Parliament Presiding Officers… Dr. Ehiogie West-Idahosa

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CAN A MEMBER OF THE MINORITY PARTY LEAD THE MAJORITY AS PRESIDING OFFICER IN PARLIAMENT?

There have been many views expressed on this topic by many. Significantly, the APC leadership has made heavy weather of the fact that this cannot be so. They have therefore called on Saraki to resign. One thing that is fundamental to Nigeria’s democracy is its very constitutional nature. There are so many threads of our national life woven neatly by the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended. This is not so with the American model of presidentialism that we unnecessarily copied. We are not a union of voluntary federate states. We did not even mandate those who chose the model on our behalf to do so. More importantly , we did not write the said constitution for ourselves.

Having said that, we are stuck with our Supreme law and anything done which is inconsistent with its provisions is certain to fail the test of the law, no matter how well intentioned. Bearing this in mind therefore, it is settled that a presiding officer of a law making body is usually elected to the the seat by a simple majority of his colleagues for different reasons. They range from party affiliation, personal friendship to perception of competence.

Usually, Members of such bodies vote by roll call when the House first convenes. The practice is for individual members to nominate candidates of choice, but members normally vote along party lines and sometimes vote for any other candidate of their choice. In most parliaments, several parties would present candidates for the contest. The majority party normally wins, if their party members stay on line. However, an unfavored candidate within the majority party can reach a deal with other party members and still win the contest if he gets the majority of votes for that purpose on the floor of the House.

This was precisely the scenario in the 8th Senate. Saraki had a deal with PDP and won as Senate President. This is an acceptable worldwide practice in parliament. It is not strange. A good example in the United States is the election of James Clark of the Democratic Party as Speaker of the US House of Representatives. While he served as Speaker, the Democratic Party lost the plurality or majority of seats in 1917. They no longer controlled the House. The Republicans did. Congressman Clark retained his seat as Speaker as the majority of House Members kept him there.

Even in the Westministerial Parliamentary model where having majority in parliament is so pivotal to running government business, there are many instances where the Speaker was chosen from a minority party. In 1992, Betty Bothroyd, the first female speaker of the House of Commons in UK was a Labor MP chosen in a Conservative-controlled House of Commons.

What then is the whole fuss for? What we need most is visionary and pragmatic leadership tailored to meet our present unenviable circumstances in the interest of rapid national development. Such leaders must fully understand Gabriel Almond’s Structural Functionalism or Easton’s System Theory in managing the component parts of Nigetia and the various arms of government for the good of all.

 

Dr. Ehiogie West-Idahosa

( Former member of House of Representatives, Lawyer and Policy Expert.

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