December 14, 2017

NASS and The Art Of Dissent (Part II) by Magnus Onyibe

NASS and The Art Of Dissent (Part II) by Magnus Onyibe

As odd as it may appear to some aggrieved members of the ruling party, the truth is that a senate president from APC and deputy from PDP is evidence of a steadily but quietly deepening democracy and it is good for democracy and better for the Nigerian people. More than anything else, it demonstrates the noble act of reaching across the aisle by politicians which in essence means voting across party lines also referred to as bipartisanism and it is a welcome development for Nigeria’s democracy especially from international perspective. Even in mature democracies of the Western Hemisphere, what happened on June 9th in NASS is a rare act of brinksmanship so in addition to the rare feat of an incumbent president accepting defeat without rancor, as Goodluck Jonathan did (African heads of state are known to hang on to power even after defeat), Nigeria has scored another first in democracy ethos and culture so she deserves more accolades for such lofty accomplishment in her journey. Just as Jonathan’s early concession of defeat defined his presidency in a lofty manner, it is to President Buhari’s glory that the legislative arm attained more independence and better still under APC watch.

Most importantly, parliamentarians should not allow political machismo taken too far, blithe the enviable democracy records which Nigeria is currently basking in as encomiums continue to be showered on Nigeria globally. Some of our leaders are oblivious of the fact that such democracy ‘good ‘ behaviors are rewarded by the western powers. South Africa ‘stole’ the limelight from Nigeria when the hitherto apartheid country elected her first black president, late Nelson Mandela in 1994 ahead of Nigeria after the then military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida failed to keep his promise of returning Nigeria to democratic civilian rule following his annulment of June 12, 1993 election believed to have been won by Moshood Abiola. Had that 1993 election been sustained and parliamentary democracy returned to Nigeria, all the global attention beamed on South Africa in1994 would have been on Nigeria and that would have boosted our global governance ranking as well as buoy our economic development. Ghana, Nigeria’s neighbour has also been gaining global adulation since that country became the first in West Africa to successfully transfer power from opposition president, John Kuffor whose party lost to late John Atta-Mills of the opposition – a milestone Nigeria just attained in 2015. It is not by sheer coincidence that President Buhari was invited by the G7-world’s richest countries to their recent meeting in Paris, France after the successful change of baton of government in Nigeria. The proposed hosting of Nigeria’s President Buhari by President Barrack Obama of the USA in the White House this July for a similar reward is also reflective of our new status in global democracy ranking. Keep in mind that President Obama has visited Africa a couple  times since assumption of office in 2008 and avoided Nigeria and Kenya while visiting only Ghana and South Africa, the two democracy compliant countries (Senegal and Botswana are the other two) in the course of the visits. The reason is not farfetched. Kenya’s election that degenerated into a messy tribal war (ethnic cleansing) with a massive human carnage and Nigeria’s wobbly and opaque democracy practice are responsible for the snub by the USA whose foreign policy is geared towards hoisting democracy flags in countries all over the world. But following Kenya’s largely transparent election that brought President Uhuru Kenyatta to power recently and the subsequent political stability, President Obama is on his way to Kenya, the land of his progenitors, this July. By the same token, the successful transition from PDP’s Jonathan to APC’s Buhari in Nigeria has also earned Africa’s most populous country, the proposed hosting of president Buhari in the White House by the American leader on July 21.

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Make no mistake about it, the club of the world’s richest nations – G7 and the world’s most powerful nation, USA; don’t engage in such political intimacy with developing countries without a bounty to go with it. Already, the G7 has promised to help Nigeria address items on the wish-list that Buhari took to Paris (fighting terrorism and bolstering economy) and ahead of the proposed hosting of Buhari in the Oval Office, five million dollars ($5m)  has already been pledged towards fighting Boko Haram terrorism by the USA. As long as the interactions with G-7 and Obama in the Oval Office would facilitate more trade between Africa and the rest of the world rather than mere aid, as the case has been over the years, deepening of parliamentary democracy in Nigeria is welcome.

In any case, anybody entertaining any doubts about the sustainability of Nigeria’s rising democratic profile owing to the unprecedented steady strides recorded so far by both the executive and legislative arms, only need to recall that even as a late adopter of the GSM telephone concept in year 2000, after less than fifteen (15) years of operation, Nigeria has become one of the fastest growing markets for the service in the world. So in essence, Nigeria and Nigerians are by nature fast learners as evidenced by the aforementioned developments in the economic and political spheres. Need l refer to the phenomenal growth in the movie industry where Nollywood is now the fastest growing movie producer in the world, overtaking Bollywood of India and Nollywood of USA to buttress my point about how fast Nigerians can imbibe concepts and make success of it overnight. Put in another way, Nigerians are over are quick adopters and over-achievers so phenomenal progress in the political sphere cannot be an anathema.
For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not by any means advocating brazen disobedience of party directives which can disruptive or encouraging unbridled political revolution of some sort (President Buhari has emphasized party supremacy at APC NEC meeting) but I went into all these detailed preamble to frame a wider perspective and context within which the assertion of independence of the legislature in the true spirit and letter of separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary arms in a democracy can be better understood. As opposed to condoning, l roundly condemn the unfortunate incidents of legislators resorting to brawls in their chambers instead of appropriately resolving their differences through horse trading, but it must be said that the desire to achieve independence in choosing their leaders is justifiable and commendable in so far as it has helped deepen democracy in Nigeria. This belief is underscored by the fact that the fundamental purpose of transformational leadership which APC promised Nigerians in her campaign is to engage in transformational changes as opposed to maintaining alleged PDP impunity status quo.

Changes in NASS, which so far is the only elective arm of government that has taken shape (the executive arm is still in preparation) in this new dispensation, should be deemed as realization of one of the changes promised by APC. The assertion above brings to mind a remark by Hilary Clinton, former US Secretary of State and current Democratic Party presidential aspirant, “One thing we know for sure is that change is certain, progress is not”. The former First Lady of USA seems to have been talking about Nigeria because on March 28th, 2015, Nigerians made a change by electing Muhammad Buhari as president. While that change is now certain, it’s left to president Buhari and APC after taking over reins of government to make progress which is not certain unless they make it happen.

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It should indeed be a progressive pride that the parliament is more independent under president Buhari’s watch and under the APC ‘broom’ revolution, so instead of unbraiding the so called agent provocateurs (Saraki and Dogara), APC should embrace them.

After all, APC is not entirely blameless for the political fallout in NASS, albeit inadvertently. This is because instead of addressing the incompatibility of her legacy parties ab initio, APC was blindsided by its overarching desire to capture power at the centre and thus postponed the difficult conversation which is a pre-requisite for sharing power which like a suppressed volcano erupted in NASS on June 9th.From the foregoing, the NASS crisis is clearly the opportunity cost for (so to speak) postponing the consequences or fall outs from the Storming stage of the four stages of entity formation thesis enunciated by Gary Tuckman which are: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

President Buhari’s recent comment to party faithful at the party National Working Committee, NWC meeting:  “we have won the battle but not the war”, seems to align with the opinion above. Based on the presidential comment, I’m speculating that Mr. President is concerned that though APC succeeded in the quest for taking over power at the centre in the past three months, it appears that the party is now spending the time it should have applied implementing policies and programs to blending the multifarious interests/ideologies in the merger.

Little wonder then that despite APC’s explanation that the delay in forming cabinet is due to the extensive and rigorous work required to unravel hidden burdens and perhaps assets unexplained in the handover note received late from the out gone government, most Nigerians have remained implacable. The unsavory situation is sadly fueling the growing perception (locally and internationally) that the party’s unenergetic governance style, fall short of expectations. These are early negative appellations which the party must dispel before they stick just as PDP was tarred with the corruption brush which it could not wash off before her fall from grace.

If these teething challenges in APC are deftly handled, it will be like the very successful and smooth merger of Nissan and Renault and if it fails, it will remind of the Mercedes and BMW failed merger in the auto industry.

With the unbending technocratic impulses that the ruling party has been eliciting (demanding apologies from the erring parliamentarians ) and with the senate president and Speaker also not being magnanimous enough in victory (by defying the party’s further directives instead of making some concessions), the ruling party maybe sending the wrong signals that it is unprepared to manage the aftershocks of the surprising political maneuvers that manifested as dissent in NASS.

To avoid the looming political paralysis, APC should cut the hubris by placing less emphasis on diktats and president Buhari should take a lead by initiating a sort of modus vivendi to end the unfortunate impasse even though that would amount to contradicting his avowed principle of non interference in the leadership affairs of NASS.

After all, conventional wisdom dictates that extraordinary situations demand extraordinary actions.

 

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Magnus Onyibe, former Commissioner in Delta State Government, Development Strategist, Futurologist and alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, sent this piece from Abuja.

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