To be sure, we are all aware that there was no way President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) would have been able to wrestle power from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) without poaching from members of the then ruling party. But now that the APC is in government at the centre, it is not too much to expect that the party would begin to forge its own distinct identity. From the way things stand, however, no such thing is going on. If anything, the PDP is gradually but steadily imposing itself on the polity, essentially because nature abhors a vacuum. There is nowhere that has become more apparent than in the National Assembly.
In most democracies across the world (whether parliamentary or presidential) once a political party becomes the majority in the legislature (even if by just a single vote), its members would assume the chairmanship of standing committees. The essence of that is not only to compensate for victory but indeed to also push the agenda of the new ruling party. But in Nigeria, legislative committees are seen as booties to be shared by the presiding officers with the “more juicy” ones reserved for friends and allies regardless of their competences or lack thereof. It is within that context that one can understand the recent composition of the standing committees in both the House of Representatives and Senate.
It must be pointed out that the “political hybrid” in the National Assembly did not start with this administration since minority parties have always been given some committees to chair. But it has never been this pronounced though I will blame it on the way the new ruling party mishandled both the election of presiding officers and its eventual fall-outs. In the present circumstance, since APC members are not united by any shared ideals, it is easy to see why, in the House of Representatives, virtually all the committees that are important for reforms of certain areas of our national life have been handed to the opposition PDP members by the Speaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara, who is evidently more interested in shoring up his support base, in the absence of any coherent policy direction by his party.
Against the background that the United States House of Representatives with more members than Nigeria’s (435 to 360) has 21 congressional committees, 20 standing committees and one select committee, does it make sense for Dogara to establish 97 standing committees? But then it is understandable: In our country, every speaker comes in and creates his/her standing committees in what has become a patronage system so as to keep as many members as possible happy.
The same thing is happening in the upper chamber where the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki yesterday released the composition of the standing committees. Whereas in the United States, the Senate has only 20 committees,our own Senate has 65 committees! And the spokesman (chair of the Information committee) happens to be a member of the opposition party!
Now back to the House. Of the 97 committees, Dogara gave the chairmanship positions in 49 of them to APC members while ceding the chairmanship of 44 committees to the opposition PDP. But the devil is in the details. The four most critical committees in the petroleum and power sectors were handed to the opposition PDP members: Power; Gas Resources; Petroleum (Downstream) and Petroleum (Upstream). The Speaker also ceded the Banking and Currency committee to the PDP at a time the value of the Naira has become a subject of international debate. Some other committees chaired by PDP members include Public Accounts; Army; Works; Capital Market and Institutions; Public Procurement; Information, National Orientation and Values; Niger Delta Development Commission; Foreign Affairs; Climate Change; Aviation etc.
I am not in any way blaming Dogara for rewarding those who helped him to the position of Speaker, especially in the absence of any institutional support from the APC to rally their members behind him. The situation is the same in the Senate where Saraki has to accommodate PDP members with important committees. What else can he do when he is daily being fought by the leadership of his own party? But the challenge remains that of the APC that has refused to learn the lesson of internal cohesion and how to maximize its majority to push its agenda (assuming there is one!).
However, the problem goes far deeper as there is a lingering unwillingness by the two leading political parties to graduate frommereacronymsto serious platforms as neither the PDP nor the ruling APC is defined by any set of beliefs. Their membership is recruited by vested interest of a most crass definition. It is therefore no surprisethat vital committee leadership and membership positions in the legislature would be allocated on the basis of balancing the interests that produced the leadership of both houses. Yet in all these, what baffles is that the APC seems intent on subverting its own hold on power by the way and manner it has encouraged the crisis in the National Assembly to fester as a result of its own internal contradictions.
What the foregoing says most loudly is that there is an embarrassing lack of focus on the part of the APC. No one has cared to define the ‘change’ mantra that President Buhari and other leaders keep talking about. The party has not, even in its very structure and approach to its own affairs, indicated an intention to change the behaviour that underlies Nigeria’s sorry political culture. More regrettably, President Buhari has so far conducted the affairs of state in a manner that does not signal a definite political direction. Since this is a burden he bears as a result of the incoherence of his party, it is either he nudges the APC to go along with him or the party will squander his personal integrity which is still all that he has going for him. That choice will need to be made sooner than later.
The urgent task on hand is to couple the president’s reformist zeal to an enabling political party platform that works and has a clear policy thrust. That synergy between president and party is embarrassingly absent at a period there is also no sign that the presidency and National Assembly are on the same page. In a situation in which its major operatives are being undermined, it is understandable that the APC principal lawmakers will also keep empowering the opposition to stay afloat. Even worse, the leading lights of the APC in the National Assembly are behaving in a manner that tempts the conclusion that they are still all PDP people.
Perhaps it is just as well that President Buhari is starting with a retreat for the ministers who are yet to be assigned portfolios. He should go further by resolving whatever the problems are within his party in the National Assembly, following the election of principal officers more than five months ago. If the president does not know, then he must be told very clearly: self-subversion cannot be a strategy either for working towards improving the welfare of the people or for sustaining a ruling party in power.
Reuben Abati @ 50
My friend and brother, Dr. Reuben Adeleye Abati, will be 50 on Saturday. Whatever may have happened to the frequency with which his phone rings after his stint in Aso Rock, nobody will dispute the fact that Abati, who entered national consciousness almost three decades ago as a fiery commentator on public affairs, has paid his dues. I wish him the best for the day and many more decades in good health as he continues to deploy his talents for the greater good of our people and country. Happy birthday in advance to my dear ‘aburo’ of 24 hours!
Article written by Olusegun Adeniyi
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