From all indications, the coming June 9 2019, election of the speaker of the 9th House of Representatives is unlikely to be devoid of intrigues and drama. The seeming controversial position of the the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), over who becomes the next speaker, the alleged overbearing influence of some leaders of the party and the recent inflammatory utterances attributed to some APC kingpins, have combined to blow the tempo of the tussle into apprehensive, feisty competition.
Whichever way the pendulum swings on that day, certain things are sure. Dreams will be killed. And realised. Egos bruised. Political battle won. And lost. Lessons learnt. New heroes and villains will emerge. And Nigeria will neither sink nor evaporate!
The battle is seemingly between a section of the APC that trumpets ‘supremacy of the party’ and those others with their sympathizers and collaborators across party lines that believe in the ‘independence of the legislature’ to elect its leaders without external interference. The APC leadership believes that it is its prerogative to select the National Assembly leaders in line with the doctrine of party supremacy, so as to have a legislature that would work in tandem with the executive in order to avoid executive/legislative frictions of the past.
In 2011, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also travelled on a similar path by endorsing Hon. Mulikat Akande Adeola as its choice for Speaker. But Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who later emerged speaker, ran a campaign that asserted the imperatives of a legislative independence. He had argued that the integrity of the legislature would be compromised should external forces, especially the executive, be allowed to handpick the leadership of the National Assembly. And he won with the collaboration of independent minded members of the majority PDP, ACN, ANPP, APGA and the CPC. And that, in a way, set the tone for 2015 that produced another underdog, Yakubu Dogara. Any lesson learnt?
Recent utterances of the APC leaders that suggested that whosever that would not support the party’s anointed candidate was free to leave the party. Or the comment by the party chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, that “no other party member apart from APC should head a House Committee”, indicated that history may be of little value to the APC leaders.
Hon. Bimbo Daramola, an APC former member of the House of Representatives, and the current chief of staff to the Deputy Speaker, Yusuf (who also ran with Dogara against the will of APC leaders in 2015) has also said that “party supremacy is subject to the supremacy of the constitution that made provision for federal character that promotes Natinal integration, equity and justice in distribution of positions among the various geopolitical groups, inclusiveness and unity.”
The two leading contenders for the coveted position of speaker are Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, representing Surulere Federal Constituency of Lagos state in the Southwest and Hon. Mohammed Umaru Bago, representing Chanchaga Federal Constituency of Niger state, North Central. Both are members of the APC with requisite cognate legislative experiences.
While Gbajabiamila is a fifth time member and the current House Leader, a position he secured after he failed to win the last Speakership election in 2015, despite the fact that he enjoyed the support of the APC party leadership at the time, Bago, a three-time member, is the Chairman, House Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration.
Apparently running for the office on the dual strength of the endorsement by the APC and its leaders, especially Senator Bola Tinubu, national leader of the APC and Comrade Oshiomole, national chairman of the party, Gbajabiamila’s supporters and APC party hierarchy are of the view that contesting against him by any APC member in the House, would not only be seen as rebellious but also an anti party conduct that the party would not condone. Especially as the position was officially zoned to the southwest by the party. Gbajabiamila’s supporters also consider him as very experienced. Astute. Passionate. And versed in legislative processes and procedures.
Bago, described by his supporters as experienced. Level headed. A bridge builder. Urbane. Accessible. And team player. He hinges his aspiration on justice, equity, inclusivity as enshrined in the federal character, as well as the independence of the legislature, as provided in the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.
He and his supporters, as well as many other House members elect of the APC, as well as the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are obviously not pleased with what they see as the dictatorial tendencies of the APC leadership, that unilaterally imposed Gbajabiamila on them, as the next speaker without due consultations, lobby and amity, as if they were children that “are incapable of taking decisions on who should be their speaker.” They also consider such action as a violation of section 50 of the constitution, that provides that the National Assembly members shall elect their own leaders independently amongst its members.
The dissenting voices who oppose Gbajabiamila’s choice also query the internal democracy in the APC that encourages a “faulty reward mechanism in the party that curiously sanctioned the zoning of both the positions of the Vice President and the speaker of the House to the Southwest, while excluding the North Central that won the third highest votes for the party at the recently held general election”. The North Central, they argued, ought to be considered for the position of the speaker based on its electoral value which was superior to that of southwest in the last election. And Niger state, where Bago hails from, got the highest vote in the region and should be rewarded and supported to produce the next speaker for balance and equity in line with the principles of democracy that promote justice and fairness, according to the group.
Speaking on the loyalty to the party and why he chose to challenge the position of his party, Bago said: ” I am going to the floor on the day of inauguration and by the grace of God, we will come out victorious because the issue we are calling for has not been addressed, the issue of justice and equity. So, all men and women of faith have continued to encourage us to continue on this journey and we are not going to rest on our oars.
“We have our colleagues behind us and by the grace of God, just the 360 of us are going to be in that hallowed chamber on that day to elect one of us. On issues of loyalty to the party; you know when people talk about loyalty, I keep laughing. Can there be anybody more loyal to the party than we are? We have come with General Buhari from the times of the TBO, to the CPC, to the merger that produced APC and now next level…We are very loyal to the party, we are core Buharists and I have said it several times that the President, in his wisdom, told us to stand on the path of justice, fairness and equity.”
Apart from this call for equity, the fear among the members elect is for them not to lose or “mortgage their legislative authorities to the APC national leader, whose propensity for authoritarianism and the manner he runs the affairs of the party in Lagos and the Southwest are well known in the political circle”, according to one returning member from the region. Gbajabiamila may have his own flaws, some of his colleagues said, but his greatest undoing, ironically, appears to be the support of his party leaders, in their summation.
Intrigues are not new in House of Representatives elections. In fact, the last election that produced Dogara was characterized by what insiders call “political arrogance, back stabbing, supremacy of the will of the people. And triumph of the underdog!”
According to the account given by one of the major players in the last two elections, Governor Tambuwal, who was the outgoing Speaker at the time, as published in his interview in Vanguard Newspaper of February 4, 2019, with the title “My transactions with Tinubu “, it was suggested that he and others were taken for granted in the run up to the election by the same party leaders who also promoted the candidature of Gbajabiamila at the time. So when he visited Tinubu and complained about not being consulted, the following incidents were reported.
Tambuwal : “He said: “Aminu, I am sorry, I am sorry it was an oversight.” So, I said: Ökay…what do you want? You want Femi as Speaker? He said yes. I said: Okay, I am not opposed to it, but let me tell you, we need to pair Femi and Dogara together as Speaker and Deputy Speaker. If you want Femi, I can support Femi, he is my friend, but we have to make sure that Dogara is on the ticket as Deputy Speaker. We went back and forth, back and forth and we agreed. He said to me: Aminu, is that the deal? I said that is the deal. I will go back and talk to Dogara.
“Meanwhile, I had called Dogara and told him of my conversation with Asiwaju and that in the interest of peace, I want you to make the sacrifice and that in any case, you are still growing. You cannot say Deputy Speaker is too small for you. Dogara didn’t argue with me; he said okay.
“I called Femi; I told Femi Gbajabiamila that this was my conversation with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, that you are going to pair with Dogara and he said why should I bring Dogara to come and become Deputy Speaker! Femi told me that!”
When later he found out that they had jettisoned the agreement by pairing Gbajabiamila and Mungono, behind him, after a mock non inclusive election was conducted by the party, Tambuwal, said: “So, when I saw it, I called Dogara and said it is like God has decided to make you the Speaker because I had done the mathematics and it is only for us to talk to four or five persons, and you will make it, and that was what happened”.
Checkmate! Dogara emerged Speaker. But that same attitude of not carrying other people along appears to still be the formula. Will a similar scenario play out on June, 9? Or will the APC leaders adopt a more accommodating strategy? The suspense and palpable apprehension continue.
– Dibiana, a journalist, wrote from Abuja