BY JOHN BULUS
BUT for a last-minute compromise reached by the Speakers of State Houses of Assembly, who gathered under the umbrella of Conference of Speakers of State Legislature of Nigeria at their national secretariat in Gwarimpa Housing Estate, Abuja on September 22, 2011, the forum would have been thrown into a leadership lacuna.
The body has repeatedly been unable to elect a new leadership for some time now. The September 22 unscheduled marathon meeting was to address the matter. Vanguard gathered that it took strong voices and serious persuasion to finally dissolve the hitherto incumbent leadership headed by Taraba State Speaker, Rt. Hon. Haruna Istifanus Gbana. Perhaps, that informed why Gbana hurried out of the crowded scene after the meeting without speaking to Journalists who waited to seek his views.
Indeed, the Conference had fixed the day for election of new leaders. Hopes were high that four contenders, which included Delta State Speaker, Rt. Hon. Victor Ochei; Kwara State Speaker, Rt. Hon. AbdulRazaq Atunwa; Istifanus Gbana himself and Gombe State Speaker, Rt. Hon. Inuwa Garba who had thrown their hats into the ring, were in for an interesting contest. But to the surprise of all, the election was put off.
Gbana, a three_term lawmaker and incumbent Speaker of Taraba State House of Assembly took over the chairmanship of the Conference from Chibuike Amaechi, who was the pioneer chairman and currently the Governor of Rivers State. Since then, he has been occupying the position. His tenure, Vanguard learnt expired early this year, but the Conference extended it twice for a period of six months to enable him organise an election.
However, that was not realized. Critics said instead, the Taraba State-born politician allegedly stifled every effort made to conduct the election.
Interestingly, Gbana is playing Oliver Twist, asking for another term. He is one of the principal contenders. His critics said that almost three years in office, the Gbana regime had not achieved the group’s core needs of actualizing independent funding for state legislatures via first-line charge and establishing a permanent secretariat. Only recently, the Secretariat was moved from the more metropolitan Maitama Area of Abuja to less visible Gwarimpa.
Gbana is not alone in the contest. At the last count, three other speakers which included Delta’s Victor Ochei, Kwara’s Atunwa and Inuwa Garba of Gombe are squaring up with him.
While analysts say that Ochei and Atunwa may not be serious contenders as it is not yet the turn of the South-South (as in the case of Delta), the pendulum may swing in the direction of Garba. Notedly, Garba and Gbana are from the same geo-political zone of North-East where the slot of the chairmanship is presently zoned to.
Garba like Gbana is also a third-term lawmaker. He was elected Deputy Speaker in 2007 and in 2011 he became the Speaker. He told Vanguard that if elected as chairman, he would among others fight for financial autonomy of states legislatures, making the Conference a part of the decision making body in Nigeria and making it an agent of mediation and reconciliation between the Executive Arm of government and the Legislature in cases of rift.
He also told Journalists of what transpired at the meeting. “What inspired me to contest has been possibly achieved because I’m a believer in democracy, a believer in sincerity where a level playing ground should be provided for whosoever has something very positive to produce. By that, we have concluded that the present chairmanship and leadership should vacate office which has been achieved.
“We formed a Caretaker committee, which will in three months organize free and fair election. It’s a six- man committee and we equally set up a committee which will take care of constitutional amendments of the Conference so that all the unnecessary lacunas that have been depriving others from participating in the contest and similar issues will be addressed,” he disclosed.
Having dissolved the Gbana-led administration; the Conference constituted a six- man Care-taker Committee and appointed Kano State Speaker, Rt. Hon. Yusuf Falgore as Chairman and also tasked him with the responsibility of conducting the election within three months.
Similarly, another Man Committee was also constituted to tinker with the present Constitution of the Conference which, in the thinking of so many members has serious lacunas and clauses that benefit the incumbent.
Falgore: ““After all procedures, we decided to set up a Care-Taker to run the election. The Committee is given 3 months to conduct election. The Committee comprises the six geo-political zones with everybody having a member in the Committee”
In the same vein, Kwara Speaker expressed happiness that at the end of the meeting, a mutual compromise was reached that will herald a better Conference of Nigerian Speakers.
“Fundamental issues were raised and it was well deliberated. We came to the conclusion that the right thing has been done and that is exactly what we have actually done. It was what led us to the constitution of the Care-taker Committee and the constitution Review Committee and they have been given the mandate to come back with report. ”
Though the two milestones were recorded eventually, in the thinking of so many lawmakers, the elections might still not hold within the next three months due to what they call “many intrigues” in the Conference. But only time will tell.