Olusola Fabiyi, Olalekan Adetayo, Sunday Aborisade and Leke Baiyewu
The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, has advised political party leaders to allow elected federal lawmakers to choose their leaders on the day of inauguration in order to achieve stability of the 9th Assembly.
Though he did not mention any political party, observers believed that he was directing the advice to the ruling All Progressives Congress leadership whose members will be in the majority in the 9th National Assembly.
Reacting to Saraki’s counsel, the APC on Monday evening told him and members of the minority party to mind their own business in an apparent reference to the Senate President and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party.
Saraki had given this advice during an interview with journalists on Monday shortly after he presided over the first lecture delivered by the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, on the overview of the National Assembly structure at the ongoing orientation programme for newly elected federal lawmakers in Abuja.
Saraki decried the politics around the process of electing the presiding officers of the national legislature.
He said, “The point I am making is that we should not make too much noise on the process of electing presiding officers. What is important is for the members of the Senate to decide who is the best to lead them, so that they can have stability.”
Saraki, who was the chairman of the first lecture, also emphasised on the lecturer’s statement that elected lawmakers had no business attending meetings outside the National Assembly on the day of inauguration.
Saraki said, “Don’t go for any meeting on the day of inauguration. I need to tell you that inauguration is held on the floor of the National Assembly. If they ask you to come for any meeting anywhere, tell them that you are not going.”
Declaring the programme open, Saraki reminded the fresh parliamentarians “to exhibit courage in discharging their activities and do what is right, in the interest of Nigerians.”
He said, “Let me add that, since the interest of the people is paramount, legislators must have the courage to follow their own mind, guided by what is right.
“The 8th National Assembly made a lot of interventions on everyday human issues affecting Nigerians, be it unfair price hikes, examination malpractices, and sexual harassment in our educational institutions.
“We also address the drug problem ravaging our communities. I encourage you also to take a keen interest in the welfare of Nigerians, and to be a voice for those in need of similar interventions.
“In carrying out constitutional functions, lawmakers must always recognise that the independence of the legislature is non-negotiable. It is an independent and co-equal arm of government.
“Therefore, it behooves members of the National Assembly to lead the way in asserting the principle of separation of powers, thus ensuring accountability in governance.
“To achieve that, it is expected that members will carry out their duties in a manner that commands that respect from other arms of government as well as the people you represent.”
Saraki urged the new members not to be discouraged by negative perception of the parliament by members of the public but should rather work towards overcoming any negative perception of the legislature in the public.
“The Nigerian National Assembly is far from unique when we talk about this problem of perception. All over the world, studies have shown that the legislature is often the most misunderstood arm of government,” he added.
N’Assembly: Mind your own business, APC tells Saraki
But the APC has asked Saraki and other members of the Peoples Democratic Party to mind their own business as far as the election of principal officers of the National Assembly is concerned.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Isa-Onilu, said this in an interview with one of our correspondents on Monday.
Isa-Onilu said, “The position of the party remains that those positions that belong to the majority party belong to us. Members of the minority party should mind their own business. They should find a way of occupying the positions that belong to them. It is not in their place to start telling us what to do and what not to do.”
PDP backs Saraki says independence of Senate shouldn’t be compromised
However, the PDP has asked elected members of the National Assembly to ensure that nobody tampers with its independence.
The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, stated this while reacting to the call by Saraki that members of the National Assembly should be allowed to elect their leaders.
He said, “We want to appeal to the APC not to kill democracy in the country. Leaders of the party should allow the elected lawmakers to pick their leaders.
“The President picked his ministers and others working with him without interference by anyone. He should also allow the lawmakers to elect who they want as their leaders.”
Lawan pledges to accommodate opposition members
However, the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, who has been anointed by the leadership of the APC to contest the position of the Senate President in the 9th National Assembly, pledged to carry all the senators along if elected.
He told journalists at the venue of the orientation that he had started reaching out to the opposition members to ensure a rancour-free 9th Senate.
He said, “We are reaching out to all our colleagues, regardless of their political persuasions after all we are supposed to work together.
“It is not just going to be a Senate for only the APC members. It is a Senate that will consist of the APC, the PDP and the Young Peoples Party. Therefore, we need everybody to support the genuine and laudable course of making Nigeria better.
“I will ensure that our administration is able to deliver laudable projects for Nigerians and the best way to achieve this is for all of us to work together.”Answering questions raised by the newly-elected members on the reasons for the Senate rejection of Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Saraki said the Presidency ought to have followed the standard global practice by either presenting another nominee or employing political solution by lobbying the leadership of the Senate.
Saraki told the lawmakers-elect that the Senate had the right to either confirm or reject presidential nominees in the interest of the nation.
Be courageous, Dogara charges Reps-elect
In a related development, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, advised members-elect of the House of Representatives in the 9th National Assembly to muster courage and work for the country.
He stated that as representatives of the people, if they lacked courage, they would not be able to serve the electorate.
Dogara said this while making remarks at the opening of the orientation programme for members-elect in Abuja on Sunday night.
He said, “I have said that the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly require people of courage… With regard to appropriation, no money will be appropriated or spent in the absence of express legislative authorisation. That means the budget is the work of the Parliament. So this work, of course, requires courage. And we must always remember that as elected members of the National Assembly, let us do the work of the National Assembly.”
He added, “We are meant, as the first institution of democracy, to work with the Executive and the Judiciary. It was never designed that the National Assembly will work for the Executive or work for the Judiciary. That is the aspect that I want all of us to pay attention to as we take oath as members of the National Assembly. We should know that it is about courage.”
We’re working behind the scene to avoid 2015 saga – APC
Meanwhile, some leaders of the APC will be reaching out to some federal lawmakers-elect who have expressed interest in leadership positions in the yet-to-be inaugurated ninth National Assembly, The PUNCH has learnt.
A party source told one of our correspondents on Monday that, “The truth of the matter is that our party cannot afford to present multiple candidates for the positions of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“Once votes of party members are split among these multiple contestants, that may easily give the opposition the leeway. That is exactly what we don’t want.
“So, our party leaders including President Muhammadu Buhari and state governors are already intervening. They are meeting the gladiators. Some of these meetings have been held while more of such will still hold.
“I can tell you that with this back channel approach and others, we will approach the election in the National Assembly as a united party.”
When contacted on the telephone, Isa-Onilu confirmed that steps were being taking to ensure that there was unity among members of the party in the National Assembly.
He, however, said the party would keep the strategies being adopted close to its chest.
“What we are doing to avoid a repeat of 2015 in the National Assembly is our party’s top secret. The strategy is not something we will divulge to the public,” Isa-Onilu said.
The party spokesman also denied insinuations that the leadership of the APC had been bullying lawmakers-elect in its bid to make them fall in line, saying “nobody is being bullied. Nobody is bullying anybody.”