There is growing call for party supremacy to be respected in APC given the National Assembly leadership crisis. This has factionalized the party between those who are resisting the call and those who insist on the wishes of the party to prevail. EMMA ALOZIE looks at where party supremacy begins and stops and whether the call is not another name for individual supremacy
During the emergency National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC last Friday, two words that President Muhammadu Buhari used lavishly were ‘party superiority’. The president made it known to his fellow party men that he attended the meeting because of his firm belief in party supremacy.
“Please accept the superiority of the party. I cannot confine myself to the cage or Sambisa forest and refuse to participate in NEC or BoT because I respect the superiority of the party,” the president said.
Arising from the President’s admonition of party supremacy all the time, many APC loyalists have interpreted it to mean that the party must as a matter of urgent disciplinary measures wield the big stick to any recalcitrant members. The interpretation was taken a notch farther by insisting that what the president’s plea meant was that the list the party sent to the National Assembly for the principal officers positions must be treated as final and sacrosanct.
With the sing song of party supremacy renting the air around APC, it has thrown a lot of questions on what actually constitutes party supremacy. When could a line be drawn between party supremacy and the party’s constitution?
Is the so called party supremacy absolute?
The proponents of absolute party supremacy quickly make reference to the Second Republic when the then National Chairman of the then ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN was seen as a demi-god, when his say in the affairs of the party went largely unchallenged. Adisa Akinloye, the NPN national chairman then had greater influence in the affairs of governance and the president and governors of the party then deferred to him on a number of matters of national interest.
Chief Audu Ogbeh, former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, and now a chieftain of the APC explained what party supremacy meant then and how it came to be eroded in the current political dispensation. “Yes, in the Second Republic there was a structure and the party chairman was a pretty strong person; the President deferred to him. Today, the President owns the party chairman, dictates to him or tries to, at least before now. As a result, the culture of party supremacy has waned so badly that respect for the party is quite minimal now. If we carry on nurturing it I guess it will come back again soon,” Chief Ogbe said.
This position has seen a very sharp division in APC especially between those who believe that the party must have a say in the affairs of its elected officials and those who believe that the party is just a vehicle through which an elected official rides to office and therefore there must be a clear demarcation between party supremacy and interference.
For instance, the party has also been enmeshed in the controversy of who is the leader of the party with various factions of the party singing in discordant tunes. While the party’s national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed categorical stated that President Buhari is not the leader of the party, rather a product of the party, the presidency has replied Mohammed that the identity of the leader of the party is not in doubt; it is President Buhari. This no doubt generated unnecessary bad blood.
According to Mohammed, “Buhari is not the leader of the APC, he is a product of the APC. We have a lot of leaders in APC and Bola Tinubu is one of them.”
In a swift reaction to what many have described as a gaffe, Shehu Garba, President Buhari’s spokesman countered Lai Mohammed reminding him that President Buhari is the leader of the party. “Does it need to be said? I don’t think it needs to be said that the President is the leader of his party. There’s no question about it,” Mr Garba declared.
Party supremacy became a very serious issue in APC when the wishes of some powerful individuals in the party to foist their preferred candidates on the leadership of the National Assembly failed. When the new leadership of the National Assembly emerged through rebellion, the voices calling for party supremacy become louder.
This has thrown up some very vital posers. Where does party supremacy stop and where does the independence of the legislature as enshrined in the 1999 begin? Proponents of party supremacy are of the view that the party is in a more vantage position to direct its elected officials to stick to the manifesto of the party, if the party had a hand in their election in the first place as it relates to National Assembly leadership position. They contend that with the current make up of the leadership of the National Assembly where even the opposition PDP was allowed to produce the deputy senate president, it would be a herculean task for the ruling APC to fulfill the numerous promises it made during the campaigns.
However, proponents of an independent legislature argue that the legislature is too important in a democracy to leave it to the apron strings of the party leadership to choose its leadership. According to this group, allowing the party to dictate who leads the NASS would amount to violating Section 50 (1a) of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that “there shall be a president and deputy president of the senate who shall be elected by the members of that House from amongst themselves.”
This also brings other vital questions in the quest to find a middle ground to the growing call for party supremacy. Is it really party supremacy or the desire of some powerful individuals in the party to hijack the party and call the shorts and assert their supremacy? Is the party supremacy in the way it is being interpreted captured in the constitution of the ruling APC?
The answer to the question depends on who is answering it. The pro-Saraki group insists that powerful individuals in the party are hiding under the nebulous party supremacy to want to hijack the party as against the collective interest of the members. They argue that what is being bandied as party supremacy is a subtle way of foisting their preferred candidates on the National Assembly.
Will the party supremacy being bandied not conflicting with the party’s constitution? There is nowhere in APC’s constitution where it is stated that the party should have a say in how the leadership of the National Assembly should emerge including the principal offices in both Houses.
Some party stalwarts are expressing fear that the deafening choruses for party supremacy may be a pseudo name for individual supremacy and they have vowed to fight it. The question still remains, is it party supremacy or individual supremacy? This is perhaps one question that may elicit several answers.