On June 11, 2019, the House of Representatives in the 9th National Assembly elected a new leadership. SOLOMON AYADO takes a look at some of the critical issues that fostered the emergence of Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker
Many Nigerians are yet to come to terms on why and how Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila was unanimously elected as Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives. Although it is often said that leadership comes from God, but certain human factors cannot be completely discarded as very propelling in actualising any leadership.
In the House of Representatives, one of the most dicey things is to predict who becomes speaker whenever election is to take place. In the recent past, election of Speaker has not had the highest level of negotiations than what this 9th House was faced. From allegations and counter allegations against contestants of the juicy seat, the horse-trading, pleadings and dependency on the presidency, as well as seeming financial inducement of members, can be among certain factors to be imagined.
Since the candidacy of Femi Gbajabiamila was declared, the entire country was thrown into ponder. While others including lawmakers were of firm believe that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was biased in the zoning arrangement, some were bitter to the fact that any candidate for the speakership that is endorsed by the presidency can simply be a puppet in the hands of the power brokers. This, they fear, would make the House of Representatives a rubber stamp in the hands of the executive.
At some point, the generality of people did not hide the alleged fears that any imposition of candidate as Speaker can only pave the way for worse 9th House of Representatives than the previous ones. Meanwhile, to some people, any speakership candidate, imposed or not, who has the competence and capacity to pilot affairs should be given a chance.
One thing that has remained a major issue that is not contestable is the fact that the 8th House witnessed the good, bad and the ugly. Not underscoring the latitude of legislative performance in some sectors, the citizenry do not expect anything below rather than improvement in the 9th Assembly. Somehow, there are varied notching issues that cannot be forgotten in a hurry.
More so, some issues, including the long hand of the Presidency in picking who becomes the speaker, the seemingly unfair zoning arrangement by APC and the Ahmed Bola Tinubu god-father status, legislative experience and competence of candidates, the APC majority and PDP minority factor, the give and take offer of juicy committees, the interpersonal relationship and financial inducement, as well as naivety of new members elect were among many indications that formed the issues that shaped the emergence of Gbajabiamila.
Considering these issues, how a new speaker emerged was put to question. The imposition role of the APC was equally called for probe. The base argument was that the APC did not live up to expectation to allow fairness and balance thrive in the political equation.On the whole, the 9th House of Representatives is likely to harvest stroking political issues with varied controversies, as time proceeds.
The APC Zoning Arrangement
The ruling APC had zoned the speakership to the south west region and adopted Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos) as its choice for the position of speaker in the 9th National Assembly. The party’s national publicity secretary, Lane Issa-Onilu had announced the decision in a press statement in April, 2019.
“The APC has adopted Femi Gbajabiamila as its candidate for the position of speaker of the House of Representatives in the 9th Assembly. This position was reached after an intensive deliberation with members elect at the Dinner with President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso villa,” it stated.
The party however, zoned the position of deputy speaker to the north central. Gbajabiamila had contested in 2015 but lost to Yakubu Dogara. And till elected Speaker, he was minority leader and majority leader at varied times.
With APC zoning, there were issues, varied protests from groups and associations that the party failed to ensure fairness and balance in the political equation. This gave birth to the contest of Hon. Umar Bago (APC, Niger) and John Dyegh (APC, Benue) to run for the plumb seat. According to them, since the return of democracy, all other geopolitical zones in the country, apart from the north central, have occupied the position of Speaker. But the APC refused to heed to the fact and insisted that Gbajabiamila must be made Speaker, rather, disowned Bago and Dyegh, perhaps perceiving them as very stubborn children.
At the end, many lawmakers it was alleged were coerced to vote for the party’s choice, but of course, many believed and are still with the provoking thought that APC’s zoning arrangement which many saw as unfair, has made it instrumental in the emergency of Gbajabiamila as speaker.
The Presidency, Ahmed Tinubu and god-father factor
Many have purported that the Presidency has a hand in the emergency of Femi Gbajabiamila as speaker of the House of Representatives, simply because they understand that the bulk stops on the table of the president and whatever he says is law.
There were allegations of a series of meetings held with critical political stakeholders to ensure that adoption of Gbajabiamila was not jeopardised.
It has somewhat become a tradition that anyone who runs any election without support of ‘the powers that be,’ cannot make it. Often cases, we’ve seen the situation play out. Whenever a government is behind and or adopt a candidate, any member of the political party that contests same position is viewed as being unreasonable.
Also, the leader of APC, Ahmed Bola Tinubu is said to have played a vital role in the emergency of Gbajabiamila. Apart from Tinubu being the political leader of Lagos, he is equally the god-father and no one gets any appointment without his endorsement. Tinubu who stood behind Gbajabiamila without pretense, and adopted Gbajabiamila as his political son, acted as the guardian of the new speaker.
The APC majority, PDP minority factor
Out of the 360 members in the 9th House of Representatives, the ruling APC has the majority with 223 members. By this numerical strength, it will be very difficult for any opposition party to stop the party from coasting to victory for the speakership.
Besides, the APC had directed all the members-elect to fully mobilise and canvass support from the opposition political parties so as to make sure the party produces the speaker. There is no way numerical strength cannot add to it. While some members of opposition political parties were by themselves approaching the APC camp to pitch tent, others were allegedly bought over to vote for Gbajabiamila.
Give and take offer of committees
This is one key factor that ensured APC produced the Speaker. The APC caucus in the 9th House of Representatives it is reported, had offered 60 chairmanships and deputy chairmanships of committees position to a faction of the PDP caucus ahead of speakership election.
The director-general of the Femi Gbajabiamila/Ahmed Wase Campaign Organisation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, had disclosed this to newsmen on Saturday in Abuja. According to him, the positions would be enough for the faction whose membership was over 60.
Jibrin pointed out that with the votes from this PDP faction together with 223 APC members-elect, Gbajabiamila and Wase would emerge as Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
“Since it is only one faction that is working with us, what we are giving them will be enough for all of them. It has never looked so bright, sure and clear to us that we are going to win election by the grace of God. We can’t be a victim of once bitten twice shy. We have taken all necessary measures humanly possible. APC is much more comfortable with 223 members. But our campaign is even more aggressive to poach PDP members as a safety net. We have been open to negotiating with one faction of the PDP. Their support for Gbajabiamila and Wase is because they are most competent at this election,” he added.
As it were, it was a strategy won on the onset as most of opposition members who were promised juicy committee heads defied directives from their parties and pursued their personal political interests which was to ensure the APC candidate emerged speaker.
Competence, legislative experience of Gbajabiamila
Apart from the seeming unfairness displayed by the APC to have zoned the speakership to South West, it is a fact that legislative experience is one thing no one can take away from Gbajabiamila, compared to other candidates that also vied for the seat.
Femi Gbajabiamila represents Surulere I federal constituency in Lagos. An astute lawyer, he started his journey in politics when he joined the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) and won his first term election in the House of Representatives.
He was re-elected in 2007 and elected as Action Congress (AC) leader and Minority Whip of the House. Bills and motions he supported, among others, were the Employee Rights Bill, Local content in Construction Industry Bill, Vocational Schools Bill, The Economic Stimulus Bill, Interest-Free Students Loan and Establishment of Nigeria Education Bank Bill.
In 2011, Gbajabiamila contested and won a third term on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). He was again re-elected ACN leader and leader of the opposition in the House.
In 2014, Gbajabiamila as the Leader of opposition in the House led his colleagues into the merger that gave birth to the APC. He was elected for fourth term in 2015 but lost his bid to become Speaker to Yakubu Dogara. Also, he was elected Leader of the 8th House of Representatives on July 28, 2015.
This is why Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin said “the candidacy of Femi is not about him, it is about our democracy, bringing back civility, adopting what we always preach, and global best practice. Why is it that when it comes to Nigeria, we are good in preaching but very bad in practice. I will not be making a mistake if I say Gbajabiamila stands out as the best candidate we can offer for that position; experience, brilliance, astuteness, organisation, relationship.”
The election of Gbajabiamila as speaker has come to stay. It took all the political gimmicks, maneuvering, agitations as well as related concerns from different political blocs across the country to pull it off.
As events unfold, time shall tell if the emergence of Gbajabiamila against all odds, would maintain a healthy atmosphere, as opposed to what was majorly witnessed in the 8th National Assembly.
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