THE ISSUE OF QUORUM – MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Last week, we replayed history, the Mohammed Ali – George Foreman Zaire “rumble in the jungle”, arguably the greatest boxing event in history. The unfolding melodramatics from the National Assembly may pale this epochal event in to historical oblivion.
This week, we shall continue with our constitutional, legal and political analysis of the political rumble in the legislative jungle of the 8th National Assembly, that opened up new vistas of political horse trading, and showed the very weak under belly of the APC as an inchoate party of disparate tendencies, seeking for congilment, persona and uniformity. Relax and read on as we unveil the under currents of this potentially implosive volcano of a sleeping magma. For those who argue that the elections of Saraki and Dogara were illegal, I only need to refer them to Section 50 of the 1999 Constitution. It provides that the President and Deputy President of the Senate and Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be elected by members of that House. No one has argued that the 49 PDP and 8 APC Senators and House of Representative mthat elected Saraki and Dogora were not members of both Houses.
No one has contended that in accordance with the provisions of Section 54 (3) of the same constitution, any member had raised an objection that the quorum of both houses was less than one-third, such as to force an adjournment after a reasonable interval, as prescribed by the Constitution and Rules of both Houses. All that I have seen and heard are sheer sentiments and profuse display of emotionalism, without any legal or constitutional foundation. We should do better. The antagonists line of argument is easily consigned to the dustbin of intellectual history and rational interment by the clear provisions of Section 54 (1) of the same Constitution. It provides, most laconically, that, “the quorum of the Senate or the House of Representatives shall be one-third of all members of the legislative House concerned”. One-third, it says.
Using the Senate as a case study here, there are 109 Senators. One of them, APC’s Ahmed Zannah, from Bauchi State, died before inauguration, leaving 108 Senators. One-third of 108 is 36. Let us even approximate the number of Senators to 109, for the purpose of argument. One-third of 109 is 36.3333 Senators. To avoid dismembering a human being with a view to achieving 36.3333, and to avoid a repetition of the infamous 1979 Shagari-Awolowo 122/3electoral brouhaha (well done, Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN, the ingenious Architect of this mathematical novelty), let us approximate one-third to be 37 Senators.
The Senators that unanimously elected Saraki unopposed, were 57. They later swelled to 87 before the election of the Deputy Senate President.
It therefore becomes crystal clear, even to the most trenchant s and traducers of Saraki, that being elected unopposed by a Senate that had 57 Senators in the chambers, was actually 20 Senators beyond the Constitutional requirement of 37 Senators to form a quorum.
I have read Section 50 and other Sections of the 1999 Constitution, over and over again, but I have not stumbled upon any provision that stipulates how many members of a particular party (whether ruling, or opposition), must be present before a quorum is deemed formed; or that party chieftains must first support aspirants before they emerge leaders of both Houses; or that Legislators should first wait for Party directives before carrying out the provisions of Section 50 of the 1999 Constitution, which give them powers (and the inalienable right), to elect their leaders.
For the avoidance of doubt, proclamation of the National Assembly is a Constitutional matter covered by the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. It is therefore, unthinkable for the same President who had earlier proclaimed the 8th National Assembly into existence to partisanly go for a mere party meeting, which is not a national assignment. By the provision of Section 64:
“(1) The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each stand dissolved at the expiration of a period of four years commencing from the date of the first sitting of the House.
(2) If the Federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may by resolution extend the period of four years mentioned in subsection (1) of this section from time to time but not beyond a period of six months at any one time.
(3) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the person elected as the President shall have power to issue a proclamation for the holding of the first session of the National Assembly immediately after his being sworn in, or for its dissolution as provided in this section”.
Going by the foregoing provision of the Constitution, there is no way the President could justifiably, legally and morally elevate partisan or party issues over and above national assignment he had directly carried out under Section 64 of the Constitution.
APC members were indeed very lucky that PDP, which had 49 Senators present and voting, did not pull a fast one on them by putting forward one of them for election as Senate President. They would have got the plum number three position in Nigeria. Former Senate President, David Mark, had insisted he did not covet the position. If he did, he would have won hands down. The attendant uproar would have been more thunderous, having an opposition minority Senate President, with a majority ruling party Deputy! Nigeria missed an interesting piece of history.
The above scenario would not have been unprecedented though, considering the fact that John Boehner, a Republican, representing Ohio’s 8th Congressional District, is today the Speaker of the US Congress, in a country where Barack Obama of the Democratic Party, is President. The Democrats control the Executive, while the Republicans control the Legislature. The beauty and colour of democracy!
For us, the present bi-partisan make up of the Senate has only led to more robust commitment of both APC and PDP to larger National goals, with inbuilt party checks and balances, so as not to rock the National boat.
FACTORS THAT THREW UP SARAKI AND DOGARA
EXISTENCE OF TOO MANY TENDENCIES
The current challenges bedeviling the still inchoate and embryonically fragile APC can be located squarely within the orbit and matrix of its very conception, gestation and deliverance. The party is not the usual run-of-the-mill political party that sprang straight from the bowels of Section 229 of the 1999 Constitution. No. The party is an amalgam, a pot pouri, of variegated parties and individuals, that have tons of deferent political tendencies, cravings, ambitions, beliefs, idiosyncrasies and philosophy.
The APC even, harbor some entrenched caucuses within its fold. The defunct ACN led by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, CPC led by Buhari, ANPP directed by Ogbonayo Onu, and a splinter group of APGA, led by Governor Rochas Okoracha of Imo State, pioneered this amourpous party. They were later joined by some very angry and frustrated PDP elements, who rebelled against the status quo that had denied them the joy of internal democracy within the then ruling PDP. This breakaway faction, otherwise called the “new PDP”, led by Abubakar Kawu Baraje, had powerful and influential Governors like Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Rabiu Kwankwanso (Kano), and Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara). They came in to APC with their full arsenal of structures, supporters, hangers-on, opportunists, patriots, visions, missions, deep purses, organograms, influence, reach and goals. The cake was generously iced with the poaching of maverick and former Vice President, political titan, Atiku Abubakar, described by the BBC analyst, Aliyu Tanko, as the biggest catch of them all. The stage was therefore set for ego display and supremacy test. To be or not to be, became the question. The chicken and the egg, which came first, became the puzzle.
It was only a matter of time before these deep internal contradictions sign-posted by a marriage of strange bedfellows and birds of different plummages, ato manifest and boil over. It will require careful political engineering, maturity, patience, forebearance, self denial and interment of personal ambitions, before APC can settle down and match the cohesiveness and homogeneity of the PDP that managed to hold on to power for 16 years. Remember they have beaten their chest and boasted they would rule Nigeria for 60 years. The arrogance of power and internal schisms, and perhaps, “deux ex machina”, prevented this sit-tightism and imperial disposition.
Another factor that threw up Saraki and Dogora is that some members of the APC deeply resent what they regard as “Tinubuasation” of APC. They argue that the “Lion of Bourdillion” (give him some credit and thumbs up for cobbling together these disparate groups), having pocketed the governors of Lagos, Osun, Oyo and Ogun States, thrown up the Vice president, professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, and having also thrown up Chief John Odigie – Oyegun, as Chairman of APC, forcing Tom Ikimi’s angry exit, cannot again be allowed to quarantine off the 3rd and 4th positions in Nigeria. There was therefore an obvious gang up to decapitate his rising (some say, very overbearing), influence.
Are Turaki, Asiwaju, APC, PDP, constitutional lawyers, legal pundits and n stakeholders reading and digesting this Sunday sermon on the mount of the Nigerian Project by Chief Mike A.A Ozekhome, SAN OFR, , and breathlessly waiting for the next installment, come next week, by the special grace of Almighty God?