•Gbaja joins race, rallies PDP, APGA, AA, others
•South members adopt him, S-East APC scribes kick
•Imo CAN opposes Muslim/Muslim leadership ticket
•North-Central seeks position, presents candidates
By Clifford Ndujihe, Emman Ovuakporie, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu, Dennis Agbo & Chinonso Alozie
ABUJA—THE battle for the speakership of the 9th House of Representatives took a nervy dimension, yesterday, as more people joined the race bringing the number of people jostling for the seat to 17.
On a day that out-going Majority Leader, Mr. Femi Gabjabiamila, formally joined the race, the North-Central zone also put its foot forward for the prime position, arguing that the zone has never produced Speaker or Deputy Speaker since the return of civil rule in 1999.
Some leaders of the zone said North-Central deserves to produce the speaker on account of performance at the polls compared to the South-West where the balance of support appears to be tilting.
The undecided position of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, on the speakership seems to be adding fodder to the flickering flames of agitation and jostling for the seat.
The National Working Committee, NWC, of the APC will meet this week to decide on the formula for the House of Representatives positions. The APC, last Monday, picked the out-going Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, as its choice for Senate President.
Disagreement between APC leadership and some stakeholders in the party caused the party to lose control of the National Assembly in 2015 as the party’s preferred candidates did not win the Senate presidency and House of Representatives speaker. There have been mutterings that the mistake could be repeated.
Yesterday, South-South APC House of Representatives members adopted Gbajabiamila for speaker just as the Imo State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, called on the members-elect, not to elect a Muslim/Muslim leadership.
Indeed, publicity secretaries of the party in the South-East urged Gbajabiamila to drop his ambition to become the next speaker to ensure equity in the House.
The House of Reps speakership aspirants are —Femi Gbajabiamila, and Olusegun Odebunmi (South-West), Garba Datti (Kaduna), Ado Doguwa (Kaduna), Babangida Ibrahim (Katsina), Sulaiman Kawu (Kano), Sulaiman Aminu (Kano), Tahir Monguno (Borno), Abdulrazaq Namdas (Adamawa), Yusuf Buba Yakub (Adamawa), Mohammed Bago (Niger), John Dyegh (Benue), Idris Wase (Plateau), Abubakar Lado (Niger), Nkiruka Onyejeocha (Abia), Chike Okafor (Imo), and incumbent Speaker and only aspirant from the PDP, Yakubu Dogara (Bauchi).
Why I want to be Speaker – Gbajabiamila
Declaring his intention to run for the speakership, Gbajabiamila, who represents Surulere 11 Federal Constituency of Lagos State said he would be peoples’ speaker, if elected.
He said he has the legislative experience to lead the House having been in the House for the fourth time before now.
Gbajabiamila ran for the same position in 2015 but lost to current Speaker, Yakubu Dogara.
He said: “After wide consultations with my colleagues, friends, family, party and stakeholders and in total submission to the will of God, I formally declare my intention to seek the position of the office of the Speaker of the 9th Assembly and offer my service to the nation in this capacity.
“As many of you are aware, I ran for the same office just four years ago but it was not to be. Well, four years has come and gone and now we have come full circle.
“With all sense of humility, I seek this office with a rich legislative background and pedigree and having just won a historic 5th term mandate to the House. I have in the last 16 years dedicated my life to the service of my constituents and Nigeria. I have studied and understood the intricate workings of the legislature. In these 16 years, I have been a principal officer for 12 years. It is this wealth of experience and a burning desire for good governance that I bring to the table.
“I seek the office of the Speaker to bring our tendencies together and unite us as a country. I seek the office of the Speaker to bring governance even closer to the people. I seek the office of the speaker to mentor the next generation. I seek the office of the Speaker so I can use the bully pulpit to galvanize members to make life more abundant for every Nigerian irrespective of tribe, religious background or political persuasion. There is much work to be done by way of legislation in many areas of our life including bit not limited to education, health, power, infrastructure and alleviation of poverty.
“Historically, the House of Representatives was established to be the people’s House and for the people’s business. It follows therefore, that the Speaker must be the people’s speaker elected to do the people’s business and champion their cause and in doing so fulfilling their hopes and aspiration. This is the Speaker I intend and hope to be and the House I intend and hope to lead, a People’s House.”
Earlier in his opening remarks, the Director-General of Gbajabiamila Campaign Organisation, Mr Abdulmumuni Jubril said, the candidacy of his principal was not about him but about sanitizing and stabilizing democracy. He also appealed to other aspirants of the top office to run an issued based campaign and desist from throwing muds.
In his good will message, the Chief Whip of the House and an aspirant for the office who may have been tipped for the office of the Majority Leader, Ado Doguwa, said that Gbajabiamila was a team player, assuring that the North-West will give the South-West and Nigerian one of their best too. “He’s is a team player. He is as simple as ABC. He is most qualified. I want to assure you that we are here on the commitment of our people. Femi will be a speaker for each and every one of us. We will give you one of our best.”
However, Jerry Alagbosa advised the aspirant to consult widely among the lawmakers for their support, urging him to make commitment to the South-East and South-South zones.
“All of us know Femi but let me say, democracy is a process. It requires consultation and lobbying. Femi needs to come and meet elders like us. You need to come and do the needful. It is not a matter of calling us on phone. For me, I am going to support you. After this declaration, we need to see because I have to protect the interest of the South-East and South-South,” Alagboso, a Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, lawmaker from Imo State, said.
In their respective remarks, the members-elect from the PDP; Action Alliance, AA; All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA and African Democratic Congress, ADC, pledged their support on behalf of their states and geo-political zones.
The event attracted some new lawmakers and returning ones such as the current Speaker of Zamfara State, Mr Rukuji and Mr Ismaila Kuwu who served as senior special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly Matters.
South-South APC Reps adopt Gbajabiamila
As elected members of the National Assembly continue to lobby colleagues for National Assembly leadership positions, the ambition of Gbajabiamila to become the speaker got a boost, weekend, as some members elected on the platform of the APC in the South-South states adopted him as their preferred candidate.
A meeting of the elected APC lawmakers from Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, and Rivers states was held in Benin City, Edo State on Saturday where they agreed to adopt Gbajabiamila as their preferred candidate.
Vanguard gathered that the meeting had ranking members from Edo State which included Peter Akpatason, a third time member representing Akoko-Edo federal constituency; Johnson Oghuma, a second timer representing Etsako Federal Constituency; and Patrick Aisoweren representing Orhionwom/Uhunwomde constituency in attendance.
Also at the parley were Professor Julius Ihonvbere, and Dennis Idahosa.
Bago declares intention to run, insists North Central is marginalised
A returning member, Mohammed Bago, has also declared his intention to vie for the speakership position in the 9th Assembly.
The Niger State lawmaker made his intention formal at a media briefing at his campaign secretariat, yesterday, in Abuja, saying that he was very much in the race to correct the “injustice” the North Central zone has continued to suffer in the country’s balance of power.
He said of all the zones in the country, only the North Central has never produced a presiding officer, be it speaker or deputy since 1999.
Citing section 14 subsections 1, 3 and 4 of the constitution as amended, Bago who currently chairs the House committee on Maritime Safety and Education noted that “the North-West, South-West and North-East have produced five speakers between them.
“The South-South, North-East, South-East and South-West have also produced five deputy speakers among themselves since 1999. What does the North Central has in the entire equation? And they want us to keep mute. Who is speaking for the zone that has never been recognized for keeping faith with the party?
“Despite all the crisis and challenges bedevilling the zone under the APC administration, we stayed the course for the party and the president, delivering more than 70 per cent of votes cast,” he said.
Bago further explained that the party has no basis for insisting on a zone that has serially dominated governance in the last 20 years, saying: “What’s the South-West’s contribution to the party’s victory in the last elections compared to that of the North Central? As such, we deserve the position, not only as a state but also as a zone. So nobody can say he wants to expel us from this party. And no one will single-handedly take over the structure of the legislature as well as the party.
“Apart from the zoning argument, if you say the South must get something, why insist on South-West, why not South-South or the South East?
“But then, in terms of representation in the party and government, the South-South has the chairmanship of the party, and the South-West has VP, what does North Central have? Nothing,’’ he said.
Speaking in the same vein, Bago’s Campaign DG and a former member of the House, Mr Bimbo Daramola stressed the need for the APC to uphold equity in its power sharing arrangements.
Imo CAN calls for restraint over Muslim/Muslim ticket
The CAN Imo State chapter, yesterday, called on the members-elect of the National Assembly, to hold back on any plan to have Muslim/Muslim leadership in electing it’s principal officers.
The Imo CAN, gave the warning in Owerri, through the secretary of the association, Divine Eches.
CAN, mentioned some positions said to have been occupied by Muslims, noting that it was worried that the trend may continue, adding that past presidents in the country, did not allow themselves the temptation of turning the country into one religion.
“We should watch out for a grand plot at the National Assembly to have a Muslim/ Muslim ticket for House of Reps and a Muslim/Muslim ticket for the Senate, because a woman is known by the religion of her husband.”
He called “On the APC-led Federal Government not to take for granted, the silent and calm disposition of Nigerian Christians, as this will seriously destroy the image of APC and place the party as a regional and religious political party which must not return to power in 2023.
“We are only left with a choice for the first time since 1999 to choose between a Muslim and a Muslim both at the Presidential election and the National Assembly principal offices. Past Presidents, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua; Dr Goodluck Jonathan all worked with Speakers and Senate Presidents from other regions and religions.”
South-East APC scribes urge Gbajabiamila to drop ambition
South East spokespersons, yesterday, asked Gbajabiamila to drop his ambition of becoming the speaker of the 9th House of Representatives.
In a statement, publicity secretaries of the five eastern states declared that the current majority leader should forget about becoming the next speaker.
The secretaries said: “We wish to invite Gbajabiamila, an otherwise distinguished and ranking member of the House of Representatives to drop his ambition to be the Speaker for now and continue to serve as Majority Leader, because ‘this house must be built on equity.
“It is our considered view that the South-West Geopolitical zone cannot take the office of Vice President and Speaker, the North-East, Senate Presidency and Secretary to the Federal Government while the South-East goes home ‘weeping.’
“This dark pencil requires a soft eraser, and no amount of brow- beating can dissuade that. We think that Gbajabiamila should be part of this solution, sacrificially. We expect a rework of what had been passed to the public domain as ‘APC zoning’, which the National Chairman of our great party gladly says has not been concluded, going by his recent interview in the media.
“We wish to be advised on which leaders of APC in the South-East were part of the process that chose who will be what in the National Assembly, regardless of whether the party can pick individuals or simply zone geopolitically and let democracy prevail.
“It is needless to restate that with over 40 per cent upping of statistics on won National Assembly seats, the South East is the most improved zone, by comparative performance of 2015 and 2019.
“It therefore, stands to reason that a presiding-officer position in the National Assembly will set the balancing tone for inclusive governance.
“For the avoidance of doubt,the 2019 election into the National Assembly is a different ballot from the presidential poll. Yet the South-East recorded 2015-to-2019 improvement in both. We remain loyal and committed to APC and its noble cause of creating viable, valuable and desirable change in the politics of Nigeria, and hold that such must eschew brazen exclusion.
“We do not envisage a post-May 2019 Federal Government in which the three arms of government will be led by persons from the same part of the country. We, no doubt acknowledge the qualities of the men seeking offices from various parts of Nigeria , but insist that Nigeria needs only one standard in carrying on its affairs. The South East has every reason to be represented in the governance map.’’
Okechukwu backs APC’s choice of Lawan, Gbagabiamila
Meanwhile, despite his purported suspension from the party, Director General of Voice of Nigeria, VON D-G, Mr Osita Okechukwu has supported the APC’s choice of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Mr Gbagabiamila as Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives, respectively.
Okechukwu said that both Lawan and Gbagabiamila have without prejudice to the zoning convention, paid their dues in the party.
He added that they have also been consistent, steadfast and had persevered in the struggle which made the party’s victory possible.
Okechukwu who spoke in Enugu, weekend, equally noted that both Lawan and Gbagabiamila have been the party’s arrowhead in the National Assembly.
He therefore, pleaded with Senator Ali Ndume to sheath his sword, noting that the method adopted by the APC National Chairman, Mr Adams Oshiomhole lacked finesse and was less than democratic.
He said in as much as he was averse to rubber stamp National Assembly leadership, he was also an avid supporter of robust legislature.
“That’s why I support the independence of State Houses of Assembly. Luckily President Buhari has placed independence of states houses of Assembly on the front burner,” Okechukwu said.