by Abdul Ajia
With Aminu Waziri Tambuwal’s defection from the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party on the 28th of October, 2014 to the opposition All Progressive Congress, the fourth republic has entered an unchartered territory. The possibility of a hung House of Representatives is looming and if both sides do not move, there are implications for the economy.
When the House reconvenes on the 3rd of December, 2014, it will be interesting to see Tambuwal resume his duties as the leader of the House of Representatives. This action if it occurs will be a global first. Nigeria would have set a precedent of having a minority party member lead the majority in a participative democracy with well-defined political parties.
As it stands today, the Peoples’ Democratic Party has 188 members, the All Progressive Congress has 160 and the other smaller parties (who are usual coalition partners with the PDP) has 12. The prediction of a hung parliament on the 3rd of December, 2014 when the House of Representatives reconvenes is therefore factually grounded. Neither of the two large parties has a sufficiently fireproof share of members that will confer an overall majority on one.
Nigeria’s fourth republic is patterned after the United States presidential system and in modern presidential system practice across the world from USA, Mexico, Philippines, and Turkey, the Speaker is chosen by the majority party from among its senior leaders either when a vacancy in the office arrives or when the majority party changes.
Unlike some Westminster system parliaments; i. e. the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand in which the office of Speaker is considered non-partisan, in the United States and in much of the other presidential systems, the Speaker of the House is a leadership position and the office-holder actively works to set the majority party’s legislative agenda.
Because the Peoples’ Democratic Party maintains a majoritarian mindset and the All Progressive Congress prefers to behave as a majority party in the House of Representatives even when they are not the clear majority, the stage has been set for a dysfunctional House of Representatives. The do little House of Representatives will therefore become the do nothing House.
The dilemma that the Peoples’ Democratic Party found itself in the interim started since 2011 when it could not get the majority of its members to vote for the PDP candidate for Speaker; Hon. Mulikat Adeola Akande. Because it is expected that PDP members of the House will vote for their party’s candidate, those who violated their party’s agreed upon arrangement ought to have face serious consequences. We all remember that none of this happened in 2011.
So what are the options? The best case scenario will be for the Peoples’ Democratic Party and the All Progressive Congress to strike a deal in the House of Representatives. Since losing an absolute majority, the Peoples’ Democratic Party can no longer have a winner takes all mentality. A power sharing arrangement in the House of Representatives has to be forged. The likely scenario that should play out in order to forestall a breakdown of government will be for Aminu Waziri Tambuwal to relinquish his office voluntarily and a ranking member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party installed as Speaker while the deputy speakership position goes to the APC. The same scenario will have to be replicated across the other major offices.
The APC has brandished section 50 (b) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution that says there shall be “a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves” to claim that the speaker does not necessarily have to be a member of the majority party. This is a mischievous reading of the constitution; it goes without saying that the constitution never envisaged a situation where a member of the minority party will lead the majority in a presidential system of government. Since the Nigerian presidential system is patterned after that of the United States, the Speakership of the House is a leadership position and the office-holder actively works to set the majority party’s legislative agenda.
Invariably what this means is that the House of Representatives is not a social club where members take decisions based on whims, the speakership position of the House of Representatives is undeniably that of the majority PDP until such a time when the minority APC is able to get more members of the ruling PDP to defect to its rank and thus tilt the majority to its side.