Commotion in the House - The Nation

By The Citizen

•The uproar in the House of Representatives over leadership ought to be resolved now in the interest of democracy

The House of Representatives is always in the news, with crises always defining its character since the resumption of civil rule in 1999. Lately, the delicate political equation in the House has thrown up new possibilities and threatened peace in its operations. While the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that has a firm grip on the executive arm of government, and has controlled the leadership of the Lower House, is unwilling to accept that the All Progressives Congress (APC) to which scores of erstwhile members of the ruling party have defected should now take control, the APC is insisting that legislative norm frowns at the minority controlling the majority. The House nearly exploded last week, as the leader of the APC, Femi Gbajabiamila, who is designated Minority Leader, referred to Leo Ogor, known as the Deputy Majority Leader, as Deputy Minority Leader. Members of the PDP, led by Ogor, frowned at what they regarded as a surreptitious move to effect a change of leadership. They argued that a court of competent jurisdiction had bound the parties to maintain the status quo in the House, pending the determination of a motion before it. But, the APC found the court's ruling a violation of a democratic norm that forbids any arm of government from interfering in the affairs of another. The party told a press conference that the rule all over the world is that the majority should take charge of affairs. The matter is still before the court. It is gratifying that the tension was doused when the APC opted to await a motion to vacate the order, despite its reservation on its propriety. The role played by the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, is also deserving of commendation. He expertly and maturely made the combatants sheathe their swords and urged all to defer to the court in the interim. He managed to bring the situation under control and ensured that the House sat to consider the business of the day. We call on all parties to the crisis to put the interest of the nation above personal and partisan interests. True, the scenario is unprecedented in the country. Since the introduction of the presidential system in 1979, the same parties have always controlled the executive and the legislature. In the Second Republic when the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), despite being the single largest party in the Senate, lacked the clear majority it needed to ensure smooth passage of executive bills, as it held only 36 of the 95 seats to the Unity Party of Nigeria's (UPN) 28, the Nigerian People's Party's (NPP) 16 and the 15 shared between the Great Nigeria People's Party (GNPP) and People's Redemption Party (PRP), the ruling party had to enter into an accord with the NPP that morally allowed it function as majority party. In that wise, the NPN provided the Senate President, and the NPP the Deputy Senate President. The same sharing formula applied in the Lower House. But the PDP's attempt to block takeover of leadership by the new majority party cannot stand and it should realise this. It stands logic on its head and is a recipe for intractable crisis. This is a democracy and, while the minority could have its say, the majority should have its way. At any rate, why is the PDP now crying wolf when it had benefited from similar defection in the past, when notable members of other parties defected to it and still retained their seats? The parties and the House leadership should realise that national interest is paramount. The needful should be done as soon as possible to reflect the true status of the parties in conformity with democratic norm. It could be argued that the APC has not demonstrated its numerical strength and neither did Gbajabiamila follow established procedure. He said he made the remark in good humour since the matter was in court. But the joke seemed on the PDP counterparts who read gloomy portents in the words of the minority leader. If such a mere mention could threaten to blow the roof, what would have happened if Gbajabiamila had moved a proper motion , or seized the opportunity offered by Motion of Urgent Importance to table the matter?