Guest Columnist

A war foretold, By Dare Babarinsa

All senators are equal but the Senate President is far more equal than the others. Since the time of General David Mark, the office of the Senate President has expanded considerably at the expense of the Executive. Indeed under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the President of the Senate was almost a co-President.

The situation did not change much when the wily Dr Bukola Saraki, seized the Senate Presidency in a spectacular coup that left the leadership of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, confounded. All attempts by the Presidency to squeeze Saraki out of office failed. He proved to be a consummate strategist and formidable tactician. Perhaps, it was his ambition to be the President of the Republic that finally undid him. If he had remained loyal to the APC despite his travails, most likely he would have survived the storm in Kwara and overwhelm the O to ge revolution that swept him and his dynasty away. For politicians like Saraki, there is life after death.

The APC oligarch is now looking for a Senate President that would be the opposite of Saraki and would be willing to work with President Buhari. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the ruling party, has already announced the names of the party’s preferred candidates to be Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, the two presiding officers of the National Assembly. We should note that the new National Assembly would be inaugurated by the President in June. We are in April and June, in politics, is a century away. Many things can still happen.

National Assembly (Photo-The Guardian)

The Senate is where many things do happen. The National Assembly is the second arm of government charged with the responsibly of making laws and having an oversight responsibility over the activities of the Executive. The House of Representatives represents the equality of the citizens while the Senate represents the equality of states in this federation. That is why every state, whether big or small, is represented by three senators each.

During the Second Republic, when Nigeria had only 19 states, each state was represented by five senators. Now we have 36 states and this has led to some level of injustice. For example, Lagos State, which used to have five senators, now has three. The old Ondo State, with the creation of Ekiti State, now has six. The old Sokoto State, with the creation of Kebbi and Zamfara states, now has nine senators.

Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the great journalist who was the Editor-in-Chief of the West African Pilot, was the first Nigerian to become President of the Senate. Azikiwe, who led the fight for Nigerian Independence along other leaders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello, declined to be the first Prime-Minister of independent Nigeria. Instead he became the last Governor-General of Nigeria, representing the Queen of England until Nigeria became a Republic in 1963. With the coming into force of the Republican Constitution, Azikiwe became Nigeria’s first and only titular President, a post he held until the coup of January 15, 1966.

During the First Republic, political leaders did not take too much cognisance of the House of Senate. Then power really resided in the House of Representative where the Prime-Minister and all the ministers were elected members. When Zik moved up to become Governor-General on November 16, 1960, it was his kinsman, Prince Abyssinia Akweke Orizu from Nnewi, who succeeded him as the President of the Senate. Orizu, like Zik, was a journalist and publisher and the Editor-in-Chief of the West Africa Examiner.

After the coup of January 15, 1966, the political leaders got to know the importance of the President of the Senate. At that time, President Azikiwe was on vacation on the presidential yacht. He was on a “health cruise” to the Caribbean islands when the coup occurred. Therefore, Orizu, the President of the Senate, was the acting President of Nigeria. Following the coup led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu of the Nigerian Army, the political needed to respond. During the coup, it was first reported that Prime-Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa was kidnapped along with the Minister of Finance, Chief Festus Okotiebor.

When the remnant of the cabinet gathered at the official residence of the Minister of Defence at Doddan Barrack, they were to hear more bad news. Many top leaders have been killed including the Premier of the West Chief Ladoke Akintola, the Premier of the North, Sir Ahmadu Bello and several top military officers. The British High Commissioners in Lagos got in touch with the ministers and advised them to announce a replacement for Balewa since it appeared loyal troops, under the command of Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army, have crushed the uprising.

It was the acting-President Orizu, who was supposed to announce the name of the new Prime-Minister to replace Balewa, but he would not answer the call of the ministers to show up in Doddan Barracks. It was a perplexing moment because the Constitution says the President shall ask the man who control the majority in parliament to head the government and become Prime-Minister. With the acting-President remaining incommunicado, the ministers became helpless. Then Ironsi showed up with troops and told the gathered minister that he needed more powers to deal with the emergency situation. The ministers agreed with him. Abdul Rasaq, the minister from Ilorin, tore a sheet of paper from a primary school notebook and wrote the resolution of the ministers on it. That sheet of paper became the Instrument of transfer of power to Ironsi. We don’t know who is keeping that historic piece of paper today. It is not in the National Archive.

But we know whom we elected the President of the Republic. While it is necessary for the National Assembly to perform its functions faithfully and diligently, it would not serve the interest of Nigeria if it is working at cross purposes with the Executive. What we have is not a coalition government unlike what we had during the First Republic. At that time, Prime-Minister Balewa was a member of the Northern People’s Congress, NPC while the President and the President of the Senate were members of the National Council for Nigerian Citizens, NCNC. Now we have only one ruling party and its leaders should let us reap the benefit of it.

From all indications, Nigerians do not want a National Assembly that would be at variance with the Presidency. Therefore, Nigerians expect a more assertive and focussed presidency this time around. During this first time, President Muhammadu Buhari’s hesitant statesmanship has not been able to tackle the occasional rascality of the Saraki Senate. He may not be in the mould of the Imperial Presidency of the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo era, for styles are different, but Nigerians want a President that would get things done. Whatever else his critics might say, Obasanjo got things done and under him there was no doubt about who was in charge of Nigeria. It does not augur well for the reputation of the President when people talk of a shadowy cabal in charge of his government. The President should be his own cabal.

Election of National Assembly officers would be a great test for President Buhari. It would confirm for us whether he fully grasp the majesty of his office and the expectations of Nigerians that he should provide leadership for his party to have a less turbulent take-off than it had in 2015. It is a test he dare not fail, for if he did, then he should be ready for a rough ride to 2023.


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