Blurring of legislative conventions, By Lekan Sote

Although those who defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress may have done so for self-interest, those who argue that Bukola Saraki, who became Senate President in a way not approved by party hierarchy, must resign, have no basis in law, or by convention.

If Nigeria were running the parliamentary system, the member who appears to command the confidence of the greatest number of members in the House of Representatives would have been elected the Prime Minister.

So, if Senator Saraki wanted to become Prime Minister, under a parliamentary system, he needs to belong to the majority party in the House. But he merely wants to remain President of the Nigerian Senate, so he doesn’t need to be a member of the majority political party in the Senate.

Although members of the cabinet in a parliamentary system of government must be members of the legislature, it does not apply under the presidential system. Sections 137(1)(g) and 182(1)(g) of Nigeria’s Constitution say:

“A person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President or Governor if he is being employed in the civil or public service of the Federation or any state… before the date of election.” It is obvious that one cannot belong to the three arms of government simultaneously.

And the position of Leader of Opposition under a parliamentary system of government belongs to a member, whose party is in the minority in the legislature, and only gets the consolation of leading a “Shadow Cabinet,” a government-in-waiting that monitors the activities of the government.

But under the presidential system, all members are either chairmen or members of committees that perform oversight functions over allotted Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, in a collaborative, rather than an adversarial, manner.

Situations where political parties that run the Executive Branch are different from those that form the majority in the legislature abound: For most of his presidency, America’s President Barack Obama, of the Democratic Party, had to contend with both chambers of the legislative arm that were dominated by opposition Republican Party.

Even Britain, home of the parliamentary system that Nigeria adopted in the First Republic, does not insist that the member elected as Speaker must belong to the majority or ruling political party in the House of Commons.

In 1992, 70 members of Prime Minister John Majors’ Conservative Party, the majority in Parliament, joined members of the Labour Party, to elect Betty Boothroyd, of the Labour Party, as Speaker of the House of Commons. The only requirement of her as Speaker was to assume the non-partisan decorum of a judge.

And in case anyone would like to know, Nigeria’s First Republic, which operated a parliamentary system, had Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Denis Osadebay, and Dr. Nwafor Orizu, all of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, succeeding one another as Senate President, even though the ruling Northern People’s Congress that led a coalition Federal Government had a majority of the seats in the Senate.

Also, in the Second Republic, which was a presidential system, by the way, the ruling National Party of Nigeria, with 165 seats, conceded the position of Speaker of the House of the Representatives to Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, whose third placed Nigerian People’s Party had only 78 seats. Even the Unity Party of Nigeria that had a higher number of seats -111- didn’t get the seat.

Even in this Third Republic, sometime in 2013, while former President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party was in office, 57 members of the PDP defected to make the APC, the majority party in the House of Representatives. Aminu Tambuwal remained the Speaker even though he remained a member of the minority PDP for a season. He later joined his kith New PDP in the APC.

The best explanation anyone can give to those, like the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, who insist that Senate President Saraki must resign is in the protocol that the President of the American Senate is America’s Vice President, regardless of his political party affiliation. He may even be an Independent; the American system allows Independent candidates to contest the office of President.

In any case, the American Constitution does not recognise any political party, be it the behemoths Republican Party, and the Democratic Party, or the Lilliput Tea Party or Angela Davis’ Communist Party of America.

The intriguing part of this is that because the Vice President is usually unable to attend Senate sessions as President, the senators nominate one of their members, who could belong to any political party, to stand in. Because the American Senate runs almost like a secret club, one may not be able to verify the legend that the Senate usually prefers freshmen or sophomore senators as chairmen of its sessions.

This choice of the nominee chairmen is without regard to which party forms the majority in the Senate. To repeat the obvious, you do not have to belong to the majority party to be America’s Senate President, or interim chairman of its sessions.

And the only advantage that the President of America can enjoy if his party is in the majority in the Senate is that his bills may be adopted and passed more easily. He can also hand-glad senators from the other party, in addition to getting the Vice President to go into the Senate to cast a vote wherever there is a stalemate.

In addition, promises of bringing turnkey projects to the senators’ constituencies, and the privilege of inheriting the pen with which the President signs the bill into law, could also do the trick. The trick is called lobbying, which is backed by American laws and conventions.

If you discount the Vice President, who is always the Senate President, the Speaker of the lower chamber, the Congress, is actually the pre-eminent member of the American legislature. In Nigeria, the Senate President is both Chairman and Chief Executive of the National Assembly.

The Senate Majority Leader, whose office is not even recognised in Nigeria’s Constitution, is at best a senior Chief Whip. In the American presidential system, the only distinguishing attribute of the Senate Majority Leader is that he gets to speak on the floor of the Senate ahead of others.

In Nigeria, Section 50(1) provides that “There shall be a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.” So, you wonder where Adams Oshiomhole got his theory that the Senate Presidency belongs to the majority party, the APC, even in the face of possible defection of more APC senators to the PDP.

Instead of talking to the press that cannot help anyway, the APC should charge its Chief Whip to whip APC senators into line, negotiate with the PDP senators, like they did with PDP Senator Godswill Akpabio, to defect, and cajole the PDP senators, to oust Senate President Saraki.

But first, the contradictions in Section 54(1) of the Constitution, which provide for a quorum of 36 or 37 senators, Section 56(1&2), that requires a simple majority of 54 or 55 members present to determine a question, and Section 50(2(c) which insists that the Senate President can be removed only by two-thirds majority (72 or 73), must be resolved.

But as long as Saraki retains the confidence of a majority of the senators, he remains the Senate President.

Punch

News Reporter
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