The recent massive defections from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) have finally begun to take a toll on the National Assembly. The heat generated by the realignments almost degenerated into a rumpus last Tuesday when APC lawmakers in the Federal House of Representatives served an unmistakable notice of their intention to take over its leadership, having now attained majority in the Lower Chamber by virtue of the carpet-crossings. It was a rather tumultuous start to work in the new year, as the legislators just resumed work after the long break for the religious and New Year festivities.
Contributing to a motion seeking to ask the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Abubakar, to redeploy Rivers State Police Commissioner, Mr. Mbu Joseph Mbu, leader of the APC lawmakers in the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, made a veiled reference to the resolve of his party not to continue playing second fiddle in a House where it had a majority of members. His seemingly harmless, but pregnant, reference to the subsisting Deputy Majority Leader, PDP’s Leo Ogor, as Deputy Minority Leader, saw the PDP members of the House immediately shooting from the waist and throwing the House into pandemonium. Gbajabiamila would later tell a crowded press conference that Nigeria’s democracy is the only one in the world where the minority party is leading the legislature.
Of course, the PDP had seen this coming and had headed to court a few days before the House resumed, to secure an injunction stopping the Lower House from either sacking its present leadership, or changing any of its leaders, pending the determination of a suit filed by the PDP seeking to declare vacant, the seats of its former members who have now crossed over to the APC. The PDP suit is also seeking to bar such former members of the PDP who defected to the APC from voting, in the event that the lawmakers seek to call for fresh elections to change the House leadership. But the Reps had, through their counsel, opposed the move, saying that the PDP had no locus standi to institute the case, not being a member of the House, among other grounds. Although the court eventually granted the temporary prayer of the PDP, the injunction did not, however, stop APC lawmakers, especially the incumbent Minority Leader, Gbajabiamila (Lagos), from making controversial insinuations.
The altercation, indeed, brought the APC’s new-found majority party status to the floor of the House, and awakened both parties to the need to face that reality. The PDP, of course, vehemently rejected Gbajabiamila’s postulation, while APC members rose in defence of the new order. The resultant face-off, which stopped just short of fisticuffs, saw the country’s shaky democracy tottering delicately on the precipice.
The next day, a similar debacle broke out at the Upper Legislative Chamber as the senators tried to wade into the raging crisis in Rivers State. Like the Lower House, the case at the Senate was also on the need to call Rivers State Police Commissioner, Mbu Joseph Mbu, to order over what many of the lawmakers saw as a clear case of partisanship in the crises rocking the state.
Although we would not subscribe to a situation whereby the APC attempts to take over the leadership of the House by subterfuge, or in disregard of laid down principles and the legitimate pronouncements of courts of competent jurisdiction, we feel that whichever party has a majority of the members in the House should determine its leadership, as is the case in all democracies. There is no gain in heating up the polity and endangering our democracy over the matter. As unsavoury as Gbajabiamila’s seeming “denigration” of Ogor might seem to the PDP, it is a statement of fact that the APC is now in the majority in the House of Representatives. The present resistance to its bid for the leadership of the House can then only be a postponement of the inevitable, unless the PDP somehow finds a way to woo back its members who defected to the APC.
We advise the lawmakers to thread with caution, knowing that our democracy is not yet as deeply rooted, as it should be. These times demand that the legislators remain sober, as they await February 3, 2014, when they have another day in court on the matter. Until then, let controversial interjections such as that made by Gbajabiamila, which the Speaker of the House, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, described as “an expensive joke”, be well considered before they are dropped on an already tense chamber.
It is reassuring that Tambuwal, who may be affected by any change of leadership in the House, has so far exhibited commendable maturity in handling this matter. His affirmation that the House is not in a hurry to change its leadership, and his reminder to his colleagues on the existence of standing procedures for effecting leadership changes, went a long way in cooling tempers. The Speaker also pointed at the order of Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court restraining him from changing the leadership of the House, and the need to respect it, in spite of contrary sentiments harboured by many members.
Even though the same problem that is now threatening to tear the Lower House apart is equally brewing in the Senate, we urge our legislators to concentrate on the duties for which they were elected, and eschew unnecessary wrangling in the interest of our democracy. As the Senate President, David Mark, recently admonished, the collective resolve should be to keep in mind that “democracy’s fundamental raison d’être is to free the average citizen from the bonds of poverty, deprivation, disease and want.”