Prince Tony Momoh, a former Minister of Transport and one of the national leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in this interview speaks on the controversy surrounding the leadership of the incoming National Assembly, saying President Muhammadu Buhari will not interfere in the process. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI brings the excerpts:
There have been divergent views as to whether President Muhammadu Buhari should intervene in the leadership positions of the incoming National Assembly or allow the lawmakers decide for themselves. As an elder statesman, what advice can you proffer on this issue?
The fact is, there are three arms of government; the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. Each has its own internal operations and operates independent of the other. There is the tendency for each one to aspire, develop or evolve a personality of its own. In the National Assembly, you have all the parties coming together to make laws for the country. In the making of that law, they have their own ways of choosing their leaders. Nobody can impose leaders over them because historically, imposed leaders never last. In 1999, when we came in as the ruling party ( I was in PDP then), we have a preference for the late Chuba Okadigbo as Senate President. Unfortunately, someone that the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo wanted emerged as president of the Senate. His name was Evan Enwerem. But because the lawmakers didn’t want him, it was just a matter of time before Okadigbo came. Later, Okadigbo was eased out as Senate President. Because the position was zoned to the South- East, about five Senate Presidents from that zone occupied that position within the space of five years. Unfortunately, from 1979 to 1983, we had only one President of the Senate, Joseph Wayas who is from Cross Rivers state, because the position was zoned to the South- South. Now, in this current dispensation, the 8th National Assembly, we had Bukola Saraki as Senate President.
Don’t you think the President needs a cooperative National Assembly given the experiences he has in the current dispensation?
Presently, we don’t know where the next Senate President will come from. But wherever he comes from, the struggle to change the Senate President will be more of an internal struggle than outside. President Buhari has rightly said that he can work with anybody. Anybody who is part and parcel of growing this dispensation should be able to accept that organs of government have their own operative manual which should not be unduly interfered with. So, the party with the majority, which is the APC, is likely to produce the Senate President. They know how to do that through zoning or allowing the lawmakers to do their own thing. The fact is, as it has happened over time, they can decide to choose their own choice for Senate President or Speaker. Are you aware that a former Speaker House of Reps, Ghali Na’aba was not the favourite of Obasanjo for the position? Aminu Tambuwal was the not the preferred candidate of the PDP in 2011, but the lawmakers independently elected him. The same also applies to Yakubu Dogara who is not the favourite candidate of the APC but the lawmakers chose him. Once they know that it is their own agreement to choose a leader, they will gravitate towards whoever they want to choose in spite of party commitments. That has always happened. So, if the party wants to impose someone that is not popular, the lawmakers will choose who they like.
So, the advice I can give anybody who is in a position to choose the leadership of the national assembly is to read the barometer and know who the lawmakers prefer so that they swim together in that direction.
Unfortunately, during his time, Obasanjo was interfering in who becomes the Senate President or the Speaker. He decided who becomes this or who doesn’t become that. As a result of that, there was disagreement throughout. President Buhari knows that the three arms of government have their operating manual and as such, he doesn’t want to interfere. People don’t really know that Buhari operates by the book. He knows that the constitution is a documentation of delegated powers. He knows what his powers are and what the limits are. He doesn’t want to exceed the limits. A lot of people don’t believe that that should happen and that is why they are clamouring that he should decide who becomes the Senate President or the Speaker.
But do you agree with the view that the 8th national assembly gave the president a lot of problems owing to the fact that Saraki and Dogara are not the favoured candidates?
They didn’t give the president any problem. Which problem? Everybody was trying to do their thing. That you have people like Saraki running the assembly in line with the greedy propensity of many of the members is an example of abuse of opportunity. I don’t think we should have a situation where materials from the president are pending but you put them down and refuse to work on it. A situation where the 8th Assembly will put aside materials that needed urgent attention and refuse to work on it until the president does certain things for them is uncalled for. How can you be holding the president to ransom? That is a more disastrous situation. You have appointees to confirm but you refused to do so on the condition that something must be done. I have never heard that all my life. But the fact is that it happened in Nigeria. These are areas of abuse of power and I hope we don’t have such things in the 9th Assembly.