Jiti Ogunye on the National Assembly Crises -By Olalekan Waheed Adigun

Filed under: Political Issues |
Olalekan Waheed Adigun

Olalekan Waheed Adigun


The Ife University management, then led by Professor Michael Faborode, had rusticated some Students’ Union leaders: Akinola Saburi (Malcom X), Ogunma Segun Adrew (Karl Marx), Taiwo Hassan (Soweto), Tunde Dairo (Barry Blacky) and others for politically-motivated reasons and had the very vibrant Union proscribed. The students, particularly we then freshmen, were left at the mercy of the University management and its notorious security men known as “crackers” (a group that fell out of the earlier Modakeke-Ife crises), whose mandate included, but was not limited to, harassing, intimidating and supressing students’ voices, particularly students with progressive orientations and belonging to ideological groups on the campus. That was sometimes in 2006.

I joined the ranks of the Union when its ban was lifted in 2008. Against all advice, and at great personal risks, I joined the movement to campaign for the reinstatement of the victimised activists. I particularly admired the invaluable role played by the Union’s legal adviser, Jiti Ogunye in seeing to the reinstatement of these lads. This is my faintest recollection of Comrade Jiti Ogunye. Akinola Saburi (Malcom X), the victimised Union President, and Ogunma Segun Andrew (Karl Marx) his Speaker, were reinstated in 2011, the year I graduated. I later came to know that for all his efforts, Jiti and his Chambers did all they could for us at no extra cost to our funds-starved Union. There is always a price to pay for holding on to one’s conviction.

Recently, Comrade Jiti wrote an Op-Ed piece in Premium Times, “Senators Saraki and Ekweremadu’s Elections Are A Nullity”, expressing his thought on the controversial Eighth National Assembly leadership elections. I must say that I am still impressed by this man’s dexterity in his calling, but whether I agree with him on his opinion is another matter altogether.

Before I proceed, let me make some germane clarifications. First, I am not a lawyer, therefore I must be quick to admit my limited knowledge of the technicalities of Law. Unlike Jiti, I will look at the issues purely from a political standpoint. Second, I am not, and will never be in support of thuggery, hooliganism and utter recklessness, as witnessed during the June 9 National Assembly leadership elections. On these two points I guess I am still on the same page with Jiti.

In the said article, he raised several points stemming from morality to legality to criminality. Let us start with the issue of morality. I noticed he mentioned more of “should” and “ought to” in the articles which connotes normative interpretations. I have learnt to stop using some words, as far as politics is concerned. The “shoulds”, “ought tos”, “supposed tos” etcetera form the bloc of words I avoid like a plague.

He made the following point: “…the APC, correctly and responsibly,…conducted a straw poll among its legislators to determine the popularity and acceptability of the aspirant and adopt consensus of the party for the position.” I agree that it was acts of betrayal and gross indiscipline for both Bukola Saraki and Yakub Dogara to proceed to contest the positions they now hold against the interest of their party, the APC. But if we agree with the German statesman, Otto van Bismarck, that “politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best”, then we will see that interests have roles to play in politics.

As far as I am concerned, even though we were taught in political theory classes that “what is morally wrong cannot be politically right”, I know for certain that this only ends just as it came – as a theory. The morality in the issue is purely relative, while ‘ambition’ is the key word. Politics is about negotiation and compromise, in some cases with the devil. If the APC missed out on this, then it’s too late to cry.

It is not just enough for the APC to conduct a straw poll, it behoves the party to set up the mechanism to ensure its members toe the party line. All before then the PDP had been in crises, and since it removed Alhaji Adamu Muazu as its national Chairman, it suddenly recovered its missing unity and embraced its lost sheep in Saraki and Dogara. The PDP simply put behind it its presidential election defeat and braced up for a new challenge – the control of the Legislature. I see nothing unusual in this!

Let me still take a look at the picture painted by Jiti. In the Senate, the APC had 59 members as against PDP’s 49. On the surface, it looks good for the APC to “control” the Red Chamber. But what the party failed to realise was the extent of the desperation of its rival, PDP, on one hand, and the facts of precedence on the other hand.

In my earlier articles on the National Assembly crises (in all of which I place the blame on the party’s post-presidential election strategy), I observed that if there was anything the APC got wrong, it was its gross underestimation of the PDP’s ambitions. A party with 49 “standing” or bloc votes, out of a possible 109 votes, can only be underestimated at one’s peril. Saraki only needed a minimum of six votes from APC’s 59 to clinch the seat he craved. Politics, again, is a game of numbers. How often have we heard this told?

There is also the question of precedence. In 2011, Aminu Tambuwal of the PDP came up against his party’s candidate, Alhaja Mulikat Akande for the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives. With the PDP’s votes largely divided, Tambuwal sought the support of the then, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) which had about 71 members in the House, the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC). Combining those he got from these parties to the votes from his then party, PDP, he won the election to become the Speaker of the House. It is instructive to note that Tambuwal later joined the APC on the eve of the 2015 elections. Can we say that Saraki re-played the same game the APC once won with?

I am also tempted to delve into the issues of legalities and extra-legalities raised in the article. I must confess at this point that I have not read the Senate Standing Orders, either in the 2011 or 2015 (?) versions, but one thing I know for certain is that the Standing Orders derive their foundation and authority from the sacrosanct provisions of the 1999 Constitution.

While not holding brief for any party or faction in the crises, my take is that if there is a Presidential Proclamation declaring the National Assembly open, then the absence of 51 APC Senators when such an important function was going in the Senate is quite unreasonable if not suspicious.

Again, even if the 51 APC senators were on the floor of the Senate, they would have come against 49 PDP reunited with their eight former colleagues now in APC. As far as my knowledge of the 1999 Constitution can serve me, only a simple majority (of senators voting) is required for the election of the Senate President. That also reminds me, in the case of the House of Representatives, where all the members voted, that still did not prevent Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, the APC candidate, from losing the Speakership.

That leads me to the next point raised in Jiti’s article pertaining to forgery. In my opinion, the case of forgery largely applies to Senator Ike Eweremadu who, as a PDP member, “won” the election as Deputy Senate President in an APC-controlled House. It has been alleged that he forged the Senate Standing Orders, 2011 to accommodate his own ambition. I will reserve my comment on this matter especially now that the case is in Court. I am also aware that full scale police investigations are in top gear on the matter. Should anyone, including Senator Saraki, be found culpable, I submit not only should they lose their positions, they should also be made to lose their seats in the Legislature, in addition to being banned from holding political offices for an upward 20 years.

It is very easy to “moralise” and “ethicise” the arguments now, but as we know, morality is a branch of study to which no one can claim to have sole authority because it is highly subjective. What transpired on the floor of the National Assembly was just a game of chess where some are beaten by the superior manoeuvres of others. I am defending a fraud? I wish I hadn’t written this!