KAUTHAR ANUMBA KHALEEL writes on the chances and likely snags that top aspirants, Mohammed Bago and Femi Gbajabiamila, may face in the build-up to the 9th Speakership election.
With the 8th National Assembly winding down, contenders for the position of the speaker of the 9th House of Representatives are leaving no stone unturned as they intensify efforts in their quest to clinch victory.
In turn, members-elect are pitching tents with contestants who in their opinions, have the wherewithal to lead the next House but more importantly, protect their interests in the long run.
The contest which appears to be mainly between the preferred candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and frontline aspirant, Hon. Mohammed Umar Bago, has got their supporters tipping both men for victory.
Bago, who hinges his candidacy on equity and fairness, has repeatedly maintained that the issue of federal character must be reflected in the leadership positions in the green chamber and stressed the need for the North central geo-political zone which has never produced a speaker before be given the seat.
The lawmaker who represents Chanchaga federal constituency of Niger State, also argues that the south west zone which the ruling party zoned the position to, already has the vice president but more importantly, that the North central zone during the last general election, gave the president almost 400,000 votes thus, should be compensated.
The third term member who faulted the zoning which the party based on party loyalty, however argues that party loyalty cannot and should not supersede the constitution. “Party loyalty cannot supersede the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria which in Section 14, expressly states that federal character must be reflected. The party constitution also says that both democracy and the party must entrench fairness and equity to ensure that democracy is reflected in the affairs of the party. Therefore, two things are involved, if you are endorsing people based on results, the north-central region has performed more than the entire south west with a margin of over 135,000 votes”.
“If the office of the speaker was zoned to the South-east or South-south, we wouldn’t have a problem with that. But when you choose to zone the office to a zone that already has the vice president, and gave the president less than three hundred votes as against another zone that produced almost four hundred thousand votes, then you cannot in any manner, justify that”.
Bago who called off the bluff of some party leaders who issued threats to lawmakers who dared to go against the party’s directives and listened to his state chapter of the party endorse his main opponent, Gbajabiamila, in line with the directives, has pressed on undeterred and kept his eyes on the ball.
To some of his colleagues, the doggedness he has displayed thus far, has only endeared him to them just as some opine that he possesses the qualities to steer the affairs of the House. Additionally, Bago’s affable nature seems to be working very well for him as most of colleagues are of the view that he exhibits a genuine likeness for the others irrespective of ethnic and religious differences.
Speaking to these qualities, a member-elect from the South east says, “I have been in the House with Hon. Bago for the past four years and I can tell you that he is one of the most detribalized individual I have worked with in the House. As you are aware, I am not from the North, I am not a member of the APC but Bago does not consider these things when relating to you. But besides that, I admire him for his perseverance. It tells you that he is an individual that stands for what he truly believes in and these are the kinds of qualities we ought to look out for as we elect the next speaker. Someone that will carry member along”.
Not just banking on these qualities to see him to victory, Bago and his handlers are also working round the clock to reach out to legislators across party lines to garner more support while tactically keeping information regarding his supporters under wraps for the time being.
And for someone whose campaign revolves around equity, balance and fairness, Bago is one person who should appreciate the need for equity and balance in the House. It is therefore only natural for him to pledge to run an all-inclusive House as opposed to the statement that ruling party will not share committee headship with opposition parties in the House, credited to the National chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
It would be recalled that the lawmaker publicly promised an all-inclusive House where committee chairmanship will be equitably distributed between the ruling and opposition parties during an interaction of speakership aspirants with members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus of the House. “As your speaker, it will be an all-inclusive House where everyone is carried along; I assure you that committee chairmanship will be equitably and proportionately distributed between all parties in the House”.
Without pre-empting the main opposition whose membership currently stands at 128, but going by the reaction his declaration elicited, Bago’s campaign appears to have gathered momentum as 154 members-elect reportedly threw their weight behind the aspirant last week following a meeting in Abuja. But the legislator is not stopping there as his camp has stated that it will continue to meet and lobby colleagues to ensure that its quest for equity and fairness prevails.
Responding to enquiries on the endorsement, the spokesperson of the Bago Campaign Organization, Hon. Afam Ogene, who has been tight-lipped about Bago’s support base, however informed that the organization was focusing its campaign on voters (lawmakers) and expressed satisfaction at the progress so far recorded with their message of equity and fairness.
“The contest you know involves only 360 members as electorate. So, we are focusing on those that would vote for us instead of engaging in show-off trips; we will continue to reach out and appeal to all members-elect. And we are happy that our message of equity, justice and fairness for the six geo political zones of the country is beginning to resonate even among members-elect who initially spurned the message”.
On his part, Femi Gbajabiamila who is contesting the position for the second time, is not oblivious of the fact that the party’s endorsement does not mean the contest will be a walk in the park, considering events of 2015. Neither is he unaware of the challenges he faces with opponents like Hon. Bago, who is subtly and steadily gaining popularity amongst members-elect.
In the light of the above, the fifth term lawmaker is leaving nothing to chance as he continues to lobby colleagues and meet with stakeholders outside the House to sell his candidature and the need for them to impress on the lawmakers to support him.
It would be also recalled that the leader of the House recently took his campaign to the South East and South-south regions where he met with some governors of the states who reportedly endorsed him. This is despite the fact that early last month, 178 members-elect purportedly endorsed him just as his camp has laid several claims to figures which according to it, gives it a comfortable margin to emerge victorious.
These endorsements regardless, there are concerns that the creeping crisis that is chipping at the ruling party’s leadership hierarchy, following a supreme court judgement that sacked all of its seven federal legislators and twenty-seven state legislators in Zamfara state as well as its governorship candidate, may affect Gbajabiamila’s thus far rock solid party base.
This development as well as other pockets of challenges bedeviling the party saw the deputy national chairman of the party, Senator Lawan Shuaibu, call on Oshiomhole to resign his position as party chairman.
There are equally hints that some members-elect who are opposed to party imposition but feared the consequences of defying party directives, have decided to go with candidates of their choosing given the fact that voting exercise will be secret ballot.
Additionally, reps-elect from the main opposition have continued to express worry over the Tinubu factor as it relates to Gbajabiamila’s aspiration, his ability to sit over the affairs of the House without external influence as well as the issue of committee chairmanship.
But the lawmaker was reported to have allayed these fears albeit behind closed doors, by stating that the House under his leadership will be an independent one and promised that the opposition will share in the committee headship as has been the practice, when he met with the group a fortnight ago.
Despite the assurances and even though the caucus is yet to declare support for any of the seven contenders, some of the members who seem unsatisfied with his responses, are wary of electing a speaker who may be unable to take decisions himself and under whose watch the House will be polarized.
But the events of the coming days will ultimately determine who emerges speaker of the 9th House of Representatives and succeeds outgoing speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara.