It turned out last week that senators of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, many of whom were outsmarted by their state governors in the party’s congress held the previous weekend, decided to carry out what may be termed a “work to rule” in Nigeria’s labour lexicon. They were angry with their party but they exacted their anger on the country, claiming instead to be directing it at President Goodluck Jonathan. In Nigeria’s peculiar democracy, the line separating a political party from the government it leads is almost non-existent. The result is that the elected President of the country becomes a maximum ruler, using state apparatuses and resources to unfairly control his party at all levels. This humunguous power is replicated at a lower level by the state governors, even as the President still serves as a “headmaster” to them all.
But the state governors have since pooled their powers and resources together to give the President a run for his money, never mind the pun. This has resulted into a rub-my-back-I-rub-yours or quid pro quo arrangement between President Jonathan and the governors, where they call the shots in our politics. This alliance is what has left our senators on the wrong side of the political grabbing. While the PDP has almost certainly reserved the presidential standard-bearer slot to incumbent President Jonathan, the governors have unwittingly negotiated what they call “a right of first refusal” for the party’s ticket to contest the senate seat, since most of them are completing the maximum term to remain as state governor. It is this greedy position grab that has set them on a collision course with the senators, many of whose seats are being poached by the powerful governors. And the senators are now fighting back, using a wrong approach.
The mere thought of senators refusing to carry out their constitutional duties on account of their selfish political contestation within their party portrays them as callous and unpatriotic. For one, they will keep their pay, allowances and other perks of office for the period they did not work. Two days without sitting in plenary out of a possible three days of sitting in a week means that legislative work is set back severely. And there are very urgent legislative assignments begging to be addressed at this time, with just about six weeks left of the year and at a time the legislators are torn between their duties and party primaries. So, every single day counts. By threatening not to carry out legislative duties, more particularly any executive bill and requests, the senators are saying they will not consider and pass the budget for instance.
About a month ago, the Executive presented the Medium Term Expenditure Framework to the National Assembly and that has yet to be passed, a pre-condition to the submission of the proposed budget 2015. At this rate, there is absolutely no way the appropriation bill would be passed into law before the end of this year, unless the legislature plans to do a shoddy job and fail to scrutinise the draft well enough. And that would be a grave disservice to the Nigerian people.
Yet another critical piece of legislative work the senators overlooked in their selfish action last week is the amendment of the Electoral Act. It is bad enough that they delayed this work until this time, three months to the next general elections, even as the amendment will have far-reaching consequences on the elections. As a fact, the Independent National Electoral Commission has been unable to update its voter education information document, pending the passage of the amendment so as not to produce a document that would become useless after the amendment. Therefore, while we would be quick to condemn INEC for its looming failure next year, we shouldn’t fail to stress the part played by senators in that failure, as far as legislative duties are concerned.
If the PDP senators feel so angry about their fortunes in their party, they should channel their grouse to the Wadata Plaza headquarters of their party and not reduce our National Assembly to a freedom square for their protests.
- Obo Effanga, Governance manager, ActionAid International, Abuja