NASS Crisis: A Huge Crack In APC’s Fragile Edifice By Segun Tomori
After winning elections on a scale that confounded bookmakers and probably exceeded it’s own expectations, the All Progressives Congress (APC) last week faced it’s first “baptism of fire” barely a week after taking power. The elections into the National Assembly leadership which naturally should be decided by the APC as the party with majority in both chambers was badly managed to say the least. Renegade law-makers led by Senate President, Bukola Saraki staged a carefully orchestrated “palace coup” in connivance with opposition Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) to seize power in a classic “game of thrones” that had all the trappings of treachery and subterfuge.
The APC had chosen Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as its consensus candidates for the Senate President and Speaker respectively, after the duo emerged winner of the straw poll conducted by the party. The Saraki-led “Like-mind” senators not only boycotted the primaries but vowed to challenge the party’s decision on the floor of the Senate. A similar drama played out in the House of Reps with the then Hon. Dogara, now Speaker also refusing to step down. The rest is now history as both men have now assumed office.
It is quite laughable that the APC which had 2 months after the elections to get its acts right would fix a purported meeting of the party’s legislators with the President on the morning the Assembly was to be inaugurated. This in itself shows it took things for granted, and assumed things will stand-still because it is now the party in power. That the said summons didn’t emanate directly from the office of the President coupled with the absence of an official communication to the Clerk of the Assembly to postpone the inauguration gave the Saraki-led rebels the leeway to strike! The Saraki group proved to be more deft in its calculations and beat the party to its own game. We watched the APC chiefs on TV utterly bewildered and caught napping! Even the usually cock-sure Asiwaju Tinubu looked on, dazed and dejected as he bemoaned the fate that befell the party.
In all of these, I put the blame squarely on the APC hierarchy. They seem to forget that the party is an amalgam of powerful power blocs and vested interests which made its victory possible in the first place. The New-PDP bloc for instance, which included Saraki, the G-5 Governors, Ex- Vice-President, Atiku Abubabar allegedly felt sidelined in the scheme of things. The CPC having produced the President; the ACN nominating the Vice-President; the ANPP clinching the Party Chair, the New-PDP must have believed it was only fair that the leadership of the National Assembly or at least a chamber should go to it. Subsequent events after the Saraki “coup” have shown that the New-PDP bloc within the APC were the brains behind the rebellion against the party. It is instructive that Senate President Saraki’s first visit after his controversial election was to Atiku Abubakar.
The absence of an acceptable power-sharing formula amongst the major blocs within the APC instigated the NASS crisis. The alleged over-bearing influence of the Tinubu-led ACN caucus also contributed to the rift. Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila, though the party’s consensus candidates, were portrayed as Tinubu’s candidates and the campaign against their choice was waged as one against a perceived domineering god-father. Asiwaju Tinubu however has a right to be interested in who occupies crucial offices. He was instrumental to the formation of the APC, criss-crossed the length and breadth of the country to sell the idea, invested so much financial and human resources to the birth of the party and it’s eventual victory. You don’t own major shares in a company and go to sleep when the board and management is being constituted!
In as much as Tinubu feels obligated to protect his interests in the APC, he should have also acknowledged the fact that he couldn’t have delivered the Presidency alone. The New-PDP bloc was crucial to the APC victory as they ensured the hitherto PDP zone of North-central fell comprehensively to the APC. They effectively sealed Buhari’s victory. The question of whether they can be trusted after the victory shouldn’t have arisen. If they could be instrumental to the party’s success, then they’ve won their rights to be on the prize table! I expected the party and Asiwaju to have either conceded the Senate Presidency or Speakership to the “New-PDP”. If that was done, the crisis would most likely have been averted.
President Buhari seemingly in haste to adorn the democratic toga stood aloof while the power tussle raged to the detriment of his party. He had said he “belonged to everybody, and belonged to nobody” in his inaugural speech. He was ready to walk his talk hence his indifference to the election of the National Assembly leadership. While independence of the legislature is the back-bone of a virile democracy, the President as the leader of the party in power was wrong not to have intervened to at least broker a compromise when all efforts of the party failed. It remains to be seen how the reforms and anti-corruption legislation will be passed with an opposition Deputy Senate President and a Senate President that owes more allegiance to the PDP since they facilitated his emergence in the first place.
I won’t have had any problem with Saraki if he didn’t trade the Deputy Senate President to the opposition on the altar of personal ambition. That was the height of desperation that showed a man propelled by inordinate ambition who wouldn’t bat an eyelid to bring down the house to achieve it. He surreptitiously supplied oxygen to a PDP that had long been consigned to coma since it lost elections. Saraki inadvertently opened the flanks of APC to enemy lines. We can through this singular act deduce why his party was sceptical about him in the first place.
The deed has however been done. There is no point crying over spilled milk. The recognition of the Saraki-led National Assembly by the APC leadership is a step in the right direction. Doing otherwise will deepen the crisis, destabilise the new administration, and give PDP the leverage to widen the cracks in the APC. While sanctions is necessary to serve as a deterrent, it is not the immediate priority now. Bringing the different factions together and reaching amicable compromise on the remaining principal offices is key to the resolution of the crisis.
Once Saraki and his APC colleagues re-unite and are on the same page, getting rid of Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President should be the next task. Nigerians didn’t vote out PDP only for it to rear it’s ugly head through the back-door. It is an anomaly that must be expunged from the Senate leadership. Ekweremadu will be a clog in the wheel of change and will likely use his position to frustrate or impede bills that will herald reforms and fight corruption. Similar strategy that got Ekweremadu elected should also be employed to remove him. Dangling a few carrots should be able to sway 12 PDP Senators to buy into the Ekweremadu-must-go project. Adding that to APC’s 59 Senators will give 71 which is the 2/3rds majority needed to impeach him.
Going forward, the APC should strive to build a cohesive party where diverse interests are given a sense of belonging. The party is a national party hence it should resist the temptation to concede too much powers to a bloc or an individual. The APC is no more an opposition party, it is now the governing party therefore it’s health and stability has a nexus to the progress and well-being of the nation.
To deliver on the change it promised, APC should put its house in order fast and be a fulcrum of support to President Buhari’s administration. Any further crisis might just lead to an implosion that will make the party fizzle out faster than ever imagined, God forbid!
Public Affairs Analyst
Twitter : @seguntomori