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Govt. Shut Down: The APC/PDP Power Show

The National Assembly has apparently become more of headquarters of Nigeria’s major political parties than a legislative House.

Even before their resumption from Christmas and New year holidays on January 21, 2014, apprehension had engulfed the atmosphere. Signs that there was an impending face-off were too obvious and too real to be ignored. And so, like scheduled serial events, it started happening in phases. First, in the Lower House and then, later sprawled into the hallowed red chamber.

Indeed, the last two weeks have been so exciting at the National Assembly. Attention has shifted from every other part of the country to the place. Of course, one does not need to scout for reasons: The Assembly which is also the Legislative Arm of government accommodates 469 Nigerians elected from across the federation. And so, it passes to say that every nook and cranny of the country is represented there.

The Nigeria National Assembly
National Assembly

Constitutionally, the elected members’ task at the assembly, be it in the Senate or the House of Representatives, is primarily law making but no one can be sure that lawmaking was accorded the priority it deserved within the period. In fact, it took flight and created a space for heavy politicking.

Interestingly enough, the scenario has continued to feature the two major political parties which are presently engaged in a supremacy fight. While one is fighting for survival and retention of its lead in all spheres of the nation’s political life, the other is advancing very dangerously and menacingly.

They are the ruling but bleeding Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the bulging opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).

The ‘war’ last week saw APC which inched close to stirring a change in the leadership of the House of Representatives by virtue of their increased number arising from a gale of defections from PDP suddenly put off by a court injunction. Handicapped, the party and its members in the House went back to the drawing board. Fortunately for them, the injunction coincided with the party’s recent last meeting of the National Working Committee( NWC) on Friday, January 24, 2014 . Determined to entrench their marks, the party came up with a novel decision which is otherwise called a filibuster in the parliamentary parlance.

The decision was to block the passage of 2014 budget which is now begging for consideration. Another was to also stop the confirmation of the newly appointed Military Service Chiefs.

And as expected, the decision , since then, has left the country haemorrhaging. But there have also been a rash of condemnations of the statement from many sections of the public, the Presidency, the PDP, and other opposition parties in the country. Of more interest is that the statement for the first time, provoked the PDP members in the House into forming a coalition pressure group christened “National Unity Group” (NUG) with three other opposition parties namely, All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP) and Accord Party (AP) to fight the APC. But APC appears unperturbed in the apparent gang-up. It has, instead, stood by its decision to cause a showdown with the budget.

But suffice it to condemn APC’s position, the party has got reasons for its action. First, it placed priority on the lives and properties of the people of Rivers and Gombe states where political crises have seemingly persisted. For Rivers State, there are feelers that anarchy looms. So, given the prognosis, APC warned that unless law and order was restored, the budget would suffer.

Meanwhile, a chronology of the happenings with their subtle political undertones as investigated by Saturday Vanguard will give a better picture.

The remote and immediate cause of the fight between APC/PDP

The day was Tuesday. Date January 21, 2014. Time was about noon. The Speaker of the House of Representatives had been ushered into the chamber amid the usual exchange of pleasantries and cheers from his member colleagues. Perhaps, he was oblivious of what the day had in store for the House until mid way into a motion.

But first, the Speaker had started off well with the usual no- Muslim- no-Christain prayer and then read through an avalanche of letters. Some from President Goodluck Jonathan, others from four members who announced their defection to both APC and PDP.

When he was done, a motion came from controversial Hon. Aliyu Madaka (Kano State). The import of the motion was for the House to pass a resolution to sack the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mr. Mohammed Abubakar and the Rivers State Commissioner for Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu over the escalating political crisis in the state.

Obviously, the motion was such a sensitive one that attracted comments from amongst the lawmakers who spoke for and against.

Then progressively, it got to the time of the Deputy Majority, Hon. Leo Ogor to speak. Of course, with his familiar gusto and candour laced with a voice sympathetic to both the cobs and the PDP led government, Ogor said the House needed to apply caution in their approach to sensitive issues so as to save itself from apparent public odium.

Not long after he rested his case was the Minority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila given the floor by the Speaker. Gbaja, a lawyer gifted with some oratory prowess however strayed in his contribution to the motion. In what appeared as a calculated “joke”, he, while making his input referred to Ogor as the Deputy Minority Leader.

With this, a rumpus ensued in the House. PDP members became enraged. Seats changed and in quick succession, a mixture of PDP and APC members inched close to Gbaja’s seat. While APC treated themselves to some sniggers, PDP members insisted that the Minority Leader must withdraw his statement. They became poised for a “fight”. For over 20 minutes, the House freely feasted on its own thrills.

Gbajabiamila’s controversial remark was a subtle way of informing the world that his party, APC has by the defection of 37 PDP lawmakers to it last December become the majority party and should therefore take over some principal offices.

Of course, meanwhile, the Speaker’s cabin witnessed a rushed tete- a -tete. And when calm finally returned, Tambuwal found his voice regretting the action of the minority leader.

He said:“ This is a very expensive New Year joke. We are a parliament and we have our rules of procedure, derived from the 1999 Constitution. The issue of leadership change in this House is also the subject of a recent court order. I have the order here with me; I was taken aback when he (Gbajabiamila) made that statement.”

Expecting that Gbaja would withdraw the statement when he was given another opportunity by the Speaker to drive home his point on the matter, he rather insisted that he made a “statement of fact”. Speaking further, he requested that Ogor should simply be addressed henceforth as “Hon. Leo Ogor”.

PDP and the court injunction

Many people who were privy to the court injunction obtained by PDP to stop any leadership change, ab initio, dismissed it as a rumour. But lo and behold, it was real. The move by the PDP was a fallout of the defection of its 37 members to APC which jerked up their number in the House. Being the majority in the House, it sees itself as supposedly a party to control the House but the PDP stopped it in that manner.

APC handicapped

Having dashed their hopes to take over the appropriate office due to the subsisting injunction, APC swallowed hard. It was later to say that it would abide by the court order until February 23 when hearing especially on the fate of the 37 defected members would continue.

Hear Gbaja: “We will abide by the decision of the court until we have studied it and two, to vacate the order. We have seen the handwriting on the wall that they are only trying to buy time.”

APC “expensive” decision

Arising from its Interim National Executive Committee last week Friday, the Party took a drastic decision. The communique of the meeting reads:

“The National Executive Committee of the APC commended the courage, maturity and political sagacity of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State in the face of serial unprovoked and unwarranted assaults on his person, his constitutional rights and those of the Government and People of Rivers State. The conduct of Governor Amaechi represents our party’s maturity and compliance with the rule of law in response to escalating impunity. The APC is very proud of him.

“Any cursory observer of events in Rivers State since February, 2013 will be left in no doubt as to the culture of lawlessness and impunity being promoted and supported by the Presidency, and executed by the State Commissioner of Police Joseph Mbu, who has become the defacto military Governor of Rivers State and sole administrator of the PDP in the State.

“A few instances of the brazen lawlessness and violations of the Constitution will suffice here – the forceful dispersal of 13,201 newly recruited teachers in the Port Harcourt Stadium using tear gas; blockading the entrance to the Government House in Port Harcourt and forcing the state governor to use another entrance; preventing an aircraft chartered by the state governor from taking off, alleging that the governor was trying to smuggle out a legislator wanted by the Police, no apology was offered to the Governor; the disruption of a peaceful rally during which Senator Magnus Abe was shot with intent to kill; several disruptions of Save Rivers Group rallies, and the unlawful detention of anybody perceived to be a sympathizer of Governor Rotimi Amaechi, while allowing pro-Jonathan and Anti-Amaechi groups to organize rallies unmolested.

“The National Executive Committee of the APC has now resolved that if these acts of impunity and lawlessness continue unabated and the Police persists in being an enforcement arm of the PDP to the detriment of our members, it will have no alternative than to ask our teeming members all over the country and especially in Rivers State to take whatever steps that are necessary to protect their lives and property.

“Following on the forgoing and in view of the joint resolutions of the National Assembly on Rivers State, and other constitutional breaches by the Presidency, the APC hereby directs its members in the National Assembly to block all legislative proposals including the 2014 Budget and confirmation of all nominees to military and civilian positions to public office until the rule of law and constitutionalism is restored in Rivers State in particular and Nigeria in general.”

PDP reacts

In a swift reaction, the PDP condemned APC’s position, saying the party is out to destroy the country. Olisa Metuh the national publicity secretary of the party wrote:

”In asking that service chiefs should not be confirmed by the Senate, the APC has revealed its devilish plot to undermine the nation’s security system, create a state of anarchy and pave way to unleash mayhem on the people. In trying to frustrate the passage of the 2014 budget, the APC has also exposed its plot to cripple the nation’s economy and plunge the people into untold hardship. By attempting to cause confusion in the National Assembly, which is the citadel of democracy, it is now clear to all Nigerians that the APC has commenced the implementation of its orchestrated plot to truncate the nation’s democracy, push the country into a state of chaos and achieve its doomsday predictions; a plot which must be stopped.”

NUG speaks

In a bid to stop APC, PDP lawmakers in the House alongside AP, APGA and AP members on Monday formed the NUG.

”We decry the many acts of impunity and erroneous assumptions by the newly registered All Peoples Congress (APC) that are now trying the patience of most Nigerians. Just a week ago, in defiance of a court order, the APC in what the media next day admitted was a failed “attempt to take over NASS”, created a near breakdown in the chambers when the minority leader sought to claim that the majority leader was no longer the majority leader; in any case he was properly shouted down by most members.

”Now that APC are back at it again ! It has just committed another blunder that shows its true face. Just last Thursday 23 January, it issued a “directive” like all command-and-control anti-democratic political parties, to its members to do the following:

1. to boycott confirmation hearings of service chiefs without whom the fight against the Boko Haram terrorists would clearly fail.

2. to further boycott and hence attempt to paralyze the Nigerian economy – everything from workers salaries to construction jobs – by not approving the 2014 National Budget now before the National Assembly even as the senate is set to devote all of this week to debating the N4.6trn national budget.

3. Calling on our colleagues who have followed their governors into the new assemblage of strange bedfellows, to stall and if possible, to disrupt the confirmation of President Jonathan’s ministerial nominees as a strategy to paralyze the federal civil service.

4. Encouraging APC members to shirk their legislative duties and oversight responsibilities by tying themselves to the complicated series of unfortunate developments in Rivers State where the governor and the police commissioner need to settle their communications problems.

We are happy to note that all Nigerians from various walks of life – civil service unions, technocrats and professionals, community leaders and statesmen, market women and rural dwellers, financial analysts and businessmen – have all risen to condemn these directives. These series of untenable positions adopted by Nigeria’s newest party – one which people pejoratively call Angry People’s Congressman not worthy of a party struggling for national relevance. In this sense, its noisiest members need to look back and then look deeply within.

”These latest directives are a provocation and as far as legislative maneuvers go, they will once again fail. Hence everything must be done to arrest the APC attempt to turn Nigeria into a laughingstock. We the National Unity Group in the House of Reps made up of PDP, Labor, Accord and APGA members, wish to aver as follows:

That any attempt to tamper with the 2014 budget and hence the Transformation Agenda of the Jonathan administration, would be met with robust resistance; no Nigerian anywhere will stand by and watch an opposition greedy with mischief and power lust, frustrate the hopes of tens of millions of Nigerians with regard to health care, schools and universities, agricultural grants and projects, foreign investment promotion, water supplies, road works, utilities and other infrastructure including electricity, solar street lights and a dozen other necessities and obligations of Nigeria as a responsible nation whose duties are enshrined in Chapter IE of the 1999 Federal Constitution. If this budget is not passed soon, there will be hunger in the land, and the APC plan for anarchy will have succeeded.”

APC not perturbed

Obviously, APC is not bothered by the threats of NUG. Just on Wednesday, its lawmakers in the House said they will abide by the directives of their party over the budget. It however soft pedalled on the recurrent expenditure of the budget.

Leader of the party in the House, Hon. Gbaja said: “While the focus for now remains the happenings in Rivers, our broad and overall concern remains good governance and covers the whole gamut of our national life.

“Let us be categorical, we intend to continue to protest the culture of impunity, immorality and illegality this government insists in entrenching in our system. We intend to insist on good governance, we intend to stand firm on our oath of office to defend the constitution and discharge our legislative duties in the interest of the people of Nigeria. Good governance is the end goal and filibustering or stalling executive bills is the means and we believe that in this case the end definitely justifies the means.

“On the budget itself, we will not support a budget that does nothing for the people we represent. We will not rubber stamp a budget that seeks to borrow more money at ridiculous rates and further impoverish the country.

“Indeed, we refuse to support a budget that comes in with a huge deficit. We certainly do not agree with a budget that allocates a pitiable 25 per cent for capital expenditure which capital component will only be implemented 30 per cent while recurrent will be implemented 100 per cent. How in the world do you stimulate an economy the size and population of Nigeria with a 25 per cent allocation to capital?

“We do not want to be accessories after the fact by passing a budget when the President or Minister of Finance, who has publicly admitted to the disappearance of $10 billion has not given explanations but seeks to borrow more money. And who continues to blame shortfall in revenue on crude theft by some phantom thieves. More importantly, we will not be party to the appropriation of funds and tax payers money to a police force that will turn around and use same to maim and kill the same tax payers. No we will not!

“In coming to this decision, we note that salaries of many innocent Nigerians are tied to the budget. However, we will do all we can to address this catch. We will hope that our progressive colleagues will agree to an ingenious and creative idea like we did through the doctrine of necessity to isolate the recurrent expenditure and perhaps for the first time pass a recurrent only budget.”

The senate side of the crisis

Even though, they have maintained legislative decorum, the senate has within the period had its share of the crisis. Senators last week almost knocked each other down over the Rivers crisis. But while, the effect was not allowed to permeate, a defection plan by 11 PDP senators to APC was obviously stalled.

For instance, Senator Bukola Saraki from Kwara State and Senator Danjuma Goje from Gombe who had written to the leadership of the senate over their defection to APC didn’t have their letter read accordingly. An inquiry of why it wasn’t read almost put them and the Deputy Senate President who presided over the plenary on war path.

The politics of 2015/ governance

Many analysts are of the opinion that the face-off between the two parties resolves around the 2015 elections. To them, the present fireworks are aimed at edging out each other especially now that the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) has released the election time-table. But will governance be sacrificed for politics? That is the question on the lips of many Nigerians at the moment. But whether the budget will sail through lies in the womb of time as the House appears set to open debate on it next week.

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