– The Sun News

Senate presidency and what numbers may say

Jimanze Ego-Alowes

If lawyers do not ruin a civilisation, then the gods have saved it. The truth of this ancient lore is so graphically Nigerian. Give or take, no other professionals have brought so much blight and catastrophe upon the Nigerian nation than, 1. Soldiers/coup-purchased generals, 2. Economists and 3. Lawyers.

It just so happened that the market values of economists and coup-purchasing soldiers have collapsed. After Soludo and Sanusi, economists seem like junk bonds, too speculative for the good of even the Devil. And to talk of coups today is to look deranged.

But somehow the lawyers soldier on and are even on a bullish run. Take this for instance: there is hardly any television or radio station you tune in to that you won’t get introduced to Mr/ Ms ABC. Mr/Ms ABC, you are then informed, is a lawyer, a political and or public affairs commentator, human rights crusader and or SAN. That is to say, you get an omnibus expert to demystify all the political and legal haze that is the reality for listeners. But rather than expertise in political science all you get is jejune certainty.

Now, the following caveat. There is nothing wrong with any parties commenting on anything under the sun. However, it is unprofessional for a medium to present a third party as an expert over a given discipline when the third party is about. It is equally unprofessional for the said third party to allow himself to be so presented.

And the matter is easy to determine. Expertise by definition is a narrow and narrowing area of specialisation. What this means by implication is that, to be so specialised, you give up on the swathe of other areas. In fact, to be expert in any given area is itself a rare occurrence. To be an expert in two or more areas is as much as it goes implausible, if not impossible. Therefore, a lawyer who is a pundit in law and in politics is almost certainly a coin clipper. He is selling the value of his genius in law, if any, as if it is transferable to politics. And the fact of this is peculiarly Nigerian. No television stations abroad, not even for cost-cutting purposes, will suffer a lawyer as pundit and retain him to double as an expert in politics. But this is Nigeria! Shit happens.

Anyway, we wouldn’t have been writing this if the tragedy of lawyers as lead political pundits was not the epidemic that has blighted our poor country. And the issue of who is to be the Senate President, should he resign, is a case in point.

It so happened that there was a needless confusion as to whether the sitting Senate President should resign and make way for an APC “majority” senator. And as much as we can recall, it was the opinions of the lawyers that were sought by journalists, in needless error if not ignorance. And true to type, the lawyers brought down the matter to law, to what the Constitution says or does not say. And to worsen their case, those we listened to, were using the right register for the wrong categories. The fact is that the matter has not come to being a legal matter and need not come to that by the way. Everything need not be law.

Anyway, these lawyers spoke of majority parties, etc, for instance. That was not the trouble. The real trouble is that ordinary people, ala social media, etc, took their cue from these poorly briefed, if not misinformed, lawyers. Now the following. In political science and power game, a majority party is not the party with the most representatives in a parliament. A majority party is the party with the number that enables it to form a government. In practical terms, the party with 50+N% representation.

And this is not splitting hair. The implication of understanding this is vital. It provides ready answer to the Nigerian confusion as to who is the fit and proper person to be Senate President.

Next, the following should be of interest to us. The United States is an orthodox multiparty system. The United States is a default two-party system. The United Kingdom is largely the same, only it is easier for third parties to emerge and they do. The United Kingdom runs a parliamentary system. The United States is a presidential system. Interestingly, Japan is a multiparty but default, perhaps de facto, one-party system. However, Israel is both an orthodox and default multiparty system.

The implication of this is that, in all multiparty parliamentary systems, only parties or agglomerations of parties that garner 50+N% seats form governments. The United States, we may need to state, is an innovation out of this parliamentary system but this essence of coalition is retained in their parliaments. So, bills are passed or carried by majority representatives from a party or coalition that meets the required numbers. We can all recall that Reagan was so successful at wooing Democrats that there were the so-called Reagan Democrats. They allied with their Republican party guys to pass Reagan’s bills, etc.

So, in parliaments, including those of the United States, it is the representatives’ bloc or a coalition of them, that meet the votes threshold, that approve requests and grant offices. It is just that, in the United States, the bloc numbers in issue are by default two. That is, there cannot be coalition or multiparty politics in proper terms. That is why Americans speak of bipartisanship when they really mean all-party consensus. I have also heard Nigerians, including lawyers, speak of bipartisanship in Nigeria. That is largely inappropriate, a wrong use of register. Nigeria is not an orthodox or default two/biparty system. Bipartisanship means all (two in America) parties, but it is strictly American. We are not America. Our all parties numbers are not two. Therefore, we can’t run bipartisanships. If Nigerians ran bipartisanships, that is, APC-PDP coalition, that would be exclusionary of others. And that exclusionism is up against the spirit and letters of American bipartisanships. Ours properly should be all-party or universal partisanships. These things are not hair splitting. They have implications.

It is at this point that the matter gets interesting. If, as it is in the Senate, no Nigerian party has 50+N% majority, it is wrong to speak of majority party. You may speak of the party with the greater number of representatives. The two are not the same. The implication of this is that for any decisions, positions, elections, etc, of the House to be carried, a coalition is required.

And if a coalition is required, there can be no a priori positions of any of the parties in issue. At this point everything is fluid. And it is especially so since a coalition of APC and other non-PDP parties can deliver the threshold numbers. On the other hand, a coalition of PDP and other non-APC parties can also do the same. This happens steadily in Israeli politics. As the major, not majority, parties close counts and none can form a government, the minor parties become impossibly powerful. At that point, with the major parties desperate for power, the minor parties like mafia lords can call the shots. Now, there is a cost for wanting power, and there is also a cost for wanting it desperately. So, the minor parties will bill the major parties appropriately. They make them offers they can’t refuse for wanting power and for wanting it desperately.

This is the point at which all the non-APC and non-PDP senators are in right now. If the minor parties like APGA, understand their game, they did come to knowledge on a matter. It is that, in life as in politics, you don’t get what you deserve. In life and in politics, you get what you negotiate. And negotiations are like wars. You go for broke. That is to say, all is open for contestation. Mercifully, it is over roundtables not killing fields. Mercifully, it is with guile and brinkmanship, not howitzers and bombs. Thus, if you have the gumption and skills, you can ask for the throne of Caesar or of even the gods. And engineer their desperation into a self-enriching prophecy for you.

It is a game. So, if it is that Saraki resigns, for an APGA/minor party senator to be Senate President, so be it. It is a game and you are in a jungle. And if you don’t toughen up you did be tenderized for dinner. And never let it slip off your mind that Saraki and opponents are all in this game to eat, not to be eaten. And you too must join them in the banquet. It is a game, we repeat.

In other words, it is feasible to have an APGA/minor party senator emerge as the Senate President. This may look implausible. But that is if you are a heathen politician. For all “born-again” politicians, it is scriptural that “anything political is doable.” Those are the words of Arthur Nzeribe, arguably Nigeria’s greatest political sage.

The point is, if awarding the presidency of the Senate will save a Saraki from being eaten, he will “let this cup pass from me.” And he did be glad to hand it over to whoever will ensure his political survival.

The point is this: If a minor party senator, say an APGA guy, can emerge their president, this whole idea of asking Saraki to resign or not is dud.

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Tokunbo David
Tokunbo David

Writer and editor.

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