Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila is the presumptive Majority Leader of the House of Representatives and member representing Surulere Federal Constituency. In this interview before last Tuesday’s face-off in the House of Representatives, he gives reasons why there should be a swap in positions in the House, expectations from the legislature in the New Year among other things. Excerpts:
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
WHat should Nigerians expect from your party ahead of the 2015 elections?
I would encourage you as a journalist in your own little way to do a sampling of opinions of Nigerians as to what side of the divide they fall on.
I am not even talking about politicians now. I am talking about non politicians that represent 70 to 80 percent of the population. When you do a good sample of where they fall, you will see where the pendulum is swinging.
So, it is obvious that people want change. And people will and must have that change. So, I see the two party-system as a good thing for this country. And in a way, it has also helped in promoting the unity that we have been looking for.
We have a country that is so diverse, over 250 ethnic groups, at least two major religions and a couple of other not-so-big religions; so, we are divided on many forms. It fosters unity. For me, it is a good omen. And I support it.
When do Nigerians expect a change in leadership?
You know there is time and season for everything. Yes, this we could have done last year, but it was just a day before we went on our break. We needed not to rush. So we decided to tarry until we resume. For me, it is a change of leadership. It is not whether you want to or you don’t want to.
If you look at the rules and the laws that govern our operations in the House, it is an operation of law. Whether we want or we don’t want. If we don’t, it is either we suspend our rules otherwise we are violating our rules because the rules are very clear.
The rules of the House say that the majority party shall produce the majority leadership and the minority party shall, it is “shall” and not “may”. So by the operation of the law, automatically if APGA or PPN becomes the majority today, they automatically by operation of law become the majority leadership.
There is no where in the world, no legislature in the world that I know where the majority plays the role of the minority or the minority plays the role of the majority.
Such a situation will defy logic, common sense and the law as in this case. So, I expect that things will take their normal cause and we will move on to more important things beyond leadership which is the business of law making.
What then is the place of 181 as the required number for any leadership change in the House?
Well, that is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the law. You do not require 181 to be the majority party in the House. 181 presupposes that there are only two parties in the House but you have more than two parties. If you have only two parties in the House then 181 becomes the number for majority because we are 360 members in the House.
Therefore, the simple majority will be 181. That is simply majority. But we do not have two parties in the House. We have about four to five parties in the House. So, in that case, the majority can even be 90, 100 if it is well spread.
For instance, if Labour Party has 50 members, another party has 60 members, another party has 80, another has 100 members, then the party with 100 members has the majority and they produce the majority leadership. All those who are talking about 181 misread the rules of the House. The majority is determined by the number of parties in the House.
There have been unending fireworks over the seats of those who defected to APC from the PDP. Some share the belief that their seats should be declared vacant. Do you buy that idea?
First of all, this is laughable except that it is not funny. Those who are asking that the seats of members be declared vacant don’t even understand this thing. I am surprised I have read some people, even seasoned legislators who have postulated to that effect that the seats belong to the party and stuffs like that working to a designed answer. But it is not going to work.
There is no where in the world is that done again. First of all, in terms of the law; Section 68 or thereabout of the constitution is clear. It gives certain condition where a member can defect.
If what you have in PDP today is not a division, then somebody needs to tell me what a division is because the opposite of division is unity.
So, if you are telling me there is no division in PDP; that PDP is one united, single party which even to the lay man, to kindergarten student out there, PDP has been shattered. Now in terms of who has the capacity or the powers to declare seats vacant, the constitution is very clear. It is not even the Speaker.
The Speaker declares it vacant, yes, but then the House has to vote on it and agree with the Speaker. That is the position of the constitution.
Position of the constitution
So, in effect, it is the whole House that votes as to whether or not such seat can be declared vacant. And I don’t see a situation where, whether it is the Senate or House, that body, when you put the question to say that the seats be declared vacant. That is not going to happen. It is an exercise in futility.
No court worth its salt or onion will even consider such an abuse of court process. So, INEC does not have the powers and INEC has said so categorically. The presidency does not have the powers. The party does not have the powers. The power actually belongs to the institution itself. And that’s what the constitution says.
What do you talk of the spate of letters between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan?
The letters are actually interesting. For me, they were very serious issues and so have entertainment.
It was comical as it was serious. Issues have been raised. Difficult as it may be, we need as a country to separate the messenger from the message. Are the messages true or not? Are the facts stated true or not irrespective of who delivered the message? Yes, some may argue that the messenger is tainted but what about the message itself?
And that’s what I think we need to focus on. I would have loved a situation where the President was a little bit more presidential in his response to the letter. It’s either you don’t respond at all and lean on the side of an obligation to the country, not to Obasanjo.
Obligation to the country
The respond should have been, for me, more presidential. One paragraph, two paragraph responses: “I have noted your observation and we will continue to work for the betterment of the country”, would have been simple and sufficient. It may not have been detailed but would have been better than the pettiness in the language of which the president replied very serious and pertinent issues.
Many people expect an imminent crash of APC judging from the fact that most people who formed the party are not best of friends politically.
We have heard this over and over again. It is wishful thinking on the part of the PDP and those who not want this country to move forward. It is wishful thinking and that’s what it is. We need to ignore such comment and continue to move on as we have been doing. From the inception, we were told that the merger will never happen.
These are strange bed fellows. But when the merger happened, we were told one thing after the other. They will never register APC. We have crossed all these hurdles and they will continue to say what they will say. We are not dazed at all with all these negative comments.