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Raging battle for REPS speaker: North-Central strongly challenges zoning to South-West

•Why ally from North dumped Gbaja, joined race
•Dogara schemes to retain seat
•North-West members-elect dump Kawu for Doguwa as Deputy Speaker

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

If the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, is relying solely on his political godfathers rather than political allies and colleagues within the National Assembly to realize his ambition of emerging the Speaker of the 9th House, then it will be a long walk full of uncertainties.

Dogara-Gbajabiamila

The prevailing circumstances reveal that his friends are leaving him in droves for some other camps as new permutations and calculations emerge.

For sure, Gbajabiamila is the toast of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the high profile men within the circle but he needs more than verbal persuasions to get the buy-in of his colleagues in his quest for speakership.

Of course, the Nigeria’s political landscape is replete with tales of godfathers who, at all costs, put their godsons and daughters in positions of authority without recourse to the wish of the people. But in the present political dispensation, the practice is fast fading away.

Ordinarily, National Assembly leadership election is no business of the members of the public. But the rip-off, the non-recognition of federal character and the winner-takes-all syndrome in what has become a skewed political system have awakened more than a passing interest in the people who now want to know who becomes what and from which geopolitical zones in the leadership formation.

Such is unarguably the case now. In fact, the religious configuration of the country has also become a huge factor which must not be ignored.

Tipped as the next Speaker of the House by the powers-that-be, Gbajabiamila, on Sunday, March 31, 2019, staged what qualifies for a flamboyant declaration of his intention to run for the office in the House of Representatives.

A gentleman, experienced lawmaker of huge technical and intellectual resources from Lagos State, Gbajabiamila, in the eyes of his many colleagues, is even overqualified for the office. He is returning to the parliament for the 5th time. He had been a Minority Leader and Majority Leader at different times. His legislative acumen is superb. But his critics say he has a godfather. The critics think he might be a toy in the hands of the godfather.

Obviously, Gbajabiamila has been endorsed by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, a former Lagos governor and national leader of the ruling APC.

The challenge

Interestingly, on the day Gbajabiamila formally made his declaration at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, another lawmaker did same there.

He is Hon. Mohammed Bago from Niger State, the current chairman, House Committee on Safety and Maritime.

At the last count, the aspirants have reached all time 17, and still counting.

Apart from Gbajabiamila, others on the list are Olusegun Odebunmi (South-West), Garba Datti (Kaduna), Ado Doguwa (Kano), 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).

Sources say that Dogara’s entry into the foray would be largely determined by APC’s miscalculations.

Angst against proposed zoning formula

Though the ruling APC has not publicly and formally zoned the leadership positions of the National Assembly except the office of the Senate President to the North-East geopolitical zone, it is, however, believed in many quarters that the speakership slot is going to the South-West. This is the reason Gbajabiamila made the declaration in the first place.

North-Central joins race

The North-Central zone has vehemently rejected the ceding of the speakership to the South-West. The geopolitical zone’s rejection is hinged on the factors of equity and social justice. The argument is that the South-West already has the Vice President (number two office in polity) and shouldn’t, by any sense of social justice, be given the office of the Speaker (number four office). And this is why two ranking members, Bago and Wase, from the zone, are in the race. Wase, who hails from Plateau State, is Gbajabiamila’s ally and indeed his deputy in the House leadership but they have obviously gone their separate ways for now.

Checks by Sunday Vanguard indicated that Wase had earlier been promised by Gbajabiamila’s camp to run as Deputy Speaker. But his zone rejected it, seeing chances of his emergence as Speaker of the 9th House. The lawmaker is chiefly leveraging on his acceptance by the members across the political divide to win the position. He had been the Chairman, House Committee on Federal Character for almost seven years. Only last year, he became the Deputy Majority Leader upon the demise of then-incumbent, Hon. Buba Jibril. His main weakness, however, is that many see him as being too attached to religion.

Pendulum

For Bago, the pendulum is fast swinging to his side. Like Wase, he enjoys a bipartisan support of the members of the House. He’s only 45 years old and had worked in the banking sector for 13 years. Bago is understandably a strong supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari but cosmopolitan in nature. His home state government (Niger) has shown interest in his aspiration and has promised 100% support. Barring any last minister eventuality, Bago is likely to become the next Speaker of the House.

The Doguwa aspiration

A new development that emerged last week is that members-elect from the North-West have now settled for the current Chief Whip of the House, Doguwa, from Kano, as their choice for Deputy Speaker.

Three of the members-elect had, on Sunday, in Kaduna addressed a press conference, rooting for Hon. Sumaila, also from Kano. But realizing that their endorsement got knocks, the members have since retraced their steps, backing Doguwa for the office. Doguwa told Sunday Vanguard that he has dropped his speakership ambition for Gbajabiamila.

He said: “I do not really have any option than to toe the party lines. The position of my party, for me, is over and above every other thing. So, I am only trying to urge the party considering our value politically, considering our critical position in the scheme of the APC, considering the volume of votes we are contributing to the success of this party bottom to top, to do justice to this zone. Speaker is no more our entitlement but let us look, for instance, at the position of Deputy Speaker and the least we expect from the APC for this zone is the House Majority Leader. We could qualify for this because the number of members we have from the North-West is about 93 out of which about 89 of them are of the ruling APC.

NASS leadership: APC working on zoning formula —Oshiomhole

“This is the only zone where you have more than 99.9% of APC members coming from. And from my home state, Kano, if you go down by way of analysis, the state alone has 24 members of the House of Reps as members of APC.

“So, I wait as a loyal party member to take my turn, to take my shot from the APC leadership as to whatever is zoned to my geopolitical zone which is the North-West. “That should not only be my turn because I just want to be but that should be my turn because I have all it takes, all that is required of a leader to qualify as far as parliamentary politics is concerned.

“I think I am the only person to beat as far as the North-West is concerned in the House of Reps. One, I am the most ranking. I am in now in my 5th term. I have been in the green chamber for the past 29 years.

“I started in 1992 during the SDP and NRC transition, the June 12 crisis, even though the dispensation was short lived by a coup.

“Since then, I have been in the House and I lost election only once in-between. So, as I speak, I am the highest ranking member of the House of Reps from the north-western part of the country and, by extension, the northern part of the country as a whole.

“So, this gives me not only the desired experience, not only the intellectual acumen or the necessary exposure, what you may likely call the institutional memory, I think it also gives me an edge because, by parliamentary conventions, ranking is an important parameter, instrumentality to determining who becomes what and when.

“And for that reason, I believe that any position that is zoned to the north western part of this country should, ordinarily, be allocated to me.

“Of course this will happen with the consent of my members, with the mandate of the people, members of the House of Reps from my zone”.

Religion

There is a religious factor in the whole permutation. Amongst all the aspirants for the House speakership from the North, only John Dyegh, from Benue State, and Yusuf Yakub, from Adamawa, are Christians. Others are Muslims. This may be what prompted the Christian Association of Nigerian, CAN, to call on the authorities to ensure balancing of the equation.

‘Keep off Reps’ leadership tussle’

Worried by the apparent involvement of external forces, a group of serving and former lawmakers, on Wednesday, asked them to steer clear of the leadership tussle in the House.

Speaking under the aegis of ‘Faculty Board of Initiative’, the group, led by its Dean, Hon. Eseme Eyibo, who was the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity in the 6th Assembly, said that the concept of the separation of powers and independence of the legislature must be upheld.

He said: “There has to be a leadership recruitment process premised on certain qualities and these qualities must be the issues of the core values of the institution, acceptability and ability to galvanize the overall interest of the membership of the House of Representatives as represented by powers vested in it in according accordance with Section 4(1) of the Constitution.

“We request the media to kindly let all the parties know that what we are saying from this end is that whoever desires to be or whoever is sponsored or whoever in the circumstance may become the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the leader or any of the leadership positions should be able to the following:

NASS leadership: Buhari Youth Organisation expresses dissatisfaction with APC zoning arrangement

“Democracy is the issue of the rule of law and because it is so, whoever is expected to be the first among equals in the preservation and protection of the rule of law via the legislature must be somebody who is acceptable, who has a standard of behaviour, that will be able to carve a nexus between the governed and government, that will also become a bridge where there will be less conflict within and without.

“Our responsibility and that of the constitution is to make sure that the legislature is not given a cloned leadership, something which bares the semblance of its true legislative identity is what we seek.

“But to ensure that leaders are chosen by members from amongst themselves by themselves without any encumbrances of external interference. This essentially guarantees the principle of separation of powers which created the tripod upon which the three Arms of government rests.

“The history of the leadership of the House is clear and unambiguous. So, whoever is coming into it newly must be able to know that regardless that time has changed yesterday, today still remains the flourishing future if this country and this country will ever be great if and only we allow this path of the independence of the legislature, the stability of the legislature and of course, separation of powers should be allowed to stay.

“We are saying that when politics end, governance starts. The current leadership of the House has show a clear difference between politics and governance and since politics has ended, we should be able to now set some parameters for the leadership recruitment process of the House. The leadership must emerge free from all sorts of cloning, free from all sorts of democratic diseased situation and all sorts of situations where it will be seen as leadership of the House is being perfected through bastion. All Nigerians should all rise. We should create the appropriate parameters to determine who emerges and at the end of the day, whoever emerges will be able to understand that House of Reps represents indeed the House of Nigerian people and not the House of political party.

“We have stated the issue of the parameters for who should fit into it and we have made it very clear that for those of us who are conversant with the history of the House of Representatives, from Ghali Na’Abba to Bankole, to Tambuwal and Dogara, something is very consistent in this leadership. The issue of working together for the interest of members, the issue of acceptability, the issue of assertion of the theory of separation of powers, and, of course, the issue of the independence of the legislature.”

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