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Reps Speakership: As Clock Ticks Towards Bago

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Issues have been fast developing in the tussle over the leadership of the next national assembly, in this report, GABRIEL ATUMEYI looks at the latest twist

Barely four weeks to the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly, there seems to be no clear indication of the eventual composition of its key leadership positions.

Despite the endorsement of Sen Ahmed Lawan and Hon Femi Gbajabiamila by the hierarchy of the ruling party All Progressives Congress (APC) and the successive meetings intended to hammer out a consensus on their choice, the drums of dissension have shown no sign of abating as returning ranking lawmaker keep rallying their peers to support their candidacy in a somewhat free for all contest.

In the Senate, the likes of former governor of Gombe State, Sen Danjuma Goje and Sen Ali Ndume have increased the tempo of their campaign to mount the helm of the red chamber. Also the deputy senate president position reportedly zoned to the South-south, seems threatened by elements who believe that the position should be alloted to a region that delivered massively for the party in the 2019 election.

In the House of Representatives, the same uncertain scenario exists as opposition to the party’s directive shows no sign of losing steam. Several returning lawmakers don’t agree that the party should be allowed to decide the leadership of the lower chamber. They appeared emboldened by the precedence of the seventh and eight National Assembly.

Many of them who are hungry to make their mark on the nation’s legislative and political landscape, thus they did accept the endorsement of Gbajabiamila as a fait accompli. They view him as a protege of APC’s national leader, Bola Tinubu who they believe is set on expanding his hold on the country’s politics in anticipation of a post-Buhari political dispensation.

Pundits opine that Tinubu, widely reputed as a political strategist is having to deal with the suspicions that trails his every move, which is crystallising into an opposition particularly within his own party.

The bad blood between him and the current leaders of the National Assembly, which he has persistently blamed for the modest achievements of the Buhari administration, means that there is bound to be a determined, cross party alliance to scuttle his plan.

Conscious of this possibility, Gbajabiamila like Lawan too have decided to also cross the political aisle in the scramble for support, even going as far as making history by running a joint ticket with Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase who was his deputy as majority leader, hoping to leverage on the support of some sections of the North Central zone.

But the North-central and North-east geo-political zones of the APC, remain adamant that they should be allowed to produce the next speaker. They insist that the South-west and by implication Gbajabiamila should discard hopes of becoming the speaker in the interest of equity and fairness, coming from the same zone as the Vice President.

According to members from the South-east zone, if the present party arrangement stands, the zone would be shortchanged and denied any significant voice in the next dispensation. Instead of being castigated on the count of the party’s performance in the last election, they argue that the party should show its preparedness  to work with the region in anticipation of the 2023 elections.

So far, two members-elect from the region have indicated their interest. They are Hon Chike Okafor from Imo state and Hon Nkeiruka Onyejeocha from Abia. However, the candidacy of Onyejeocha has been gaining traction lately given the fact that she is a woman and a fourth time representative who is adept in the legislative process having headed several committees in the past.

But there are those who think being a new convert to the APC does not make her the right choice. The North-central zone on the other hand have posited that they have not been given opportunity to produce the Speaker or Deputy Speaker in the House of Representatives since 1999.

That having delivered heavily for the ruling party during the 2019 general elections, being third in the overall score of APC with 2,465,599 million votes at the last presidential election, they ought to be adequately compensated in the interest of balance of power and federal character.

John Deygh in his defiant declaration for the plum job said it was unfair that the North-central that produced the third highest votes for the APC behind the North-west and North-east to be ignored while the South-west despite coming fourth should be allowed to get the Vice President and the Speaker ahead of them.

“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 a reality and enabling the APC to form federal government”.

Even the deputy national publicity secretary of the APC, Yekini Nabena seems to advocate for the slot to go to the North-central saying it will be justice and fairness, when he spoke to newsmen on the raging crisis.

He said, “The zoning arrangement must also respect the fact that the north-west and south-west has already produced the president and vice-president respectively.

“So, for equity and adherence to the principle of federal character which is a constitutional requirement, the positions of senate president, deputy senate president, speaker and deputy speaker of the house of representatives in the incoming 9th national assembly must be occupied by APC members from the remaining four geo-political regions of the country.

“The deputy senate president should be zoned to the South-south while the speaker and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives should be zoned to the north-central and south-east in any order agreed by the party’s leadership.”

Though the North-central parades notable and distinguished personalities, ranging from the likes of Ahmed Wase, John Dyegh, Mark Terser Gbillah (Benue),and Abubakar Lado Suleija.

But one man who seems to have stolen the spot light is Hon Mohammed Umaru Bago, the member representing Chanchanga Federal Constituency of Niger state, the state said to have produced the highest vote for the president in the North central zone.

A young, bright and charismatic personality, who seems to be looming large than the other candidates with his crusade for equity and justice. He has given a new vigour to the north central cause by rallying together all those elements that fear being schemed out in the intrigues of the high powers within the party.

He is a third term member of the house and the Chairman of the House of RepresentativesCommittee on Maritime Safety, Education & Administration. He has resisted the leadership of the party successfully citing his loyalty to the party and to the cause of Mr President since his days in the defunct CPC under which he was elected to the National Assembly in 2011.

At a point, he was the major financier and benefactor of the party in Niger State and largely regarded as an efficient grassroot mobiliser. Many analysts see him as capable to bring the kind of vibrant leadership and independent thinking needed in the green chamber giving his pedigree and the nature of his politics. He is poised to garner the support of lawmakers across the board particularly in the PDP and outgoing speaker Dogara opposed to any imposition in the hollowed chamber.

Bago has gone as far as saying he would step aside if the party zones the speakership to the South-east in confirmation of the principle upon which he was staking his claim.

“If the party has come out to say we are zoning speakership to the South East, honestly I will have just gone to contest for deputy speaker if I want to.

“But as a zone, the North Central is saying in whatever ramification we deserve to be considered because we brought the third highest vote to make APC a government.

“We have even produced more than the zone that has produced a vice president and look at the logic if you have taken senate presidency from North-central and speakership from North-east who had it in the 8th Assembly, under normal circumstances you should be considering North-central.

“My position is still the same and let me reiterate that in the spirit of unity we introduced federal character into the constitution of this country and the constitution is very clear that all offices and all other national issues must be shared across six political zones and even without federal character I think it just make sense for people to think that integral part of this union are responsible for this country called Nigeria, therefore every other person must have a sense of belonging.

“We have a president from the North-west, so looking at the six geopolitical offices, the northwest has been settled, and you have a vice president from the south-west that means they are also settled. And you have the party zoning senate presidency to the northeast and deputy Senate President to the south-south that means they are settled”, he added.

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