Fresh members of the National Assembly are frowning upon the ranking rule that debars them from holding leadership positions in NASS. EMMA ALOZIE looks at the merit and demerits of their argument
There is a standing rule in the National Assembly that only ranking members can be elected to hold leadership positions. By ranking, it means that leadership positions in both houses of the National Assembly are exclusively for members who have initial legislatives experience in the National Assembly.
Members elected fresh from their variously constituencies are excluded from such positions. Even members coming directly from state Houses of Assembly are not regarded as ranking. Such positions as senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives, leader of both houses and chairmen of some selected juicy committees.
Framers of the rule may have had experience in mind for leaders of the houses of National Assembly to be able to navigate the proverbial banana peels and bring stability to the assembly. The outgoing 7th National Assembly is a good case in hand where the legislative experiences of Senator David Mark and Hon Aminu Tambuwal came in handy to stabilize what ordinarily would have been a tempestuous National Assembly.
However, with the victory of the All Progressives Congress, APC in the last elections, the rule has somewhat become a stumbling block in the equitable sharing of vacant offices in the National Assembly. Such positions are normally zoned by the ruling party with federal character in mind. This is to make sure that no zone or part of the country is left grumbling.
But with the situation where no ranking senator on the platform of APC was returned from both the South East and the South South, the rule has somewhat become problematic. Also, only one ranking member was returned as a member of the House of Representatives from the two zones.
With this scenario, some fresh members of the National Assembly are kicking and questioning the applicability of the rule in such dire situation as this. Hon. Philip Shaibu, majority leader of the Edo House of Assembly who won election into the House of Representatives on the platform of APC has seriously questioned why fresh members of the House of Reps should be excluded. He described the rule as illegal and deceptive.
“A member of the National Assembly drew my attention to one of the rules of the House that for you to be speaker or deputy speaker, you must have legislative experience in the National Assembly. That rule is deceptive. It is not legal. Some of these so called ranking members should be celebrating that because people like us are not contesting. 75 to 80 percent of the members are new and if we want to test the will of the parliament to know whether that rule is binding, I am ready to provide leadership to challenge the rule.
“We will nominate one of our own (new member) and put the number behind that person and that person will become the speaker. I think that law was done by a cabal of the National Assembly that came into power in 1999. They want to remain in power. For instance if the whole 360 members of the House of Representatives are new, does it mean that the House will not have a speaker? In 1999 majority of them that took over the leadership of the House were not former members of the House, so why is the rule changing now?
“The 1999 constitution in section 50 (1a) said, ‘there shall be a president or deputy president of the senate who shall be elected from among members.’ Membership of the House is the only criteria required to be a speaker or senate president. However, the constitution provides for members to make laws that will govern them. A rule that limits the leadership to ranking is not legal and if it is tested in court the rule will not stand. By the time we are inaugurated the rule have to change. The impeached deputy speaker of the Edo State house of Assembly was a first timer but because of the zoning arrangement adopted by the party he became the deputy speaker,” Hon Shuaibu explained.
He went further to criticize old members of the National Assembly for what he describes as their low productivity and nonchalant attitude to work. He boasts that he is more qualified than many ranking members of the National Assembly in leading the House.
“I am more qualified than many of them because many of the members of the National Assembly do not attend seating. In parliament, seating is mandatory. A member must seat for a period not less than 2/3 in the 181 days mandatory in a calendar year. Failure to attain that number, a member’s seat can be declared vacant. And most of the old members in the National Assembly that are claiming to be ranking members did not attend seating up to the required number of times.
“So what makes them more experienced than us in the State Houses of Assembly that attend our seatings without fail? A ranking member that has never moved a motion at the National Assembly cannot be more qualified than me that has moved 161 motions and 45 Bills in the Edo State House of Assembly. From this analysis you will agree with me that an effective member of any State House of Assembly will be more active and creative than a ranking member that sleeps on the floor of the National Assembly.”
Hon Shaibu seems to be coming to the National Assembly with a different kind of fury; a fury that he believes would see him change the way things are done and give him leverage in moving motions and bills that will better the lots of Nigerians.
“There are some serious bills and motions that are dear to me that I was not able to move in the Edo State House of Assembly for eight years. Now at the National Assembly I must move those motions. I call them exclusive list. The first among them is power reform. The power reform must go beyond providing transformers. We need to re-visit fixed charges that the private sectors are charging. We need to make law such that if you buy a transformer to assist power supply, a method of refund must be put in place. It is painful to buy a transformer and the transformer will become a property of the power holding company and you that bought the transformer your light would be cut because you did not pay bill on time.
“The next motion dear to me is the financial sector. The banking sector needs a lot of reforms because it is supposed to be the driver of the economy. A private sector-driven economy is energized by the banking sector. For me, we need to turn our banks to real financial houses rather than making it a legal means of encouraging girls into prostitution. How can a bank determine when a married woman should be pregnant? Banks give targets that are not realizable.
“In fact, I am looking forward to a challenging National Assembly where many things troubling our people would be achieved through law making.”