By Mandara Sulayman
With the revelation by Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, that he knows nothing about what led to the micro zoning of leadership positions in the 10th National Assembly to certain persons, it is obvious the major force behind the move is outgoing Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.
The decision to micro zone the position of the Speaker of the 10th National Assembly to Hon. Tajudeen Abbas therefore oozes with the stench of disrespect to the heirachy in the 9th National Assembly and to the other four geopolitical zones in the country which should have been accorded the respect to decide among themselves who within them should take the leadership positions in the next Assembly.
In the National Assembly heirachy, the Senate President comes before the Speaker and should have been consulted on any decision regarding the future of the legislature more so as Ahmed Lawan has been re-elected to the Senate and is going to be part and parcel of the 10th Assembly.
But the disdain goes beyond that.
In the history of the Nigerian legislature, no former or outgoing Speaker has openly dictated to or imposed his will on his colleagues.
The normal practice in both the Senate and in the House has been, given the fact that all members are equal, is to respect the integrity of all and allow the senators and members decide for themselves.
But a dangerous precedence is about to be set in the process of selecting leaders for the 10th Assembly where the independence of the legislature is about to be compromised and an outgoing speaker, who is eyeing a position in the executive arm of government would be the one to decide for both returning and new legislators who they should elect in both the Red and Green chambers.
Things have never been this bad that names of who should be Senate President or Speaker should be shoved down the throat of senators and honourable members.
When former President Olusegun Obasanjo showed more than a keen interest in deciding who should preside over the affairs of the Senate and House of Representatives, he was highly castigated for trying to undermine the independence of the legislature and political leaders like Chuba Okadigbo and Ghali Umar Na’Abba who called his bluff were highly commended for defending democracy.
Even as the 9th Assembly has unfortunately being labelled a rubber stamp legislature and the parliamentarians are trying hard to shake off that negative image, it is confounding that anyone would even contemplate surreptitiously making the negative tag linger which would further impugn on the integrity of the 10th Assembly.
Of utmost concern to those who have labelled the action as an imposition is the arrogance of going completely outside those who have indicated interests in vying for the Speaker position to settle for one who had, before he was hand-picked, shown no interest in presiding over the House.
Conscripting an unwilling candidate into a race where he admittedly has no capacity to deliver has been the bane of Nigeria’s democracy in the past where loyalty to an individual served as the basis for recruitment and not national interest.
Most annoying is the fact that the choice fell only on someone with known cultural affinity with the outgoing speaker. What a coincidence!
This is considered an insult by the legislators who feel that succumbing to the dictates of the outgoing speaker is tantamount to surrendering their independence and self worth to him in spite of having notable political leaders in their zones that should have been consulted before taking such a decision.
It has been the tradition in all the geopolitical zones in the country that where an office is zoned to any of them, that it is the political leaders of that zone that sit to decide who should take what when two or more people are contesting the position.
They are the ones who decide their own fate politically as they all have experienced, matured and sophisticated political leaders that guide their political direction.
In the North particularly, that tradition has not been jettisoned and that was why any time any of the major political parties zones the presidential ticket of the party to it, the zone conducts a mini primary to decide who it should present to the national body.
Many expect that since the North is being favoured to take the Speaker position in the 10th Assembly, that the decision of where to micro-zone it to should have come from either the legislators from that region or from their known political leaders and not from Gbajabiamila who is not even a foremost political leader in his own zone of South-west.
Even as an outgoing president, Muhammadu Buhari still commands the respect of the people of the north and there are others like Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Ango Abdullahi, George Akume, Sani Zangon Daura that northerners respect and should have been consulted.
Allowing Gbajabiamila to decide for them which zone in the northern region takes what in the 10th Assembly was bad enough but going to the extent of dictating to them the very person he wants is seen as a slap on the face of the entire region!
The thinking is that as all politics are local, leaders should stick to their zones and not forcefully overlap their influence on other zones as this is unhealthy and smacks of disrespect and contempt.
Even as president, Buhari did not decide for the Southwest who they should bring as his vice presidential candidate or speaker of the House of Representatives during his tenure but allowed the leaders of the zone to decide among themselves the person they want. It cannot be different for the next assembly.
Northerners are not the illiterates that Gbajabiamila considers them to be and they are not or so stupid that they cannot decide for themselves who they want, the interference by Gbajabiamila using his projected influence as the next Chief of Staff to the President notwithstanding.
Northerners are a politically sophisticated lot who have contributed immensely to the unity of Nigeria and in entrenching its democracy.
Since northerners constitute Majority of the members in the 10th Assembly, they should be allowed to pick their leaders themselves.
Even Obasanjo with his alleged high handedness did not impose leaders on the North but allowed them to present their choices to him whenever a position is zoned to the region.
That was how Haruna Abubakar, Ibrahim Mantu, Salisu Buhari, Ghali Umar Na’Abba, Aminu Masari and others emerged with key positions in the parliament during his time.
This is just the respectable and natural way of doing things that the North cannot be said to be asking for too much by asking Gbajabiamila to hands off and allow them choose their leaders in tne 10th Assembly themselves.
*Sulayman, PhD, is based in Abuja.