MONDAY QUARTER-BACKING: Inauguration Day in Nigeria and Its Arithmetics: A Teachable Moment
Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD
June 22, 2015
This is an essay in which I recommend, for the sake of a smoothened and ethical re-take-off of the 8th National Assembly of Nigeria:
(1) That the APC accept the June 9 elections of the Principal Officers Dogara and Lasun in the House of Representatives, despite the fact that they were not the Party’s consensus candidates;
(2) That the APC rescind its earlier choice of consensus candidates in the Senate, asking their members to vote their conscience upon the emergence of candidates for the Principal Offices in the Senate.
(3) That both Senators Saraki and Ekwerenmadu resign forthwith from their positions which they assumed on June 9 during an unacceptable half-full-house Inaugural Senate session of the 8th Assembly.
(4) That a three-way contest be encouraged as follows: (say) Saraki and Lawan for Senate President, and (say) Akume and Alimekhina (new Senator from Edo State, and only APC Senator from the South-South) for Deputy President; with the PDP being free – IF IT WISHES – to ALSO nominate ANY of its members for Senate President (say David Mark) and/or Deputy President (say Ekwerenmadu). A Standing Order against new members vying for Principal Officership will have to be amended for Alimekhina to participate.
(5) That the full 108-member Senate (one short because of one recently deceased Senator) re-convene at its earliest possible time to elect its Principal Officers anew,
(6) That after all being said and done – and for stability – an all-Majority-Party Principal Officer-ship emerge, but that if after all said and done freely and fairly and transparently, one or both Principal Officers are from the Minority Party, so be it.
Nigeria has a way of baffling its citizens and foreign observers in many ways – and June 9, 2015, Inauguration Day for the 8th Senate and 8th House of Representatives was one of those baffling days.
Leading up to that day, intrigues and plots had been insinuated and exhibited, but until that very day, there was no clarity as to what would actually happen…and things that did not happen led to things that did happen….
But first things first…..as we struggle to write this essay without sounding biased.
FIRST THE NUMBERS
In this 8th Senate, there are 109 members (101 Males and 8 Females), of which 60 are APC members (only 19 of them as returning Senators; Remi Tinubu of the Jagaban Borgu Tinubu clan is the only returning female Senator) and 49 are PDP members (only 14 of them returning, all male).
This total number of Senators means that in a properly-called meeting:
(i) one-third quorum is 37 members. This means that any one of the two parties (APC or PDP) can act alone under this quorum, presumably in the presence of the presiding Senate President – or Deputy President? This also means that with a minority-party presiding Senate President or Deputy-President, the minority party can, forming a quorum, quickly force through some decisions IN THE COMPLETE ABSENCE of the majority party. Furthermore, while all the NEW 41 APC members can form a quorum by themselves (in rebellion against the returning APC members say?), the new 35 PDP members cannot.
(ii) one-half (or majority-number) is 55 members, which means that only APC can form a one-third quorum AND at the same time force through a decision act that requires this simple majority in the absence of a single PDP member;
(iii) a two-third super-majority is 73 members, while four-fifth quorum is 88 members, in which case neither of the two parties can act alone without the other in these last two super-majority requirements.
The 8th House of Representatives is a little more complex in composition: there are 212 APC members (6 Female; only a total of 89 of them returning, 3 of who are returning Females), 141 PDP members (11 Female; only a total of 52 of them returning, 7 of who are returning Females), 4 APGA members (all new and Male) and one each of Accord, Labor and SDP – all three being new members and Male. This means that only 141 members out of 360 HOR members are returning, only 10 of them are Female.
So what are the quorum implications in the House?
(i) one-third quorum is 120 members (which means that any one of the two parties can act alone under this quorum, presumably in the presence of the Speaker – or Deputy Speaker – official mace in view?). The new APC members alone can form a quorum in the House, but not the old ones, and not either the old or new members of PDP.
(ii) one-half quorum is 180 members (only APC can act alone under this simple majority requirement), and
(iii) a two-third quorum is 240 members, while four-fifth quorum is 288 members, in which case neither of the two parties can act alone without the other in these last two super-majority requirements.
The above numbers and rate of attrition of National Assembly have serious political implications which none of the parties should ever overlook when they make critical decisions about strategies and tactics that they adopt henceforth, including boycotts, planned or unplanned, and the periodic “Whipping” of members into taking Party positions.
Superimposed on the above numbers is also the political reality that the new-minority PDP has been in power in Nigeria for the past sixteen years, hence a more cohesive (and shall we say still smarting?) entity. On the other hand, the new-majority APC is in reality a coalition of six tendencies – CPC (represented by Buhari), ACN (represented by Tinubu), ANPP (represented by Oyegun), mini-APGA (represented of Okorocha), Old-PDP-Defectors (represented by Atiku), and New-PDP-Defectors (represented by Saraki) – whose individual members are still establishing both a modus vivendi and a modus operandi with each other, and whose members have rights to aim for political party leadership and representation at all levels of the political lever, an aim with further complicates the doctrinal (but not constitutional) necessity for zonal balancing.
The unusual coalition of APC also made it a mistake for President Buhari to have telegraphed early a statement that he will not be “interfering” with the choice of leadership in the National Assembly. “Showing interest” about those who will be able to push his national Change Agenda in both the Legislature and the Judiciary is different from “imposing” that leadership or “interfering” afterwards in the actual course of their affairs. After all, he was the one who PROCLAIMED the date and time of the Inauguration of the National Assembly, and it was within his power (and within his wisdom, for whatever reason) to have set a date two days or a week later than June 9, or even after proclaiming June 9, to withdraw the proclamation, and proclaim a new TIME (on June 9) or a new date entirely….the Heavens would not fall, since these dates are not constitutionally cast in stone. All he needed to do was inform the Clerk accordingly. That would not be “interfering” since in fact the business of the National Assembly had not technically begun.
In any case, it was President Obasanjo’s initial pledge of “non-interest” in who became Senate President in 1999 – and his backtracking on it when he was fully educated that it was not a wise tack – that led to the Enwerem (Imo State) – Okadigbo (Anambra State) – Wabara (Abia State) – Anyim (Ebonyi State) Senate Presidency imbroglios and instability (and to a lesser extent in the House Speakership, starting with Salisu Buhari of “Toronto” fame) of the 1999-2007 era.
It was a lesson unfortuntately not learnt here by PMB: you can exhibit interest without interfering.
SO WHAT HAPPENED ON JUNE 9?
Let us start and dispose quickly with the House of Representatives side, even though chronologically, the events happened AFTER the Senate palava.
356 out of 360 members were present for that House’s vote; to make our math simple, we will assume that all the four missing persons were PDP! Yakubu Dogara (APC; representing Bogoro/Dass/Tafawa-Balewa Federal Constituency of Bauchi State) polled 182 votes to defeat Femi Gbajamiala (APC, representing Surulere I Federal Constituency of Lagos State) with 174 votes, to emerge Speaker. Furthermore, Yusuf Suleiman Lasun (APC, representing Irepodun/Olorunda/Osogbo/Orolu Federal Constituency of Osun State) polled 203 votes to defeat Mohammed Tahir Monguno (APC, representing Marte, Monguno & Nganzai Federal Constituency of Borno State) who had 153 votes. Lasun thereby emerge Deputy Speaker.
All of this happened despite the fact that the Gbajabiamila/Monguno ticket was the announced “consensus” or preferred one of the majority APC. However, if we presume that all the 144 non-APC HOR members present voted for Dogara and Lasun, then at least 38 out of 212 (or 18%) “rebelled” against their own APC party to vote for Dogara, while 58 (or 27%) did the same for Lasun.
It appears to me that this was a free and fair election despite ruffling party hierarchy sensibilities. In any case, Gbajabiamila has conceded defeat, but the APC, like any responsible party should, will do well to research the “House Rebels” to find out whether this was a fleeting issue, or that it is shaping up to be permanent “un-whippable” rebellion.
On the Senate side, issues were murkier. Only 52 members out of the possible 108 full-house were present during Senate President vote, and Abubakar Bukola Saraki (APC, representing Kwara Central Senatorial District), proceeded to be nominated without opposition, and thereby elected President of Senate. By the time the vote count for Deputy President was done, 22 more Senators had sauntered into the Chambers, and after due nomination, immediate-past Deputy President of the 7th Senate Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, representing Enugu West) obtained 54 votes to 20 votes of Mohammed Ndume Ali (APC, representing Borno South Senatorial District). Ekwerenmadu thereby became re-elected Deputy President of the 8th Senate.
Let us pause for a moment and examine the two murky issues: a half-empty Chamber on Inauguration Day, and the concomitant emergence of a Minority-Member as a Principal Officer.
QUESTIONABLE HAPPENINGS – A HURRY-UP OFFENCE
Let us recall this Inauguration Day, in which the Clerk of the Senate, Alhaji Salisu Maikusawa, presiding over a properly-called meeting of the new Senators in obedience to a letter written to him by the President of the Federal Republic to convene the National Assembly at 10.00 am prompt on June 9, 2015, was confronted with less than a half-empty Chamber. The normal reaction – emphasize “normal” – barring any direct communication with the Clerk, is to be concerned about the whereabouts of all these other Senators. Have they been kidnapped? Are they held up in traffic somewhere, that they are unable to arrive on time for this most august occasion in June? Any communication whatsoever with them?
If there was communication OF ANY SORT, whether formal or informal, one would have expected the Clerk to mention same on the floor of the Senate BEFORE commencement of the business of the day. If there was none, ditto, and there should have been an expression of concern, and PUBLIC inquiry of whether to proceed or not to proceed, even if perfunctory.
I watched the proceedings, and there was no such enquiry whatsoever, making the episode smack of a pre-arranged conspiracy, what, in American football parlance, is called a “hurry-up offence” which eschews any usual signal-calls by the quarter-back, in this case the Clerk, as they watch the clock to see whether a touch-down can be scored.
Clearly, there was a “touch-down”, but we are asking for its re-call after watching the film!
THE ABSENCE OF MOST APC SENATORS – AND THE SALUTARY EFFECT OF THE “BOYCOTT”?
We now know of course the reason for a half-filled Senate Chamber: 51 members (out of 60) of the APC Senators were at that time loitering fifteen minutes away at the International Conference Center, ostensibly waiting for the President for a strategy meeting that was called for 9.00 am, a meeting he eventually never showed up for. Having arrived barely five hours earlier from a G-7 Summit in Germany, our 72-year old President was a little tired – but that is purely speculative.
But what was the APC thinking? Could that ICC meeting have even started at 10.00 am, not to talk of finished by then in time for the Senate Inauguration? Absolutely not. Had the President communicated a new letter to the Clerk proclaiming a new time and/or date for the Inauguration, if he felt that the APC had not fully tidied up its house? Clearly not, otherwise the Clerk would not have gone ahead with it.
Clearly, the APC leadership mistakenly thought that EVERY member of its Senatorial Caucus would attend a meeting called by the President – but 9 Senators, led by Saraki, boycotted it, or felt that it was a ruse – to “kidnap” him? – since the President was still away in Germany barely five hours earlier.
But the Saraki-led boycott partially saved the day in one aspect: suppose all the APC were at the ICC, and the Senate meeting, with the 49 PDP members forming more than the 37-number quorum still met? Then what could have emerged was not only the return of Ekwerenmadu, but of both former President Mark and Ekwerenmadu as Senate President and Deputy-President – un-opposed!
Would that have been acceptable politically – the contrived emergence of a complete set of Minority-Party Principal officers? Does the matter of quorum actually apply BEFORE a body is formally constituted – before its very first official meeting?
Absolutely no to both questions, I would think! In fact, Robert’s Rules hints at a MAJORITY of those concerned – 55 for the first meeting – and not 52. Furthermore, Section 71 on Meeting of a Convention or Assembly of Delegates does not fully apply here.
70. A Permanent Society. (a) First Meeting. When it is desired to form a permanent society, those interested in it should consult together and carefully lay their plans before calling a meeting to organize the society. They should also be careful in calling the meeting to see to it that there is a majority in sympathy with their plans. By neglect of this, and giving a newspaper invitation to all interested in the object to attend the meeting, those who originated the work have found themselves in the minority and not in sympathy with the constitution which was adopted, so that they did not care to join the society after it was organized. Having taken all the preliminary steps, then, as described in case of a mass meeting , they invite those who they have reason to think are in sympathy with their general plans to meet at a certain time and place to consider the question of organizing a society for a certain purpose……..
71. Meeting of a Convention or Assembly of Delegates. (a) An Organized Convention. If a convention is an organized body (that is, if when convened it has a constitution and by-laws and officers), a committee on credentials, or registration, and one on program, should have been appointed previous to the meeting. These committees may have been appointed at the previous convention, or by the executive board, or by the president, as prescribed by the by-laws. The committee on credentials, or registration, should be on hand somewhat before the time of the meeting, in some cases the day before, so as to be prepared to submit its report immediately after the opening addresses. It should furnish each delegate, when he registers, with a badge or card as evidence of his being a delegate and having the right of admission to the hall. The committee on program should in most cases have the programs printed in advance. In many cases it is better that the constituent bodies be furnished in advance with copies of the program. This should always be done when there is difficulty in getting full delegations to attend..
However, if, taking absurdity to the limit, BOTH principal officers as Minority-Party members would not have been acceptable, then the emergence of even one of them is not acceptable, since theoretically, the Deputy could be covering for the substantive President in his absence…and what is not acceptable is not acceptable, irrespective of the actual personalities (Mark or Ekwerenmadu.)
AND WHAT IS NOW TO BE DONE?
Saraki’s greatest moral burden is NOT his emergence as Senate President – despite kicking against party consensus – but the emergence of a Minority-Party member as his Deputy. The lurking question is whether this was part of a conspiracy, or that he (Saraki) was as surprised as everyone else about the development. I am sure that that is what he is having to explain as he goes from Atiku to Obasanjo, while so far avoiding President Buhari.
With Yoruba Gbajamiala out of the way from being Speaker of the House, it is most likely that the Yoruba-Fulani Saraki would win the Senate Presidency in a full-House re-run, even though he might lose most if not all of the PDP votes. I believe that he will do a good job at it. It is most unlikely however that a Minority-Party Deputy-President would arise from a full Senate vote – the 50-24 vote count attests to that unlikelihood – but if that is what a re-run throws up, so be it, but it is an aberration for such to arise from a less-than-half-Senate Chamber.
The need to accommodate either a SE (no APC there; hence Ekwerenmadu remains a viable candidate) or a South-South Principal officer is why I have suggested the ONLY APC SS Senator – a new member called Francis Alimikhena from Edo North – to be asked to run for Deputy President, following a change in standing order that permits such a neophyte. He may not win, but he should be given a shot at it.
The recommendations here cannot satisfy everyone, and might raise a fire-storm, but starting the 8th National Assembly on the wrong side of integrity and ethicality is unpalatable. Mistakes were made, but recovery is possible – along the lines of our recommendations here.
Enough written….and there you have it.