Last week's merger of opposition political parties is expected to revive the spirit of opposition in lawmaking activities in the Senate.
After weeks of intense political horse trading and companionship, four opposition political parties announced their merger last Wednesday in Abuja. The idea behind the merger was aimed at evolving a mega platform with the capacity to kick the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) out of power come 2015. The four parties which formed the union were Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
But less than 24 hours after the merger was proclaimed, the governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, distanced himself and his own group of APGA from the merger arrangement, saying his counterpart in Imo State, Governor Rochas Okorocha, who was part and parcel of the arrangement was simply on his own.
Obi's action did not only signal cracks in the wall but also implied the beginning of another wave of crisis in APGA as the trend showed that two factions had already emerged in APGA. However, the merger, if sustained, is expected to have far reaching effect on legislation in the National Assembly. Already, senators of the opposition political parties have embraced the merger in their parties and consequently announced their dissolution into a larger but single entity called the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The merger plan has even expanded the more in the National Assembly as opposition senators for instance, succeeded in bringing the only senator elected on the platform of Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), Senator Pius Ewherido, into the union. Ewherido represents Delta Central in the Senate. With the inclusion of DPP in the arrangement, the number of parties that constitute the union is now five.
In less than 24 hours after the merger was announced, senators from the five political parties- ACN, ANPP, APGA, CPC and DPP- quickly came together and embraced one another as now members of the same political family.
However, Labour Party (LP) senators stayed away from this arrangement, leaving LP as the only opposition party now in the Senate that is standing alone with only two members. At the 2011 general election, three senators were elected into the Senate on the platform of LP but one of them, Senator Robert Ajayi Borrofice, who represents Ondo North defected to ACN with the hope of flying ACN's flag at the October 20, 2012 governorship election in the state. But ACN fielded Rotimi Akeredolu instead, putting Borrofice in a dilemma. Till date, the LP is still seeking to recall Borrofice from the Senate.
Nevertheless, with the fusion of 33 senators hitherto from five parties into one political platform, the Senate henceforth will be a conglomerate of only three political parties - the PDP which produced majority of the senators, the APC and LP.
Upon the inauguration of the seventh Senate on June 2, 2011, seven political parties constituted its membership. Of the total 109 senators in the Senate, the ruling PDP produced 74, ACN had 17 (now 18), ANPP, eight, CPC, five, Labour Party, three (now two), DPP, one and APGA one.
But despite the opposition having 36 senators, the effect of opposition has not been felt in the Senate since June as events have shown that senators from the opposition went almost the same way all the time with the PDP senators who dominate events, debate and deliberations. This is not necessarily because the PDP camp exploits its size to lord it over the minority senators but because the vibrancy and resilience which usually mark out opposition parliamentarians are not displayed in the chamber.
Observing events in the Senate, particularly at the plenary, it is clear that the David Mark-led Senate does not disparage the capacity of any senator on party basis as everyone is provided a level playing field for expression at any given time.
Thus, it has been noted that opposition senators either as individuals or group(s) hardly think outside the box in the chamber, a situation that robs the Senate of expected legislative renaissance as was the case when the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the likes of Chief Anthony Enahoro as members of the opposition Action Group (AG) took the federal parliament in Lagos by storm in the First Republic.
Through effective and virile opposition to activities of the ruling coalition government of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and National Convention for Nigeria Citizens (NCNC) in the First Republic, the dread of Awo as Awolowo was fondly called and Enahoro filled the chamber as a result of their well thought-out stand on issues in the NPC/NCNC-dominated house.
On the other hand, in the House of Representatives, the story is not the same as the voice of opposition sometimes dominates activities in the chamber. For instance, representatives from the opposition platform have at various times, championed calls and moves which have not only rattled the ruling party at the centre but simultaneously put the executive on its toes. It was a member of the opposition camp in the House who moved the motion summoning President Jonathan on June 19, 2012 to explain to the House his efforts on the rising insecurity in the land recently. Although, the president did not honour the invitation, the dust generated by the motion is yet to fully fizzle out.
In the same vein, the threat handed down to Jonathan on July 19, same year by the House to either implement the 2012 budget 100 per cent by September 2012 or face impeachment was also moved by an opposition lawmaker. A recent threat by the House to override the president's veto on the 2013 budget should he further delay his assent to it was also championed by the opposition camp in the House.
Even though some of the steps by the opposition lawmakers in the House might not be 100 per cent right in most cases as observers have noted, they have gone a long way in checkmating the executive and at the same time, put it on its toes. But such records are not common in the Senate as the legislative vibrancy demonstrated by the opposition in the House has not been witnessed in the Red Chamber.
What happens in the Senate nearly all the time is the opposition going the way of the PDP with unanimous approach to issues at plenary sessions. Hardly are issues approached from opposition perspective, a situation that usually makes democracy worthwhile and result-oriented. It is against this background that many expressed reservations on the enthusiasm with which senators from five opposition political parties quickly came together last week to embrace the newly pronounced merger of their parties. But the question has been: can they exploit the opportunity to make legislation more effective? That is a million dollar question.
For watchers of events in the Senate, it is not only enough to announce the evolvement of a larger opposition camp but rather how the new move can help shape events in the Senate and consequently turn things around in the overall interest of the nation. Some pundits, as a result, have argued that in normal circumstances, what is difficult for people scattered across five groups to achieve can be easily realised when they come together to pursue a common goal and ideology such as this recent union in the Senate. This opinion also corroborates the maxim, "united we stand, divided we fall."
Therefore the 33 senators who were hitherto scattered across five political platforms have been challenged not to see their union under one political party, APC, as a mere fanfare but as a challenge for greater output aimed at changing the course of events for the better not only in the Senate but also in the entire polity.
Thus, the senators last week brimmed with smiles and applauded the decisions of their party leaders and proclaimed themselves as no longer opposition members scattered across diverse party platforms, but members of one bigger opposition political party with the same focus and vision. The group was led by Minority Leader, Senator George Akume, of the ACN.
Announcing the fusion of the senators into APC last Thursday at the Senate complex, Akume said: "We senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the platform of the following political parties, to wit: Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) met and discussed the ongoing merger talks among the progressive parties in Nigeria. We observe that these talks are aimed at salvaging the political, social and economic situation in Nigeria with a view to rescuing our nation from the rot and corruption bedeviling her and from the fangs of PDP's maladministration.
With those words, the fate of 33 senators as members of the same political party henceforth was sealed at least for now. Though the party is not yet registered, the senators now share a common bond as elected representatives on the platform of APC. They will now attend the same caucus meetings, share the same principles and be bound by the spirit of the same union.
But Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central), almost rocked the boat at the event, when she introduced herself as the incoming Senate Deputy President going by the merger arrangement. It was learnt that her colleagues took the introduction with reservations even though they initially chuckled, with some of them murmuring at the background. For instance, one of the senators who later made their feelings known to journalists after the event simply said: "We are watching." That seeming simple introduction generated misgivings among the senators.
One of the interpretations given to the comment was that the lady senator was merely telling her colleagues that with her husband and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as one of the pillars of the merger arrangement, the coast was clear for her to aspire to one of the topmost positions attainable through the new mega platform. But while some thought that Tinubu was merely joking by her comment, others quickly dismissed that assumption, saying she was only fulfilling the scriptures as it is written: "Out of the abundance of heart, the mouth speaks."
For them, it was in bad faith for an individual of that stature to begin to express ambition on the platform of a yet-to-be registered political party at the very first meeting of members. The perceived expression of ambition as well as the silent murmurings, according to interpreters, was not promising for the new union as some stakeholders believed that such action could create disaffection and mutual suspicion that could threaten the new marriage.
In a nutshell, political enthusiasts await the gains that the senators can bring to bear through the new platform.