by Reuben Abati
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the “factional” leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has reportedly asked Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki to resign his position as Senate President. What exactly does the Comrade want Saraki to resign from- the Senate Presidency or even his membership of the Senate having won election into the Assembly in the first place on the platform of the APC? Oshiomhole also probably expects that other members of the APC who are occupying elective and appointive positions will also tender letters of resignation, having defected from the ruling APC.
It is either the embattled party Chairman has not adverted his mind to the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution on party matters or the party’s legal adviser is not doing his job. The gale of defections from the ruling APC – 16 Senators, including the Senate President, three Governors, 37 members of the House of Representatives, the Nigerian Ambassador to South Africa, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, and looks like more to come in the days ahead, including Ministers who may be preparing their letters of resignation, their political principals having deserted the party – raises a number of questions, political, moral and legal. I intend to address some of these in order to assist the leaders of the APC to stop acting as cry-babies and to attempt a clarification of the nature and character of the tsunami that seems now certain, if unchecked, to sweep the APC out of power.
With regard to the Saraki defection, the language of the Constitution is very clear and specific in Section 50(1) (a) wherein it is stated that there shall be “a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of the House from among themselves”. The same expression is retained in Section 50 (1)(b) as applicable to the House of Representatives, and the emphasis is on the phrase – “from among themselves.” The Constitution thus does not say that the Senate President or the Speaker and their Deputies must come from the ruling or majority party; indeed any of the members of the Assembly can occupy the mentioned positions once their colleagues choose them “from among themselves.” Saraki does not therefore have to resign his Senate Presidency because he has left the APC, that party also cannot order him to resign. The only way he or the Speaker of the House of Representatives can be removed is stated in Section 50 of the Constitution and in the present circumstance Section 50(2)(c) is of particular interest – it prescribes removal only “by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of the members of that House”.
Can the APC at the moment muster up to “two-thirds majority” in either the Red or the Green Chamber to remove the Senate President or the Speaker and their Deputies? I don’t think so. There are probably more persons in both Houses who have also resolved to defect from the APC but who are still physically identifying with the party in order to stay behind as fifth columnists, or simply because of a lingering lack of clarity about their fortunes in their local political environments should they defect at a wrong time.
I think Comrade Oshiomhole also needs to be reminded that Nigeria is not running a parliamentary system; the agenda of party supremacy that he has been pushing, and which probably makes him sound like a cane-wielding party chairman – dishing out Stalin-like instructions to other party members, is only bound to alienate others, and effectively turn him into an undertaker. A Constitutional democracy such as we run requires greater inclusion, horse-trading and statesmanship rather than the dominant rhetoric of arrogance.
Those who have defected from the APC also need not lose any sleep, particularly members of the legislative houses. Specifically, Section 68 of the 1999 Constitution outlines the circumstances under which a member of the Senate or House of Representatives shall vacate his seat; the most relevant to this commentary being Section 68 (1) (g) which permits defections from one political party to the other in the event of a division in the political party of which a person is a member, or the merger of two or more political parties or factions. Those APC members who are protesting the defection of the Senate President and others cannot deny that there is a division within the APC or that the party is now divided into factions – the Oshiomhole-led faction, the Engr. Buba Galadima-led faction better known as the Reformed APC and the Saraki faction, which has now returned to the PDP.
However, whereas Section 68(1) (g) offers such protection to defecting members of the National Assembly, the Nigerian Constitution is silent on the matter of Governors who come to power and office on the platform of one political party and who while still in office choose to cross to another political party. This is the dilemma that is thrown up by the phrasing of Section 221, and perhaps the basis for Oshimohole’s request for Saraki’s resignation, even if the provision does not apply to him in the light of a reading of other sections. Section 221 states that: “No association, other than a political party shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.”
In other words, for the purposes of elections, the Constitution recognizes only political parties as the vehicle through which any candidate may seek elective office. In the absence of any provision for independent candidacy, nobody can seek office except through a political party, and hence the votes belong to the party and not the individual. It is political parties that canvass for votes. The Governor or rather the candidate is therefore a trustee of the party. The question then is: can a trustee run away with the fundamental object of the trust, namely the position that he occupies? If and when he does so, it will appear that he has shortchanged his political party and the electorate.
The only way to determine this, however, is through the court of law, and not the kind of self-help tactics that the APC seems to prefer. There have been reports that some members of the Senate are plotting to take over the National Assembly and Nicodemously impeach Senator Bukola Saraki. The leadership of the APC is advised to commit to due process, and not to encourage any illegal conduct. In Benue state, the Governor, Samuel Ortom has also complained that he is being harassed, and there has been an attempt by eight out of the 30 members of the State House of Assembly to impeach the Governor. The matter is now before the court.
The level of persecution, harassment and injury to character over the matter of defections from the APC is most strange. After all, the APC itself was a beneficiary of a similar development in 2013-2014, when members of the new PDP and APGA defected from their parties to join the APC coalition. Aminu Tambuwal, then Speaker of the House of Representatives received fulsome praise from then Presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari for leading many PDP lawmakers to join the APC. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole also deployed his “eloquence” to encourage members of the PDP to join the APC. Since the APC got to power in 2015, many more members of the PDP have defected to the ruling party. APC leaders did not see anything wrong in this; they did not accuse the defecting PDP members of anti-party activities, so why should they complain now that they are being served a dose of their own medicine? Or are there other issues, within the ruling party, such as post-2015 financial reconciliation or the sharing of spoils, that the public needs to know so that we can be better informed?
I say this because when you read the statements that have been made by those who have just defected from the party, you can only but be shocked. Engr. Galadima who was a major engineer of the 2015 APC victory is now engineering contempt and odium against the party. Governor Ortom has pointed to a failure of leadership within the party. Governor Tambuwal sounded very harsh as he talked about corruption, mismanagement of the economy, the spread of national insecurity and what he calls “prison-yard democracy.” The former APC National Publicity Secretary, Bolaji Abdullahi also issued a statement dripping with venom and contempt for a political party, which he had defended only a week earlier. Saraki’s anger is perhaps on the face of it, understandable – here was a man who from day one was not given any respite by the Buhari Presidency, here was a man who was criminalised by the same party he helped to build; he had to be saved by the Supreme Court of Nigeria, only to be labeled “an armed robber” subsequently. Like Saul on the way to Damascus, Saraki and others have now seen the light; like the Biblical prodigal son, they are all returning to the PDP, which Dino Melaye calls their “home”. It took the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) 16 years to implode; it has taken the APC less than four years to reach the same point.
In 2014, the PDP was divided, and confused as to how to handle the same situation such as this that has now arisen with the APC. There were members of the party who advised that the then Attorney General of the Federation should be asked to take the defecting five Governors of the time to court, and if that would be a long process, the President should declare a state of emergency in the affected states and have the Governors removed or impeached and sole administrators appointed in their place. Mohammed Bello Adoke, AGF and Minister of Justice, as he then was, insisted that it was not the duty of his office to dabble into partisan politics and that if anybody should go to court, it should be the political party, the owner of the trust in contention and not the Federal Government of Nigeria. The party didn’t want to go to court. It wanted the five Governors punished. The President didn’t buy into their idea.
Those whose views prevailed eventually were those who argued that the five Governors could go if they wanted. They said it was God himself cleansing the party by removing the bad eggs within. They were sure that the defection of the Governors and some members of the National Assembly would not affect the party in any way in the 2015 general elections. As we all know, the PDP paid dearly for this. The APC is about to suffer the same fate. Oshiomhole Is not helping matters with his rhetoric. The President is also aloof. He went to inspect the campaign headquarters for his re-election bid and then jetted off to London for a 10-day vacation. If I were in President Buhari’s shoes, I would not consider this a right time to go on vacation. He would have nobody to blame if by the time he returns, there have been more defections from his party and government.
The situation is more worrisome moreso as the President, realizing the brewing crisis within the party, a few months ago, set up a Reconciliation Committee led by the party’s national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. What happened to that Reconciliation Committee? Did it ever submit any report? And if it did, who and who did it reconcile? It is quite curious that in the face of the on-going crisis within the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the Chairman of the Presidential Reconciliation Committee has been silent. His silence is too pregnant with meaning. Is it a cautious admission of the failure of the Committee he led, or an admission that the crisis is not resolvable?
In all of this, we are left with two things. The first is that our politicians are not principled at all. They can belong to the PDP in the morning, the APC by noon and within 24 hours, they could join a completely new party and advance strong arguments to justify their nomadism. The political parties are not built on any concrete principles or ideology either; they are vehicles for political survival and access to power by ambitious politicians. The second thing is that we, the people, are the ones who are short-changed. By now, governance has more or less stopped within Nigeria’s ruling party; the politics of 2019 has taken over. Bad politics results in bad economics and the crisis of growth and progress. With a National Assembly that has suspended key legislative work, and an Executive that is seeking a second term in office, and whose President is on holiday, while the party is on fire, international investors have also put Final Investment Decisions on hold, the market is in the grips of uncertainty, GDP ratings are stagnant, creeping stasis is imminent, and all of that, until Nigeria’s political drama is resolved. The only thing that is not on hold is the people’s frustration and the rising cost of being Nigerian.