You can't enforce party supremacy on the floor of National Assembly: ken Nnamani
Former President of the Senate, Ken Nnamani, reviewed the controversy generated by the leadership crisis in the National Assembly (NASS) and concluded that the desire by some leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to take party supremacy to the National Assembly was at the root of the matter.
He noted that once lawmakers are elected and sworn in, issues of political party affiliation are immediately thrown to the background.
From your experience as former President of the Senate, how do you think the crisis rocking the two houses in the National Assembly can be resolved? How do you think political party issues can be separated from legislative matters?
THERE is a world of difference between theory and practice. When we talk of democratic process and presidential democracy, we are talking about following due processes. In parliament, you don't prove morality but you talk about justice. We must understand that legislature is an arm of government. The political party is not an arm of government. It is true that political parties form government when they win elections but once they have formed government, government takes a life of its own. It becomes the government of the federation. You are governing those who belong to a party, as well as those who don't belong to a party, and even those who are not dreaming of joining a political party. So, the government is bigger than the political party that formed it. That party that formed the Federal Government takes a back seat, to prepare for another election, and would, from time to time, be advising the government in a subtle manner, but not that it will take the front seat.
It also applies to the legislature. A legislator is one who is capable of thinking independently. He or she quite understands that the party is supreme and that it was the platform, the vehicle that brought him to the parliament. So, having reached the legislature through the party, the lawmaker has to show loyalty to the party that offered him the platform. There is also party loyalty and party discipline. Hence the National Assembly, as an institution, is not a party secretariat; you don't go there to enforce party discipline. It is expected that a party should have prepared its lawmaker well enough before sending him out for an election.
However, the moment a party candidate emerges as a lawmaker, he owes a lot to Nigeria, because if we are taking about the Senate, he is the senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not a senator of the APC or PDP. You owe loyalty to the party but there is an overriding superior constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If there is no Nigeria, there will be no party.
As a lawmaker, your loyalty lies with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Senate. The party takes a back seat. If there is a claim that the party is bigger than the legislature, you will be making a great mistake, which may not work. If the party is so special as is claimed now, let the party submit the list of ministers to show its supremacy. You will notice that it will not work. The executive branch of government has the constitutional role to submit the list of ministers. The President himself is a product of the party, but the party will not submit the list of ministers to the President. NASS is not a party secretariat. It's Senate of Federal Republic of Nigeria and not Senate of the PDP or APC.
Similarly, the Senate President or the Speaker must show loyalty to his party. The confusion that I noticed, which if care is not taken, might go on throughout the life of the administration…you cannot enforce what you should have done behind the scene, on the floor of the National Assembly. You don't come to the chamber to say that you are enforcing your party's supremacy. That was what triggered the fight witnessed in the House of Representatives, the other time, which should not be the case. The party should have played its role prior to the inauguration of the legislature. Like the issue of the party writing letters to either the Speaker or the Senate President, I am not aware of any such communication channel, but there is a channel of communication between the executive and the legislature.
The most critical thing in a democracy is process; it is more important than the outcome. Instead of writing a letter from the party, the leadership of the APC should have invited the Senate President and the Speaker to its secretariat and advised them on what the party wants.
The party has a channel of communication with the Senate President and the Speaker, being members of the party. The party leadership would have insisted on what they wanted. It will then be the responsibility of the Senate President to know how to sell the idea among his members, by lobbying. He would lobby other members to help him actualize the position of the party, as the presiding officer. He would know the language to use with them to enable them support him. That is cross-fertilization of ideas.
You don't write a letter to be read to the entire Senate. That would mean setting a dangerous precedence. Very soon, Labour Party will write theirs and market women will write theirs. The APC has written. The PDP will write theirs too. The Senate will do nothing again but read letters. There is no process like that. When you hear about correspondence, it's not that an individual would write the Senate President and read it to the Senate in plenary. It doesn't make sense. There are Senate committees handling petitions. The Senate President is the Number Three citizen of the country; he cannot be reading memos from ministers.
I am happy that the letter sent by the party to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was not read. If he had read it, he would have set a dangerous precedence for himself. And he would not be able to control it because everybody would write him a letter. This thing has to follow a procedure.
Certain things are conventional; they are according to the standing rules of the Senate. I am talking specifically about the Senate now. Some party chiefs, I think, by their own right, are sophisticated in politics, but they don't understand legislative proceedings, otherwise they should not have engaged in all these fights, which have made them lose two months already. And the end is not in sight because it has now become a personality ego. It is true that APC is the ruling party but they don't have the majority to impeach any presiding officers of the Senate or House of Representatives. The majority is lean in both chambers. That is why we referred to them as senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Therefore, they have to work with others. That is why we don't need to emphasise that on the floor of the Senate. Party discipline is inculcated in the members before they are elected to the Senate. The party should not overemphasize it on the floor of the House. The danger of what is happening now in the National Assembly is that they cannot get much accomplished if they keep on emphasizing party supremacy.
They should emphasise the Senate. The legislature is an arm of government because they have to work as a team. How do you pass budget? How do you screen ministers, if you hold your party tenets and principles? The APC and PDP senators have to mix up. During my time as Senate President, my party leaders told me that I could not appoint committees headed by the opposition, other than the two that is allowed by the constitution, statutorily. The first is Public Accounts, while the other is Ethics and Privileges. I said, 'okay'. But I went on and appointed four extra. Why? Because I needed the support of the APP, who had big senators like Dan Sadau, Zodangi and Yeri Gandi, among others. You can't do without those people because they are knowledgeable and they come to the chamber with their Constitution and the standing rules of the Senate. They know the rules very well. You cannot scheme them out, and they are many. Some even have PhDs. They were not in the PDP. In fact, I ended up making Sule Yeri Gandi, who is now late, the Senate Committee Chairman on Special Duties, and he worked close to me. I had to buy the peace and stability of the Senate.
My party leaders called me a rebel and warned me that we could only appoint two. I said we were talking about the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not the Senate of the PDP. At that moment, Ahmadu Ali flared up and was very angry with me. He said, 'Nnamani, you have come again! You are a rebel.' I said, 'Yes, I am a rebel with a cause,' because I needed to pass Mr. President's bills. If we say it should be a PDP affair, we would not pass even the budget.
That is why I warned that if this thing going on continues, it might affect this administration till its last day. They will not know any peace. They must strike a balance. Emphasis on party would not make the legislature work. The Senate must work as a team, if anything must be done. The President will come to realize this when he starts sending bills to the Senate. And when debates start with people holding on to their party's supremacy, nothing will work. No minister would scale screening and none of the party has superior majority in terms of numerical strength. There must be a meeting of minds where the party will swallow their pride and know that they are talking about the Nigerian Constitution, which is above any party constitution.
That is the danger I am seeing in this thing going on. Our party leaders are misunderstanding party loyalty and party supremacy with the legislative arm of government, which is an institution. Parties come and go, but the National Assembly remains. As long as we are using the presidential democratic process, there would always be a legislature, which is an arm of government. Party is not an arm of government; it is a vehicle to enable people get to where they are going. They have to manage it in such a way that they will still be loyal to their party but would remain most loyal to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as epitomised by the legislative arm of government.
The danger is, if you over emphasise party supremacy, it will get you to a point of ridicule. If the party is so special, as is claimed now, let the party submit the list of ministers to the President. That is why I am still surprised that a sophisticated party, like the APC, would, on a day it should receive its price on June 9…I thought they would be the first to be seated in the chamber, but they fixed a party meeting outside the premises of an institution. Who is to blame? That singular mistake would follow them throughout this administration. It was a fatal mistake, which they did not think of addressing. It was an error because the process was that the senators sat and nobody raised the issue of quorum but actually there was a quorum.
On the aspect of talking about morals, the court is a court of justice and not morals. The legislative arm is not a court but it acts like a court, at times, by following a process. That 51 senators were absent at the inauguration is immaterial; there were those who were present. So, the moral aspect of it, saying that somebody was not on seat does not arise. The time of inauguration is 10am prompt. Once it's 10am, we start the business. Since nobody raised any point of order, even if there is such observation, the senators on ground formed more than a quorum.
The fact that senators-elect could not talk on the floor made it more serious, drawing the attention of the Clerk to the fact that some senators were absent. The people in attendance were more than 50. I though that the people who were going to claim their price for victory would have arrived on time and taken the front seat, to make sure that they captured it, since power was changing hands. That was not the day for holding meetings. We held the general election on March 28 and the second one on April 11. We had enough time for meetings. But on June 9, that morning, you fixed a meeting. People should look inwards. Whoever arranged that meeting, whoever agreed to go that meeting, that was the genesis of what is going on today. People should ask themselves whether they did the right thing. Why do you have to hold any meeting on such day?
Party is not an arm of government. The APC formed government, and after that it should take the back seat. You don't come and brag that the government is ours. It has become everybody's, even those who didn't vote.
The opposition party has produced a Deputy Senate President. Will it be able to play its role as opposition?
The ruling party has already made a serious error. The question we have today is: is PDP willing to be a party in government and at the same time a party in opposition? For instance, PDP already has a Deputy Senate President. The question is: is PDP prepared to be a party in opposition and a party in government?
Why did you say so?
Now, PDP has a Deputy Senate President. Where does that take the PDP? I have been expecting people to come up with this question. I want people to think deep and say, giving this situation, is PDP better off being a party in opposition or a party in government? I will leave it hanging. I am not going to decode it. This matter is going to play out over a period of time.
I once told our party, the PDP, in a board of trustees meeting when some people cross-carpeted, including a governor with all his commissioners, to join PDP, people were rejoicing. I raised my hand. Obasanjo was seated, and I told them that this thing we are encouraging would one day come to haunt us. They said, 'Nnamani, you have come o!' I said, 'How can you leave a party that elected you and carry their mandate to join another party without you going back to the electorate, because you campaigned and the people voted for the party? You now made it your own and decided to pull out. We may be clapping today that we are getting members, but it will come to haunt us one day. I did predict more than four years ago that there would be an implosion in the PDP.
Was that the reason you formed the PDP reform forum?
Yes, I advocated internal democracy and I was suspended by the party, alongside Peter Odili, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Aminu Tambuwal and Aminu Masari. I was the chairman, while Masari was my deputy, because we believed that we could not give what we didn't have. We must have internal democracy, but they said no, that we wanted to overthrow the party. Chief Raymond Dokpesi was our member and we used the AIT extensively.
What is your reaction to the crisis rocking the Senate over alleged forgery of standing orders?
I am not aware and I don't want to comment on what I don't have a serious understanding of, so as not to give misleading information. I am not aware, at all, but I have a way of finding out because some of these key actors and players are alive and documents have not been burnt. So, a little research can be done.
Culled from The Guardian
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