June 25, 2024

Reflecting on an impactful year of leadership


Tajudeen Abbas


IT is remarkably easy to underestimate Abbas Tajudeen due to his rare humility and self-effacing demeanour. Many of his colleagues and Nigerians observing from the sidelines never imagined him being elected Speaker, let alone succeeding in the role. This concern was further heightened by the historical turbulence that often defines the House of Representatives, attributed to its diverse and relatively young demographic.

Numerous political analysts had voiced worries about the stability of the House, especially with the unprecedented inclusion of eight political parties, marking the highest number since the return to democracy in 1999. However, Abbas Tajudeen has convincingly dispelled these doubts and decisively proved the sceptics wrong. In just a few months, he has assuaged all major fears and transformed the House’s diversity into its greatest strength. The Green Chamber has largely been free of rancour, focused on its agenda, and is a major stabilising force for President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s government. 

It is increasingly evident that the traits many perceived as weaknesses in Abbas Tajudeen are, in fact, his greatest strengths. Beneath his modest exterior lies a deeply intelligent and cerebral leader, an excellent judge of character, and a dedicated servant to legislative work and Nigeria. My first true insight into his keen discernment came when he appointed me Chief of Staff. He based his decision not only on my resume but also on the recommendations of professional colleagues and my performance in a rigorous interview process involving at least four other candidates. Since then, I have consistently witnessed this discernment play a crucial role in his decision-making process and management of the House’s affairs. He is neither rash nor impulsive, nor is he slow and rigid. He always strikes a balance, carefully considering the consequences of his words and actions. 

As Chief of Staff to Speaker Abbas Tajudeen, I have had the unique privilege of witnessing first-hand the remarkable journey of a man whose family, educational, and professional background, coupled with his steadfast dedication to Nigeria, has shaped a transformative first year in office as the Speaker of the 10th House of Representatives. This past year has clearly shown how Abbas has imprinted his personality on the House, building bridges across traditional divides and treating everyone, including opponents, as partners in the Nigerian project. He has defined a vision for the House as a people-centred legislature, hence the moniker: the “People’s House”. 

Over the past 12 months, Abbas has exemplified effective political leadership by setting the agenda and guiding the leadership towards a clearly defined and collectively agreed-upon vision. He operates not as a ‘boss’ but as a consensus-builder, embracing the principle of being the first among equals. This detailed and personal account, therefore, underscores how Speaker Abbas Tajudeen’s unique combination of academic, royal and legislative experiences have shaped his leadership style, significantly contributing to the stability and accomplishments of the House in its first session.

Abbas’ academic background is a cornerstone of his leadership style, significantly aiding him in managing issues on the floor and within committees. With a rigorous education that emphasizes meticulous research and analytical thinking, he approaches each decision with detail and scrutiny, ensuring thoroughness and precision. This academic rigour is evident in his methodical examination of legislative proposals and his insistence on evidence-based policymaking. His scholarly discipline has brought a new standard of critical decision-making to the House, fostering an environment where policies are crafted with deep consideration of their potential impact. Moreover, his academic training has equipped him to balance legislative independence and harmonious executive-legislative relations, ensuring that issues affecting Nigerians are addressed passionately and based on facts rather than sentiments. 

Coming from a royal lineage, Speaker Abbas embodies the qualities of inclusion and a pluralistic worldview. His royal heritage has instilled a deep respect for diverse perspectives and an innate ability to manage people from varying backgrounds and viewpoints. This inclusive approach has been essential in fostering unity within the House, ensuring that all voices are heard and considered. His exceptional people management skills have enhanced collaboration among Members and promoted a culture of mutual respect and understanding. Unbeknownst to most, Abbas possesses an uncanny sense of humour, which he skillfully uses to disarm even his fiercest opponents, diffuse tension, and navigate difficult situations with remarkable success. His ability to inject humour into challenging discussions helps ease conflicts and foster a more collaborative and congenial atmosphere, enabling him to handle complex issues easily. This humour also balances his moments of anger, which are often short-lived and quickly forgotten, ensuring that he does not hold onto grudges.

After he emerged as Speaker, Abbas deliberately embraced his opponents, ensuring fair treatment for all. Despite some resistance from supposed core loyalists, he consistently argues against victimizing anyone for their political convictions. While rewarding loyalty, he also focuses on building a cohesive House by tapping into the experience and expertise of his opponents, many of whom are ranking Members. By assigning them key positions of responsibility, he has executed a strategic and ethical move that places him on a higher moral pedestal. Additionally, through several legislative structures, including frequent caucus and committee meetings and executive sessions, Members are encouraged to engage with the House Leadership on critical issues. This approach fosters a collaborative decision-making process where Members actively participate and often determine the outcomes, reinforcing a sense of collective responsibility and unity. 

Critically, too, as Speaker, Abbas epitomises a leadership style that prioritises accountability and transparency to an exceptional degree. He ensures equity and diligently advocates for the entitlements of his colleagues above his. By consistently communicating progress, challenges, and measures to address issues at every step, he has made his motives clear and above reproach. This relentless commitment to openness and fairness has earned him the confidence and trust of his peers, making his leadership both effective and respected.

The confluence of Speaker Tajudeen’s academic acumen, royal upbringing, and legislative expertise has culminated in a year marked by stability and significant achievements. Under his leadership, the House has successfully passed crucial bills that address pressing national issues. His emphasis on inclusive governance has strengthened the legislative framework, fostering a more cohesive and collaborative legislative environment. The stability he has brought to the House is reflected in the increased confidence and trust of the Nigerian people in the legislature.

Speaker Abbas has successfully earned the trust and confidence of Nigerians despite a long history of distrust and sometimes outright antagonism towards the legislature. His leadership is fostering a growing confidence in both the House as an institution and himself as an individual. This achievement is particularly significant given that many Nigerians view public officeholders with scepticism and distrust. The Speaker has accomplished this by enhancing engagement with civil society groups and development partners, demonstrating a commitment to transparency, accountability, and genuine public service. His efforts continue to bridge the gap between the legislature and the public, fostering a renewed sense of trust and cooperation.

In celebrating Speaker Abbas Tajudeen’s first year in office, it is evident that his unique blend of attributes has not only shaped his approach but has also driven tangible progress. His background has equally reinforced his qualities of fairness, empathy, and a deep commitment to listening to and addressing Members’ concerns with genuine compassion. Known for his contentment, lack of personal ambition and deep trust in Divine Design, Abbas empowers committees and their leadership by granting them operational autonomy and trust. This approach enhances the House’s effectiveness and fosters a collaborative environment where all voices are valued and respected.

As we look forward to the future, there is a renewed sense of optimism and a steadfast belief in the continued positive trajectory of the House under his exemplary leadership. In the coming years, I am confident that Speaker Abbas Tajudeen’s leadership will continue to inspire and stabilise the House of Representatives, serving as a cornerstone of Nigerian democracy. His profound patriotism and unwavering dedication to the Nigerian project are evident in every decision he makes. The Speaker’s inclusive leadership style – marked by fairness, empathy, and a willingness to listen, coupled with his ability to remain focused in the face of significant challenges – will continue to guide the House in a positive direction.

Additionally, his perceptiveness and capacity to envision innovative solutions to problems will be invaluable in collaborating with President Tinubu to address Nigeria’s pressing challenges. Under his leadership, the House of Representatives will continue to grow as a democratic institution that truly represents the hopes and aspirations of the Nigerian people.

•Prof. Dan-Azumi is the Chief of Staff to the Speaker, House of Representatives