One day I am certain that we will get our permutations right when it comes to giving appropriate credence to the real ingredients of democracy that occasions good governance with the greatest of ease.
Because too many things are being celebrated today and institutionalized under the guise of democratic dispensation, it is sometimes difficult to know which things are important as opposed to cosmetic features and trivial appenditures that have been imported into our political game in Nigeria.
Take for example the ever-talked-about Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF); you would think it was a provision of the Nigerian Constitution, but that supposition is so far from the truth, unless you believe the fictional Superman Hero really exists. Over the years since 1999, the state governors have formed themselves into a formidable cartel such that they now even have variations of their association such as Northern Governors Forum; Southern Governors Forum; APC Governors Forum and PDP Governors Forum, but to mention a few. The relatively smaller parties like ANPP, PPA, APGA and Labour Party had only a couple of governors in their saddle at any point in time since 1999 therefore were unable to boast of having their own such associations.
Now that these forums have been operating for quite a while, we have come to perceive them as normal features of the political system with apportioned constitutional powers and authority.
In similar vein, I saw a branded Coaster 30-seater bus which wore the following inscriptions on both sides, “Spouses of Ogun State Government Functionaries Association”; wonders will never cease on the stage of Nigerian politics.
This is by no means an isolated case in Nigeria; you just need to look more closely around you. But what one commentator rightly asked was, “with this kind of sick mentality of insatiable appetite for relevance, how can we ever progress as a nation? I’m speechless – Idris Ahmed.
So when the terminology “Ranking Legislator” was pronounced at a particular gathering, it raised eyebrows that those self-satisfying servants had couched for themselves yet another selective privilege within the fold of elected legislators, reminding us of George Orwell’s’ Animal Farm that, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. It also reminded me of my days on the University of Lagos campus where every new entrant was referred to as a “Jambite”, “Jambito” or “Fresher” if you wanted to be a bit touché, whilst the returning students were called “Stalelites”, inferring that they had become stale within the university system.
So who is a Ranking Legislator? Often used loosely in the Nigerian parlance, it refers to members of the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly, comprising the House of Representatives and the Senate, who are returning to the hallowed chambers, as opposed to those members being elected for the very first time. For those of us outside the system, we probably fail to realize the importance of the distinction, but on reflection it is worth giving appropriate attention to it.
In Nigeria, our adopted presidential system of government which we implemented as far back as 1979 is modeled on the American system of government where seniority of legislators is recognized. In United States politics, a ranking member is the most senior member of a congressional or state legislative committee from the minority party.
United State senators are conventionally ranked by the length of their tenure in the Senate and they are called Senior Senators with new senators called junior senators. Note however that the convention has no official standing, though seniority confers several benefits including preference in the choice of committee assignments and physical offices.
By extension, in the Nigerian experiment of the legislative houses, the seniority concept carries a similar coloration, even if it is not in identical proportions and significance to that of the United States senate.
Every legislator represents a constituency and the truth is that Ranking Legislators are conferred with special benefits simply by convention not constitutional entitlement; for example Principal Officers like the President, Speaker or Chief Whip of the House are elected from within the fold of ranking legislators and these principal officers wield extraordinary influence and power over their peers.
So I often wonder why the electorate has not been made to appreciate the importance of your representatives acquiring ranking status, which is contingent on their longetivity and successive returns to the chambers. Apart from it being an honour, it must undoubtedly be a bonus for your constituency if the Speaker of the State House of Assembly; the Right Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives or the Senate President is from your constituency.
However, the average voter sees the representatives as going to the chambers to represent themselves and their immediate families so there is no incentive to rally for the community. Similarly, political parties are somewhat selfish and more interested in securing seats for their own party members at the expense of consideration for ranking status that would be accorded a returning legislator.
Since 1999, there has been the good, the bad and the damn right ugly in our legislative houses with a blend of repetitive seat winners on the one-hand and surprise departures of experienced legislators on the other hand. Many have left the stage for seemingly purely selfish ambition, for example resigning their seat to contest as Governor in their respective states of origin, or some other appointment.
The outcome of the last round of political party primaries in June 2022 resulted in an unprecedented number of experienced legislators across the length and breadth of the country losing the ticket of their party, which has been attributed to the changes in the Electoral Act of 2022, that was recently signed into law by the President and had the effect of eliminating the hitherto conventional automatic delegates from forming a major part of the electoral colleges, whose responsibility it was to choose candidates for the General Elections.
Did you know that no fewer than 58 out of the current 109 senators serving between 2019 and 2023 will not be returning to the Senate next year which means that only 51 out of 109 ( a mere 46.78 percent) have an opportunity of returning next year, that is if they succeed at the polls and the story is similar in the House of Representatives. No matter the flowery words we use to describe this situation the expertise of more than half of the trained senators will be lost, possibly to Freshers in the next senate.
Although this is a democracy and freedom of choice is a key feature, from a purely aggregate national perspective, I am not sure that this is a good development for the quality and fabric of the legislative institutions that we are trying to build, where experience is a critical variable for qualitative law-making functions and crucial oversight duties of legislators at both national and sub-national levels.
On a celebratory note, it is refreshing to reflect on some of the legislators in the National Assembly who have served in the Senate and House of Representatives; others who worked diligently and carried their experience from the lower chambers to the upper chamber (the Senate) and a small group that have been ever-present which include:
Senator David Mark (Benue) 1999 – 2019 former Senate President;
Senator Ahmad Lawan the current Senate President (Yobe) 1999 to date who was in the lower house from 1999 to 2007 before his elevation to the senate;
Hon. Nicholas Mutu (Delta) 1999 to date;
Senator Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu) 2003 to date former Deputy Senate President;
Right Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, the current Speaker House of Representatives (Lagos) 2003 to date;
Senator Ali Ndume (Borno) 2003 to date;
Senator James Manager (Delta) 2003 to date;
Rep Leo Ogor (Delta) 2003 to date;
Senator John Owan Enoh (Cross Rivers) who was a Member House of Representatives from 2003 until 2015 and then Senator to date;
Yakubu Bande (Kaduna) 2003 to date; and
Kabiru Morafa Achida (Sokoto) 2003 to date.
My obvious pain is that the South-West geo-political zone is sparsely represented in this shortlist above and in particular that Ondo State is conspicuously absent, which speaks volumes of our political sagacity and suggests that in the next General Election we need to give some very serious thought to voter education & enlightenment; the slant of political party campaigns and the all important recognized convention of Ranking amongst legislators, which we appear to have taken for granted at our own peril.
‘Gbenga Akinmoyo (GaRo)
CEO LeadIfollow Limited
13th September 2022