Monday, June 17, 2019 12:28 pm
By Soyombo Opeyemi
I have always been fascinated by the British system of government and the cut and thrust of debate in Parliament. I have always believed that the parliamentary system of government remains the best option for Nigeria, being cheap to run in comparison with the American presidential model. Besides, parliamentary democracy of the Westminster type is strictly party democracy – and the efflux of time seems not to have detracted much from this. It’s like the democratic reading of Benito Mussolini’s phrase of “all within the State, none outside the State, none against the State”: all within the Party, none outside the Party, none against the Party.
The supremacy of the party in a parliamentary system is entrenched. Thus Lady Margret Thatcher had to step down for John Major in the interest of the Tories. Prime Minister Tony Blair did the same in the interest of the Labour party, handing over to Gordon Brown. Yes, it is the party first. And so, the electorate vote, essentially, for political parties. Going outside the party blinkers, therefore, amounts to committing political hara-kiri.
To a very large extent, among contemporary parties at Independence, the Action Group, to which Chief J.A.O. Odebiyi belonged, was fashioned along the British model. As Richard Sklar noted, the AG was “the best organised, best financed, and most efficiently run political party in Nigeria.” And there was a commendable degree of adherence to parliamentary doctrines in the other parties such as the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC).
For instance, when the authority of the Action Group, backed by majority of its members in the Western House of Assembly, removed Chief Ladoke Akintola as Premier of the West on 20th May, 1962 even without a formal vote of no confidence on the floor of the House, the NCNC chieftains like TOS Benson, Dr M.I. Okpara (Premier of the Eastern Region) immediately called on Akintola to abide by his party’s decision. And to underscore the supremacy of the party in a parliamentary system, the case was fought by Akintola from the High Court in Nigeria up to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom and the position of the Action Group was affirmed.
One must note such a stoical mildness of the current Ogun State governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun. Throughout that turbulent period (September, 2018 to May, 2019), he never for once attacked the then governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun
Chief J.A.O. Odebiyi was the Leader of the House and a serving Minister of Finance under Chief Akintola. It was the most difficult period for the Action Group’s leadership as Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and Akintola dangled carrots before the AG chieftains. Many party stalwarts succumbed to the lucre but not Chief J.A.O. Odebiyi. He sacrificed his post as Minister (Finance Minister for that matter!) and was caught in the malevolent restrictions imposed by the Balewa-led Federal Government, ostensibly to break the AG, following the declaration of a state of emergency in the Western Region on May 29, 1962.
Senator Tolu Odebiyi, representing Ogun West Senatorial District in the newly inaugurated 9th National Assembly, must be aware of his heritage. And when pressure was brought to bear on him to dump his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), ahead of the 2019 general elections, he declined. Odebiyi would rather sacrifice his senatorial ambition than abandon the progressive family his lineage had been associated with from the 1950s.
I had to be mindful of my late father’s legacy. The APC tenets take after the past progressive parties like the AG, UPN, AD and AC. So, they are like family parties. Turning my back on the APC would amount to turning my back on my people in Ogun West. I respect party supremacy
Chief J.A.O. Odebiyi was one of the founding members of the Action Group, and was at its inaugural meeting in Owo in 1951. He was appointed the Minister of Education at the dawn of self-government in the Western Region in 1957 and later held the post of Minister of Finance. He became the Leader of the Western House of Assembly in 1959.
From pre-independence to the Second Republic, Chief J.A.O. Odebiyi won elections to all legislative seats: 1951, 1956, 1960, 1965, 1979 and 1983; and one would be right to proclaim him an Emeritus Legislator! He was the Senate Leader of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) from 1979 till the fall of the Second Republic. Chief J.A.O. Odebiyi, a frontline Awoist, did not dump his party after losing the governorship primary to the late veteran journalist, Chief Olabisi Onabanjo in 1979.
Senator Tolu Odebiyi cherishes his father’s legacies. An accomplished corporate man and highly principled, he spoke to newsmen during the turbulent period in Ogun APC, ahead of the 2019 elections: “I had to be mindful of my late father’s legacy. My father was a true democrat and a progressive. As a result, the APC tenets take after the past progressive parties, like the Action Group, Unity Party of Nigeria, the Alliance for Democracy and the Action Congress. So, they are like family parties. Turning my back on the APC would amount to turning my back on my people in Ogun West. My loyalty to the party and my commitment to ensuring President Muhammadu Buhari is re-elected remains my steadfast and show of loyalty to the party. I don’t like switching political parties because I respect party supremacy.”
Just like his father, Chief Tolu Odebiyi resigned his appointment as Chief of Staff to the immediate past Governor of Ogun State rather than abandon the All Progressives Congress (APC).
This writer, being a strict professional in government, holds a duty to posterity, to observe, somewhat in passing here, that he did advise his principal at the material time to jettison the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), compensate its candidate and negotiate, “as no party formed on the eve of an election ever won a state-wide poll in Nigeria: at best, it would only secure a couple of legislative seats.” This writer knew he was probably the lone voice at that crucial time when his APC principal was “so certain”, “so supremely confident” of victory for APM, yet took the risk to give an unbiased analysis and advice to the then governor. But the March 9 results came as this writer predicted; the rest is now history.
One must note such a stoical mildness of the current Ogun State governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun. Throughout that turbulent period (September, 2018 to May, 2019), Prince Dapo Abiodun never for once attacked or threw darts at the then governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun. Such an enviable quality is uncommon in our politics; I was pleasantly surprised.
After the gale of restrictions against Awo and AG adherents, and the release of the report of the malicious Coker Commission of Inquiry, Akintola was returned to power. His UPP later merged with the erstwhile NCNC Opposition led by Remi Fani-Kayode to form the NNDP. With Awo out of circulation through a politically-motivated treasonable felony trial from the Centre, it was the twilight of democracy and the First Republic eventually collapsed on the boulders of contempt for party supremacy…
The 9th National Assembly will do the country a world of good by revisiting the constitution with a view to changing from the current presidential democracy to parliamentary system. It is highly cost effective as cabinet members are chosen from the legislature. Besides, public supply will come into constant scrutiny by the constitutional opposition. There will be only one general election as against several in the presidential system. Above all, the party supremacy that defined the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly will be better entrenched in a parliamentary democracy, for the good of all.
Soyombo, a media practitioner, sent this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org