The majority of the members of the Minority Parties were statutorily, procedurally and conventionally correct to have elected their leaders. It is a different thing if there is an agreement by all concerned Members of the Minority Parties to surrender their collective right to choose their leaders to one of the Opposition Parties on behalf of others. This is not the case here. The general power of political party executives to administer the affairs of a party cannot be stretched to the hallowed Chambers of the House without the consent of the elected members of such parties in the respective Houses and in accordance with House Rules. Political Parties must henceforth bear this in mind when making their decisions about who they nominate as candidates for legislative elections.
Nigeria’s unbroken presidential democratic model in the 4th Republic is about 20 years old now. There are precedents. In the history of the House of Representatives, there have been previous contests for Party leadership positions without much ado. This is trite fact. On June 11, 2019, did Nigerians not witness a contest between members of the same ruling political party for the post of presiding officers, despite the preference of the ruling party for certain candidates? Have we heard of any suspension from the party of those members who contested the said elections against the preferred candidates of the ruling political party? Nothing like that. I commend APC for such conformity with basic elements of democracy and global legislative practice.
Why should PDP not help to promote democracy at a time like this? PDP is in the Tribunal seeking electoral justice for what it perceives as cheating at the polls. Why should such a political party seeking equity not come with clean hands? Why is it intolerant to the election of the Minority leader of the House? Is the House an extension of Wadata Plaza? These are important questions for PDP to answer.
Hon. Chinda referred to standard parliamentary practice in support of the letter written by PDP headquarters to the Hon. Speaker recommending certain members for minority leadership positions. With respect, he is wrong. That is not the standard practice in choosing parliamentary leaders. For example, in the United States, floor leaders including majority and minority leaders are elected by members of the party caucus in the House. The present Minority leader is Republican Kevin McCarthy. He defeated Jim Jordan by 159- 43 votes on November 14, 2018. Why did the Republican Party not send a list to Congress? Let’s not mix it up with the Parliamentary system of Government, where the official government is formed by the political party that won the highest number of parliamentary seats according to law and the party coming second becomes the official opposition leader. Even at that, it is the elected members of the party in parliament that elect a leader from amongst themselves according to a House Rules. In Canada, the leader of the opposition is chosen by a vote by members of the legislative caucus of the opposition party in line with House Rules. In India, the leader of the opposition is elected in accordance with the rules of their parliament. According to the House Rules, to qualify to field an opposition leader, a party must have 10% of the total strength of the Lok Sabah ( Parliament). The 16th Lok Sabha of India has no Opposition Leader as none of the Opposition Parties met the requirements of the Rules of Parliament. There are no letters from Party Secretariats flying around. This is the story of parliamentary conventions and nothing more pretentious.
Back to Nigeria, the Standing Orders of the House prescribes the mode of choosing such leadership. It is by a vote amongst members of the Minority party. That has been done. What then is the basis for the purported suspension of certain PDP members? Can a political party suspend members of its party for complying with the provisions of the law? Can such a Party suspend such members without complying with the Rules of Natural Justice, by failing to give them a chance to defend themselves? We are aware that the Minority leader, Hon. Elumelu and others wrote to the party asking for another convenient date to meet with the general party leadership of PDP. What was the hurry to suspend them designed to achieve? I can’t see any.
On the contrary, the approach of PDP to this issue may hurt the party. First, the purported suspension cannot stand the test of the law. It would collapse like a pack of cards in the court of law and cause the party loss of authority. Second, the suspension cannot negatively affect the allegedly suspended members with respect to their membership of the House. Their said membership is as solid as Olumo rock.Third, the suspended members can defect to another Minority Party in the House and Hon. Elumelu would remain the Minority leader. Fourth, the House of Representatives can strike back by suspending Hon. Chinda and others for obstructing House proceedings, attempting to snatch the maze and for disparaging the image of the House. Already, an Ad-Hoc Committee has been set up to investigate the conduct of certain members of Hon. Chinda’s group. This is a clear indication that the House has its own joker.
My advise to PDP is to beat a quick retreat and avoid making early mistakes. This little error can ultimately cause a crack on the party’s grip on law makers elected on its platform and render it unable to play its expected role of checking the excesses or inadequacies of the government of the day. After all, Hon. Elumelu is a staunch member of the party and was given the party’s ticket to contest for a seat in the House. He is from the south south zone to which the party zoned the post of Minority Leader in the House. More importantly, he was duly elected to the post in accordance with House Rules. It is crass high-handedness and naked demonstration of ego for a political party to claim to suspend a group of House Members for engagement in a democratic practice and pretend to be a political party committed to the realization of democratic ideals. The two stories are irreconcilable. They don’t gel. Period. PDP should do the needful by accepting what has happened in the House, abort any reprisal thought and carry on with its business of persuading the electorate to vote for its candidates at the next general elections. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
*Dr. Ehiogie West-Idahosa is a former member of the House of Representives, lawyer and policy expert.