The events at the inauguration of Nigeria’s eighth National Assembly (NASS) and election of its presiding officers raise a lot of issues. There are a lot of ways to discuss the events, but I will focus on three areas namely law, democracy and politics, even as I realise their interconnectivity in the present case.
On legality, President Muhammadu Buhari had issued a proclamation for the inauguration of NASS, pursuant to Section 64(3) of the Constitution. It must be noted that the proclamation, as read by the Clerk of NASS, specified 10am as the time for the inauguration. Therefore, the clerk was right to proceed as planned.
Some people queried why the clerk went ahead when all the senators-elect were not present. The fact remains that 10am was fixed for the inauguration and if majority were there at that time or within reasonable time thereafter, there was no legal impediment on the clerk to proceed, moreso when by Section 54(1) of the Constitution, the quorum for the legislature is one-third, and that number had been surpassed. In fact, more than 50 per cent of the senators-elect were present when the inauguration commenced. As an analogy, would an airline be expected to delay the operation of a flight at its designated time when majority of checked-in passengers have boarded and some others are nowhere in sight?
There was a question also as to why the election was held before the members were sworn in. By Section 52 of the Constitution, the elections of the Senate president and deputy as well as the House of Representatives speaker and deputy actually come before the members take their oaths of allegiance and of office. The elected officers thereafter take the oaths of allegiance and of office before the clerk. It is only after then that the elected Senate president or speaker of the House administers the oaths of allegiance and of office to the rest of the members.
In considering how democratic the process was, we should acknowledge that democracy stresses the rule of the majority. In this case, the majority of the legislators-elect freely chose their leaders within the chambers, as required by law. Nobody was restrained from nominating or standing election. I was happy to see that after Yakubu Dogara from the North East geopolitical zone was elected speaker, another North East member was again nominated to contest the deputy speaker position. And although a few persons tried to query that, he agreed to contest and was not disqualified. That, to me, was the spirit of democracy at work.
The area that has generated the most discussion is the politics of the entire exercise. The APC, being the majority party in government, had tried to reach an agreement on the leadership of NASS. That is to be expected in politics. But what they failed to appreciate was that the election for the leadership of the legislature is held in the chambers of the legislature, not outside. I had in recent writings cautioned the APC against becoming as megalomaniac as the party it dislodged, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It seems to me that the effort to foist the leadership of the legislature on the members and by extension the country had an overdose of arrogance driven by a cabal of ‘kingmakers’, and it backfired, like it happened to PDP in the House of Representatives in 2011.
It was such arrogance that made APC call for a meeting in the morning of Tuesday, when the members-elect ought to be heading for NASS for their inauguration. Whatever internal misunderstanding APC had should have been settled in-house prior to the inauguration time. To suggest that the Clerk of NASS should have deferred to the presidency by holding on was to suggest that the NASS, as the representation of all the people of Nigeria, should wait indefinitely until a few bickering politicians in one of several political parties could settle their differences.
Besides, since the clerk already had a proclamation duly issued by the president in his hands, the only way he could have delayed would have been by another written request issued by the president, not based on some information trending in the media (including social media) that morning or by persons claiming to act on behalf of the president. And this is why I am equally concerned by the president’s failure to name some other of his critical aides, including the Chief of Staff, given that some of his party bigwigs are beginning to make statements or act in manners that are being passed off for presidential positions on issues.
On the issue of ‘supremacy of the party’, I find it difficult to accept the attempt by Nigerian political parties to push that concept too far in a presidential system which we operate, as though we were back in the First Republic (1960s) where we operated a cabinet system. We saw how PDP used this same principle to push for the inclusion of ‘third term’ in the Nigerian Constitution. The party had then threatened its members in NASS to support the third term as the official position of the party, even when it was glaring that such purported party position was obtained by subterfuge, driven by a cabal in the party. Since that time, I always stressed that no party position was so important to supplant national interest.
And for those who underestimate what happened in the Senate with the emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate president, they should recall that the very next day, those senators-elect who missed out or shut themselves out of the inauguration on Tuesday went back to the same chambers and before the same Senator Saraki to be sworn in as senators. If in fact they were convinced of the illegality of the Senate presidency, they would not have submitted to his authority to admit them into parliament by way of administering the oaths of office and allegiance on them.
First published in The Niche on June 14, 2015 http://www.thenicheng.com/nass-inauguration-when-legality-trumped-politics/