OrderPaperToday – After seven months of its inauguration, the 8th national assembly is currently on end-of-the-year holiday recess to resume on January 12, 2016. But it has been a period packed full of drama, political intrigues and suspense which combine together to define the character and shape of both the Senate and House of Representatives. Here are the highlights of note:
Saraki, Dogara and Trumping of Party Supremacy: The 8th national assembly was inaugurated on June 9, 2015 and had Senator Bukola Saraki (Kwara Central) elected senate president and Mr. Yakubu Dogara from Bauchi State emerging as Speaker, House of Representatives. These outcomes ran contrary to the dictates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which had okayed Sen. Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North) and Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos State for the posts of senate president and speaker of the House respectively. The party had actually contrived controversial mock elections for both offices and was therefore galled at the trumping of its outcomes by Saraki and Dogara. It was even more galling for the APC that the post of deputy senate president went to Sen. Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu West) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an unprecedented development since the 4th Republic where the senate president and deputy senate president are from rival parties. Many believed that happened because Saraki allegedly cut a deal with PDP senators to secure their support for his senate presidency bid. The high-wire drama which saw a substantial number of APC senators majority of whom are Lawan’s supporters stranded at the International Conference Centre (ICC) where they had honoured an invitation for a purported meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari (which never held) on the very morning of inauguration day remains a defining political moment as Saraki was eventually elected unopposed.
In the House of Representatives, Dogara emerged Speaker in a very keen contest with Gbajabiamila, the anointed candidate of the APC. The Bauchi-born Christian third-term lawmaker scored 182 votes to beat Femi who garnered 174. Mr. Lasun Yusuf from Osun State emerged Deputy Speaker unopposed. Having emerged in such contentious circumstances, the senate president and speaker moved swiftly to consolidate their hold on power and clashed fiercely with the party again on the appointment of principal officers. While Saraki largely succeeded in appointing his men into leadership positions, Dogara eventually capitulated and conceded the position of Majority leader to Gbajabiamila as insisted by the APC.
But still sore, embarrassed and deflated by the turn of events, top apparatchiks of the APC acting with subtle support from the presidency have continually moved against Saraki ever since. Saraki had murdered sleep and he would not be allowed to sleep no more. Or so it seems as that singular act of defiance of party supremacy has continued to reverberate in the last seven months.
Saraki and the Code of Conduct Trial: Like a backlash unleashed to whip a recalcitrant child into line, charges of false assets declaration and money laundering were suddenly slammed on Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Political connotations were inputted into the CCT action because the charges were related to Saraki’s tenure as governor of Kwara State from 2003 to 2011. A 13-count charge of alleged was filed against Saraki who after some attempt to snub the tribunal, was eventually docked on September 22, 2015. That it took the CCT about 12 years to realize that Saraki had offended the laws on assets declaration for public office holders has been a moral and political burden the authorities have been battling with besides the senate president’s robust legal challenge of the trial which got to the Supreme Court and is still pending before the judiciary. The CCT trial however introduced a disturbing dimension described by analysts as personalization of the senate by its president as Saraki was accompanied by hordes of senators at his several arraignments at the expense of the legislative institution.
Frivolous Adjournments as Political Stratagem: The 8th national assembly has gone on recess several times since inauguration. However, apart from two or so statutory closures most of these recesses were to satisfy political exigencies and in deference to self-preservation of the emergent power blocks in the national assembly. The first recess was immediately after the election of presiding officers which was ‘needed’ to calm nerves frayed by the election of Saraki and Dogara respectively as senate president and speaker, House of Representatives. After resuming from that initial recess, the House was forced to adjourn again for over a month following a brawl over leadership positions on June 25, 2015. The senate has had to contrive adjournments each time Saraki had an appearance at the CCT to enable senators accompany him to court in solidarity. Nigerians gave hard knocks to the national assembly for these frivolous recesses.
Committee Headships as Frontier for Dogara, Gbajabiamila Tussle: The wounds inflicted on top APC chieftains and their preferred candidates by the election of Saraki and Dogara was refreshed by the appointment of chairpersons and deputy chairpersons of standing committees. While Saraki received less opposition to his list of appointments in the senate, Majority Leader, Gbajabiamila ensured it was a long-drawn battle of naked dance in the House of Representatives. While Speaker Dogara employed the opportunity of the appointments to reward his loyalists and boost his hold on the House, Gbajabiamila on the other hand, felt short-changed and muddled the political waters of the green chamber. He accused Dogara of lack of consultations and vitiating the strength of APC by allocating ‘juicy’ committee chairmanship positions to the PDP. It got to a head when the Majority Leader shunned the inauguration of the committees at a grand event- a development that is unprecedented in the history of the House.
The Drama and Intrigues of Ministerial Screening: Another defining moment of the 8th national assembly is the screening and confirmation of the President’s ministerial nominees. The long-awaited list of ministers got to the senate on September 30 shortly after resumption of the national assembly from its annual vacation. Controversies over procedures and mode of screening lingered for a while even as partisan interests came to the fore over some of he nominees. Then the nomination of Rotimi Amaechi as a minister stirred the hornet’s nest as the APC and PDP engaged in a battle of wits again. He, however, eventually scaled through the hurdles but not after the 8th senate witnessed its first partisan walk-out by PDP senators.
The Misadventure of a ‘Social Media Bill’: The senate set itself up for a clash with Nigerians when a bill on Frivolous Petitions sought to muzzle the social media through the inclusion of clauses which sought to criminalize the use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Whatsapp, etc for ‘false and abusive’ information. A two-year jail term and/or fine of N2million was stipulated in the bill which was sponsored by Senate deputy majority leader, Bala Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi). The heat generated by the bill has forced denials, half-denials and back-peddling from some senators, the presidency and several stakeholders in society giving indication that the bill (or that portion of it relating to social media) may not see the light of day.
Presidential Rapprochement and Budget Presentation: Time it is said heals all wounds. And so it was that the presidency gradually began to snap off from the unpleasantness of Saraki and Dogara’s emergence as senate president and speaker respectively. From its initial and criticised snub of the legislature’s leaders, the presidency began to arrange opportunities for rapprochement including dinners and meetings with lawmakers. The culmination of those efforts was the colourful budget presentation ceremony by the president host by a joint session of the national assembly on Tuesday December 22, 2015.