I honestly do not envy Speaker Femi Gbajabimil a, especially during the events which led to the passage of the Electoral Act 2010 amendment bill and the dramatic way the conference committee report on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) was adopted. A discerning mind will understand the speaker’s predicament as someone battling to sustain his support base.
One could feel the pain of a speaker who wants to be clever by tilting towards the populist slant within the circumstance he found himself in. Gbajabimila was, therefore, caught in the web of those who are determined to achieve their predetermined goal by hook or by crook and in a dilemma of being in between the devil and the deep blue sea. Suddenly, Gbajabimila’s opinion became a minority voice in the parliament he leads and his position didn’t carry any weight when it should matter most.
The speaker probably knew ahead of time that no matter how loud the voices in support of electronic transfer of election result was, the deputy speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase would rule otherwise, therefore he proposed an amendment to clause 52 (1) of the bill to make provision of an open ballot system ( Option A4). The speaker argued that anything secret could be easily manipulated, noting that option A4 would ensure transparency in the electoral process.
“If the objective is to produce an electoral law that is transparent, we should look at option A4, open- secret can be manipulated,” he said. This position was, however, opposed by a thunderous ‘nay’.
Permit me to also narrate in chronological sequence, how the speaker tried to protect the integrity of the 9th Assembly but lost his voice in the pursuit of political balance and how his deputy, Wase brazenly ignored his stands at every opportunity.
Gbajabimila was not surprised when Wase started the dirty job or ruling in favour of the minority voices during the committee of the whole. Rather, he attempted to save the day by rising to speak in support of the motion by James Faleke who canvassed for both electronic and manual transmission of election result. Nevertheless, the deputy speaker, Wase, for the second time threw the House into another rowdy session by ruling against the majority voice vote.
When the House was forced to revert to plenary and Wase mentioned that the controversial clause 52(2) had been carried, the speaker, again, brought the situation under control by declaring that the INEC and NCC would be invited to enlighten the House on the feasibility of electronic transfer Of election results, noting that the votes will be taken again.
However, having sensed that the position of INEC would not favour his support base, when the House reconvened the next day, Gbajabimila announced that opinion of the independent body wasn’t necessary but admitted NCC, an executive agency into the chamber.
After the testimony of NCC, Gbajabimila said, “Hon colleagues, we will go back to the committee of the whole to continue with the exercise on the electoral bill, we will take all the clauses, and now that we are, to some extent m, better informed, we will go back to section 52 and take that again.”
But despite the speaker’s open declaration that clause 52 would be taken again, Wase insisted that the vote on the clause had been done and would not be repeated. This led to an argument between the deputy speaker and the minority leader, Ndudi Elumelu, and an eventual walkout by the opposition lawmakers. In all these Gbajabimila looked the other way, what a speaker!
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the smuggling of the PIB conference committee report into the business of the day. Since the opposition lawmakers were already out of the chamber, Wase piloted another dirty job by calling for the report which was not slated for consideration on the Order Paper. Before the report was adopted, the speaker whose position had just been stampeded was quick to explain as to why the report should be adopted by the House.
Indeed, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, especially a fragile one like the speaker’s position of the first among equals.