It’s time for the National Assembly to move on in the national interest, writes Yusuph Olaniyonu
On Tuesday, the two chambers of the federal legislature resumed after five weeks suspension of plenary. The recess scheduled for July 21 had been postponed by one week, obviously to allow more time for the reconciliatory process going on then among the legislators in both chambers of the National Assembly.
As a result of the media hype and sensationalism surrounding the crisis, obviously fuelled from outside the parliament, many had believed that the resumption day was going to be the real day of trouble in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. They expected the lawmakers to freely break the law by resorting to fighting.
Some others talked about the possible collapse of the leadership in both chambers. The ground for this latter belief was laid by a Senator, Kabiru Marafa, who kept on making incendiary statements. One would have thought that based on the Senator’s statements, the Senate Chambers would collapse on the resumption date.
All the negative expectations were against the background of the efforts by the governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to mend fences between the groups in the National Assembly. The governors met with the various groups but no solution seemed to have been found, at least as presented by those using the division in the legislature to underscore their own importance and relevance.
However, what happened in the chambers of the National Assembly last Tuesday was a positive anti-climax. First, in the Senate where members sat before their colleagues in the House of Representatives, the plenary was devoid of any problem. Members came in and exchanged banter and greetings in a manner that suggested the holiday had cooled tempers. Then, the legislative debates began.
The icing on the cake was a motion sponsored by 81 Senators expressing a vote of confidence in the leadership of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki. With 81 Senators which when added to the duo of the Senate President and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, both of whom could not vote, the motion enjoyed the support of clearly more than two-third of the legislative house.
It, therefore, should require no need for voting. Yet, the Senate President still gave the nay sayers the opportunity to express themselves. Surprisingly, no single voice said no. This then made the vote of confidence in Saraki and the rest of the Senate leadership, a unanimous decision of the 108 members presently in the Senate.
With that symbolic signal that peace has finally returned, the Senate was able to return to normal legislative transactions in which two main motions that could solve the problem of bad roads and environmental degradation across the country were rigorously debated.
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Yakubu Dogara successfully announced names of principal officers and the choice seemed to have finally settled all the hitherto prevailing differences. The Representatives also went on to discuss motions of relevance to their constituents.
In settling the issues in the House of Representatives, the meeting President Muhammadu Buhari had with all the legislators the previous day is widely believed to have played a key role. The President’s intervention made possible the shift of positions, which led to the return of peace.
Now, where do we go from here? With the return of peace, the legislators have no option than to get cracking. They need to start working for Nigeria. They need to start coming out with legislations, embark on oversight functions, debate policies and programmes which can form the basis for advocacy work.
They must start making creative, out of the ordinary and ingenuous suggestions, which can help the executive to change the landscape of the entire country for the better. Our people have suffered from want in the midst of plenty for too long.
This time around, the people voted for change, positive and progressive one for that matter. That is why the legislators represent not only the diversity of Nigeria, but also the rich nature of her human capital. They represent the different professions, men and women with varied experiences and world views. Fortunately, they have the fortune of working with an executive led by a determined, courageous and popular retired army General, Buhari as the chief executive of our state.
What is now required is for the legislators to support President Buhari in finding solutions to all the problems keeping Nigeria down. This is where Buhari has a role to play in consolidating and utilising the newly achieved peace in the National Assembly. The president should maintain his earlier position not to get involved in legislative politics.
He should immediately send out the right signals and body language that he is ready to encourage the new initiative by the legislators to resolve their internal differences on their own. The President should make it known to those who use the legislative chambers as a front for shadow boxing to steer clear and allow the lawmakers to do their work.
A way to send the right signal that he is ready to help the National Assembly build on the new found unity is for the president to now openly meet and relate with the leadership of both chambers. He should be ready to gainfully engage them on how to prosecute his war against insecurity, unemployment, corruption and economic recession.
The President should immediately create a platform for exchange of ideas on the role he expects the legislative houses to play in backing up his multifarious programmes, policies and projects aimed at addressing the four-point agenda he has set up for himself.
We need to put behind us the past experience in which the President travelled to the United States for crucial bi-lateral discussions on several issues without any member of the legislature. That was on opportunity missed to give legislative backing to executive engagements.
Buhari was obviously trying to avoid getting involved in the problems in the National Assembly. However, the gaffe will not be lost on the host President Barrack Obama, who on his last trip to Kenya and Ethiopia went with over 20 Congressmen.
My advice, therefore, is for all Nigerians to let the legislature work. If we give them all the co-operation they need, it becomes easy to access them as an institution and as individuals on how far they have gone in fulfilling the aspiration of their electors.
– Olaniyonu is Special Adviser to the President of the Senate