Between legislative independence and party supremacy

By Simbo Olorunfemi

In the light of the contributions I have been reading on the jostle for positions in the 10th National Assembly, especially on the role the APC is playing, midwifing the process of the emergence of the leaders of the 2 Houses, it is safe to say that there is a lot of misunderstanding on the place of the Legislature and that of the party.

Many have, on the back of that, argued that what the party is doing amounts to the executive encroaching on the territory of the Legislature and an erosion of what they refer to as ‘legislative independence’.

Some of these commentators have tied their ‘concern’ to their impression of the performance of the 9th Assembly, which they allege functioned more as a ‘rubberstamp’, an appendage of the Executive.

One of such commentators, a distinguished Egbon here, summed it up, declaring Ahmed Lawan a “‘lifeless’ Senate President”. To him, “in the history of Nigerian Senate from 1979, the BEST Senate President ever is Bukola Saraki but he’s unpopular because we have been told he’s corrupt.
He probably is. Who among them is not?

But he did a great job in that role unlike this dull and ‘lifeless’ incumbent called Ahmed Lawan. Dude is on a wrong job. I didn’t know any Senate President could be worse than Joseph Wayas who actually confirmed himself that he was on a wrong job.
Next to Bukola, I’ll rank Ken Nnamani. Great mind. Next to Ahmed, I’ll rank Enwerem. Drab mind.”

This was my response to him then: “Saraki! Well, no reasons adduced here. I might as well let this pass on that score. But here is the little I know. Every party works hard to have a firm control of the legislative arm. Collaboration and cooperation is the norm when the same party controls both arms.

I doubt that it is part of the brief for a Senate President to the arrowhead of opposition/antagonism against an executive arm controlled by its own party. There is always the tendency here to assume antagonism for productivity. Even activism does not always correlate with productivity, not to talk of self-serving and opportunistic cession of power to opposition for the sake of power at all cost.”

In response to his challenge to me to mention a few accomplishments by the Senate, this was my response:

“I doubt that assertion will stand proper scrutiny though. Off hand, I can cite the Petroleum Industry Act and the Startup Act as probably the two most defining legislations of the last 2 decades and both were passed by the Lawan-led Assembly. Again, noise is often wrongly mistaken for substance.”

As I had stated at the beginning here, some have a mistaken idea of what the relationship between the executive and legislature, under the control of same party, is supposed to be.

In as much as the 2 arms are set up for the purpose of checks and balances, the confrontational approach in which the legislature has its knee permanently placed on the knee of the executive is more of a feature when the 2 arms are controlled by opposing parties. The Saraki model, in which a majority party loses control of not only the process that leads to the emergence of the Senate President, but the soul of the Senate to the dictates of the opposition is an aberration, even where much of what is mistaken as vibrancy is, in fact, more of grandstanding.

If and where the electorate desires for a legislature that will be on the opposite side of policy direction which the executive subscribes to, then they speak through their votes by handing over the control of the 2 arms to different parties. Where the control of both arms is handed to the same party, it would then suggest that the electorate is speaking to collaboration and cooperation between the two arms to achieve the agenda of the party in power.

Indeed, that is where the role of the party comes in. The place of the party is that of ensuring a smooth process for the emergence of the leaders in the National Assembly. With the President as a party leader and a major stakeholder in the execution of the agenda of the party and actualisation of policies in tandem with the party manifesto, it is only expected that he would be a part of the process.

It does not infer that the President is dictating, as he hardly can. He would have to lean on the legislators themselves for guidance, his role being more of appealing to those on the same page with the party, to ensure that the position of the party prevails.

This, in no way, suggests an interference or dictation from outside the chambers. It does not also suggest that the legislature will then become subservient or rubber-stamp of the executive. What happens is that a lot of what might generate friction between the 2 arms is usually managed backstage through a process of consultation and consensus-building.

Grandstanding on the floor of the legislative chambers or opposing for the sake of populism is not what makes the legislature a productive or vibrant one. Where, as we presently have, the electorate has vested control of both arms in the hands of the same party, it is a vote more for collaboration to achieve the agenda of the party in power, not to disrupt it.

Of course, there will be disagreements in the process of achieving that, but there are mechanisms within the chambers and the party to resolve that without it degenerating, or having partymen playing to the gallery in pretence to vibrancy. Being members of the same party does not suggest that there will always be concurrence on positions, but the rule is that while the minority is allowed to have its say, the majority must then have its way.

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