Party Supremacy; Independence Of The Legislature And The Constitution By Okio Obono-Obla
It is settled law that the question of who is a candidate of any political party for any election remains the exclusive preserve of the political party. This time tested principle is recognition of the fact that a Political Party is supreme over its membership. This is the clearest indication of the concept of the supremacy of a Political Party at play.
It is well settled that a political party is a voluntary association and any member that joins a political party agrees to subscribe to the ideology of that political party, its ethos, rules, regulations and constitution.
If you join a political party you have invariably or unwittingly agreed to subsume your rights under that political party and such you are bound to obey its rules, regulations and constitution.
So if at any time a member of a political party thinks that he or she is not obligated or is not willing to obey any rule or regulation or directive or any provision in that party’s Constitution laid down by that political party by any of its organ such a member his bound to leave that political party.
A disciplined member of a political party is obligated to obey the rules or regulations or Constitution of a political party that he or she has subscribed to its membership voluntarily. A member of a political party cannot dictate to that political party in accordance with his whims and caprices but has to bow to the dictates of that political party.
It is well settled that all the political parties in the country have their Constitution. Indeed it is a mandatory constitutional requirement that any political association that applies to the Independent National Electoral Commission must prepare and file a constitution which must be approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission before that party can be registered.
Since I want to emphasize on the recent happenings in the political scene in the country where the issue of party supremacy and the right of the membership of the National Assembly to the choice of its leadership and independence of the National Assembly glaringly came into the fore I will draw example from the Constitution of the All Progressives Congress, APC, 2013 (as amended).
The preamble of the Constitution of the APC gives a cursory insight to what the concept of party supremacy is all about when it boldly proclaims the Supremacy of the Party, pursuant to Article 2 of the APC Constitution, thus:
‘Subject to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and any other Laws for the time being in force in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the provisions of this Constitution shall be supreme PROVIDED that where any Rule, Regulation or any other enactment of the Party is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, such a Rule, Regulation and Enactment shall, to the extent of its inconsistency, be null and void and of no effect whatsoever.’
See also Article 9.4 of the APC Constitution which provides thus:
“Members of the Party shall be obligated to affirm the party’s aims and objectives”
The pertinent question is: what is Party Supremacy? Adams Abonu in his essay in This Day Newspaper of 14th July, 2015, submitted thus:
“By party supremacy, one is referring to a principle where the interests (and manifestos) of a political party is placed ahead of interests of individuals, sectional interests or the interference of another political party. The concepts have been effectively applicable in the representative democracies the world over and had helped in the maturing of advanced democracies as in the United Kingdom and even neighbouring South Africa. The conception is wrapped in such regality of pundits and political activists but its sacredness remains intact…’’
It is therefore submitted that that the only snag when it comes to the question of whether or not a political party is supreme cover its membership is when such a position conflicts with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
The facts of the matter that recently brought the issue of the supremacy of a political party over its membership into public glare and attention is the election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives after the promulgation of the 8th Session of the National Assembly on the 9th June, 2015, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Before the commencement of the sitting of the both Chambers of the National Assembly there had been intense speculation and permutation in the media that the leadership of the APC was disposed to support the aspirations of Senator Lawan of Bornu State as Senate President and Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila of Lagos State as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The rumour and speculation came to pass when the APC leaders decided to hold a shadow election to select its favoured candidates for the President of the Senate and Speaker, House of Representatives, respectively.
However the decision exacerbated the crisis that was already rocking the Party as a result of the struggle by its various competing blocs and wings for the control of the leadership rung in the National Assembly.
This culminated in the decision of the Senator Sarki’s group to boycott the shadow election. The Senator Saraki’s group promptly entered into a deal with Senators elected under the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party and on the 9th June, 2015, while majority of the Senators belonging to the APC had thronged the International Conference Centre, Abuja, to hold a meeting with President Buhari they quickly held an election to elect Senator Saraki as the President of the Senate and Senator Ekeremadu of the PDP as the Deputy President of the Senate.
However, Honourable Yakubu Dogara of Bauchi State contrary to the position of the leadership of the APC insisted that he must contest for the Speakership of the House of Representatives.
At the floor of the House of the Representatives on the 9th June, 2015, in a keenly contested election, Honourable Dogara defeated narrowly Femi Gbajabiamila to emerge the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The defeat of Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila ruffled some feathers in the hierarchy of the APC and caused serious rift and tension in the party which took a lot of horse trading and negotiation between the competing blocs and factions within the APC to resolve.
It seems that the Party leadership decided that for peace to reign in the House of Representatives, the Speaker (Dogara’s group) should concede the position of Majority Leader of the House to Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila but this did not go down well Dogara’s group who saw the intervention of the leadership of the Party as an affront and compromising of the independence of the National Assembly.
Accordingly, the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Oyegun wrote on the 23rd June, 2015, to Honourable Dogara instructing him on how those the Party leadership have decided to support for the positions of Majority Leader; Chief Whip; Deputy-Chief Whip; Deputy-Majority Leader of the House of Representatives should go, which request was turned down on the ground that the choice of the Principal Officers of the House must reflect the principle of Federal Character enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (supra).
The Party leadership of the APC also wrote a similar letter to the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, recommending Senators to occupy the principal positions in the Senate. The letter recommended Ahmed Lawan as Senate Leader; George Akume, Deputy Senate Leader; Olusola Adeyeye as Chief Whip and Abu Ibrahim as Deputy Whip. However, on the 24th June, 2015 the Senate President, Dr. Saraki, ruled out of order Senator Gbenga Ashafa’ s Motion to the effect that the letter of the National Chairman of APC should be read on the floor of the Senate.
While the Senate had its way and refused to appoint the principal officers recommended by the National Chairman of APC in his letter dated 23rd June, 2015, the Speaker of the House of Representatives finally bowed to the wishes of the party and allowed its preferred choice of Femi Gbajabiamila as Majority Leader of the House of Representatives.
While the crisis over the choice of the principal officers of the National Assembly raged, two schools of thought clearly emerged:
One of the schools agreed with the position of the leadership of the APC that the choice of its preferred candidates for the leadership of the National Assembly is based on the concept of party supremacy enshrined in its Constitution.
However the other school of thought insisted that recommending preferred Senators and members of the House of Representatives to be appointed as Principal Officers of the National Assembly is tantamount to interfering with the independence of the National Assembly.
The apposite question will then be: Is the principle of Party Supremacy a compromise on the independence of the legislature?
I do not think so. It is well settled that the Legislature is the branch of government that is constitutionally vested with the power of law making.
It is also well settled that the principle of Separation of Powers among the three branches of government namely: the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary is enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
While Article 2 of the APC Constitution clearly espouses the principles of Supremacy of the Party, it also bows to the Supremacy of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amend) over the said Constitution, Rules and Regulations of the Party.
However, I do not see any compromising or interfering posture of the APC with the independence of the National Assembly because the leadership of the APC insisted that its choice of candidates have to become the Principal Officers of the National Assembly.
All over the world, it is a common practice for political parties to insist that certain positions in the Parliament should be given to its preferred candidates in order to maintain its internal cohesion and discipline.
The simple directive of the leadership of the APC to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives recommending its preferred candidates in accordance with the precedent and practice the world over does not in any way convey an indication that the independence of the legislature was intended to be compromised as a law making body and a constitutional watch dog of the Executive Branch of government as enshrined in the Constitution.
In any event, the independence of these three organs of government is not sacrosanct. In theory the three branches of government are separate and have different responsibilities and functions but in practice we see a lot of duplications and over lapping of the responsibilities and functions among the three organs meant to have separation of powers.
Chief Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla