Senate Presidency: Lawan Walks A Tight Rope

The ruling All Progressives Congress had been back-slapping and clinking glasses over its successful installation of its preferred candidates as presiding officers in both chambers of the National Assembly. As reactions continue to trail the emergence of the new leadership, Isaiah Osifo, doctor of political science and lecturer in the department of political science, Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, lambasts the leadership of the APC for deploying the weapon of fear against the lawmakers to have its way. In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, the one-time member of Edo State House of Assembly predicts internal explosion in the party which he says “is always the consequence of extreme dictatorship.” Osifo warns the new Senate President, Ahmed Lawan of dire consequences should he try to pursue “extreme healthy relationship” between the Senate and the executive, which he foresees would “boomerang on the integrity of the Senate”. He says on the other hand, should he attempt to assert his personality to carry out his leadership responsibilities, “he’s going to run into another crisis with a dictator who will not change his style…” According to Osifo “So, Lawan has a choice – to swim along with the dictator and lose credibility of the leadership of the Senate, or a choice to stand by democracy and fall into the reprisal that normally comes with stepping on the toes of the dictator.” Excerpts:

Isaiah Osifo Photo
Isaiah Osifo

As a political scientist and politician, how do you see what took place at the National Assembly on June 11 with the election of presiding officers whereby the ruling All Progressives Congress having its way in its choice of candidates?

I am not surprised at all; it was expected and I am going to address this question in three scenarios. One is the fear phenomenon which has become characteristic of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC in achieving desired results. Instructions were given about what should happen; and given the style of leadership and the culture of fear, they know the consequences of not towing the party’s line. So the continuous instructions, the continuous harassment, and the continuous threat to any member of the parliament that would deviate from the interest of the leadership of the APC had really gotten into the mentality of the members in terms of internalizing this leadership by fear. And of course, when you now have that in a dictatorship, everybody becomes, if care is not taken, like a fool. You have no word of your own because the consequences of a dissenting opinion always attract a harsh repercussion. Therefore, everybody in APC in the Senate and House of Representatives demonstrated that culture of fear that has been instilled into the administrative or leadership structure of the party. So, they all went there with the mindset of fearful senators afraid of their leader who they already know has no democratic tendencies. And the first law of nature in a hierarchical order is survival, no matter how patriotic you are, no matter how democratic you are. As an individual Senator, you want to survive and that now drives them into being subservient to instruction even if it does not go well with their original intentions as members of the National Assembly. So, they voted on the basis of fear.

By implication, could this also be responsible for the withdrawal from the Senate presidency race by the former governor of Gombe State, Danjuma Goje?

That is what I am saying. I said I have three scenarios. So, what I just said is the first scenario which is the culture of fear and this reflects the second scenario whereby the party does not encourage healthy competitions. The only candidate that ought to have given a competing environment to enable the senators either in the APC or PDP and other parties to make a choice of a Senate president was, out of that same culture of fear, asked out of the race. That is Danjuma Goje. And if you look at what people are saying, he was not just asked out, he had a case with EFCC of about N25 billion. And the EFCC, in its usual nature, has become an instrument of persecution of political opponents. That is not to say that the EFCC character started with the present government. I have written a lot of articles to say that until we have an independent EFCC or Judiciary, we will be joking with all claims of anti-corruption crusade. So, Goje got out of the race not by his personal volition, not by his personal will, but by that culture of fear which conveyed to him the consequences of his disobedience of the super leader.

Lawan has a choice – to swim along with the dictator and lose credibility of the leadership of the Senate, or a choice to stand by democracy and fall into the reprisal that normally comes with stepping on the toes of the dictator.”

Or blackmailed?                                                  

But you can only be blackmailed when you have an element of fear, or you have a skeleton in your cupboard. They succeeded in taking him out of the contest because the leadership structure of the APC has this element of fear phenomenon and it is the major weapon that dictators use all over the world. Dictators survive because the subjects are afraid of the nature, the character, or personality of the dictator. And with Goje out, in that situation, the PDP senators were not just going to jump at anything that is available. When they now discovered that they really did not have enough choice; you know the antecedents of Senator Ali Ndume. Ali Ndume had been one of the characteristically anti-democratic senators, anti-fairness, anti-rule-of-law, anti-competition, anti-rationality in all its ramifications. So, if you want to talk of somebody who had been antagonistic and unfair to the leadership of Bukola Saraki, and of course to the desire of Nigerians to have true democracy, Ndume will readily stand out as one of the most anti-democratic elements in this country.

And of course it would have been unhealthy for them to say just for the sake of having an alternative you are going for somebody you know doesn’t believe in anything democracy; so, Ndume was not going to fly. Then in a situation where there is lack of choice, you now talk of expediency. For the PDP Senators, the third scenario arose as a result of political expediency and the exigency of the atmosphere that pervaded the National Assembly at that particular point in time. But the point is this, somebody like us who are deep in political research; who have studied the history of dictatorship, history of democratic evolvement, we know that internal explosion is always the consequence of extreme dictatorship. The hope is this; now that they have Lawan, their choice; the deputy, their choice, let them now perform the miracle of the so-called healthy relationship between the Senate and the Executive. Now, the question is healthy relationship in the interest of APC or healthy relationship in the interest of Nigerians? But I can assure you that they are going to go for a worse situation because they are going to expose their inability and unwillingness to embrace good governance and, Lawan, pursuing this extreme healthy relationship, it will boomerang on the integrity of the Senate. I can assure you that not only Nigerians will reject his leadership, his colleagues, sooner than later, will reject his leadership.   And then for him to sustain his personality to say I too have the responsibility to manage the leadership of the Senate, he’s going to run into another crisis with a dictator who will not change his style because he does not believe in the independence of the Legislative arm, and he does not believe in the independence of the Judiciary as well. So, Lawan has a choice – to swim along with the dictator and lose credibility of the leadership of the Senate, or a choice to stand by democracy and fall into the reprisal that normally comes with stepping on the toes of the dictator.

So, to me, it is a situation that must happen and so, Nigerians should not regret, but should be hopeful that democracy must come; it comes from within or it comes from outside. But Nigeria as it is today, it’s going to come from within. Definitely, the elements of dictatorship are going to clash with the elements of democratic tendencies; either one will supersede the other. Whichever is the case, there would be an implosion and that implosion is going to be in the interest of Nigerian people whereby there would be steps towards enthronement of true democracy in Nigeria.

Against all expectations that Orji Kalu was going to contest the deputy Senate presidency, Nigerians saw to their utter surprise, Ike Ekweremadu putting himself forward for the position. How do you see the development? Do you consider it a wise decision?

Ekweremadu did what was right. What Ekweremadu thought and expected was that the other eye of the Senate, which is his APC colleagues, would reward him for his good leadership as the deputy president of the Senate. If he was able to get about five or six out of the APC members in addition to the PDP and other opposition members, that would have done it. But when his own colleagues now voted against him, you wouldn’t blame them. They voted against him because they felt that APC was not going to make a shift in terms of their numbers, not because of the loyalty to the arrangement of the APC as a political party, but as a result of this big stick the leadership is holding. You see, you cannot have a political party that claims to be a national party exclude a whole geo-political zone from the party, parliamentary, and governmental arrangement of the country; look, we are talking of the South-east. In the party, they don’t have anything; no national secretary, no chairman. In the Executive they don’t have anything; you cannot just exclude them again from the parliament. They are Nigerians. The APC knew that it was wrong not to have zoned the deputy Senate president to the South-east. Yes, I come from South-south which got it; but it would have been more reasonable that since you have the vice-president and speaker from the South-west, national chairman from the South-south, ideally, the South-east should have the deputy Senate president if the North was going to have the Senate president.

” Now that they (the APC) have Lawan, their choice; the deputy, their choice, let them now perform the miracle of the so-called healthy relationship between the Senate and the Federal Government.”

So, Ekweremadu contested and expected that his colleagues would realize this. But those who didn’t vote for him in APC were not going to do that because of fear. And the PDP too now voted against him because they knew they didn’t have the numbers, and they knew they wouldn’t have the numbers from the other side.  What they now did was to resort to political expediency. You know this is survival game; if you can’t have what is ideal, let’s have what is just available. It’s a strategic game theory where you need to participate; if you cannot have whole, I can have half. So, I don’t blame those PDP members who did not vote for him because even if all of them had voted for him, he would still not have been the deputy Senate president. So, instead of losing out completely, some of them who now shifted to the other side, did so, which is just normal in politics, for expediency in terms of personal relationships and other interests. Ekweremadu contesting was a good one; that he didn’t win, I was not surprised. I congratulate his courage and commend his willingness to represent his geo-political zone. But I pity those distinguished Senators of the APC who have just exhibited a culture of fear.

But let us see whether the dictatorship in Nigeria will override the parliament, or whether the parliament will have its internal evolvement to protect the desires of Nigerians to have a true democracy because you can only have true democracy where there is a practice of separation of powers. But right now, we are going through a trying period in Nigeria; democracy is on trial, but I know that democracy and the people of Nigeria will triumph.

We saw Ekweremadu trying to play on the sentiments of members by bringing up the ugly incidence of mace theft, believed to have been masterminded by Ovie Omo-Agege who eventually defeated him. What is your take on what seemed to be a vote of confidence on Omo-Agege with the overwhelming votes he got not just from the APC members, but also some members of opposition parties?

When you are building a theory, you must have a framework. The framework of the attitude of the Nigerian Senate today is based on the theory of the phenomenon of fear which has become an element of leadership of the APC otherwise, in a true democracy, in a rational society, what are you talking about? In the Senate of Nigeria, in the full glare of Nigerians, some elements came into the red chamber during their sitting, the mace was collected. For goodness sake, this is barely eight months after that ugly incident that embarrassed the whole country all over the world; no arrest, no prosecution, no name mentioned. And the next thing you are seeing is that after the eighth Senate, in the ninth Senate, you rewarded the man for his condemnable act. So, what are you teaching the children? Democracy is about culture; it’s about motivation, it is about education. What are people going to learn from you as leaders? The Senate is the highest body of governance in Nigeria. The Senate is bigger than the president of the country; that’s the body that can summon the president to answer to queries, that’s the body that can summon the chief justice of Nigeria. In any case, the CJN was removed from office, up till now no reference was made to the Senate. The president has immunity; he cannot be tried in the court. It’s only in the Senate or the National Assembly that he can be tried. Nigerians look up to that institution to teach; it’s a place that should be a laboratory of good behavior. So, when you are applying to go there, you know it is a high body of decorum and decency; and behold, a man who is believed to have committed such an abominable, ignoble and disgraceful act has been elected into the office of deputy senate presidency. They didn’t do it from their clear eyes; it was out of fear.

“There would be an implosion (in the APC) and that implosion is going to be in the interest of Nigerian people whereby there would be steps towards enthronement of true democracy in Nigeria.”

And of course, it is not only this man that is getting this reward. It has become a common pattern in the APC leadership; that those who encourage brigandage, those who create lawlessness, are highly rewarded. We saw what happened in Rivers State, if not for the intervention of the Supreme Court; we saw what happened in Zamfara State. In many of the states, they could not conduct congresses, they could not conduct primaries. So, the more you are lawless, the more you are violent or anti-people, the more you are rewarded. Look at all the utterances in Kaduna State by the governor for example. Kaduna State that is known to be hot in terms of politics in Nigeria, you have the governor and deputy from the same religion. That is arrogance and the party seems to be very comfortable with it because the governor is very close to the president of Nigeria. So, APC is a party that rewards hooliganism, unethical behaviors. And this thing is dangerous because the children are learning; they are watching. Oh, this man stole mace, or well, the man instigated the stealing of the mace, the symbol of authority of the Senate of Nigeria, then few months after, he’s rewarded with this position. So, what do you think the children will be doing? The world is watching. This can happen because we are right now in a dictatorship. In a dictatorship, anything can happen. But the beauty of it is that it is not permanent. The time varies. The time that dictatorship collapses varies from place to place, but ultimately, the dictators and their sycophants, hypocrites and praise singers will definitely be exterminated at the appropriate time.

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