OLADIMEJI Saburi Bankole, already has history on his side as the youngest person, at 37, to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to that credential may be added the fact that he has had the most stormy reign while at it, yet he exhibits an inexhaustible capacity to weather more storms.
How have these affected the affairs of the House?
Three years after he mounted the saddle on the heels of the controversies that threw out Mrs. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, Bankole has had his battles, some new and blistering, and others old and festering. He has never been shy of fights. His opponents too are unrelenting.
Part of the intriguing leadership he provides in the House is the several adjournments that have become standard practice to calm frayed nerves and firmed fists. The House said it passed 95 bills by the end of last month and had hundreds at various stages of passage.
Remarkably, the Freedom of Information Bill is not one of them and is unlikely to get through any chamber of the National Assembly, where members have tossed it around since 1999.
Of great note is the impetus Bankole brought to accountability for federal ministries, agencies and departments that have been made to return unspent budgets to the purse. Trillions of Naira had been rescued in three years through this project. Bankole’s colleagues continue to vilify him. They claim his financial dealings are not transparent.
There have been threats of impeachment with a regularity that now lacks seriousness.
“I am taking over the mantle of leadership at a very difficult time. But these are hard times, we need to build confidence again and assure the populace that we are still their representatives.
I want an independent House that Nigerians will be proud of, this is my first task,” Bankole promised on 1 November 2007. Some would say he has stretched the promise a bit too far, particularly in the wrangling the House had with the Senate over protocol matters to assert the independence of the House and its parity with the Senate.
The dispute led to dithering over amendments to the Constitution. The House refused to accept the Senate’s leadership, saying it would only attend constitutional review meetings if it was admitted and reflected in all protocols that the review committee had co-leadership of the Senate and the House. Neither party appreciated the full implications of this position.
Dual leadership of such serious sessions was impracticable.
By December 2008, it had become obvious the two chambers of the National Assembly would not work together on the Constitution. The House left a constitutional review retreat in Minna over what it called a slight on it.
Efforts to resolve the differences were abandoned as legislators from both chambers stuck to their positions. Consequences of that squabble include the hasty amendments the Constitution is undergoing, and the ambiguous relationship they currently have.
The Speaker rides through each sweeping storm with a recklessness that borders on political suicide.
He has been close on several instances. Last June 22, Bankole suspended 11 members of the House indefinitely for disorderliness and fighting. It was the zenith of series of confrontations that he has had with them. The group had given him a seven-day ultimatum to resign or the House would remain in turmoil.
When the group failed to get the numbers to press its point, it resorted to creating one of the rowdiest sessions that the House had witnessed, smuggling whistles and dangerous weapons into the chambers.
A fight broke out. Members had been used to boxing sessions since the days of the campaign that claimed Etteh’s speakership. These days the fights are tepid considering that Dr. Aminu Shu’aibu Safana, a close confidante of President Umaru Yar’Adua, and Chairman of the House Committee on Health, died of cardiac arrest on 18 October 2007, while jumping on the floor in support of Etteh as a free for all raged a distance from him.
Broken limbs are regular and last June an injured member sued a colleague after a House bout that left him with a shattered hand.
The battles are slightly different these days. For Bankole they come from various fronts, some from his home state Ogun, where speculations never cease that he wants to be the next governor.
Almost every political fracas in the state is credited to him. He was almost involved in a fisticuff with a House member in the chambers. Bankole promptly suspended him.
At home, he turned the commissioning of a bridge in Otta into a platform for his acclaimed arrogance. He arrived late at the event and abused other guests, including the State Governor and the Minister for Works for commencing the event before he came.
House members still want him to answer to allegations of financial impropriety at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. However, the allegations appear to have lost steam as they are mostly rehashed when some members lose plum committee positions.
Bankole, elected to the House in 2003, represents the Abeokuta South constituency. He received elite education, including military training, in England and the United States. His areas of legislative concerns, according to him, are defence and finance.
In three years, he has taken the House through the storms of its new found legislative independence from the Executive.
The intellectual content of the House’s work has improved. His attempts at calling the House to order peaked with the decisive punishment of the proponents of rowdy sessions; some say he lays more stress on retaining his seat than anything else.
As the House marks three years under his watch, Bankole, who is supposed to make a point for the youth, has fallen into the same temptation of valuing power above service.