There appears to be no end in sight to the leadership crisis rocking the minority caucus in the House of Representatives, KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL writes
Five months after the minority leadership of the House of Representatives was announced, the crack which it caused within the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), caucus has deepened, as no end seem in sight to the feud.
The crisis has left the PDP caucus polarized with the minority leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu and leader of the PDP caucus, Hon. Kingsley Chinda enmeshed in a lingering battle of supremacy, a situation which appears to be proving difficult for the party hierarchy to manage.
Recall that on 3rd July, chaos ensued in the green chamber after the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, announced Hon. Ndudi Elumelu as the minority leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu as the deputy leader, Hon. Gideon Gwani as minority whip and Hon. Adesegun Adekoya as deputy minority whip, much to the chagrin of the leadership of the PDP who had transmitted to the speaker, a letter wherein it endorsed Hon. Kingsley Chinda and Hon. Chukwuma Onyema as leader and deputy leader of the minority caucus respectively. It had also named Hon. Yakubu Umar Barde as Minority Whip and Hon. Ajibola Muraina as Deputy Whip.
In the letter, the party had stated its decision to endorse the lawmakers for the positions was in accordance with extant laws, House rules, conventions and general legislative practices worldwide.
“The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after wide consultations with house caucus, the party leadership from the geo-political zones and the national working committee (NWC) hereby forward the names of the duly agreed and approved house minority leadership,” the letter read.
Premised on this, Chinda and his group protested the speaker’s disregard for the party’s letter, but Gbajabiamila ruled them out of order arguing that the minority caucus is made up of five political parties and as such, PDP could not exclusively determine the leadership.
He added that he was in receipt of a letter which was purportedly signed by 99 members of political parties that make up the minority, conveying their choice of leadership, and he read the letter.
Irked by the development, the hierarchy of the PDP set up a committee to probe the matter and make recommendations. The party consequently suspended Elumelu and other members of his leadership alongside Hon. Wole Oke, Hon. Linda Ikpeazu and Anayo Nnebe for snubbing the committee which is led by former president of the Senate, Prof. Iyorchia Ayu.
While actors and observers awaited the report of the committee, the Chinda-led group announced itself leaders of the PDP caucus in the House through press statements it co-signed and issued on behalf of the caucus. This development led to an investigation of Chinda and others for allegedly passing themselves off as leaders of the PDP.
The investigation by the Ethics and Privileges committee followed the adoption of a motion moved by Hon. Ben Igbakpa who claimed that his personal privilege had been breached. He also insisted that the positions Chinda’s group arrogated to itself are unknown to the House and is in violation of Section 24 of the Legislative Houses Act and the rules of the House.
Igbakpa who cited Order 1(1) and (2) of the Standing Order of the House, said, “it is common knowledge that on July 3, 2019, the Honourable Speaker, in line with Order 7 Rule 8 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives (which empowered the minority parties to nominate their leaders), announced the Minority leaders of the House. This was consequently published in the votes and proceedings of the same date.
“In spite of this, Mr. Speaker, some members of this House, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, Hon. Chukwuma Onyema, Hon. Umar Barde and Hon Muraina Ajibola parading themselves as PDP caucus leader, deputy caucus leader, minority whip and deputy minority whip have been issuing public statements outside the nomenclature of this House; misleading the general public and causing confusion and disaffection in the House of Representatives. This is a gross abuse of our collective and individual privileges…I hereby call on this House to investigate this and bring the perpetrators to book.”
Critics have dismissed Igbakpa’s motion as baseless. They alleged that the motion and the probe is just a ploy by the leadership of the House to suspend the group for refusing to back down.
A lawmaker who noted that the matter was an intra-party affair, wondered why the House would get involved in it. He also alleged that Igbakpa was only playing out a script written out for him by those bent on seeing Chinda suspended from the House.
“That motion doesn’t make any sense and I was surprised that the deputy speaker even entertained it. How does the leadership of a caucus breach anyone’s privilege? The whole script is badly written and just goes to show that some people are bent on suspending them especially, Chinda.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the northwest legislator added, “Some of us have been around to know how and when a group is plotting to mess someone up. If the PDP has come out to state that it anointed these people to be leaders of the caucus, what then are you investigating? If PDP members don’t agree with the party’s decision, they should approach their leaders not bring the matter before the House.”
Leadership also recall that in his reaction to the call for a probe, Chinda insisted that he has the authority of the PDP to act as the leader of its caucus in the House.
“I am the PDP caucus leader in the House with the authority and consent of the party. PDP is a registered political party and a creation of Law and not the Rules of the House. PDP has its leaders in units, communities, amongst students, traders, professionals, and parliamentarians. These leaders are recognized by the party as such.
“I have the mandate of the PDP to act as its leader in the House. Other minority parties are free to have their caucus leadership. I don’t see how that offends the Rule or law of the House or the constitution.”
Also, the National Working Committee of the PDP threw its weight behind Chinda and insisted that Elumelu and others remain suspended. The party in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan said, “The National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wishes to clarify its position on the PDP Caucus at the House of Representatives as follows:
“That the suspension placed on some PDP members who connived with others to supplant the party decision with regards to party positions in the House is subsisting and has not been lifted;
“That the suspended members of the party cannot, therefore, conduct any business of the party at whatever level until disciplinary measures have been concluded;
“That the National Working Committee (NWC) in its wisdom, knowing that nature abhors a vacuum and consistent with its position on the matter which has not changed, directed that the affairs of the PDP Caucus of the House of Representatives be organised and managed by Hon. Kingsley Chinda, Hon. Yakubu Barde, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema and Hon. Muraina Ajibola.”
It also stated that the Chinda group has the mandate and authority of the PDP to lead its caucus in the House of Representatives adding that the PDP will not reward disloyalty and will not allow anyone other than the party to impose their choices with the sole aim of annihilating or stifling the voice of the opposition.
“All PDP National Assembly members and organs are to note this and accord the irreversible party choices the necessary support to execute the party’s mandate in distinction as they have been doing so far,” the statement added.
However, Elumelu in his reaction, lamented that the party’s statement painted him as a disloyal member of the party. He added that it lacked fairness and was an affront on the rule of law.
Elumelu, who spoke through his special adviser on legal matters, Barr. Oyorima Idahosa said:
“The attention of the leadership of the Minority Caucus of the House of Representatives under Hon. Ndudi Elumelu has been drawn to allegations of disloyalty leveled against it in a statement issued by the national publicity secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“This is completely against the principle of democracy, rule of law and fairness upon which our great party, the PDP is founded and known since its formation 21 years ago. For the avoidance of doubt, the mnority leadership of the House of Representatives was elected in strict observance of Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Order 7 Rule 8 of the Standing Rule of the House of Representatives.
“Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution unambiguously provides that “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have power to regulate its own procedure, including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House.
“Accordingly, Order 7 Rule 8 clearly states that: Members of the Minority Parties in the House shall nominate from among them, the Minority Leader, Minority Whip, Deputy Minority Leader, and Deputy Minority Whip.
“This, the overwhelming majority of the Minority Caucus comprising nine political parties (PDP, APGA, ADC, LP, SDP, PRP, AA, APM, ADP) did, and communicated their decision to the speaker in a letter dated 2nd July 2019 and signed by over 100 members of the 147-Member Caucus.”
He contended that: “By parliamentary rules persons so elected become the leaders of the party caucuses in the legislature. While the party can guide their elected members through the zoning of various minority leadership offices, it is not in the place of the party, by the provisions of the Constitution, House Standing Rule, and parliamentary traditions, to appoint or foist minority or majority caucus leadership on its members.
“The conduct of the lawmakers in choosing their leaders, therefore, falls within the framework of the spirit, ideals, beliefs and underlining principles of the PDP and our founding fathers, who championed the enthronement of the tenets of democratic practice in Nigeria.”
The party’s position regardless, the Ethics and Privileges committee extended invitations to the lawmakers for a hearing held behind closed doors. It directed them to respond to Igbakpa’s allegation in writing within seven days.
While the feud lasts and the outcomes of both panels are awaited, the PDP will do well to put its House in order especially bearing in mind that the Ayu-led panel itself is facing its own crisis which saw to the resignation of the secretary, Hon. Austin Opara. It will do the party some good if the matter is laid to rest so that the already weak and mute opposition may find its voice and play its role effectively.