By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—Bad blood flowing from the unresolved leadership tussle in the House of Representatives literally flowed in the chambers of the House, yesterday, as members charged on one another for supremacy.
For about one and half hours, members were in riot mood following an attempt by allies of the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to compel Speaker Yakubu Dogara to announce the list of principal officers of the House as dictated by the party.
Speaker Dogara’s rebuff and bid to steer the House into a closed-door session was equally challenged by supporters of the APC national executive who apparently came prepared for a showdown.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in its reaction apologised on behalf of the House to Nigerians but called on President Muhammadu Buhari to call his party men in the House to order.
Meanwhile, the APC was unapologetic over its intervention as it last night stood by the list of nominees for principal offices of the National Assembly. The party in a statement issued by its National Secretary, Alhaji Mai Mala Buni nevertheless, condemned the riot on the floor of the House.
Also, Presidency sources said, yesterday, that the President would not intervene in the issue to avoid being seen as supporting any of the contending sides in the House.
Following opening prayers and other formalities, yesterday, Speaker Dogara had at about 11.08 a.m. announced that the House would go into closed session to discuss some issues of concern to the House.
He hardly finished speaking when a member of the APC in a flowing gown rose up, shouting that the Speaker should announce the list of principal officers sent to him by the national chairman of the party.
The list from APC
That list as published in several national newspapers, yesterday, had directed the speaker to announce Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos State in the South-West Zone as House Leader; Alhassan Ado Doguwa from Kano State as Deputy Leader; Mohammed Monguno from the North-east as Chief Whip and Pally Iriase from Edo State in the South-South as Deputy Chief Whip.
The demand of the party as articulated through the letter by the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun was, however, said to have violated the principle of federal character as it left the North-Central and South-east geopolitical zones out of the ranking, while giving two positions to the North-east and South-West.
At about 11.05 a.m. just after Rep. Orker-Jev Emmanuel Yisa, stood up to move the motion for the House to move into closed door session, some members rose up and started chanting Party is Supreme! They demanded that the speaker should read out the letter from the national chairman. Some of the members raised placards with inscriptions that read: “Party is supreme.”
Vanguard learnt yesterday that supporters of the Gbajabiamila group met up till 3.00 a.m. during which they resolved that they would not allow any other thing to be done except the letter from the party is read.
The decision of the group, it was gathered, was to pre-empt the House going into a closed door session where Dogara was expected to fetch the names of the leaders as elected by the various geopolitical zones in the House.
As the protesters started descending towards the floor, officers of the Sergeant-at-Arms formed a protective cordon around the mace of the House.
The presence of the officials of the Sergeant-at-Arms, however, did not deter the chanting APC members. While they were at it, loyalists of the speaker also descended towards the table leading to shoving here and there.
Inevitably, the fracas drew out supporters of the speaker who also rushed to form a protective cordon around him.
A member from Cross-River State butted a member from the South-west with his head, while the attire of a loyalist of the speaker from the South-West was torn to shreds in the melee.
Meanwhile by the table, it was a ding-dong affair for the mace as opponents and supporters of the speaker struggled for the mace, and eventually, supporters of the speaker got the upper hand and the mace was taken away by the Sergeant-at-Arms. With the mace out of the table, officially signalling an end to deliberations, Speaker Dogara vacated his seat on the upper dais and descended to the seat of the clerk, a chair otherwise reserved for the chairman of the Committee of the Whole House. There was a protective cordon mounted by several members around him as they dared the rioters to come near. The speaker was not in any way physically ruffled and from time to time he looked down at the bedlam around him.
Around the chambers, some members shouted APC Shame! Others shouted Party Supremacy. A handful of those chorusing party supremacy now and again raised up their placards to buttress their cause. The speaker’s loyalists also time and again shouted Dogara! Dogara!!
About one hour into the riot, the speaker’s main rival for speakership, Gbajabiamila, who had not been visible for most of the time, came to stand by those near the speaker and shared some things with him. To many, that was a signal that peace would soon reign. Gbajabiamila was soon joined on the rostrum by Rep. Leo Ogor, the unofficial leader of the opposition PDP, a strong backbone for the speaker.
By 12.34, with the energy of the legislators well dissipated after about 90 minutes of uproar, an unidentified member started shouting order, order. In another three minutes, full order was restored as members had returned to their seats.
Following the restoration of order, the mace was returned to the table, and the speaker lifted himself to his elevated chair from where he upbraided the members on their action.
Dogara scolds Reps
Dogara said: “We are very fortunate, let me remind us of the fact that, we are very, very fortunate. In a nation of 170 million people only 360 of us are selected or elected to represent the people and we should be grateful to our constituents for sending us here.
“To be candid, we have promised so much in the course of our elections and even the very party I belong to, the APC we have promised change and Nigerians expect us to really talk about those matters, those issues that bother them most.
“They want to hear us talk about unemployment, poverty. In my region they want us to address insecurity and as long as this House is divided and not united we cannot achieve that.
“We have been down this tedious road before so I plead of us, I plead of us honourable members as leaders, all hands must be on the deck to enable us achieve the desired unity that we need in order to move this house forward; that is the responsibility we owe.”
Following that, he approved the votes and proceedings of the previous day and promptly adjourned the House till July 21, 2015.
Briefing journalists after the sitting, Chairman, House ad-hoc Committee on Media, Rep. Sani Zoro flanked by Rep. Jarigbe Agor Jarigbe said that the members who disrupted the session acted on a premeditated script, as some of them carried placards with inscriptions on them.
“These members attempted to seize the mace, which is the symbol of authority of the House and other sundry acts of fighting, fracas, misconduct, disruption and committed unparliamentary actions unbecoming of the status of honourable members.
“The House therefore sincerely apologizes to Nigerians for the ugly events of today.
However, some APC members blamed the speaker for the crisis saying his refusal to read out the nominees for principal office positions triggered the riot.
Spokesman of the group, Rep Nasiru Sani Zangon Daura representing Zango/Baure Federal Constituency, Katsina State said: “We are aware of a letter sent by our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) dated June 23, 2015 conveying the approval of the Party’s Principal Officers vis-à-vis the APC House Leader, the APC Chief Whip, the APC Deputy House Leader and the APC Deputy Chief Whip for the House of Representatives.
“This letter by the Party is in compliance with the expressed wish and mandate of the majority members of the APC Caucus in the House of Representatives.
President Buhari should call his party members to order – Ogor
Meanwhile the PDP caucus in the House in its own reaction called on President Buhari to call members of the APC in the House who he described as rioters to order.
Addressing journalists after the melee, leader of the PDP caucus, Ogor said:
“A very embarrassing and unpleasant action took place from the APC group, they decided to take laws into their hands, turned the house upside down and went as far as even carrying the mace which is the symbol of authority.
“I think we are starting on a wrong footing coupled with the fact that crisis created in this scenario by the ruling party, I sincerely on behalf of my colleagues want to apologise to Nigerian people and our constituents.”