House of Representatives lawmakers loyal to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have rejected the controversial proposal by Speaker Yakubu Dogara to zone principal offices in the ‘Green Chamber’ based on Federal Character principle.
Dogara had in a reply to the letter written by the APC national chairman, John Oyegun, nominating Femi Gbajabiamila as House Leader alongside some members to be elected as principal officers, identified the need to maintain Federal Character Principles as well as legislative rules as reasons why he could not obey the party. The speaker had in his letter argued that the North East and South West had already produced the Speaker and deputy, stressing that it would be unfair to still allocate the House Leader to the South West.
Consequently, the APC loyal lawmakers in a lengthy letter dated July 18, 2015 claimed that the reasons given by the Speaker for rejecting his party’s nominees for the principal offices was erroneous and subservient. “We find Hon. Dogara’s letter fraught with several fundamental flaws in his analysis and interpretation of the Constitution and House rules”, the letter signed by Honourable Nasiru Sani Zangon-Daura on behalf of the anti-Dogara faction read in parts.
The group argued that all the sections of the constitution quoted by Dogara in reference to people appointed by the executive and had no bearing on legislative arm.
They also said the Speaker was not in support of the zoning principle when there were moves, sometime in May, to zone the office of Speaker to the South West and Senate President to the North East.
Read Full letter of the APC loyalist below:
Chief John Odigie-Oyegun
All Progressives Congress.
Dear Chief Oyegun,
Nomination of Principal Officers in the House of Representatives
Our attention has been drawn to the letter written to you by the Speaker Hon. Yakubu Dogara in response to your letter to him almost a month prior. We find Hon. Dogara’s letter fraught with several fundamental flaws in his analysis and interpretation of the Constitution and House rules. This is to set the records straight.
1. We stand on our earlier position that whilst we accept and agree with the principle of Federal Character, the Constitutional provisions in that regard are strictly in reference to the appointment to the Federal Executive and its agencies. The principle of Federal Character is not intended to be given such elasticity to the extent that it would extend to the running and internal workings of the House which is not a government agency and whose members are not appointed but elected.
2. Assuming Federal Character was meant to be applicable to the National Assembly, then certainly one of the Houses of the National Assembly must be headed by a Southerner. Remember sir, that in the run-up to the election of the Senate President and Speaker, our party made a deliberate choice, to apply this same principle of Federal Character such that all qualified zones will be represented in the spirit of national unity, which we embrace, but we all know how that ended. Furthermore to accept the Speaker’s arrangement would mean the two most powerful positions in the Senate and House after the presiding officers would be occupied by the North.
3. Whilst we maintain that our party’s mantra of ‘Change’ for the growth and development of our dear nation requires that merit should not be sacrificed on the altar of zoning, we have painstakingly ensured that in the selection of our leaders in the House, all zones are represented, except the South East, which unfortunately, are currently excluded from holding leadership positions because the House Rules disqualifies ‘inexperienced’ members from holding leadership position. Unfortunately, all our party members from the South East are first term legislators. The South East can be adequately compensated through other means without violating our rule on appointment of principal officers.
4. Hon. Dogara, in paragraph 7 of his letter quotes the provision of section 147 of the constitution which specifically requires that the President in appointing Ministers, shall observe the Federal Character principle as provided in section 14. He has inadvertently made our point that Federal Character is applicable only to the executive and its agencies. If the framers of our constitution had intended same to apply to the running of the legislature Houses, similar provisions which mandated the president specifically, would have been included in the case of the National Assembly. This is how laws are interpreted and all lawyers know this including the Speaker. This legal principle of interpretation is known as the “exclusion unis “rule of interpretation
5. Again the Speaker referred to the Third Schedule Part 1c of the constitution which he quotes in part, leaving out vital provisions which would not support the position of zoning in the National Assembly. We encourage the party to read this provision closely, particularly section 8 which lists the bodies over, which the Federal Character commission has jurisdiction. Indeed, section 8 of the third schedule sets up the Federal Character commission and it provides as follows:
“In giving effect to the provisions of section 14(3) and (4) of this constitution, the commission shall have the power to –
(a). Work out an equitable formula subject to the approval of the National Assembly for the distribution of all cadres of posts in the public service of the federation and of the states, the armed forces of the federation, the Nigerian police force and other government security agencies, government owned companies and parastatals of the states…..
Furthermore and more compelling is sub section 2 which states in defining meaning of political posts:
“The posts mentioned in subparagraph 1 (a) and (b) shall include those of the permanent secretaries, directors general in extra ministerial departments and parastatals, directors in ministries and extra ministerial departments, senior military Officers, senior diplomatic posts and managerial cadres in the federal and state parastatals, bodies, agencies and institutions”
These are all executive appointments and not legislative offices.
The above proviso Mr. Chairman recognizes Federal Character only as it relates to the executive and government agencies. The National Assembly is not recognized for that purpose.
6. Hon Dogara in his letter wrote on issue of morality. It is on record and we hereby attach copies (Punch and Daily Trust) of the press conference granted by Hon. Dogara sometime in May when it became apparent that the Party intended to zone the Speakership to the South West and Senate President to the North East. Hon Dogara rejected the idea of zoning at that time insisting that zoning did not matter, which is why he went against our party’s recommendation, and contested for Speaker. Right now, the Senate President and the Speaker are both from the North. We find it highly immoral, disingenuous, insincere and downright hypocritical, that someone who rejected and was anti zoning will now be the person waiving the zoning card when it serves his purpose. We cannot pick and choose or flip-flop on the application of zoning based on our whims and caprices and he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.
7. The Constitution is to be read as a whole. To this end, the provisions of section 42 of the constitution is very relevant as it strengthens the argument that Federal Character is only applicable to appointments in the executive and not to legislative elective offices. That section clearly prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity. However, it adds a proviso that such discrimination can be valid if based on Federal Character. The proviso reads:
“Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes restrictions with respect to the appointment of any person to any office under the State or as a member of the armed forces of the Federation or a member of the Nigerian police force or to an office in the service of a body corporate established by any law in force in Nigeria”
The above proviso Mr. Chairman recognizes Federal Character only as it relates to the executive and government agencies. The National Assembly is not so recognized for that purpose.
THE STANDING RULES OF THE HOUSE
The House rules derive their legitimacy from the Constitution. Section 60 of the constitution states:
“Subject to the provisions of this constitution, the Senate or the House shall have power to regulate its own procedure”
8. We are surprised that in copiously quoting our House Rules, the Speaker’s letter did not address the most important Rule of all as it relates to appointment of Principal Officers. Order 7 Rule 37 of the House Rules states:
“Only members with cognate legislative experience as members of the National Assembly shall be eligible for appointment as Principal Officers”
This rule goes to the very heart of the issue of the South East not being represented in the majority party positions. This rule is relevant because the thrust of the Speakers argument is that 1 zone cannot have 2 slots out of 6 slots open to the Party. However before we can even begin to talk of zoning, one must first qualify for the office. Unfortunately under the above rules the south east is disqualified. There are 2 members of APC from the zone and they are both new members and so by operation of law they are automatically disqualified. The rule was put in place years ago, not in anticipation of disqualifying any zone, but to strengthen the institution. As stated, this rule is universal and exists in all parliaments world over and is not peculiar to Nigeria. Ranking is a legislative tradition. There is a reason for this. Experience in legislative work, its nuances and complexities are acquired over time. This is why a new member with little or no prior legislative experience is not permitted to provide leadership to members with 4, 8, 12 or even 16 years’ experience. We must begin to conduct our business as much as possible in line with international best practices. We believe and expect that our members from the South East will be given the opportunity to build their legislative experience during this Assembly, to enable them participate more in the next, by God’s grace.
From the above, it follows that the 6 positions can only be occupied by 5 zones which means 1 zone will as of necessity have 2 slots whether North West, North East, South West, South South or North Central.
9. An erroneous impression has been created that the body of Principal Officers is a body of 6 members. This must be corrected. The Body of Principal Officers of the House of Representatives is one body with 10 members. The Majority Party contributes 6 and the Minority Party contributes 4. The added advantage of two that the majority has is because it is able to produce the Speaker and Deputy because of numerical strength. This body makes decisions together and leads the House together. We believe that the South East is already represented in the body of Principal Officers by way of its new Deputy Minority Leader. Worthy of note is that the minority party also complied with Order 7 rule 37 in electing their leaders.
Otherwise they could have selected from their large pool of many gifted and brilliant new members from the South East.
10. In referring to history and enumerating past principal officers, the Speaker was not accurate when he claimed it was the House tradition to spread principal offices amongst the zones. It was not the House tradition or policy. It was a PDP tradition (of which he was a member) and policy.
This is not a PDP House and we should be careful not to introduce or pass off PDP policies as House policies. Nigerians voted for a break from such. Indeed the opposition in the 6th and 7th assemblies had 2 members from the North West out of the 4 members it contributed to the body of Principal Officers.
11. Furthermore in the 7th Assembly of the 10 members of the Body of Principal Officers, the Speaker Tambuwal was from the North West like the then Vice President, the Deputy Minority Leader was from the North West and so was the Deputy Minority Whip making a total of 3 out of the 10 Principal officers and the remaining 5 zones shared the other 7. There was no issue then. We all worked together in unity because we believed that merit was more important than ethnicity.
12. In his narrative and on the issue of concessions, the Speaker did not inform that the APC Loyalist Group had already conceded one of the leadership positions to the North Central and that the only zone left was the South East, which unfortunately is disqualified by operation of law.
PARTY AND ITS SUPREMACY
13. Mr. Chairman, history beckons and posterity will always judge our conduct and contributions to the development of our democracy. A Political Party is an institution and its supremacy is universal and not a Nigerian coinage.
It is on record that the Speaker defied the Party going into the elections and he is about to repeat such defiance. The party must assert its authority over all its members the Speaker inclusive as none of us came to the House as independent candidates and we subscribed expressly and impliedly to the Party’s supremacy in political activities.
Article 9.2 of the APC constitution which we all subscribed to states “Members of the party shall be obligated to affirm the party’s aims and objectives”. The party’s letter to the Speaker on party positions forms part of the aims and objectives of the party.
Furthermore, the President himself has spoken severally that the Party is Supreme and its decision must be obeyed. He said the same thing just recently at the NEC meeting.
Nigerians have voted for the APC and thereby entrusted all political decisions to the party. It is our intention that the mandate given to us by Nigerians should be utilized to the benefit of the entire nation and not just for a few.
This Party has bent over backwards for the Speaker and enough is enough. He refused zoning before the elections (see attached May Press conference) and because of his refusal the party decided to conduct primaries and allow the members themselves to decide, he refused that too and struck a deal with the opposition. It seems for the Speaker who won his election by 8 marginal votes, it is his way or the high way. We cannot adopt this winner takes it all approach as it will be unfair to Nigerians. Our party campaigned against the PDP’s impunity in all its ramifications and so did the Nigerian people and we cannot be seen to be condoning the very thing we condemned the PDP for. That smacks of hypocrisy. The people of Nigeria voted for change and that change includes not sacrificing merit on the altar of ethnicity. We are not in doubt that all the shenanigans is merely a pretext to exclude our Principal Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, a man acknowledged to have served the House, Party and Country meritoriously, who was the face of opposition in the National Assembly and who led our Party from minority to majority in the House. A man who gallantly congratulated Mr. Speaker after an unexpected loss and who extended a hand of cooperation to him severally. Such injustice must not be allowed to stand.
Mr. Chairman the Party has spoken. If that isn’t enough, the APC members in the House have spoken on those they want as their leaders. What else is needed or what exactly is the agenda here?
A stitch in time saves nine. We must save our Party. We must save our Nation.
Hon. Nasiru Sani Zangon-Daura
For: APC Loyalists Group
House of Representatives.
By Olisemeka Obeche