Former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, on Tuesday examined the crisis plaguing the National Assembly with a warning that the parliament is not a party secretariat where the All Progressives Congress (APC) can enforce discipline or party loyalty.
Nnamani, who gave this note of caution in Abuja yesterday, said the ideal thing is for a party to take the back seat once the parliament has been inaugurated, observing that the party should have resolved the issues revolving around National Assembly leadership before its inauguration.
Although Nnamani was swift to add that every elected representative owes a measure of loyalty to his party which he said yielded its platform to him to contest election, he however, added that after election, the primary loyalty of the representative is to the Constitution of the country and not the party.
According to him, it is the supremacy of the constitution to the party that informs the reason lawmakers are called the senators of the Federal Republic and not of APC or Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“The National Assembly is a legislative arm of government. It is not a party secretariat. You cannot go there to apply party principles. You should have prepared yourself before election. After your election, you owe a lot to Nigeria. Yes, you owe loyalty to the party that helped you to get there but your overwhelming loyalty must be to the Constitution of Nigeria because if there is no Nigeria, there can’t be Senate. Once you are elected, your party takes the back seat.
“The president himself is a product of the party. Even if the president wants to show loyalty to the party, it is to a point. You are now the president of Nigeria and not the president of the party. Similarly, as a senator or House member, you must show loyalty to your party, but the overriding superior loyalty goes to Nigeria. That was what triggered the fight witnessed in the House of Representatives the other time, which should not be the case. The party should have played its role prior to the inauguration of the legislature.
“This confusion may go on throughout the life of this administration if not handled with care. You can’t enforce in the National Assembly what you ought to do behind the scene. You can’t come to the National Assembly to enforce party discipline.
“A legislator is one who is capable of thinking independently, he or she quite understands that the party is supreme and that it was the platform, the vehicle that brought him to the parliament.”
So, having gotten to the legislature through the party, the lawmaker has to show loyalty to the party that offered him the platform.”
There is also a party loyalty and party discipline.
“Hence, the National Assembly as an institution is not a party secretariat, you don’t go there to enforce party discipline. It is expected that a party should have prepared its lawmaker enough before sending him out for election. However, the moment a party’s candidate emerges as a lawmaker, he owes a lot to Nigeria because if we are talking about Senate, it is the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not Senate of APC or PDP.
“You owe loyalty to the party but there is an overriding superior constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If there is no Nigeria, there will be no party. As a lawmaker, your loyalty lies with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and to the Senate. The party takes back seat. If there is a claim that the party is bigger than the legislature, you will be making a great mistake which may not work. If the party is so special as being claimed now, let the party submit the list of ministers to show supremacy, you will notice that it will not work. The executive branch of government has the constitutional role to submit the list of ministers. The president himself is a product of the party but the president will not submit the list of ministers to the party,” he said.
Furthermore, Nnamani criticised the idea of the party writing a letter to Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of House of Representatives, saying instead, the party should have invited them to a meeting and told them what it wanted instead of writing them a letter.
He described the action as setting a dangerous precedent, explaining that no official line of communication via letter writing is allowed by the law between heads of legislative chambers and their parties. However, he noted that the only line of communication is opened between the president and the parliament heads.
He said: “You don’t write a letter to be read on the floor. You are setting a dangerous precedent. Otherwise, Labour Party will write. Market women will write and all the Senate President will have to do is to read letters. The time of the Senate President is precious. You can’t be reading letters from ministers or judges. There is no provision for that.
“I am happy that Senate President Saraki didn’t read that letter. It would have set a dangerous precedent. There is a line of communication between the President and Senate President. There is no line of communication between the Senate President and the party.”
Nnamani however, raised some repetitive questions on the emergence of a PDP senator as Deputy Senate President without expatriating on it. “Is PDP willing to be a party in government or opposition? Does it want to be in government and opposition at the same time? Where does that take PDP? Is PDP better of in government than in opposition?” he asked rhetorically.