By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor and Luka Binniyat, Abuja
Speaker Dimeji Bankole’s three years as presiding officer of the House of Representatives have indeed been remarkable. In three years the once innocent looking 37 year young man who before strolled the corridors of the National Assembly a loner, has transformed into a colossal national power broker.
Ensconced with the paraphernalia of power as the nation’s number four citizen, Bankole these days is rarely alone. He is also not without controversies understandably reflective of the much energy of youth.
His ascent to power was against the background of the relaxed ambience of his matronly predecessor, Patricia Etteh. Bankole’s exertion of the energy of youth was as such bound to raise feathers.
Though he may not have been an active participant in the many strategy sessions of the Integrity Group, the Farouk Lawan led group that organized the removal of Mrs. Etteh from office, Mr. Bankole turned out to be the principal beneficiary.
Indeed, Bankole’s ascension to power was preceded by a ruthless power struggle that in its course saw the collapse on the floor and subsequent death of a House member, Rep. Aminu Shuaibu Safana on the 19th October, 2007.
Not long after, support for the continued leadership of Speaker Etteh collapsed. Bankole was the overwhelming choice of the House members. His choice was principally based on the determination of the majority of members to remove the influence of the then immediate past President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in the direction of the affairs of the House.
Obasanjo had following the embarrassing challenges he received from the Ghali Na‘Abba leadership between 1999 and 2003 taken a strong position in seeing that amenable persons were appointed into the leadership of the House. Aminu Bello Masari who followed Na‘Abba between 2003 and 2007 was Obasanjo’s approved Speaker and so was Mrs. Etteh.
The choice of Rep. Bankole it was learnt was seriously opposed by Obasanjo, despite the fact that he, Bankole was from Obasanjo’s hometown of Abeokuta.
Winning the confidence of the former President inevitably became one of the major challenges that confronted the young Speaker in his first days in office.
It is remarkable that the label of a rebel who came to power without the authorization of the powers that be has continued to mask the relationship between the Speaker and those around the former President.
Reports of Speaker Bankole being barred from meetings chaired by the former President have been mentioned.
Three years into his tenure, an assessment of the Bankole House is one that gives Nigerians mixed feelings.
The Bankole House started as populist carrying Nigerians along in its deep investigations into the affairs of the executive branch of government.
The popular acclamation, however, soon began to turn to mutter as the investigations turned into murkier waters.
The House investigation into the alleged utilization of billions of dollars by the Obasanjo administration was a typical case of the highs and lows that characterized the many probes of the Bankole House.
The House Committee on Power and Steel Development, Chaired by Rep Godwin Ndudi Elumelu started investigations into the billions of dollars allegedly withdrawn by the former government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for the rehabilitation and construction of new power plants expected to put an additional 6000Mw of power to the National grid by the end of 2007.
The amount was also for installations of 22,000 transformers, building of 7,000 kilometers of transmission lines nationwide connecting about 1,000 rural communities among others
The probe, which was beamed live on the Nigerian Television Authority led to very disturbing revelations. This placed the House of Representatives as the darling of the masses. But after several intrigues, the House rejected 84 of the 88 recommendations of the Rep. Ndudi Elumelu led committee.
Elumelu was also arrested and arraigned in court for allegedly stealing, with five others, N5.2 billion belonging to the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) to the confusion of observers of the House. The hunter became the hunted!
That was to mark a remarkable low point of the House in the court of public opinion.
But supporters of Bankole are quick to point at some of the contributions that the House has achieved since he became Speaker,
For example, it was the House scrutiny of the 2008 Appropriation bill that led to the discovery of unspent fund of N450 billion from the 2007 Budget, which was eventually captured in the 2009 budget.
Again, in the 2009 Appropriation Bill, N350 billion was returned as unspent fund from the 2008 Budget. In the past, less than N30 billon was always returned, the rest unaccounted for.
On legislation, the Reps under Bankole passed 95 Bills as at October 2010.
The House also has about 400 bills in various legislative stages and added to these are 49 bills awaiting consideration of the Committee of the Whole and 71 referred to the Committees.
Also, the House Finance Committee investigation into the finances of government found that in the past five years over N3 trillion was not remitted to the Federation Account by government bodies that generate revenue. The committee said that the money was either stolen or mismanaged,
Ad-Hoc Committees of the House on Niger Delta, Capital Market, NNPC also conducted various investigations and discovered that Nigeria was losing billions of Naira in corrupt practices.
An apt example is the House investigation into the N63.5 billion contract for a second runway for Nnamdi Azikwe Airport in Abuja. The investigation by the House and the subsequent resoluteness of the House in rebuffing the little reductions by the executive branch was a commendable demonstration of the ability of the legislature to check abuses in the executive branch.
Bankole has also been able to maintain a cordial relationship with the executive arm of government, though at times, in a curious manner. This came to play when the Leadership of the House was foot-dragging in adopting the so-called doctrine-of-necessity that sough to empower then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan with full executive powers.
However, a serious low for the Bankole House is its sometimes cantankerous relationship with the adjoining Senate. Indeed the advent of the Bankole leadership brought relations between the two chambers of the National Assembly to a low as never witnessed before culminating in the public face off over the venue for presentation of the 2010 appropriation bill last November.
Senators enraged by what they described as the contemptuous conduct of the House in its dealings with the Senate resolved to change the venue for the reception of the Presidential address on the appropriation bill from the traditional venue in the House of Representatives chamber to the Senate chamber.
Reminded that the Senate chamber may not contain the 360 House members and 109 Senators, some Senators to the chagrin of House members said that House members who do not find seats could well seat on the floor!
Before then, the House of Representatives had in 2008 broken out of a gentleman’s agreement with the Senate to close eyes and pass the 2009 budget expeditiously.
House members in a commendable gesture to public good reneged on the agreement with the Senate and then took a comprehensive audit of the 2009 budget proposal leading to the unveiling of multiple proposals and other malfeasances by the executive branch.
Whereas the Senate passed the budget expeditiously in December 2008 just days after it was presented, the House on the other hand energetically scanned the proposals sifting out inappropriate proposals. The path undertaken by the House led to the delay in the passage of the 2009 budget until deep into the year, 2009.
The conduct of the House was regarded as betrayal in the Senate. However, on the part of the taxpayer, the action of the House in saving the treasury the billions of naira that would otherwise have been lost through multiple budget outlays would have been commendable.
Also before then, the House ostensibly on the inspiration of its leadership led the country into a public row with the Senate over the chairmanship of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitution Review.
At the beginning of 2008 the nation watched in bemusement as the two chambers of the National Assembly traded blames over the abortion of a scheduled conference in Minna of the Joint Committee.
Such shouting matches were, however, nothing to compare with the many bedlams that occasioned some House sessions during the Bankole years.
Few months ago some House members including a lady were physically battered in the melee arising from an abortive move by some members to raise issues on the propriety of the expenditure of finances by the House leadership.
The scuffle on June 22, 2010 has ironically, become a watershed. Eleven of the members who happened to be among a vociferous minority were suspended for their action in bringing infamy to the House.
The eleven members have remained suspended, denied of the privileges and entitlements of lawmakers and seemingly abandoned in the political wilderness.
It is not surprising that since then, Bankole a graduate of military techniques from the United Kingdom has been able to command a stable and less cantankerous House!