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Reps Leadership: Issues As Aspirants Move Against Microzoning

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TOPE FAYEHUN dissects issues ahead of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in the ninth House of Representatives, as the party recently endorsed the candidature of the House Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, as its preferred choice for the position of Speaker

With the way the intrigues and politicking of who gets what in the 9th House of Representatives leadership are currently playing out, history may not be far from repeating itself during the inauguration of the parliament come June 2019, if the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC) fails to handle the matter properly.

In 2015, still basking in the euphoria of sweeping the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) away, the APC failed to be tactical about choosing the leadership of the House and the outgoing Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, emerged against the choice of the party’s preference then, which was the current House leader, Femi Gbajabiamila.

Presently, like the repeat of the scenario, the leadership of the party has again adopted  Gbajabiamila, as its candidate for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 9th Assembly and this is not going down well with some members of the House who thought they have been a short changed in the scheme of things.

The decision of the party to adopt Gbajabiamila was said to have been reached after an intensive deliberation with the party’s House of Representatives members-elect at a dinner with President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

However, despite that endorsement, members who are interested in the seat are trooping out to declare their intention to run. As at the last count, no fewer than seven members are jostling for the coveted seat of the speaker.

Those who have declared are Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos), Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa), Yusuf Yakub (APC, Adamawa), Nkeiruka Onyeajocha (APC, Abia) and Chike Okafor (APC, Imo), Mohammed Bago(APC Niger) and John Dyegh (APC, Benue).

Meanwhile, at the dinner attended by the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, and some other chieftains of the party, the party informed the members-elect that the APC was determined to ensure that it does not repeat what he described as mistakes made in the 8th Assembly, under a “hostile leadership”.

Speaking at the gathering, the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, asked that members of the Ninth Assembly should not entrust the leadership of critical committees to the opposition and suggested instead that new members-elect can be chairmen of such committees.

Adopting “a winner takes all position”, the party chairman urged the APC lawmakers not to share what belongs to the party with anyone, especially the opposition.

The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lanre Issa-Onilu, also confirmed the party’s position to reporters at the end of the event. Issa-Onilu disclosed that the position of the deputy speaker has been zoned to the north-central region of the country.

On his part, the Director-General of Gbajabiamila Campaign Organisation, Abdulmumuni Jibrin, said there was an official presentation of the candidate for the position of the speaker to the President.

He, however, did not say if President Muhammadu Buhari endorsed him or not. According to Jibrin, the President expects that the party will effectively take charge of the situation and do what is right for the country, the APC, and the National Assembly.

In what looks like defiance to the position of the party, a member House of Representatives, John Dyegh, from Benue State, declared his ambition to run for the speakership seat in the 9th National Assembly some hours after the ruling the party had zoned the seat to the South-West and endorsed the Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, as its candidate.

The Rep member who apparently ignored the directive of the party alleged that the North-Central geopolitical zone had been marginalised in the leadership of the House since 1999.

Dyegh, who said the North Central caucus was not satisfied with the decision, noted that the North Central caucus has asked the leadership of the party to reconsider the decision and zone the seat to the North Central.

His words: “We are not fighting the party, we are not. We shall not, we are only giving the party an opportunity to come back and look at the zoning and look at what we are ying.

“Taking what the party says hook, line, and sinker is not democratic, we are in a democracy. We have the right to vie for position, there’s freedom of expression. We believe in party supremacy.  Yes, the party is supreme.  I sing that, I say it, I believe it, I go by what the party says but this is a democracy and I believe we should give the Green chamber an option.”

According to him, in addition to being the third largest contributor to the 2019 election success of the party, fairness, and equity demands the Northcentral be considered for the position since the region has never produced the Speaker or Deputy Speaker since the return to democracy in 1999.

He said: “My party the APC in her wisdom zoned the position of Speaker to the South West and even micro-zoned.

“I am a party man and my loyalty to the APC is 100 percent, however, the North Central zone has not been convinced nor given reasons why their votes should not count and why we should not run and we feel very strongly that there is still room for negotiation because we believe “it is not over until it is over’.

“We are therefore appealing to the party to have a rethink and rezone the speakership to the North Central for justice and fair play. We pray to God Almighty to touch the hearts of our Leaders to reconsider us favourably.”

On his candidacy for the post, the lawmaker said the decision to join the race was based on his unyielding faith in a united and prosperous Nigeria.

Citing sections of the constitution, Dyegh noted: “It will only be fair, if the position of Speaker is given to the North Central, having taken away the seat of Senate President to the North East.

“It is instructive to note that the North Central has neither produced Speaker nor e Deputy Speaker since 1999. We are saying that reward in politics is based on what you bring to the table and the North Central brought the third highest number of votes in making President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term reality and enabling the APC to form Federal Government”.

On his agenda, if successful, Dyegh said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would be re-organised while the electoral laws would be reviewed for enduring electoral processes.

Prior to that development, a member, Chike Oakford (Imo) also declared his intention to run for the Speaker’s office shortly before the Presidential dinner, saying that the Southeast deserved the Speaker’s position for the 9th House of Representatives.

Okafor said the party must look beyond numbers but more on fairness and equity.

Also, a frontline aspirant for the speakership of the House of Representatives, Umaru Mohammed Bago has kicked against the endorsement of Gbajabiamila and the zoning of the same position to the Southwest zone, which produced incumbent Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Bago pointedly said aspirants from the North Central zone would only reconsider their agitation if the APC zoned the speakership seat to another zone apart from the South-West.

The lawmaker, who represents Chanchaga Federal Constituency of Niger State in the Lower House, argued that the North Central zone should produce the next Speaker of the House of Representatives in the incoming NASS because it has not occupied the office since 1999 when Nigeria returned to full-blown democracy.

Bago, who has been elected for the third term having joined the House in 2011, said the unilateral decision by the national leadership of the APC to adopt Gbajabiamila as the preferred candidate of the party for the office of the speaker having zoned the office to the South-West was undemocratic and unfair to other geopolitical zones.

According to him, “The issue of somebody or one man, who wants to take a decision for the 9th assembly is unacceptable. There is no retreat, no surrender. Honestly speaking, we are in for this game and it is non-negotiable.”

He warned the ruling APC against the imposition of presiding officers for the National Assembly, adding that “if they insist, what happened in 2015 will happen again.”

Bago noted that any attempt to make the legislature a mere rubber stamp by the executive arm of government would be counterproductive and inimical to principles of true democracy.

He added that if elected into office as the Speaker of the House in the incoming 9th Assembly, he would promote and deepen a robust relationship with all arms of government and other relevant stakeholders.

The lawmaker, who is currently the chairman of the House Standing Committee on Marine Safety, Education, and Administration, promised to carry out an immediate amendment of the archaic laws of the nation, which hinder good governance, and as well as addressing the contentious issues in the Electoral Act, 2010 for a more credible electoral system, among others.

On the ruling party’s claim that all APC lawmakers have agreed to support its choice of National Assembly leaders, Bago said “it’s a fallacy” as he declared that all Niger state members in the Lower House will not queue behind APC’s anointed candidates.”

His words: “This issue of getting anointed people to man certain positions is a 2013 arrangement. There is no need for people to pretend. The desperation for the speakership and Senate presidency is for what? Why must it be that person? These are questions Nigerians should be asking. Why do you want to anoint a person if he’s popular?

“Do you want to have a speaker that will not even last a month? No! We are not ready for these kinds of issues. The part they should think wisely, look at things critically and come up with results from an informed position on that will make sure that the policies of our government are supported by laws.

“I don’t have a godfather. I have chaired a committee for about four years now and I have never been found wanting. Is APC about one person? Is Lagos the only South-West state?,” the ranking lawmaker queried, wondering why the party will pick someone from Lagos, which already produced the Vice President.

He, however, remarked that when it comes to parliamentary matters, party affiliation counts less in the pursuit of national goals and the election of its leaders.

The lawmaker posited that it was a fallacy for anybody to think that members of the parliament are biased to party affiliation in the Lower Chambers.

He added that “when you have an opposition that has 150 members, they are a necessary evil. Whether you like it or not, you must consult them. They are our colleagues. We are already talking.”

The lawmaker said he had written letters to President Buhari and the APC leadership to intimate them of his aspiration for the speakership of the Lower House.

He said the crisis that trailed the emergence of Yakubu Dogara as a speaker and the Senate President, Dr.  Bukola Saraki, was not well managed by the APC. “And that is why we are waking people up to the fact that the North Central is being muzzled out of the way.”

Bago said  he would reach out to the opposition PDP to garner the number to be the Speaker. “They are our colleagues and we are already talking,” he disclosed.

“However, if you talk about equity, fairness and the constitution which all of us will use on the day of swearing in to take the oath, I think we must also imbibe the provision of the constitution.

“The constitution is clear and the APC constitution is also very clear that every federating unit must be catered for in any federal arrangement. And the party constitution also corroborated this.”

He held that it was necessary for the party to recognise the youths for such positions in line with the Not Too Young to Run Act, adding that if given the mandate, his regime would ensure the enactment of laws that would enable the APC to achieve its manifesto and good governance in different sectors.

However, the APC will ensure that leadership positions and key committee chairmanship of the 9th National Assembly are retained for its elected members, its chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, has said.

Oshiomhole said of the 223 APC members that won House of Representatives seats, 164 will be first-time members.

According to him, “We have the number to produce Speaker and will produce the Speaker who must be a member of the APC. We have the number and we will use the number to produce the Deputy Speaker who must be a member of the APC. We have the number and we will use the number to elect the House Leader who must be a member of the APC. We have the number and we will use the number to elect the Chief Whip and deputy who must be a member of the APC. The only position that we are not interested in is the Minority Leader.

“We will not share power in the House of Representatives. The leadership must ensure that critical committees that drive government are chaired only by APC members. If Nigerians want the opposition to chair committees they would have voted for them. All chairmen of committees, except one that I understand that is statutorily reserved for the opposition, that is public accounts. They can have that.

“We will not do the kind of thing that happened the last time in which some APC members, as members of the ruling party, became distant spectators in the management of committees.”

Oshiomole said the APC is aware of a scheme by the PDP to create divisions within the APC. He warned the members-elect against such connivance.

“We are aware that they believe they can use divide and rule by sponsoring many people within our ranks to contest for the positions so that they then become the kingmakers and in return, the person will offer them some chairmanship seats. Honourable members and comrades, I am sure we are not going to do business with them.”

“For us to be able to enjoy our numerical strength in the House of Reps, we must recognise that we are elected on a party platform. We have called this meeting to remind us that we have a huge task ahead of us. As people who are politically active, you are certainly familiar with issues that brought down the government between 2015 and 2019 arising from a unique concussion which I pray this time around we’ll have all learned lessons and allow the positive side of those lessons to shape our future as we move on prepared for the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly.”

However, as that was going on, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the major opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is also meeting with serving and newly-elected lawmakers ahead of the inauguration of members of the 9th National Assembly.

No doubt about the fact that the purpose of the meeting was to strategize on how the party would strike a deal with any of the aspirants that ready to dance to the tune of the party.

The meeting, which was held behind closed doors at the Lagos/Osun Hall, Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, had in attendance all the serving and newly-elected lawmakers that are members of the PDP.

The meeting had in attendance the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus; Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki; Speaker House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekeweremadu; Senate Minority leader, Abiodun Olujimi; Senator Dino Melaye and Senator Philip Aduda, among others.

Speaking before the meeting went into a closed-door session, the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) Chairman, Senator Walid Jibrin, urged members of the 9th senate to ensure that the party retains the leadership.

“We have come to share ideas on how to keep the party alive. We are very proud of the members of the National Assembly; you are the hope of our party. I hope you will keep hope alive. We have no doubt that closed doors or us, we are going to surmount it. PDP should lead the Senate,” he said.

It is believed that the meeting would afford the main opposition party an opportunity for strategies in order for the party to retain important leadership positions in the National Assembly.

However, analysts are of the view that if this brewing disagreement within the members of the party in the House is not quickly nipped in the bud, it may cause the party the Speakership position. What they are running for may eventually happen.

Although, some governors from the Northcentral had thrown their weight behind the candidate of the party, will that assuage members who have the interest to contest?

Pundits noted that instead of endorsing one person, the party should have encouraged members who are interested in the position to contest and work for their preferred candidate behind the scene, including negotiation. Pundits said the issue of winner take all may be detrimental to the party instead of imbibing the spirit of giving and take.

Whether they would be able to resolve this before the inauguration of the ninth House in June or the repeat of 2015 scenario will play out, time will tell.

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