The emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, who defeated the party’s selected candidates, Senator Ahmad Lawal and Femi Gbajabiamila may mark the beginning of a prolonged crisis for the party.
The party’s reaction to the emergence of the duo and its decision to tamper with the leadership when it has promised to be neutral were seen as a poke at an hornet’s nest which could have devastating consequences.
The National Assembly, which is recognised in the Nigerian constitution as the Legislative arm of the government alongside the Executive and the Judiciary, has always been a flash point since the First Republic.
As a bicameral legislature of 109 senators and a 360 Reps, the National Assembly has seen many leadership crisis since the inception of the current democratic dispensation.
From 1999 to date, the federal legislature has become a battle ground between the ruling party and its members or with the executive over issues of leadership or certain political skirmishes within the body itself, sometimes over personal parochial or egoistic issues.
The rebellion to check-mate attempts by the executive to foist unpopular leadership on the National Assembly particularly in the House reached its height when former president Goodluck Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) tried in 2011, but that was vehemently resisted by the legislators who rallied around and elected Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Emeka Ihedioha as Speaker and Deputy respectively against Mulikat Akande-Adeola, who was the party’s choice.
Subsequently, the Tambuwal House Speaker era was marred by unending executive/legislative confrontation leading to sometimes outright blackmail by both sides which characterized the whole period.
The lingering crisis consumed many legislators who attempted to unearth corruption or offended their godfathers in the PDP.
Towards the end of Jonathan’s tenure when the then opposition APC was formed by the leading opposition parties – the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) – things began to take a new turn as members of both chambers began to defect to the APC, threatening the majority status of the ruling party. Tambuwal later joined the fray when he defected to APC on October 28 last year.
Subsequently, APC’s victory in the 2015 presidential and National Assembly elections placed it in the saddle, making it the ruling party while also giving it the majority in the coming federal legislature.
The party, as a way of preparing the ground for President Muhammadu Buhari to have a peaceful National Assembly, organised separate retreats for its elected lawmakers to intimate them about their responsibilities.
Then came the battle for Senate president and Speaker among its four members: two in the Senate and two in the House. The party saw the intense struggle for the leadership among its members as a dangerous trend knowing the history of the National Assembly leadership tussles and how it would affect its administration.
It therefore organised a mock election to choose the leadership candidates for the Senate and the House to avoid going to the floors of the two chambers with many candidates which might affect its cohesion in the National Assembly.
But the outcome of the primaries immediately backfired as groups supporting candidates of both chambers staged a walkout as in the case of Dogara or outright boycott by Senators supporting Senator Saraki for Senate president.
The two groups however issued separate statements deriding the party leadership for an alleged attempt to foist unpopular leaderships in the two chambers of the National Assembly through undemocratic means.
The Dogara group kicked against the emergence of Gbajabiamila as the party’s candidate for speaker, saying they were not informed that there would be a mock election at the venue of the meeting and staged a walkout with few members of the group coming back shortly after.
However, the Saraki group led by Senator Dino Melaye boycotted the mock primaries based on disagreement with the Senator Barnabas Gemade-led group supporting Senator Lawan.
They faulted the voting process adopted by the leadership of the party which, according to the group, violated the Senate rules.
The group vowed that the Senate leadership must not be determined by the leadership of the party outside its chambers but on the floor.
The groups also addressed separate press conferences on Sunday to further press their cases and vowed to confront the anointed candidates of the party on Tuesday to elect the candidates of their choice.
But in all this, all that the party did as a way of averting crisis seemed to have stirred an hornet’s nest which was anticipated.
The first wrong step by the APC, analysts say, was the idea of abandoning zoning formula.
Although zoning is not enshrined in the country’s or party’s constitution, it has been entrenched in Nigeria’s political practice as an accepted unwritten arrangement due to the nature and diversity of the country and to reflect a semblance of federal character and fair representation.
The move was seen by many within and outside the party as playing a script of some powerful party figures which must be resisted.
The party’s failure to also shelve the idea of adopting candidates which the PDP in its years tried and always backfired, was another step that precipitated the crisis which forced Saraki and Dogara to enter into an agreement with the opposition PDP members who brought block votes to help them win their positions and saw the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President.
It is also clear that from the reactions of President Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar, the party leadership may be fighting a lone battle with the leadership of the National Assembly.
While the president faulted Saraki and Dogara for rebelling against the party’s wishes, he said their emergence was ‘constitutional.’
He had earlier said that he would not interfere in the process of emergence of the leadership of the National Assembly and promised to work with any leadership that emerges.
But the party in a statement issued after an emergency meeting immediately after the emergence of Saraki and Dogara outrightly rejected the election describing it as ‘an act of treachery’.
But analysts say challenging the leadership that emerged in the two chambers of the National Assembly by the party will be a dictatorial approach to the issue which the party must avoid at all cost if it wants to survive the fight.
However, how it manages the crisis at this time may largely determine the kind of National Assembly Nigerians will have in the present APC administration led by President Buhari.