For a National Assembly whose leadership was configured to fit the image and body language of President Muhammadu Buhari, the quivers that emerged on resumption from the yuletide break this week were remarkable.
Not too long ago, Senate President Ahmad Lawan and his deputy, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, had shocked stakeholders with their unpretentious disposition to do anything to please President Muhammadu Buhari. As it was said, Buhari always knows what is good for Nigeria!
Senator Omo-Agege had earlier given a picture of the deference that would be accorded Buhari when hours after his election as a presiding officer, he knelt down in traditional Urhobo greeting to Buhari in the Presidential Villa. As Omo-Agege knelt down for Buhari last June, the symbolic message many Nigerians received was that the 9th assembly was one that would be tied to the apron string of the presidency. However, parliamentarian historians were at that time quick to reassure that the National Assembly would when push comes to shove assert itself. That inclination was largely reflected by the fact that past presiding officers of the National Assembly who came to office on the goodwill of the presidency almost always rebelled before the end of their term. The case of Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari who became the first presiding officer to serve out a four full-year term buttresses the point. As Speaker of the House of Representatives, Masari condoned Obasanjo’s nuances until the president just before the 2007 elections backed Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua’s succession plan that preferred Dr. Ibrahim Shema for the governorship contest in Katsina State. Masari’s response was to rebel against Obasanjo’s presidential succession plan which projected Governor Yar‘Adua as candidate of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Masari in rebellion backed the bandwagon behind Dr. Peter Odili. That was until the then governor of Rivers State was blackmailed out of the contest by Obasanjo’s inner circle. Anyim Pius Anyim’s emergence as Senate President in 2000 was also a script largely written by the presidency. For the first few months he was in office, he pandered to the interests of the presidency, even refusing to take Senate reports or issues that embarrassed the president. The report of the Senator Idris Abubakar led Committee on Public Accounts on the construction of the Abuja National Stadium was an example. Anyim’s fight with Governor Sam Egwu, however, provoked a problem for Obasanjo who refused to back Anyim in the fight with his state governor. So, over a period of time the relationship between the Anyim Senate and the presidency turned from cordiality to bickering and the bitterness was so much that by the last day in office as Senate President in June 2003, Anyim offered his resignation from the PDP! So despite the assurances of complete subservience by the 9th National Assembly to the body language of President Buhari, the prospect of unwavering loyalty to the presidency will not be taken for granted in the long run. The first fireworks were exhibited last Wednesday in the two chambers of the National Assembly as the legislators returned from their yuletide break, during which time those who could go to their constituencies felt the pulse of their people. Many of the lawmakers, especially those from the Northeast, stayed back around Abuja on account of the heightened state of insecurity in the region. It was not lost on observers that as Senate Minority leader, Senator Enyinninya Abaribe brought Buhari to question on his seeming incapacity to address the insurgency, and demanded his resignation from office, that the onetime vociferous Buhari band and choristers were largely mute. In the past, Buhari’s body language and integrity would have been enough to silence the kind of hard language Abaribe used to decipher the Buhari administration. Not only are the legislators facing the kind of insecurity that many of their constituents have faced, but they are also coming to terms with the fact that electoral survival would depend on the good governance that they promised. Indeed, several of the legislators who were trapped in Abuja during the yuletide break because of the insurgency can no longer tell the lie that Boko Haram has been defeated, either technically or otherwise. Perhaps, speaking that truth as the legislators did last Wednesday is a good place to start for Nigeria’s political class!