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Remembering Dimeji Bankole: Speaker Born Out of Time

By Ikenna Onyekwelu
30 May 2015   |   11:36 pm
AS returning members, members-elect of the House of Representatives and leaders of their political parties continue to work towards the emergence of a Speaker, the politics stir up memories of similar searches in the past. And with the trouncing of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by the All Progressives Congress (APC), at the polls, one…


AS returning members, members-elect of the House of Representatives and leaders of their political parties continue to work towards the emergence of a Speaker, the politics stir up memories of similar searches in the past.

And with the trouncing of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by the All Progressives Congress (APC), at the polls, one name that is sadly missed is Sabur Dimeji Bankole.

As Speaker, Dimeji brought panache to the exalted seat with charisma, brilliance and elocution. The failure of the former member representing Abeokuta South to return to the House of Representatives, in 2011, seems analogous to the eventual loss of the presidency by PDP in 2015.

With hindsight, it is possible that had Dimeji returned to the House and as Speaker, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and APC political bulldozers would not have had the golden opportunity to ambush the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration.

But deigning to be different from former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who applies garrison tactics to return whoever he pleases at any election, Jonathan left Dimeji to suffer electoral defeat at the hands of the Action Congress of Nigeria plotters.

Looking back at the ascension of Dimeji Bankole to the Speaker’s chair, in 2007, it is easy to conclude that he was a Speaker born before his time. With the new emphasis being laid on democratic competition and free choice, Bankole’s leadership of the Green chamber would have made more impact now than when he held sway. Yet, there are rich lessons to be learnt from the way the youngest Speaker emerged in the House of Representatives.

As a backcloth to the present horse-trading and intrigues surrounding the emergence of a new Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 8th National Assembly, it should be noted that scandals (banana peel, in Senate parlance) either by way of imposition or hubris usually affect the tenure of a Speaker.

When what later came to be known as ‘renovation scandal’ involving the then Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, broke out, her party, PDP; made frantic and strenuous efforts to save the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives in the country. However, following general outcry by outraged Nigerian citizenry and the sustained exposé by the Integrity Group, an investigation was begun.

Ette was alleged to have spent a whopping ₦628 million to renovate her residence and procure some automobiles. Powerful political figures in PDP, especially former President Olusegun Obasanjo rallied round the embattled Speaker.

But some bright lights in the Green Chamber, including Ahmad Lawan and Bankole, insisted that she had to resign to pave way for a successor. On October 30, 2007, Etteh and her deputy bowed to public pressure and resigned.

Her exit reminded of a similar scandal involving the Speaker of the Fourth House, Alhaji Salisu Buhari, who fell from the exalted seat over some irreconcilable inconsistencies in his educational certificate. But out of the ruins of the fall of the first female Speaker rose the Bankole era.

From Ette’s ouster, it became clear that when leaders are imposed on a quality group like that of a legislature, they do not last the entire term. It happened also in the Senate due to the political corruption and intrusion of such latter day moral crusaders like Obasanjo.

After the voting to select a new Speaker, it was obvious that Hon. Bankole was popular among his colleagues. Nominated by Samson Osagie from Edo State and seconded by a female rep from Anambra State, Lynda Ikpeazu, Bankole defeated his challenger, George Jolaoye from Osun State by a wide margin of 304 to 20 votes. It is, therefore, inscrutable why after these failed attempts to impose leaders on the legislature; politicians have not learnt the lesson to allow democracy run its course.

The frosty relationship that existed between the House of Representatives under Aminu Tambuwal and the presidency was in part due to attempt by PDP to choose the Speaker.

Like the late Chuba Okadigbo in the Senate, Bankole mounted the saddle as Speaker well prepared. He had good education and gift of the garb, which enabled him to command the Green Chamber with authority and decorum.

Bankole obtained a master’s degree in Strategic Studies from Oxford University, England, in 1992. His acceptance speech after the election attested to his level of understanding and capacity to analyse and synthesise issues:

“The events of the last few months have certainly brought to ourselves and our nation mixed feelings. We recall the great expectations of our people with the inauguration of this noble House some five months ago, and hereby promise to rekindle those hopes by rising above and across the creases that followed in the aftermath of the unfortunate events…” his speech was aptly titled: We Stand Upon The Threshold of History.

Communicating his vision of a House of Representatives that could be referred to as the ‘House of Nigerian People’, Bankole explained that the members “have been elected to leadership at a trying time, a period when we need to restore public confidence, set the agenda and machinery for legislative business…”

He invited his colleagues to join him to “build a synergy of ideas that will propel us forward and towards ideas for a truly united platform for national development.” The particular aspect of the former Speaker’s speech, which echoes the signs of the present times, is where he indicated the place of the legislature in the fight against corruption.

A tele-guided legislature or one which leadership was imposed cannot by any means wage a successful battle against graft or executive excesses. Bankole had said: “As we undertake the necessary steps which shall, hopefully propel us in the right direction, we must restate the necessity for zero tolerance for corruption… a reaffirmation of institutional independence and interdependence within the arms of government, an immediate consideration of all the issues arising for constitutional amendment and the rather urgent need to engage in a legislative agenda that will dramatically and positively impact on the lives of our people.”

Those who are involved in the present scramble to endorse or impose a particular candidate as Speaker of the House of Representatives should learn from Dimeji Bankole’s emergence that quite unlike the mass of Nigerian voters that could be deceived by social propaganda, the members know the quality to look for in their first among equals. Whether, therefore, it is Dogara or Gbajabiamila, let the incoming leadership of the lower legislative chamber remember the experiences of the recent election were so tense that Nigerians deserve a respite. And like the former British Prime Minister admonished APC, the time is now to come off combative agitation and take to persuasive communication.