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Having experienced a similar situation in 1992, a former Speaker of Cross River State House of Assembly, Maurice Wayas Evey, in this interview with Adebiyi Adedapo, believes that APC may at the end gain from the unfolding development in the Senate
You have a similar experience with what played out during inauguration of the 8th National Assembly. Can you let us into it?
My name is Maurice Wayas Evey, a former Speaker of the Cross-river state House of Assembly between 1992 and 1994. I am particularly interested in the event that played out in the senate, where the members of the two leading political parties, the PDP and APCcolluded to form leadership of the senate against the dictate of the ruling APC. This is similar to what happened in 1992 in the Cross River State House of Assembly. There are certain things I want the whole country, especially, my party, the APC to learn from.
I belonged to the SDP, and we had 15 members in the House while the NRC had 13 members, unfortunately for SDP, the NRC produced the state governor. The governor then wanted to use his position to install a speaker from the minority party (NRC). When the House was inaugurated, NRC with connivance of the Clerk of the House, brought out six court injunctions placed on six SDP members, asking us to leave the chambers, based on the injunction, whereas, the law doesn’t allow a regular court jurisdiction over election matters, so, since the injunction was not from the tribunal and it was a ploy to install an NRC member as the House speaker, we refused to leave the parliament.
Knowing that if all SDP members should leave the parliament, a quorum had been formed and the NRC members could go ahead to elect the leadership, we resolved to remain in the House and disrupt the process as long as the Clerk paraded the six injunctions. We also remained in the assembly for nine days to forestall their several plans and attracted attention of the whole country on the development. After the nine days, we all went to Lagos and stayed there for about one month to re-strategise, but while in Lagos, the state chairman and a few other executives of the party told me that they were no longer going to support me for the speakership. But before this time, we had a straw election within the SDP where I emerged as the preferred candidate for the office of the speaker, and the state chairman wanted to go contrary to that decision. By the time the news reached other stakeholders in Cross River, some of my supporters arranged a meeting with the governor, they agreed with him to step down his plan to install an NRC speaker and that they were going to contact me and two other SDP members, to align with NRC members and support me for speakership, by so doing the NRC would not have anything to fear, having contributed to the emergence of the speaker.
What about the deputy speaker?
The arrangement was that the deputy speaker would emerge from the NRC, but unfortunately, as soon as I was elected speaker, I had no voting right in the election of the deputy speaker, invariably, SDP maintained the majority and an SDP member was again elected as the deputy speaker.
Did the NRC members feel betrayed, giving the initial arrangement?
Yes! The rule of the house was that the election would be a secret ballot system, but SDP members rejected the secret ballot and canvassed for an open ballot system.
Hence the election was conducted through an open ballot, nobody wanted to be fingered. But as the speaker of the house, I brought justice to bear, I worked across party divides in appointing principal offers. Although, the SDP maintained the majority and of course produced the majority leader while NRC produced the minority leader, the chairmanships of various committees were shared justly and equitably.
Giving your experience at the time, do you foresee a stabilised senate with the current arrangement?
Yes, I foresee it, if only my party, the APC will listen and accept a wise counsel, what has happened is another way of strengthening the APC; I am saying this out of my experience, I used my vintage position as a speaker that was influenced from the minority party to now drag some of the members of the minority party (NRC) into our party (SDP). I can remember vividly, the day late MKO Abiola visited Cross River State and came to the house to canvass for vote in the primaries, because of the way I treated other members from NRC, the minority leader who was an NRC person was the one who drove late Abiola in his car from Calabar to Uyo because when Abiola landed in his plane, he wanted to use a taxi to convey himself and his entourage to Uyo which was not ideal.
So the NRC minority leader drove Abiola who was an SDP presidential candidate from Calabar to Uyo and back to Calabar where he took his flight back. That is why I am saying that Saraki, being the Senate President can use his position now to take more members away from the PDP into the APC.
Did you see it as a wrong development?
The problem came from the APC, we were told that the North-central was to produce the senate president, before we later heard that it was not zoned to a particular geo-political zone. That first arrangement was the wisest thing to do, but when they changed it without any cogent reason, you know all of them are stakeholders in the project of APC, it wouldn’t have been right for the party to change, so that change from North-central to the North-east became a problem for the party. In the real sense of it, there was nothing wrong in the original idea, the first line of thought was the right one.
Are you saying APC should be blamed for the happenings?
Yes! they would have come out quite early to zone the positions in the national Assembly; there is nothing wrong with that, every party zone for expediency, the delay in announcing a zoning formula and keeping to it caused this very problem. We had zoned other positions; why not zone the offices in the National Assembly.
What is your reaction to President Muhammadu Buhari’s disposition to the National Assembly debacle?
If the president said he wasn’t interested, that didn’t apply to the party, for political reasons we have to zone, so that every part of the country will feel a sense of belonging. So if as at that time, the party stood its ground and say that the senate president should go to the North-central and the speaker of the house should go to the South-east, this problem wouldn’t have arisen.
But the party decided on Senator Lawan from North-east, do you think Senator Saraki should be penalised for going against the party’s position?
I don’t know the nature of what the penalty will be, but it should not be the type that will hurt the party. Definitely, the party came together and agreed at a later time and there was a straw primary that produced preferred candidates, notwithstanding, the party should look at the silver lining in the cloud. Perhaps, I would say it was a divine intervention, it is not always good to change thoughts midway, the first thought is always the right one, any one that comes secondary becomes an intellectual work, the first thought that the senate presidency should be zoned to the North-central was a guidance from above; the party should have kept to it, but that second thought was now an intellectual activity, which is subject to a lot of errors like what is happening now.
The party should take a critical look; APC is not an ordinary movement, to me, I feel there is a divine hand in the formation of the APC in this country. If you see the way the elections came up, I have never seen the turn-out in the presidential election since my days in politics, especially in my community in Obanleku LGA where I participated, the turnout was so massive.
Some are of the opinion that the division signals the beginning of the end of APC, what is your take?
That is not true, rather it will strengthen the party, only the dead will not argue or quarrel among themselves, in a community of human beings, there will normally be a movement; this action is just normal in politics. It is very necessary, it will help to strengthen the party, depending on how we manage it, I feel the mistake had been made; the two sides have to be blamed because the party didn’t take a decision quite on time.
What about the 51 senators threatening legal actions, will this not spell doom for the party?
When they talk about legal action, we need to see what actually they have that will enable them to go to court. But from what we saw, all the requirements were met with due apologies to my party, maybe they are thinking otherwise, but I feel what happened in the senate met all the necessary legal requirements. Firstly the quorum was formed which is one-third of the members, those who voted were those who were supposed to vote, and again the law didn’t say everybody must vote. The mere fact that we had a technical problem somewhere and some of our members were not available in the senate wouldn’t void what happened there.
The party took a stand, condemning the process and Saraki’s emergence with Ekweremadu, but some party leaders recognised and congratulated the leadership that emerge, even though some party leaders also vowed not to recognise the National Assembly leadership as constituted, do you have any fears about this?
I still see it as a normal process in politics, people will always take their positions and at the end, they will come together, I still believe deep inside me that at the end of the day, APC will come out stronger. That the leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is holding a very strong view, which he has the right to do so, but I believe that in the long run, wise counsel will prevail. I am looking forward to the president himself coming out decisively to end the feud, the onus lies on him as the president of the country and as the leader of the party, he needs to make a definite statement which will help solve the problem, I am happy about his response so far, it is like trying to placard the two sides, standing by the party and also accepting the he was going to work with the outcome of the of the National Assembly leadership.
In all these, how will the much promised change be affected?
I will advise the PDP never to jump up and start dancing. Rather, they should look at it as they might have probably lost some of their members already, somebody like the deputy senate president, if my eyes are still seeing very clearly, I don’t see him remaining in the PDP, in the long run. Now that he has accepted a form of coalition government in the senate, it has happened in this country severally, those who took part in coalition governments never went back to their parties, so PDP should not dance, they should expect more strange things to happen to them. Like you know, APC needs to make an inroad into the South-east geo-political zone, APC needs South-east, just like the South-east needs APC, there are different ways of going into the market.
So you think Senator Ekweremadu can be an inroad for APC into the South-east?
Why not? He is ready to work with the APC in the senate as he has accepted to work with Saraki, nothing stops him from taking a step further to consolidate and bring better things to his area.