Transition echoes in the National Assembly

The forthcoming inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly (2019 – 2023) is assuming the airs of a welcome uniqueness, with some developments generating echoes, even if all they achieve is to prove that time changes all things. From whichever angle it is viewed there are signs that the exercise will not be business as usual. Indeed, if the complement of twists and turns associated with the life of the receding Eighth National Assembly (2015 – 2019) can be said to have played out on a bumpy and dramatic course throughout its tenure, the succeeding assembly promises to add to its predecessor’s legacy by adding some panache. The transition period between the two assemblies is progressively being marked by developments that command prime attention.

First among these is the complement of fallouts associated with the unmasked, keen interest demonstrated by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in who controls the two chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives as their respective presiding officers. Beyond a seeming official endorsement by the party of certain candidates for the various positions, these anointed ones have strong contenders in the same APC gunning for the same positions. Incidentally both the formally endorsed ones and their competitors all claim to have been anointed by the same APC leaders, thereby turning the exercise into a game of mutual name – dropping by the aspirants. The flip side of the situation is that it has opened the floor for individual, voting legislators to exercise the liberty of electing their personal choices as presiding officers, during the inauguration.

Secondly, the resultant fluid situation around the build-up to the inauguration, has spurred the aspirants to engage in spirited personal campaigns, with each pushing forward as much as possible his unique selling point, while the so-called party anointed are prodded by the audacity of the wildcards to progressively contend with a gnawing fear of futility in depending solely and wholly on the APC to deliver them. The various aspirants have recruited factors outside the precincts of the legislature such as governors and the press. The dispensation has seen even state governors openly throwing their weights behind their preferred candidates, in a development that has taken the contest out of the precincts of the National Assembly.

Beyond the foregoing shenanigans of the political class is the challenge facing the National Assembly bureaucracy with respect to the imperative to deliver on the task of conducting the in-house polls to pick leaders for the Ninth Assembly in a manner that will not attract negative fallouts, as was the case with the Eighth National Assembly in June 2015.  It is recalled that the 2015 exercise in the Senate in particular, was contentious following outcomes that resulted principally from the massive absence of Senators from the Senate Chambers during the exercise as only 37 out of 109 of them were present for the polls, as the rest were at a private meeting at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, in violation of the requirement that they should have been in the Senate for the occasion.

As if the cycle of incongruities associated with the inauguration of any new National Assembly remains seemingly unbreakable, the incoming Ninth Assembly is attracting for the National Assembly bureaucracy some pre-inauguration hiccups, especially with respect to sundry pressures bearing on the latter over which rule – between Secret and Open ballot, will be used for the exercise. The development is coming along with the circumstantial twist of an invitation for questioning by the EFCC of the Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA) Barrister Mohammed Ataba Sani-Omolori and some leading lights of bureaucracy.

Recently, sections of the press carried a story of the invitation of the CNA and other officers of the establishment by the EFCC on the basis of a petition from a body self-styled as ‘Concerned Legislative Aides of the 8th National Assembly’ which was jointly signed by the duo of Messrs Chinedu Nwachukwu and Sunday Chuba. The petition whose copies were reportedly sent to the President, Vice President, Inspector General of Police, Director General of the Department of State Services (DSSS) and the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), called for a thorough investigation of the CNA and the management of the National Assembly, on the grounds of several allegations, including diversion of their allowances.

However, media reports on the issue which cited other reasons for the invitation to include enquiries into an allegation of intent by the National Assembly bureaucracy to amend the Standing Rules of the House of Representatives, for the purpose of rigging the forthcoming election of presiding offices of the Ninth National Assembly transformed the context of the EFCC involvement, associating it with a political agenda. Indeed, some commentators were even asking what the EFCC had to do with the rules for parliamentary in-house polls.

However, with respect to the question of which rule to use for the parliamentary voting, the secret ballot carries the day. There are many reasons going for the secret ballot. Beyond any other justification it remains the only method that guarantees the confidentiality of the voting legislator, and enables a conscientious voting. And without conscientious voting what are free and fair polls?

The foregoing notwithstanding, the reported interest of the EFCC in the internal politics of the National Assembly remains an indicator of how critical the legislature’s business is to the rest of the country. It also serves as a wake-up call to the parliamentary bureaucracy to be more discretional in its conduct of official functions, as given the type of job they are statutorily vested with, errors of judgment have far reaching implications that do not end within the precincts of the establishment.

However, one last echo that will trail the transition between the Eighth and Ninth National Assemblies for some time is the last minute approval by the Senate and House of Representatives of new conditions of service for the National Assembly staff, whereby the mandatory retirement terms are now the attainment of 65 years in age or 40 years in service, which one comes first. Until now only university professors and judges enjoy such privileged terms of service. Now that the National Assembly is offering such mouth-watering package to its staff, it remains a dispensation whose echo will reverberate across the country’s public service circles, loudly and for a long time.

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