By John Bulus
Finally, the Speakers’ Conference of Nigeria, an umbrella body of the Speakers of the States Houses of Assembly has found a democratic path to walk into.
For some time now, the conference has been without a comprehensive leadership or a substantive Speaker as Chairman. No thanks to the actions and inactions of the immediate past leadership led by the Taraba State Speaker, Rt. Hon. Istafanus Gbana who had the mandate of conducting the election before he left office, but obviously failed to do so.
On September 22, 2011, the Speakers gathered in their new Gwarimpa Office in Abuja to elect a new chairman and others to fill the vacant offices. But for a couple of hours, the Speakers went in and got immersed into a marathon meeting behind closed doors. Journalists and other members of the public who had come to observe the event later became surprised that the election which was billed to commence by 10 am hadn’t gotten underway even by 12pm.
And when the meeting was finally over towards night fall, it became obvious that a compromise was reached at by the Speakers to shift the election for another day.
The immediate past chairman, Rt. Hon. Gbana was the first to swiftly leave the venue without a word to the Press. Everyone had expected him as the Chairman to comment on the outcome of the meeting, but that was not to happen as he hurried out in manners that showed he was not happy with the outcome of the meeting.
Perhaps, he had thought that his he would have been asked to continue in office since the election could not hold on that day. However, it was the Gombe State Speaker, Alhaji Inuwa Garba and his Kwara State counter-part, AbdulRazak Atunwa who later briefed the Press on the outcome of the meeting.
Garba said “we formed a Care-taker Committee which will in three months organize free and fair election. It’s a six man committee which will take care of constitutional amendments of the constitution 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”.
Atunwa also said: “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”.
By the statement of Garba and Atunwa, two major issues eventually formed the kernel of the meeting: the dissolution of Gbana Executive/formation of Care-Taker Committee which was mandated to conduct elections on or before December 2011. Another one was the establishment of a committee which would tinker with the current Constitution of the Body which the members alleged has technical lacunas that give undue advantages to the Chairman.
The Care-taker Committee then was headed by the Kano State Speaker, Aljhaji Yusuf Falgore who then said “After all procedures, we decided to set up a Care-Taker Committee to run the election. The Committee comprises the six-geo-political zones with everybody having a member in the committee”.
But just when Speaker Falgore was about to perform the task, his members in Kano Assembly suddenly discovered his incompetences and showed him the way out via impeachment.
Again, the development stalled the election processes of the Conference. And like a Hurricane of some sort, Four Speakers which included Borno Speaker, Ebonyi, Adamawa States Speakers were swept out of the office within a period of two months thus losing both their influence and the membership of the Speakers’ Conference.
It therefore became a work-start-over-again for the Conference which has finally slated March 29, 2012 for its election.
Unless new persons now decide to vest interest in the office of the Chairman, the office still parades the old contenders who had squared up against themselves in the previous election, more so, now that for reasons best known to it, the Conference has done away with the zoning formula which had seemingly served as an albatross for the people in the southern Speakers as it was exclusively zoned to the North, and North eastern geo-political zone east to be precise.
But even with the zoning apparatus subsisting then, Speakers in the Southern part of the country had still indicated interest to contest the Chairman’s office. For instance Delta State Speaker, Mr. Victor Ochei was entangled in the race. His colleague in Kwara State, Atunwa was also in the race while, of course, Taraba State Speaker, Mr. Istafanus Gbana, the immediate past Chairman has never stopped playing the Oliver Twist. In fact, it appears he is going about it with every gusto.
Meanwhile, whether any of the top contenders will eventually get the position will largely depend on the issues x-rayed below. Indeed, there are many good in one hand, and on the other plank, there are sucking odds against the candidatures of “their Honourables”.
Istafanus Haruna Gbana
He is a three terms lawmaker and currently the Speaker of Taraba State House of Assembly. He has been in the House since 2003. A Lawyer, he also spots some likeable looks. He inherited the Chairmanship of the Speakers’ Conference of Nigeria from the pioneer Chairman of the Conference, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amechi who is now the Governor of Rivers State. Gbana’s tenure expired early last year, but he had it extended two times for a period of six months to enable him conduct an election. But he pooh-poohed. Criticisms against his administration began to mount when his critics suspected him to be playing to the gallery, alleged that he not only delayed but stifled every effort made to conduct the elections before the last April general election. Gbana wears the gab of a gentleman but again, he has been accused by his critics to have run the office as a personal estate. Apart from that, Gbana abhors the media.
That was the feeling of many people when he hurriedly left the Gwarimpa venue without a word. In fact, while his colleagues were yet to leave the hall, his driver was already positioning his Jeep for a go.
That was also one action that created the impression that the dissolution of his regime was not a good meal for him that day. Perhaps’s Gbana’s greatest undoing was his inability to actualize the Body’s core need of independent funding (first line Charge) and also establishing a permanent Secretariat for the Conference. Unfortunately, to add to his many “sins”, his regime moved the secretariat of the Conference from a more cosmopolitan of Maitama Area of Abuja to a somewhat obscure Gwarimpa, a development that did not go down well with many members of the Conference. But whether Gbana is the man for office on the March 29 election is only an issue in the belly of time.
Like Gbana, Rt. Hon. Abdualrazak Atunwa is also a Lawyer. He is also not a political upstart. He has had the opportunity of tasting both waters of the Executive and Legislative Arms where he is presently presiding over the affairs of the state as the Chief law-maker. Called to Bar in England in 1994, Atunwa returned to Nigeria in 2005 to commence his political career.
In August 2005, he was appointed the Honourable Commissioner for Land and Housing of Kwara State. A year later in August 2006, he became Honourable Commissioner for Information and Home Affairs. In July 2007 he became Honourable Commissioner for Works and Transport.
He was moved to the Ministry of Finance in November 2009. In April 2011, Atunwa was elected into the Kwara State House of Assembly to represent Owode/Onire Constituency of Asa Local Government, Kwara State. On 6 June 2011, he was unanimously elected as Honourable Speaker of Kwara State House of Assembly. With the intimidating profile, many are of the view that the Speaker has gathered the intellectual wherewithal to be the Speaker of Speakers. But there comes a critique that Atunwa stands stunted in Legislative affairs having joined the Legislature only recently. But like Gbana, his chances are also hinged in the belly of time.
If there is any old hand technically immersed with Legislative businesses in its inestimable stance, it is the Gombe State Speaker, Rt. Hon. Inuwa Garba. A young blood that obviously epitomizes generational change, he has been in the Gombe State House of Assembly since 2003.
He is a successful businessman and accomplished politician whose aura in Gombe politics resonates. Garba was elected the Deputy Speaker in 2007 and in 2011; the 24 members of the Assembly unanimously elected him the Speaker of the House. As the former Deputy Speaker, Garba was almost ubiquitous in all Legislatives assignments in conducted in the country the at the instance of the then Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Manga Musa Bojude.
Most people see him as a gadfly, provoking thoughts. Understandably, Garba has passion for the Conference. He told Vanguard after the September, 2011 meeting of the conference in Abuja which produced the Care-taker Committee that “what inspired me to contest has been possibly achieved because I am a believer in democracy, a believer in sincerity where a level playing ground should be provided for whosoever has something very positive to produce”. Garba, has the backing of majority of the Speakers even from the South.
In fact, he was largely seen as the winner of the election had it held last year.
This was further premised on the fact that the election, in view of the subsisting zoning precept, was narrowed down between him and Istifanus Gbana who incidentally hailed from the same North-East Geo-political zone. Feelers say that the odds are still in his favor. But, only time will tell.
Like Inuwa Garba, Rt. Hon. Victor Ochei has also been in the Delta State House of Assembly since 2003. Born in 1969, he represents Aniocha North constituency. He is 11th Speaker of the Assembly. He attended University of Benin, Benin City where he studied Engineering. Ochei is extensively loved by his people but unfortunately, they will not vote in the Conference election as it is not a constituency or state affair.
Though, he has interest in the office, Ochei has however not been seen making frantic moves for the office. The odds against him were the zoning thing which has been eliminated. But keen observes are looking to see his new strategy in the game.
RT. Hon. Inieto
Then enter Baylesa State Speaker, Rt.Hon. Inieto. He was not initially amongst the top contenders, but speculations are rife that he has suddenly thrown in his hat into the ring and that he is tipped for the position without rivalry. Unconfirmed sources said the Presidency is now interested in the office. Indeed, there appears to be an affirmation of this in the light of the sudden removal of the zoning fomular.
Some quarters are speculating that if this is true, it then confirm another rumour that the Speaker who recently became an Acting Governor on the heels of the Governor Timepre Silva’s sack by the Supreme Court can only head the Speakers Conference to conform his status after he could not get a juicier offer such as SSG in the present government in the state due to the political configuration of the state. Meanwhile, all these are only a matter of time as the Conference holds their election a fortnight from now.