In a few weeks’ time, a new National Assembly will be inaugurated to steer the legislative ship of the nation for the next four years. With the inauguration will emerge a new NASS leadership that is expected to point the way the new National Assembly will chart especially in complementing the efforts of the Buhari regime to take Nigeria to a Next Level. Presently, the front runners of the race for the NASS leadership are Senator Ahmed Lawan for the Senate presidency and Femi Gbajabiamila for the Speakership of the House of Representatives. They are front runners because they are the nominees of the ruling All Progressives Congress which has a commanding lead in both chambers of the National Assembly. What more, President Muhammadu Buhari has endorsed the candidature of both legislators, which stands them in very commanding stead to head the next NASS.
But, in the party, there are faint discordant tunes as both Senator Ali Ndume who conspired with the out-going Senate President, Bukola Saraki to steal the senate presidency four years ago and who eventually fell out with Saraki, as well as Senator Danjuma Goje who chairs the out-going Senate’s powerful appropriation committee, have indicated interest in leading the senate despite the party’s choice of Lawan. Also, the out-going Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, who in cahoots with the minority PDP and some members of the House of Representatives, cornered the speakership last four years is said to nurse a far-flung but surreptitious ambition to return. What more, Dogara is pursuing his nearly impossible ambition under his new party, PDP which is in significant minority in the House of Representatives.
Unlike what happened in 2015 however, there is no expectation of any major upsets from the APC stand on the NASS leadership. Unlike in 2015, the party now has a more regimented and disciplined leadership to see through the interests of the party and instill coherence among members. Again, the presidency that maintained a naïve attitude of non-interest in NASS leadership in 2015 now has full interests and these are expressed in the pubic commitment of President Buhari to support the Lawan and Gbajabiamila aspirations. Today, the party is more coherent and purposeful in pursuit of its interests unlike in 2015 where the rioting ambition of many members allowed the PDP to sow disharmony among the APC legislators to allow a Saraki and Dogara who, to all intents and purposes, were favorably disposed to the pursuit of PDP interests, steal the leadership of NASS. Most importantly, the experience of the past four years where the NASS leadership stood solidly in contradistinction to the executive and the party under which platform they rode to power is enough to steel the APC to make very good use of its majority status and disallow any efforts to relive the harrowing experiences with the Saraki-led NASS.
So, the grand expectations of Nigerians on a new NASS and its leadership is the complimentary role they stand to play to drive the visions of the government, not through constituting mindless obstructions as happened in the past four years but through a cooperative nexus that will further the ends of democracy and good governance for the Nigerian nation. Simply put, Nigerians are not expecting a replay of the cantankerous squabbles of the past four years where ambitious efforts to drive the development of the country and the dividends of democracy were arrested by a NASS that was in clear pursuit of selfish partisan interests that were contrary to those of the executive. Nigerians are therefore expecting a NASS that will readily accede to the requests of the executive to promote bills that seek the rapid economic growth of the nation.
In the past four years, we experienced how the Saraki NASS sadistically shrimped ambitious developmental budgets to smithereens just to pursue the desire to see the government fail. We saw how the yearly budgets were shredded so badly to have insignificant impacts on the nation, contrary to their designed impacts. We saw a situation in the past four years where the NASS became a theater for the promotion of narrow, corruption-induced constituency projects over and above ambitious capital projects that stand to drive the economy and impact on millions of Nigerians. We saw where yearly budgets for critical road infrastructures, power, rail, health, water, social investment projects were rubbished to make way for such constituency projects like provision for grinding machines, solar street lights and purchase of motorcycles. We saw where such budgets for the Second Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Road, Enugu Airport expansion, Mambila Power Plant, standard gauge rail lines were torn to pieces while nondescript projects in remote areas that hardly have impact on many people were promoted and stolen into the national budget because they are constituency projects for members of the National Assembly.
In the past four years, we saw how NASS became an absurd theater where budgets were padded to reflect the corrupt self-serving desires of NASS members. We saw how NASS distorted national budgets to suit their narrow whims, where NASS rewrote the budget according to their caprices and made the task of pursuing national growth through the instrumentality of the budget practically impossible. In the past four years, we saw how yearly budgets became avenues for muscle-flexing, we saw how budgets were unnecessarily delayed and made to travel to and fro between the executive and the legislature. These ego rips were meant to pursue vain glory while the interests of the people for which budgets were made, suffered serious harms. Let us recall how Saraki, during his ill-fated campaign for the presidential ticket of PDP boasted that he cut down the budgets for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway for no just reasons!
So in a new NASS and NASS leadership, the expectation of Nigerians is that a NASS leadership that is less acrimonious and combative will serve the general interests of Nigerians where the past NASS and its leadership bickered and threw wedges. In going for the Lawan and Gbajabiamila choice, it is obvious that APC is driven by the desire to avoid the regrettable impediments of the last NASS that blocked rather than enhanced the government’s drive to improve the lots of the people. The bitter experience the Buhari government faced with having a NASS that constituted itself to an obstructive opposition to the government must have forced the government from its naïve shell of disinterestedness to take an active interest in who emerges the leaders of NASS in a few weeks’ time. That is right and proper.
Expectations of Nigerians in a new NASS and its leadership is a national assembly that will assist the executive to deliver on its electoral promises to the people and that must have informed the choice APC made on who is best suited to drive the new NASS. Having any other leadership will translate to fueling the kind of bitter rivalry and street fight that marked the relationship between the executive and NASS in the past four years and Nigeria, as a nation, can ill-afford this bitter experience. We need a NASS and a NASS leadership that fit into the Next Level commitment of the present government and compliment it to deliver on the promises embedded in that campaign. Nigeria will be the better for this and anything less than this will rather exacerbate the developmental problems we have been battling to tame as a nation.
Peter Claver Oparah