Friday, February 23, 2024

10th National Assembly and future of opposition parties

BY BRIGHT JACOB

With the leadership question in Nigeria’s National Assembly resolved and members of the legislative body already settling down to the daunting task of lawmaking, the path may have now been cleared for high-wired political maneuverings which could well test the loyalty of opposition lawmakers to their respective parties on whose platforms they rode on to be part of the 469-strong members of the joint session of the National Assembly.

The joint session of the National Assembly comprises 109 Senators and 360 House of Representatives members.

On February 25 when Nigerians went to the polls, there were elections for Senate and House of Representatives’ seats alongside the presidential election that took place across the country, and the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, won majority seats in Nigeria’s upper legislative house, the Senate.

However, in the contest for seats in the lower legislative house, the House of Representatives, the APC fell short, not having an answer to the opposition’s unmatched desire to “vanquish” the house.

The APC, which produced former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, as the 16th and current President of Nigeria during the polls, has 59 seats in the Senate while six opposition parties, the People’s Democratic Party, Labour Party, New Nigeria People’s Party, Social Democratic Party, All Progressives Grand Alliance and Young Progressives Party, have 36, 8, 2, 2, 1 and 1, respectively.

In the Senate’s Red Chamber, therefore, it is the ruling party’s 59 seats against the opposition’s 50.

However, it is a different kettle of fish in the House of Representatives. There, the APC failed to muster enough votes to dominate the House, number-wise.

In the Assembly’s Green Chamber, all the opposition parties which clinched seats in the Senate also won seats in the lower house, with The Africa Democratic Congress being the only additional entrant in the mix.

Thus, as constituted presently in the house, the APC has 176 House of Representatives seats while the PDP (118), LP (35), NNPP (19), APGA (5), ADC (2), SDP (2) and YPP (1) also have their party flags flying in the hallowed chamber of the floor of the house.

Hence, with a combined tally of 182 House of Representatives seats, the opposition parties bested the APC, even though two seats in the House are still vacant.

For the records, the general elections conducted this year into the current 10th National Assembly is the first time since the commencement of Nigeria’s presidential system of government in 1979 a ruling party failed to win the majority seats in the two chambers of the National Assembly.

And that was where things got interesting. Because the seven opposition parties, buoyed by their superior number, 182, in the House of Representatives, rose from one of their caucus meetings to declare that they had more than the statutory benchmark 181 votes needed to snap the Speakership and Deputy Speakership positions up.

And the APC, likely ruffled by the “daring” posture of the opposition parties, had former Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, before elections were held on June 13 for the Senate Presidency and Speakership positions, who dispelled any fear about the possibility of the opposition parties taking control of the House and insisted there was no cause for alarm as his party would be the final arbiter in the matter.

Lawan, who spoke to State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, stressed that APC lawmakers would also align with the position of the party regarding the leadership of the 10th Assembly and that its Senators-elects would find synergy working with their colleagues from other political parties in a “bipartisan way” to select those who would be mandated to lead the House for the next four years.

Lawan said, “It is very, very essential that we have a very United National Assembly. And I’m very confident that we will do that.

“I don’t think opposition parties are planning to usurp because it is presumptuous that the APC will not be a united party, APC is a united party and the opposition party will simply work with the APC majority for us to have stability.

“Because there is no way an opposition will decide who should be the Senate President who should be the Speaker, it is our party and other leaders that will decide,” he said.

After Lawan made those statements, some analysts raised big questions about the Yobe North Senator’s aforementioned “confidence”, wondering how “a united opposition” could lose the Assembly elections, especially in the House of Representatives, with its superior number of elected members there.

At the time, too, activist, Deji Adeyanju, said if the opposition didn’t “come together and start acting responsibly,” they would not be able to outthink Tinubu who is considered to be more politically savvy than former President, Muhammadu Buhari.

“However, it will be hard for these lawmakers to ignore what Tinubu is doing. Tinubu’s steadily growing acceptability among Nigerians will now have to be factored into all these. Most lawmakers want to be associated with their people, and most of their people are falling in love with Tinubu”

When the lawmakers eventually cast their votes, it was the APC’s anointed candidates who all emerged the victor. These are Godswill Akpabio and Tajudeen Abbas, who took the mantle of leadership as Senate President and Speaker of the House, respectively.

Akpabio beat his closest rival, fellow party man, Abdul’aziz Yari. The former Akwa Ibom State Governor polled 63 votes while Yari secured 46 votes only.

Abbas defeated former Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase, and Sani Jaji, for the much-coveted Speakership position, and his deputy, Benjamin Kalu, returned unopposed.

Shockingly, the results of the election showed that the opposition parties’ earlier presented front may have capitulated as their glaring 180 degrees turn for the candidates of the APC raised a lot of dust to which Adeyanju posted on his verified Facebook page that “a hungry lawmaker cannot do opposition.”

As weighty as Adeyanju’s assertion is, Nigerians are yet to get satisfactory answers why it was lawmakers from the PDP only who mainly played the role of opposition during the Assembly elections, and why the camaraderie displayed by the opposition parties was thrown out the window.

A fallout from the Senate Presidency election is opposition Senators from Abia, Benue, Kano, Rivers, Enugu States, including LP senators who allegedly disregarded a call to them by the party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, to pitch tents with Yari, voting Akpabio, a probable indication that “broader negotiations” for their decamping to the APC could also be in the offing in the nearest future.

As with the Senate, the House of Representatives with its 360 members and widely touted to be where the dreams of the opposition to stake their claim in the house’s leadership could come true, saw only three APC members who ran foul of their party’s directive to vote Tajudeen, whereas practically all opposition lawmakers voted for the new Speaker from the APC.

And together with Tinubu’s performance since he came to office as President, critics of the President have said that anyone who could bring good governance and is detribalized, has the capacity to attract even the worst, unrepentant naysayers.

They claim opposition lawmakers, majority of whom want an assured political future, are also witnessing the giant strides taken by the Tinubu administration, praising the decisions taken by the president and could be “lured” into the APC fold.

A political analyst, Nuru Wanbai told The Point, “All these are clear signs we cannot ignore. The opposition parties have to be more serious. They cannot justify their implosion during the Assembly election they had and we are yet to hear their united explanation.

“You cannot be victorious in anything if your house is not in order. The opposition lawmakers know that their houses are not in order and will decamp if their political future depended on it.

“I, however, hope that opposition lawmakers will not decamp from their parties in waves. But the handwriting is on the wall and only time will tell whether this will happen or not,” Wanbai said.

On his part, a social commentator, Friday Udoaka, said if the purported “rumour” which made the rounds about dollars exchanging hands during the buildup to the Assembly election was true, it simply showed lawmakers didn’t understand the gravity of the responsibility before them.

According to Udoaka, such an outcome would indicate that the opposition was “ready to play second fiddle” for another eight years.

He also said that Tinubu’s “steadily growing acceptability among Nigerians” could help “speed up opposition lawmakers’ decamping from their parties” but cautioned against the establishment of a one-party state.

“I heard opposition lawmakers were given dollars to vote against their conscience and this has to be investigated.

“And even if I don’t want to believe that it did happen … .because if it happens to be true, it simply shows that they (opposition lawmakers) came to make up the numbers and don’t understand the gravity of the responsibility before them,” Udoaka said.

Continuing, he said, “Accepting money in the past or even in the future would suggest that you are ready to play second fiddle for the next eight years and this is why I don’t believe they took a dime. Who wants to play second fiddle?

“However, it will be hard for these lawmakers to ignore what Tinubu is doing. Tinubu’s steadily growing acceptability among Nigerians will now have to be factored into all these. Most lawmakers want to be associated with their people, and most of their people are falling in love with Tinubu.

“I fear this will speed up their decamping from their various parties.

“But whatever they do, the opposition lawmakers must realise that if they are divided, they will find it difficult to defeat the ruling party. And come to think of it, will they want Nigeria to be a one-party state? God forbid. So, for once, let them be loyal to the parties that brought them to the public space,” Udoaka said.

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