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Exit of veteran lawmakers


VETERAN LAWMAKERS

In this piece, LEKE BAIYEWU examines how the National Assembly elections held on Saturday marked the end of the law-making career of some ranking members of the National Assembly.

When the ninth National Assembly winds down in June, several members would exit the federal parliament either for failing to secure tickets of their respective political parties or losing to their opponents during the Senate and House membership elections that held on February 25, 2023. Here are some of the ranking lawmakers who won’t be returning to the chambers after June, 2023.

Gaya loses fifth term bid

Senator Kabiru Gaya was the governor of Kano State in the Third Republic (from 1992 to 1993) on the platform of the National Republican Convention. He has been in the Senate since 2007, representing the Kano South Senatorial District. In the last election, Gaya of the APC lost his seat to a former Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives), Kawu Sumaila, of the New Nigeria Peoples Party.

Manager: Ibori’s man loses

The lawmaker representing Delta South Senatorial District in Delta State since 2003, Senator James Manager, will not be part of the 10th Assembly due to his governorship ambition. A photograph showing Manager on his knees before a former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori, an ex-convict and political godfather of the PDP in the state, had gone viral on the Internet a few years ago.

Dogara: A serial defector leaves

The immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, is representing Bogoro/Dass/Tafawa Balewa federal constituency in Bauchi State. He joined the House in 2007. Under a controversial circumstance, Dogara became Speaker of the eighth Assembly, then as member of the ruling/majority APC. He later defected from the APC to the opposition PDP while in office. Though he was re-elected a member of the House in the ninth Assembly on the platform of the PDP, Dogara defected back to the APC and now back to the PDP. He did not contest for the seat.

Ekweremadu: The longest-serving presiding officer

The embattled lawmaker representing Enugu West Senatorial District, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, is serving his fifth consecutive term, having been in the Senate since 2003 – the second National Assembly. He attempted to be President of the Senate in 2005 but lost to Senator Ken Nnamani. However, Ekweremadu was Deputy President of the Senate for three consecutive terms – in the 6th, 7th and 8th – covering 12 years, a record time as a presiding officer in the National Assembly. The lawmaker had announced his retirement from the Senate in 2023. He joined the governorship race in Enugu but lost the PDP ticket. He was later arrested, detained and being tried in the United Kingdom over human trafficking and organ harvesting allegations.

Ogor: An excellent opposition leader

Leo Ogor has been representing Isoko-North/Isoko-South Federal Constituency in Delta State at the House since 2003 under the PDP. He was the Deputy Majority Leader of the House in the seventh Assembly and Minority Leader in the eighth Assembly. Ogor’s exploits as leader in both majority and minority caucuses is on record, especially during heated debates with Femi Gbajabiamila, who was also Minority Leader and later Majority Leader, and was Ogor’s opponent at different times. He will be leaving the House at the end of the ninth Assembly.

Aduda: Abuja indigene loses to non-indigene

A member of the PDP, Philip Aduda, has been in the National Assembly since 2003. He first represented AMAC/Bwara federal constituency in the FCT for two terms (2003 to 2011), during which he was Chairman of the House Committee on the FCT. He later became the Senator for the FCT, from 2011 till date. Unlike the states that have three senatorial representatives, the FCT has one, making the senator who represents the nation’s capital to be regarded as a ‘governor’. Aduda is an Abuja indigene; a factor some analysts believe gave him the winning edge over other contestants for the seat. However, he lost his fourth term bid to Ireti Kingibe, a non-indigene and candidate of the Labour Party, in the Saturday election.

Nicholas Ossai: A legislative library

Representing Ndokwa-East/Ndokwa-West/Ukwani federal constituency in Delta State at the House since 2011, Nicholas Ossai is a delight to watch during debates, especially when the subject matter has to do with legislative rules, processes and precedence as well as law and jurisprudence. Several bills sponsored by members have failed to pass second reading due to his criticisms during debates. He has 47 bills to his credit as of the last count. However, he failed to secure a return ticket to the House on the platform of the PDP. Being the Chairman of the House Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements, Ossai led the famous investigation of the commercial agreements (foreign loans) between Nigeria and other countries, especially China, by the retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari-led regime. The probe, however, became inconclusive due to the influence of external forces.

Uzoma Abonta: The lawmaking lawyer

The lawmaker representing Ukwa-East/ Ukwa-West federal constituency in Abia State since 2007, Uzoma Abonta, a lawyer, is another great debater whose legislative experience was affirmed on the floor several times. Like Ossai, his interventions were sought during debates on critical legislative and legal matters. Abonta also failed to secure a return ticket on the platform of the PDP.

Biodun Olujimi, a leading female legislator

A former deputy governor of Ekiti State, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, has been representing Ekiti South Senatorial District on the platform of the PDP since 2015. She later became Minority Leader of the Senate in the current ninth Assembly. She repeatedly sponsored bills to seek more female participation in Nigerian politics. Olujimi, however, lost her re-election bid to the candidate of the APC in Saturday’s election.

Toby Okechukwu:

The incumbent Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Toby Okechukwu, represents Aninri/Awgu/Oji River Federal Constituency in Enugu State. He joined the House in 2011. He is another known debater and forms the third musketeer after Ossai and Abonta. Okechukwu is known to always criticise defections from the minority opposition camp to the majority side, often citing constitutional provisions that should be invoked against defectors. Okechukwu failed to get PDP’s ticket to seek re-election.

Issues and perspectives

Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, Nigeria has had four presidents – Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and incumbent Muhammadu Buhari. Meanwhile, in the National Assembly, the Senate has 109 members, in which case each state has three senators and the FCT one senator, while the lower chamber, House of Representatives, has 360 members. Despite the contest for the 469 juicy seats every four years, considering the perks that accrue to the members, some lawmakers seem to be maintaining permanent seats in the chambers.

While some political pundits believe it is better to have long-serving lawmakers who know the history of the country and its laws as well as have the legislative experience and institutional memory of parliamentary norms and processes, others believe that having new members from time to time is better.

Those who belong to the first school of thought often cite the example of the United States’ parliament with older lawmakers, while those in the second school of thought often refer to the Senate especially as the ‘retirement home’ for former state governors and ministers.

For instance, a former Minister of National Planning and current Director-General of the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, the academic arm of the National Assembly, Prof Abubakar Sulaiman, once stated that it was more expensive to frequently replace members of the National Assembly, stressing that it was better for the country to have experienced lawmakers with institutional memory.

Delivering the main lecture at an event organised by the House of Representatives Press Corps in Abuja on November 21, 2022, with the theme ‘High Turnover of Lawmakers: Impact and Way Forward,’ Sulaiman said, “Another possible intervention to stem the high turnover is legislative actions by ways of amendment to our constitution. This could be by prescribing more years for the legislative tenure or stemming the incursion of the retired governors and other executives into eroding the independence of the legislature.”

Sulaiman stated further, “The legislature is too important to be the retirement home of governors and other executive bigwigs. All efforts must be put in place to change this trend. We still need to go back to the drawing board in the area of constitutional amendment. Is there anything we can do through the legislative framework to address this issue? Is there anything we can do in the area of advocacy to address it?

“Fundamentally, we experience this on account of an executive complex; the domineering nature of the executive determining who does what, when and how. They want to determine not only those who constitute the executive but also the legislature. The development is not only anti-democracy but injurious to the development of an independent legislature capable of holding the executive into account.”

Sulaiman noted that in the last party primaries, about 130 members of the House failed to secure their party’s ticket to return to the House. He warned that the number of lawmakers that might not return to the parliament after the 2023 

general elections “may be the highest since our return to democratic rule in 1999.”

He added, “For example, in Lagos State, 20 out of about 40 lawmakers are not returning after the party primaries. Indeed, records available to NILDS indicate that there are states where only five members won the primaries.”

The DG of NILDS cited various reasons responsible for “this alarming trend,” among which he said was “the domineering influence of state governors that control party primaries.” He added, “Another potential reason is the desire of the governors to move to the legislature, particularly the senate after completing their tenures. In this case, some of the governors worked against the incumbent lawmakers given their interest in occupying their seats.”

While also blaming it on the small number of delegates that determined the fate of candidates all over the country, the ex-minister said most parties refused to give return tickets to serving legislators due to rotational arrangements within the various constituencies.

The ex-minister also cited non-performance and lack of quality representation as perceived by the electorate, noting that many of the legislators do not have feasible achievements or presence in their various constituencies and failed to consult the electorate during their tenure in the various chambers, thereby incurring the wrath of the public against their re-election interest. He also stated that since 1999 when Nigeria had been practising uninterrupted democracy, the stability and progress of the legislature had been hampered by high rate of legislative attrition.

However, Sulaiman stated, “Let me emphasise at this juncture that turnover itself is not entirely a bad thing. Some regard turnover after election as being as part of efforts to strengthen the legislature and inject new ideas into governance. However, extreme high turnover rates can have long term effects on institutional building and democratic consolidation.

“For instance, experience and maturity is important in legislative performance as underscored by the fact that the framers of our constitution did not limit the number of times legislators can be elected, whereas the executive arm has a maximum term limit of eight years. The need for experience and seasoned legislature is a universal desire both in developed and developing nations. This special privilege is an indication that lawmaking is a learning process and the legislature stands to gain a lot with career based-lawmakers and, thus, consolidate on democratic progress when there is no term limit.”

The NILDS boss especially proposed amendments to the relevant laws to restrict membership of the federal parliament by persons who have served as governor of a state.

The Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, also criticised the dictatorial tendencies of the governors, especially their unilateral decisions on who gets elected into the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly. The Speaker, who was represented by the Deputy Majority Leader, Peter Akpatason, criticised the executive for interfering in the affairs of the legislature at the federal and state levels.

He said, “When you (Sulaiman) talked about executive rascality, I am not sure a lot of people actually know what is amiss. It is a very serious issue in this country. We have a situation in which governors want to do and dictate everything in this country, but it is not in the interest of Nigerian people; it is not in the interest of democracy.

“When a governor sits down and says ‘X, Y and Z persons must not come back,’ why? You are not looking at the experience and competences; it is not about inability to perform, or probably because they have not done their wish as an individual. It is completely wrong.

“The same governors will want to choose ministers for the president. They want to tell local government chairmen how to spend their monies (allocations). In fact, their monies are paid into a joint account with the governors. If we have a set of people who are too powerful for a normal operation of democracy, this is the kind of situation that we see or experience.”

He stressed that the high turnover of legislators was mainly due to the roles of the governors. “Except we take this message to them, they might not know that Nigerians are watching them,” he added.

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