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Gbajabiamila-Wase ticket upsets House of Reps speakership race

By Adamu Abuh, Abuja
08 May 2019   |   3:28 am
Signs of the unsettling schemes trailing the attempt by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to micro-zone the post of Speaker of House of Representatives to certain lawmakers keep emerging each passing day. Feeling that the party’s endorsement of his ambition could face stiff challenges, the House Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, fondly called Baban Jamila…

Gbajabiamila & Wase

Signs of the unsettling schemes trailing the attempt by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to micro-zone the post of Speaker of House of Representatives to certain lawmakers keep emerging each passing day.

Feeling that the party’s endorsement of his ambition could face stiff challenges, the House Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, fondly called Baban Jamila by his acolytes in the lower legislative chamber, decided to co-opt the deputy leader, Hon. Ahmed Wase, whose decision to join the speakership race is gathering popular support from lawmakers.

With the joint ticket, it is perceived that Gbajabiamila is already enjoying a smooth ride towards occupying the exalted seat unlike his counterpart in the Senate, Senator Ahmed Lawan, whose bid for the Senate presidency is facing stiff challenges from relatively formidable rivals in the persons of Senators Ali Ndume and Danjuma Goje.

Recently, in what many considered a surprise move, elders from the Northeast, North Central and the Councilors’ Forum decided to throw their weight behind Senator Ndume’s aspiration.

Apparently receiving impetus from lawmakers from the zones, the stakeholders resident in Abuja maintained that Ndume is better placed to serve as senate president than his colleague, Ahmed Lawan, APC’s preferred candidate.

The acting chairman of FCT Northeast Elders Forum, Major Peter Jankari (rtd), explained that an Ndume-led National Assembly would engender the much-needed synergy between the executive, the legislature and the judicial arms of government.

He recalled how Ndume was stripped of his position as Senate Leader due to his loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari administration, adding that Ndume is in good stead to discharge the duties of a Senate President in the light of his years of experience as Senate Leader in 2015 and Minority Leader in the House of Representatives in 2003.

While applauding Ndume over his role in the passage of the Northeast Development Commission (NEDC) Bill, Jankari said as president of Senate, Ndume would fast track the reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country.

Also, chairman of North Central Zonal Forum, Mr. Dogara John Bassa, said: “Senator Ndume is qualified to be first among equals among the eggheads in the Senate to defend and project the desire of good governance to the citizenry. We decided to lend our support for his candidature because he is the man of the people with vision and courage that will take the legislature and indeed Nigeria out of the political quagmire.”

Different kettle of fish
ON the contrary, the situation in the Green Chamber remains furzy. The Deputy House Leader, Wase, who would have constituted a clog in the wheels of Gbajabiamila’s aspiration, stepped down after succumbing to pressures on him by the presidency, in conjunction with the APC leadership. He settled for the position of deputy speaker.

Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, who is at the forefront of the Gbajabiamila’s campaign team, confirmed the development on his Twitter handle. But before the reversal, Wase was at the forefront in the clamour for the zoning of the speakership to North Central based on the fact that the Southwest geopolitical zone from where Gbajabiamila hails from has Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as the vice president of the country.

Perhaps, his decision to back his observation with constitutional stipulations won him the admiration of most people, especially lawmakers from the north. While citing Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, Wase had argued that the composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies need to be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character principle.

But despite his decision to settle for a possible deputy speakership position, those opposed to the Gbajabiamila-Wase ticket, which had initially thrown the ranks of other contenders into confusion, argue that the ticket smacks of insensibility to the feeling of Christians in the country, for the duo who are Muslims to preside over the affairs of the lower legislative house.

Determined to pull through, the Gbajabiamila-Wase camp has countered the argument, asserting that religion should not in any way be used to deprive the nation of a golden opportunity to change the current narrative about unemployment, rising insecurity, and engender good governance for the teeming citizens of Nigeria through robust legislation, which the two lawmakers are capable of delivering.

They also contend that those introducing religious sentiments in the matter have no basis to do so since the National Assembly has had both Muslim/Muslim and Christian/Christian tickets since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999.

Pro-Gbajabiamila tendencies referred to the era in the Senate, when David Mark (a Christian) was Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu (a Christian) was Deputy Senate President, while Victor Ndoma-Egba (a Christian) was Senate Leader. They concluded that there was no feud from Muslims over that then and that neither was there evidence that the trio used their offices to convert some Muslims to Christianity.

Further, they pointed to a similar scenario when Dimeji Bankole (a Muslim) led the House of Reps as Speaker, with Usman Bayero Nafada (also a Muslim) as deputy, insisting that there was no evidence that the duo took advantage of their offices to further the cause of their religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, APC apologists continue to argue that the Gbajabiamila-Wase pact has the great prospects of ensuring stability in the House by galvanising majority of members towards working for the nation.

“While Gbajabiamila is a visionary lawyer, whose passion for the greater good imbues him towards aggressive and somewhat impatient drive for excellence, Wase is seen as calm, collected and measured in his steps, thereby revealing a tendency to ensure a tranquil atmosphere in the House, even in the face of a storm in the Green Chamber,” their apologists maintain.

As the argument over joint Muslim ticket rages, Muhammed Umar Bago and John Dyegh, who are both APC second term lawmakers from Niger and Benue States respectively, said they are very much in the race, insisting that they are better placed to occupy the office of speaker than Gbajabiamila.

On his part, incumbent Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, is believed to be positioning himself for reelection, while the chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas (APC: Adamawa), also declared his bid for the exalted seat. The two lawmakers are still maintaining studied silence over their aspirations.

Doubling down
BUT determined not to leave anything to chance, Gbajabiamila lately paid visits to key traditional and religious leaders across the country, including the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Muhammed Sanusi and Sheik Dahiru Bauchi, apparently to elicit their support for his speakership bid.

He was also said to have used the opportunity of the lesser hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia to connect with his fellow Muslim lawmakers in a bid to further concretize his support base in the House drawn mainly from the Northeast and Northwest geopolitical zones, believed to have numerical strength put at over 130 of the 360 member House.

Already, APC Governors’ Forum is also said to be rallying support for both Gbajabiamila and Lawan even though President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to openly voice his endorsement for the two.

Sources said the initiative is apparently aimed at averting the costly mistake of 2015 when the governors stayed aloof and unwittingly allowed the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to play the spoiler role. The additional push seems to be swinging the pendulum in Gbajabiamila’s favour.

For instance, in one of such lobbies, Governor Muhammed Abubakar, who lost his re-election bid in Bauchi State, led some National Assembly members from the state to endorse Gbajabiamila and Lawan for speaker and senate president respectively.

Senator Lawal Yahaya Gumau, who spoke on behalf of the lawmakers comprising three Senators and nine House of Representatives members at the occasion, explained that the decision was in line with the wishes of APC. He quickly added that it behooves their colleagues from across the country to toe the party line in the interest of the nation.

Gumau faulted the widely held notion that APC’s decision to back Gbajabiamila for the Speakership was antithetical to the power sharing arrangement among the six geopolitical zones in the country.

Recalling the situation in 2011 when the North West geopolitical zone produced both Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as Speaker and Namadi Sambo as the Vice President, he asserted that there was nothing wrong if history repeat itself with the Southwest geopolitical zone producing both the Speaker and the vice president in the person of Osinbajo. He probably failed to infer that Tambuwal’s emergence was in total breach of the party’s zoning arrangement.

Also, Gbajabiamila’s aspiration was further boosted as no fewer than 178 newly elected members of the House threw their weight behind him. Mr. Onofiuk Luke (PDP, Akwa Ibom), who spoke on behalf of lawmakers drawn from both APC, PDP and other opposition parties maintained that Gbajabiamila has the wherewithal to offer the desired leadership for the Green Chamber in the 9th Assembly.

Luke said: “We looked through the antecedents, we had to look through the credentials of those aspiring to lead the National Assembly and we acknowledge the fact that with the current challenges in the country, we need a bipartisan approach to solve these problems.

“And the person and the man that has shown that capability, that has shown that capacity, that has what it takes as reflected in his manifesto to carry the entire party along in resolving and solving the issues of Nigeria, the man who will not mortgage the independence of the legislature, but at the same time will not engage the executive in unnecessary fisticuffs is Gbajabiamila.”

Zonal opposition
DESPITE building partisan consensus, Messrs Chike Okafor and Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, both House members from Imo and Abia States of Southeast geopolitical zone, have remained bitter critics of Gbajabiamila’s endorsement. Okafor insists that Gbajabiamila was at no time roundly endorsed by President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC colleagues in the House during a parley in the presidential villa recently.

He claimed that all that the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) did was to lure him and his APC colleagues in the House to the presidential villa parley in a bid to sell the candidature of Gbajabiamila.

Okafor, who is also Chairman of House Committee on Health Services, ruled out the possibility of stepping down from the race, declaring that it would be equitable and fair to allow the Southeast geopolitical zone produce the Speaker at this point in time in the nation’s history.

Explaining why the position should be ceded to the Southeast, Okafor said it behooves the party leadership to take measures aimed at averting a repeat of the 2015 experience whereby the opposition beat APC to its game by installing Saraki and Dogara as Senate president and Speaker of the House respectively.

He recalled how the ruling party denied Southeast the opportunity to produce any of the principal officers in the National Assembly on the grounds that “we did not have a ranking member under the party.”

“Such excuses are not tenable this time in view of the zone’s performance in the recently held general election,” he argued. “It remains unthinkable that APC will abandon the more than 400,000 of its supporters that voted for the party across the Southeast, to cede the Speakership to the Southwest zone that already has the vice president, the national leader of the APC and multiple grade-A appointments.”

Okafor, however, expressed optimism that the party would align with President Buhari’s promise to embrace the politics of inclusion by ceding the Speakership position to the Southeast.

His words: “A ruling party doesn’t just look at the numbers alone; it also looks at national interest; it looks at social justice; it considers political stability and harmony in the body politics; it feels the pulse of the nation and weighs in on equitable inclusion of federating units of the country in line with the provisions of the constitution of the country and the party, even as it affects sharing of political offices. And looking at all these indices as a party, we have not given the Southeast a fair deal! Not yet.

“When we joined APC, we assured our people that we joined the party so that they could reap the dividend of mainstream politics. In the last four years, we have comparatively little to show for the said dividend.”

The lawmaker said by his training and exposure, he has a better grasp of the economy than the others, and thus will be able to help steer the 9th Assembly, House of Representatives in line with current economic realities.

According to him, “In the process, I will lead the House in making laws and motions that will match up to current realities on ground and further reinforce and fast track Nigeria’s economic recovery and growth plan. I will be running to win and not for fun. And it might interest you to know that my acceptability cuts across board right from my state to the chambers.”

Also, insisting that she is best suited to be speaker of the House of Representatives in the 9th Assembly, Hon. Onyejeocha, who would be making it to the Green Chamber for the fourth term, said as a female lawmaker she would unite the different tendencies in the legislature.

She told The Guardian that if elected Speaker, she would endeavour to see that women politicians who are coming up do not pass through the same challenges, adding, “I would leverage on that and bridge the gap. It would provide support and also help to bring up more women to the parliament, executive positions and from the grassroots.

“Above all, my election as speaker would douse separatist agitations, because what it simply means is that you are part of Nigeria. As I speak, we have elected the president, the vice-president; we have to talk about the Senate President and the Speaker. I believe that if we have a Speaker from the Southeast region, the people there would see that they are part of Nigeria and it would douse all claims of marginalisation.”

She argued that the 9th National Assembly has ample time to redress the imbalance against women in the scheme of things, adding: “If you have a woman Speaker, the women would feel at home. It means no woman would be scared to come up to see the Speaker.

“At the moment, women are scared of the Speaker because he is a man. Most married women would not want their husbands to say, ‘why are you going to see the Speaker?’Apart from this gender issue, when I am elected as Speaker of House of Representatives, the gap that is so wide now would be bridged, because as a woman I know what I have passed through to get to where I am.”

As days go by, it is obvious that not until June 6, 2019 when the National Assembly would be proclaimed and inaugurated for the 9th Plenary, no deal could be said to have been cut and concluded. The ongoing scheming, alliances and counter-alliances would continue to follow the shifting sands of high tide politics that is enmeshed in cutthroat intrigues.