NASS Crisis: The bigger picture

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By Adekunle Adefarakan

The crisis in the National Assembly over the election of Principal Officers by the new dominant political party (APC) wasn’t an experience the party’s leaders could have bargained for. A once robust opposition party, APC has suddenly found itself in a crisis of a magnitude it never imagined.

All its officially endorsed candidates have lost out in the election of principal officers, a development the party national officials found embarrassing, especially the emergence of Mr. Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President. For an opposition party occupying power at the centre for the first time since 1999, the outcome of the election of principal officers was like a fly in the party’s ointment.
Background

Both the Senate President Bukola Saraki and House Speaker Dogara have been accused of betrayal by their party leaders for allegedly going behind their backs, displacing party candidates endorsed at the mock selection of candidates. Senator Saraki is a great political strategist in his own right. It is, therefore, wrong to accuse him acting someone else’s script.

While the party went to bed hoping that everything would go according to plan, Bukola was already working on four cylinders to clinch the Senate Presidency.

However, when the APC leaders woke up from their slumber, relying on the naive assumption that party supremacy was enough to produce the principal officers of their choice or approval, Saraki had already clinched the coveted seat of the Senate President with the support of his APC backers and PDP votes. His rival Lawan didn’t work hard enough to win the election in his own right without reliance on party endorsement.

President Muhammadu Buhari; Saraki, Senate President and Dogara, Speaker
But Senator Saraki didn’t join politics for the sake of it. Underrating his ambition to become Senate President was, therefore, naïve and unrealistic. When Saraki led PDP defectors into APC, he didn’t do so for the sake of it either. He did so to protect his political interest. After the APC was elected into power, what did the party leaders offer him in return for abandoning his ambition to become Senate President?

Saraki and other members of the New PDP that defected from the former ruling party apparently felt sidelined after the party’s victory. If the APC leaders didn’t offer Saraki concession to become Senate President, what compensation did they offer him instead? Politics is a struggle for power by like-minded people united by common interests.

It is naïve to assume that Saraki merely joined APC to help it capture power, and that is all! All stakeholders in the opposition alliance have strategic political interests to protect. If they had no interests to protect, they would not have invested their political capital in the opposition project to capture power.
Looking for scapegoats

Singling out any individual for vilification and smear campaign by hatchet writers is another mistake the party leaders have made. As a political analyst that keenly follows events since 1999, I know as a fact that inventing enemies doesn’t help any political party or leader.

When Saraki emerged as Senate President, one would have expected the APC national leaders to say “where did we go wrong? How can we undo the damage to save the party unity?” instead, we started reading sponsored stories, blaming former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and others for the emergence of the new National Assembly leadership.

The suggestion by one of the hatchet writers that Atiku “could do anything for the highest bidder” is preposterous. Although I have been Atiku’s critic since he left ACN back to PDP, I am not convinced that he could have been bought over by Saraki.

It is even insulting to the intelligence of Nigerians that a man with extensive connections in Nigerian politics like Senator Saraki would need to ride the back of Atiku to realize his ambition to become Senate President. Neither Saraki, nor Dogara is Atiku’s political associate, let alone being his protégé.
House of Rep: After the fracas

Just like Atiku, Saraki was a former Presidential aspirant in his own right. Did Saraki need Atiku to attain his ambition as Senate President? I have not come across any cogent argument to establish a link between Saraki’s emergence as Senate President and Atiku’s hidden hands.
Before the APC national convention in Lagos, the party leaders had wanted to produce a presidential candidate by consensus or adoption. It was only record that Atiku advised the party to allow open and free primaries. The outcome of the presidential primaries had boosted APC’s democratic credentials because of the transparency of the election.
As a result, even those that initially resisted Atiku’s suggestion for open primaries eventually appreciated the wisdom of his advice. Even though he didn’t get the ticket, Atiku kept his words to respect the outcome and congratulate the winner.

He not only congratulated Buhari, he also kept his promise to hand over his media team at the disposal of the former APC Presidential candidate. That Malam Garba Shehu became President Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity is a testimony of the commitment of the Atiku Media office to the Buhari campaign.

It is also record that Atiku was running diplomatic shuttle to lobby for Nigeria’s candidate for the Presidency of African Development, Dr. Adesina. The passion with which the Atiku media team members including its current Head, Paul Ibe (who took over from Garba Shehu) had served the Buhari media campaign was so incredible that some were suggesting whether they would ever go back to Atiku.
Dangers of blame games

The biggest task before the APC national leaders is to abandon the blame games against any imagined “enemy” or “saboteur”, and begin an urgent process of reconciliation and healing. Learning the lessons from the mistakes that were made is more important than looking for someone else to blame.
Leaders should look for solutions to a problem rather than looking for someone to blame, especially innocent people.

As a major first step, the issue of party supremacy must be addressed within the context of the separation of powers. Imposing leaders on legislators is not a wise step. As Mahmud Jega, the Daily Trust’s Monday columnist observed, the issue of zoning offices should have been concluded long before the elections. He said the APC leaders didn’t pay attention to the issue until after the election.

In fact, even former Kano State Governor, Kwankwaso had warned the party to deal the issue of zoning in time to avoid intrigues and complications that could arise. His advice was apparently silently ignored.
At this point, the APC leaders must forget about bickering and the blame game, and take responsibility for what happened in order to preserve the unity of the party.

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