10th National Assembly leadership: Avoiding pitfalls of the past, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

Zainab Suleiman Okino

Since upturning presidential election is near impossible and has never happened in Nigeria’s political history, it is almost certain that the ruling APC’s Asiwaju Bola Tinubu will be sworn in on 29th May and he will in turn swear in the National Assembly members in June. All eyes are now on the legislative arm of government, so the battle about its potential leadership has also shifted there, albeit covertly.

Even as underground horse-trading is ongoing, there should be interplay of issues for consideration in the choice of NASS leaders with the hope that the mistakes of the past will be avoided. Part of the problem of the past is the inability of all stakeholders to build a consensus around candidates that eventually emerged. Such ugly developments also created a banana peel for those leaders. And those scenarios also precipitated unending conflict of interest with far reaching implications in legislation for the good of the country.

Either for lack of interest, capacity or experience, the ruling APC found itself in this messy quagmire in 2015 when the leadership that emerged was at variance with the wishes of the party hierarchy. Ex-Senate President Bukola Saraki and former Speaker Yakubu Dogara pulled the rug off the feet of the party leaders and emerged as Senate president and House Speaker respectively in what seemed like a palace coup. The action of the duo sired the sour relationship between the Executive and Legislature that endured till the end of their tenure.

President Buhari, did not openly express his displeasure, but sure felt slighted as he gave cold shoulders to Saraki and Dogara in his action toward them. Other than ceremonial events, the presidency never wanted to have anything to do with them, such that most of the bills passed under Saraki were refused assent by President Buhari.

In all, the Saraki Senate presidency passed a record bill of 515. In a scorecard report launched in October 2019, the Professor Attahiru Jega-led team on behalf of YIAGA Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement (YIAGA-CLE) concluded that the Bukola-Saraki led National Assembly “did better than any previous Assembly, ‘if you consider the context under which they operated’”, despite the “unsatisfactory quality” of those bills. They blamed the situation on lack of “legislative proficiency” and “pre-legislative scrutiny”. Those snags and rifts occurred because “they (the 8th NASS) commenced work under a relatively antagonistic relationship with the executive given the way the assembly was elected”.

There was however a slight departure from the crisis-prone 8th NASS when the Presidency in cahoots with the party hierarchy worked together for the emergence of Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila as Senate President and speaker respectively in 2019. Unfortunately, even by his own admission, Lawan was only co-towing to the president in his leadership of a rubber-stamp Senate. Lawan who fought hard with grit and means was not a shinning example of an ideal Senate President Nigerians wanted. He was too close to the president for the comfort of Nigerians.

They did manage to get a few landmark things done such as the highly applauded Electoral law and Petroleum Industry Act after many years in the doldrum. How well served are Nigerians under Lawan is a matter of interpretation. So, party supremacy or not, respect for party hierarchy or not, Nigerians want a leadership that works for the general good of the people, with consideration for our diversity as a nation. They want a NASS leadership that works in harmony with the executive branch for all Nigerians.

Therefore, there should be political and religious balance. With all the furore over Muslim-Muslim ticket that produced Tinubu as president-elect, it should not be a matter of argument for all to know where the Senate leadership should tilt. A lot of things are flying around zoning arrangement, but however it plays out, in order to achieve political and religious balance, the South South or South East should produce the number three seat in the country. I have seen names being bandied about as possible successors to Senate President Lawan, including Lawan himself, who certainly cannot be because the next Vice President is from the same North East zone like him. His friend and associate, Senator Barau Jibril from Kano state has also thrown his hat in the ring. The outgoing president is from the North West like him. I think it is morally wrong for that to happen. Governor Dave Umahi, senators Orji Uzor Kalu, Sani and Godswill Akpabio are all in the race.

With regards to the House of Representatives, it was with Dogara that Saraki outsmarted their party in 2015, so Dogara’s tenure is as controversial as Saraki’s. However, unlike Dogara, Speaker Gbajabiamila has had a peaceful and stable reign so far. Although the ideal legislature should function independent of the executive, that of Nigeria is more or less an appendage, and because of the less than sterling performance of the Buhari presidency, Gbajabiamila’s House is guilty by association.

Going forward into the next dispensation, the ideal candidate for NASS leadership should have a combination of competence, experience and capacity. Since the performance of the legislature in cooperation with the executive is linked to how their leadership emerge, we should avoid the pitfalls of the past through robust engagement, dialogue, bridge-building and altruistic negotiation in a give-and-take manner.

Therefore, since the president is from the South West, Vice president is from the North East, and hopefully the South-South or South East may get the Senate President, the North West which constitutes the largest voting bloc and North Central should be considered for the post of the Speaker. And one of those who stand out from the pack is honourable Sada Soli from Katsina state in the North West. Katsina state APC did fantastically well in the National Assembly election. The party returned all three senators and nine House of Reps members including Sada Soli, who is synonymous with the National Assembly having been redeployed there as a Senior Legislative Officer in 1992. Starting as a civil servant at NASS, Sada Soli has been everything there; clerk, member or chairman of almost all the House committees at one time or the other since his election to the House in 2006.

His impressive resume and track record efficiency also include being Chief of Staff to former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal. Sada Soli was a member of the Tinubu Presidential Campaign Committee and enjoys the goodwill of his colleagues as a team player, someone who could engender a harmonious working relationship. Time will tell if these qualities can translate into a support base to make him the speaker of the 10th House of Representatives.

Zainab Suleiman Okino is a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. She can be reached via: [email protected]