It is the height of hypocrisy for APC lawmakers to be to make allusion to Section 68(g) in the present circumstances.
I didn’t know whether to feel pity for Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus in the House of Representatives and his members last Tuesday, or to tell them serves you right. A few days after Gbajabiamila had dared lawmakers elected on the APC platform, who were seeking to exit the party, to leave if they can, a political tsunami hit the ruling party. The APC lost 37 of its members in the House to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the African Democratic Congress (ADC).
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After the 37 lawmakers announced their defection to other political parties on the floor of the Green Chamber on Tuesday, the APC caucus quickly gathered at the House Media Center to denounce the actions of the decampees. Addressing journalists on the development, which drastically reduced the number of members of the ruling party in the House, a visibly rattled Gbajabiamila faulted the premise on which the decampees hinged their exit from the APC. For the APC lawmakers, their erstwhile colleagues must vacate their seats in the parliament, in line with provision of Section 68(g) of the 1999 constitution (as amended). Section 68 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) prescribes the circumstances under which a lawmaker can lose his or her seat.
The decampees had earlier declared that they were leaving their former party because it is now factionalised, citing the emergence of the Reformed APC led by Buba Galadima. The APC caucus leader said the ruling party would be encouraged to challenge the defections in the court, noting that “when people elect you to represent them on a particular platform, that seat does not belong to you, the seat belongs to the constituency, so it is important that this position is stated clearly, and that we put it to rest”. It is astonishing that Gbajabiamila has suddenly remembered that the mandates lawmakers exercise belongs to their constituency.
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One is surprised that the APC caucus would be faulting the recent defections from their party on the basis of Section 68(g). A section of the constitution, they have ignored in recent times.
From May 2016 to July 2017, when the leadership crisis in the PDP lasted, opposition lawmakers freely cross carpeted to the APC. There was nothing wrong with that.
Ironically, four to six months after the resolution of the leadership tussle in the opposition party by the Supreme Court, lawmakers elected on the platform of the PDP still continued their migration into the APC, citing a non-existent crisis. And on each occasion, Gbajabiamila and his men would stand on the floor of the House to receive the decampees gleefully.
Two instances standout. In December 2017, Hon Ehiozuwa Agbonnayinma, a lawmaker from Edo State, who was elected into the House on the PDP ticket joined the ruling party, APC. Hon Nnanna Igbokwe, from Imo State, who also got into the House on the ticket of the opposition party defected to the APC. On each of the two occasions, when the APC caucus celebrated the defections. Gbajabiamila conveniently forgot about Section 68(g) of the 1999 constitution. In 2014 , when PDP lawmakers defected to the APC, and Gbajabiamila transmuted from minority to majority leader, the party did not remember that Section 68(g) exists in the constitution.
Today, the table has turned and the APC caucus leader is whining. I am not saying that there crisis in the APC, as the decampees are claiming. That is left for the court to decide. But it is the height of hypocrisy for APC lawmakers to be to make allusion to Section 68(g) in the present circumstances. As the APC heads to the court, they must not forget the saying that “ he that comes to equity, must come with clean hands.” For now, Gbajabiamila should savour the slim majority his party currently enjoys in the Green chamber and pray fervently that his status does not change from majority to minority leader in the next couple of weeks.
…Open Week, not enough
Last the National Assembly held the first edition of its Open Week. The Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara said the the Open Week, which lasted from Monday to Thursday is a consummation of the National Assembly’s adoption of the principles of openness in its activities.
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Dogara, who spoke at the opening ceremony, had noted that “the Parliamentary Open Week is a response to the Declaration of Parliamentary Openness at the World e-Parliament Conference in 2012. The Declaration is a call to world’s Parliaments and Legislative Assemblies for an increased commitment to transparency, openness and citizens’ engagement.
“The General Principles of the Declaration are broadly summarised in the following four items: Promoting a Culture of Openness;Making Parliamentary Information Transparent;Easing Access to Parliamentary Information; and Enabling Electronic Communication of Parliamentary Information.” It is good that the National Assembly has decided to key into the Declaration of Parliamentary Openness. However, suffice it say say that promoting a culture of openness in parliamentary affairs, making parliamentary information transparent and easy to access goes beyond organising a open week. Since the federal legislature has decided to be open about its activities, it must do so completely. Therefore, it is not enough for the National Assembly to throw its gates open to the executive, labour and critical members of the public, so as to enable them understand the workings of the parliament.
The leadership must go a step further to let the public know how
most of its decisions are arrived, especially how members vote on bills and motions. That way a federal constituency or senatorial district would be able to know if the stance of their representatives is in sync with the aspiration of majority of the constituents. It would not be out of place for the National Assembly to periodically avail the constituency the report cards of their lawmakers. It is not out place for constituents, who as it were, are the employers of the lawmakers to know how effectively the latter discharges the mandate given to them. I don’t understand why the National Assembly is talking about openness in its affairs, yet it still relies on voice vote, a system subject to manipulation, to arrive at decisions on critical motions and bills. Incidentally, introduction of electronic voting, which make votes on bills and motions very transparent and devoid of interferences, is part of the legislative agenda of the 8th House. Ironically, three years into the life of the current assembly, the House leadership still find it convenient to stick to voice vote, which subjects decisions to whims and caprices of a presiding officer. This should not be the case in an era of parliamentary openness.
Talking about openness, why is the total emoluments of the Nigerian legislator still a mystery? It is true that lawmakers since last year have been making their budget public. But the total pay of the individual lawmaker is wrapped in secrecy. It should not be so. Beyond these sentiments, there are other posers the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly must answer. Since last the National Assembly has been announcing their annual budget. But they have failed to tell Nigerians how the budgeted funds are expended.
Unlike, the Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDA), who are expected to do a review of the previous year’s budget, before new funds are appropriated for them, no one knows how the legislature spends their budget. For me, the Open Week, is an image laundeering project, embarked upon by the federal legislature to whitewash its image. No more. No less. It is an open secret that out of the three arms of government the legislature is the most criticised. Severally, members of parliament, as well as the entire institution, have been accused of corruption. It is a bid to change the negative perception of the National Assembly, that the open week was put together to address image problem. But you cannot change public perception about the National Assembly, without addressing the issues that gave rise to the problem.
In as much the leadership of the National Assembly, often time, have expressed concern over the poor image of federal lawmakers before the public, it has failed to admit the fact, that the crisis of confidence affecting the legislature is self inflicted.