Hon. Victor Afam Ogene was the deputy chairman, House of Representatives Committee on media and publicity in the 7th National Assembly. He is currently the spokesman of Hon. Mohammed Umaru Bago who is a speakership aspirant for the incoming 9th Assembly. He told reporters in Abuja that by adopting Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as its preferred choice for the office, the All Progressives Congress, APC may have paved the way for a chaos in the party, and insisted that Bago is still in the race.
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
How would you react to the adoption of Gbajabiamila as your party’s sole candidate for the speakership?
I am not aware that the party endorsed him. From what we gathered from members-elect who attended and my reading of the report of the dinner as reported by the newspapers today, I think that what happened was a poorly choreographed political attempt to sell the candidacy of Gbajabiamila. I said this because the members-elect who were there quoted Mr President as saying that he did not expect Mr. Chairman to go that far; that what he expected was for the different zones to meet and decide on which area and he left it at that. So I do not think that is an endorsement by the party.
Was Bago present at that dinner on Tuesday?
No, he wasn’t.
Was he invited?
I guess he was but he was out of town.
Before now, has the party called all the aspirants to the speakership position together for consensus?
If you are talking about meeting members elect, say before the induction, yes. But calling those who are interested in the office of the speaker or deputy speaker, I am not aware that Bago has ever been invited to any such meeting.
Wasn’t Bago privy to this meeting because it would be assumed that given his ambition he would have been there?
It was only a dinner, it wasn’t a party meeting. There is no party meeting that ever holds outside the party office. The President wanted to fraternize with members-elect and so, they arranged a dinner and he couldn’t make it back to town, there was no other reason.
If the President was quoted that the chairman went too far, does that mean that the president himself was unaware of that endorsement?
In fact, we suspect that they tried to ambush Mr President into the anointing of a candidate. The further question to ask would probably be, at what meeting did the national caucus decide on this adoption, on the zoning first, not to talk of the micro zoning? The party has different strata, the party is not just the National Working Committee, NWC. There is a national caucus which comprises Mr President, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, APC governors, BoT members and some other party stalwarts. To our knowledge, no such meeting has ever been called to discuss the issue of zoning, not to talk of micro zoning. So, we would be interested to know who moved the motion for zoning, who seconded it, who moved a follow up motion for micro zoning and who seconded it; who voted for and who voted against.
Does that mean your campaign organisation is forging ahead despite what has happened?
Of course, the anointing of a candidate does not stop other candidates from running. If I remember vividly, our National Leader, Bola Tinubu, in August 2016 during the run up to the Ondo primaries, came out to support a candidate, Olusegun Abraham and another candidate, Dr Tunji Abayomi challenged him as attempting to foist his candidate on all of them and he issued a public statement saying that as an individual, as a leader of the party, he has the right to stand with any candidate. I think you cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time. We reserve the same right to run for the election and we are forging ahead.
Are you aware that APC National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre said that they wouldn’t want that kind of scenario playing out on the floor of the House?
I don’t know what scenario you are talking about. We are talking about APC members here. Nobody is more APC than the other, and everybody contributed to that victory. In fact, if politics is about the dispensing of patronage, in Niger State alone, the margin of victory for President Buhari is more than the margin of victory over the PDP in the entire South-West. So, why would you reward a zone that got less than even one state, Niger where Bago hails from? So if the national publicity secretary said the party does not want that scenario, we all do not want the scenario. If justice, fairness and equity come to play, then we might as well end up with one candidate but that one candidate must be produced on the basis of equity and justice. Don’t forget also that the deputy national publicity secretary of the party did say that the North-West has Mr President, the South-West has Mr Vice President, he hails from Ogun state but he does his politics in Lagos, in fact from the same senatorial district as Hon. Femi Gbajambiamila. So, assuming without conceding that the position should even go to the South-wWest, there are five other states in the zone with members from the APC. Why must it be micro zoned to any individual? This is not a party of an individual. It is a party of several individuals.
When you say that it does appear that Mr President was ambushed in the villa, what exactly do you mean?
Going from the report we got and what we read in the papers about what transpired, if Mr President has said that ‘my understanding is that the zones should come together, Mr Chairman you went far,’ what far is he talking about? And he said that in response to the name of Gbajabiamila.
So if your principal is going ahead with his ambition; aren’t you concerned that if both candidates from the same party eventually stand for this contest, the opposition might decide to leverage on that?
No, the opposition is not going to leverage. We have conventions in addition to the rule books. The constitution which is the grand norm talks about federal character in section 14 that there cannot be preponderance of persons in any agencies, arm of government, no preponderance from a region, tribe or religion. So, how can you coerce lawmakers into law breakers even before they get sworn in? What are they going to be sworn on? How can you get them to break the provisions of the constitution even before they begin their work? So, that is going to set the stage for a chaotic house.
What does this unfolding scenario portend for the APC in the National Assembly, the House of Reps in particular?
From the way things are playing out, some people insinuate that they see 2023 in the picture and we wonder: our party has just won a second tenure and even before the take off of President Buhari, some other people are thinking ahead towards 2023 but they have not probably factored in the God factor into play. Why not deal with the situation at hand instead of thinking of how to plant persons in different positions in furtherance of an ambition you don’t know whether you will realise or not?
Some people have factored in the religious card into the whole thing, arguing that the President is a Muslim and the senate president at the end of the day, probably is going be a Muslim and now whether it is Gbajabimila or Bago, it is going to be a Muslim. Where is the equity there?
Not too long ago in recent history, the doctrine of necessity came into play. What it simply means is that if you find yourself in certain uncomfortable situation, what do you do? You make the best of what you have. You could remember a time in this country, we had a Muslim-Muslim ticket – the Abiola-Kingibe ticket and people voted for them. If the members are not raising the issue of religion, then I don’t think that it is religion that should divide us.
The North-Central you are talking about is also being placated with the deputy speakership by the APC. Aren’t you going to accept that?
We are not going to consider that for the simple reason that we would like to know the criteria used in arriving at the South-West. So the quest to be speaker by Bago does not rest solely on the foundation that he is from the North-Central, that is the first major plank because for 20 years, they have neither produced the speaker nor the deputy since 1999; so it is a legitimate demand founded on the need to redress a seeming imbalance that has held sway over the years. But secondly and more importantly, Hon. Bago, a three-time member is as qualified as any other person to lead the House. When it comes to the National Assembly, it is not about the number of years you have spent. By our rules once you are a returning member you become cognate and you can be anything, hold any position and he is returning for the third time.
In realising this ambition, do you have the vote, the support of the other members of the APC and of the opposition?
If we do not have the support, we would not be where we are. We have the support certainly from the new members-elect, from returning members, from across the aisle. And for you to be speaker you must have the support of a majority of members on that floor.
If at the that at the end of the day, all the party’s organs settle for Gbajabiamila and ask every other candidate to withdraw from the race or face sanctions, what would your man do?
I don’t think the party would do that, the party cannot stop any member from contesting. They could appeal and if the party has germane reasons why they think Mr A or B should not be the candidate, we would all consider that across the table.