. This capacity development is dependent on a number of factors including training and the availability of adequate platforms which has a direct impact in improving the capability of the armed forces of Nigeria in the field and the subsequent effect on national security.”
“These two fundamentals can hardly be achieved in the midst of both internal and external threats in the nation, most government across the globe always strive to ensure that the state is secure and free from crises that could compromise good governance. There is a crucial link between good governance, national security and economic development. If security is not maintained, governance cannot be delivered and therefore it would be a great threat to the unity and integrity of the country. Hence, there would be no meaningful, sustainable development and similarly, security cannot be safeguarded if governance is delivered by an inefficient and disorganized administration.”
On his own Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, dwelt on how some members of the National Assembly compromise their major constitutional functions of oversight and investigation.
The ICPC boss was of the view that as a result of the comprise, especially through commercialisation of their activities, the members lack the will to carry out their constitutional role of oversight and investigation.
Professor Owasanoye spoke on “The role of the legislature in the war against corruption and graft.’
“We should avoid a situation where because people are being investigated, they come to say they want to change the laws to forestall that. I want to urge the lawmakers not to support that.
“Oversight function has been commercialised, which is why the mechanism hasn’t been effective. The legislature is accused of passing the costs to MDAs and of accepting other forms of gratification-foreign trips, phoney seminars, to look the other way.
“The Legislature has powers of investigation: this was very well utilised in the past. But many other times, the power is commercialised. You find out that the investigators become compromised in the process. There’s lacuna on what the legislature should do with the findings,” Professor Owasanoye said.
The Auditor-General for the Federation (AGF), Anthony Ayine, underscored the need for members of the National Assembly to take steps to clear mounting backlogs of audit reports submitted them.
For the AGF, there is no doubt that corruption has stifled economic growth and development in the country.
Speaking on “The role of National Assembly in promoting public accountability” Ayine lamented no Auditor-General’s report submitted to the National Assembly that has been comprehensively considered by the National Assembly since 1999.
He explained that for audit report to be seen to have been fully considered after submission, a resolution of the National Assembly must be transmitted to the Executive arm for necessary action.
Good governance, the AGF said, will remain a mirage in the country, without transparency (openness) and accountability.
“Corruption has stifled economic growth and development in our country. I am therefore optimistic that synergistic effects of efforts of the three arms of government in ensuring openness and accountability can put Nigeria on a good pedestal and enable her to attain her place in the comity of nations where corruption is despised.
“The two Public Accounts Committees (PACs) should draw up a time table for clearing backlogs of audit reports,” he said.
The AGF did not stress that accountability has to do with stewardship while openness is important because nothing is hidden, a situation that makes corruption impossible.
The induction of new members of the National Assembly over, attention has shifted to the inauguration to birth a new parliament.
There are issues, however; issues of adaptability by the newcomers; issues of the high number of freshers who may still have to go through the ropes to understand the art of lawmaking; issues of high expectations that may not be met.
There is also the issue of whether it will be business as usual in the National Assembly; whether the ninth National Assembly will toe a new line in its relationship with the executive arm of government; whether the dog eats dog and cat and mouse relationship will be consigned to the dustbin of history.
It may be difficult to decipher the true colour of the ninth National Assembly through the faces of people at the induction ceremony.
What may help to decode the character of the ninth Assembly will be the kind of leadership that will emerge on June 11, at the inauguration of the New Parliament.