The jostling for the leadership of the ninth National Assembly, expected to be inaugurated in June, has started in earnest. While we are mindful of the almost universal convention that the majority party produces the presiding officers in the legislature and the fact that seniority of ranking plays an important role, the lawmakers are not answerable to the executive.Therefore, at a period when majority of Nigerians view the National Assembly and its members in less-than-flattering terms, nothing should be done to further erode the credibility of an institution that is critical to our democracy.
For the presidential system of government which we practice in Nigeria to work efficiently, Baron de Montesquieu, a French jurist and philosopher, advocated the necessity for powers to be separated among the three arms of government (executive, legislature and judiciary) in a way that each can act as a check on the other. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that has an overwhelming majority in the coming National Assembly, must allow this principle to prevail in the emergence of the presiding officers when the ninth session is inaugurated. The party should put its house in order so that both the senate president and speaker of the house of representatives can emerge in a manner devoid of acrimony or imputation of imposition from the executive.
In order to accomplish their objectives with the lawmakers, political parties usually develop a legislative agenda (including the election of presiding officers) and execute it through persuasive tactics. That is what we expect the APC to do if it wants to achieve its objective. The party has put forward the current majority leaders in both chambers of the National Assembly (Senator Ahmed Lawan for Senate and Femi Gbajabiamila for the House of Representatives) as their nominees. Lawan is the highest ranking member in the National Assembly. He was first elected into the House in 1999, and the Senate in 2003, where he has been ever since. Gbajabiamila has also been a House member since 2003. So, both come highly recommended. But the decision of who presides over either of the chambers is not that of the APC but the members themselves.
This is why APC must learn from its own history. The failure to manage the pre-leadership and post-leadership election in 2015 led to mutual suspicion between the executive and legislative arms of government at the federal level. This mutual suspicion hampered the required cooperation between the two arms and impeded smooth operations of the government. While we therefore do not oppose the idea of party supremacy, such must never be pursued at the expense of separation of powers which is the hallmark of a presidential system of government.
To avoid the type of unnecessary distraction that almost marred the leadership of the outgoing National Assembly, there is also a compelling need for the lawmakers, as elected representatives of the people, to be mindful of the expectations of Nigerians as they prepare to elect their presiding officers. These expectations include revival and diversification of the economy, employment generation, strengthening national security, curbing corruption, tackling electricity crisis and general infrastructural decay, improving health and the educational system, among others.
In this challenging moment of our democratic experiment, a vibrant and effective legislature led by competent leaders has become imperative. The legislature is the engine room of democracy. It is the theatre of politics. And to the extent that law reforms the society, the quality of legislation made by the National Assembly matters. Yet, only credible, competent and firm leaders can enable the National Assembly live up to its responsibility to the people of Nigeria.
More than at any time under the current dispensation which started in 1999, we need independent- minded leaders who can foster the independence of the legislature if our country must make progress. The National Assembly therefore should be encouraged to choose leaders with rich legislative experience who can carry everybody along, command the respect of their colleagues and restore the dignity of the embattled legislative institution.