The minority caucus in the House of Representatives, led by the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), recently devoted two days to interrogate the major contenders for the position of speaker of the 9th Assembly.
The race for speaker of the 9th House of Representatives was fast forwarded last weekend when the minority parties under the guide of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) engaged six key contestants for the position of speaker of the 9th House.
The 9th House will be populated by lawmakers from nine political parties including PDP, All Progressives Congress (APC), Labour Party (LP), Accord Party (AP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Social Democratic Party (SDP), Allied Peoples Movement (APM) and Action Alliance (AA).
Incidentally, all the six candidates for the speakership except one were elected on the platform of the ruling APC. On the first day of the exercise conducted by the Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema (PDP, Anambra), the caucus interviewed Hon. John Dyegh (APC, Benue), Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia), Hon. Mohammed Umar Bago (APC, Niger), Hon. Olajide Olatunbosun (APC, Oyo) and Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba (Accord Party, Imo).
The preferred candidate of the APC, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila was unavoidably absent as he was in the South-South part of the country, where he took his campaign to the governors of the geopolitical zone. However, a special session was organised for him the next day. Also, four other candidates who had earlier indicated interest in the position did not show up for the event, perhaps signaling the end of their ambition. They include the House spokesman Abdulrazaq Namdas (APC, Adamawa), Aliyu Betara (APC, Borno), Buba Yakub (APC, Adamawa) and Segun Odebunmi (APC, Oyo). Yakub has officially withdrawn from the contest, but Namdas, Betara and Odebunmi are yet to declare their stand.
In his opening remarks, Onyema explained that the essence of the interaction was for the minority lawmakers to have firsthand information on the plan of action of each of the speakership hopefuls.
He said the caucus wants the best for Nigeria and therefore decided to gauge the preparedness of each of the candidates to enable them take a position.
Being the only female contestant, Onyejeocha was offered the first slot to address the lawmakers, but she turned down the privileged preferring to be the second person. Consequently, Dyegh was called upon to open the floor for the interaction.
Mounting the podium, Hon. Dyegh, who had a long session with the lawmakers promised that if elected speaker, he will pursue the amendment of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) to ensure legislative experience counts by extending the four-year tenure to six-year tenure for the legislature.
Dyegh, who holds a doctorate degree in Economic History, further said he would initiate evidence-based legislations by ensuring enhanced capacity and improved welfare of legislators and legislative support services through training and retraining to enable the 9th National Assembly pass national priority laws in critical sectors such as security, employment and productivity, power and agriculture.
Speaking further, the lawmaker representing Gboko/Tarka federal constituency of Benue said he would “sustain and deepen independence of the National Assembly and ensure harmonious interdependent working relationship with the executive arm of government without undermining the principles of separation of powers.”
Dyegh insisted that the north central deserves the speaker for equity and fairness adding that he will “initiate legislative measures and laws that will promote and engender national unity, providing equal opportunities to all Nigerians especially members of the House of Representatives irrespective of ethnic, political, social and religious affiliations.”
Umar Bago (APC, Niger)
In his presentation before the caucus, Bago (APC, Niger) promised to share all committees equally between the APC and opposition adding that all committees will be equitably distributed in a proportionate manner. Although, this promise from Bago elicited a thunderous applause from the lawmakers, some of them who were seated at the back expressed some pessimism about the prospect of the APC having equal committee chairmen with the PDP and other minority parties. Bago, like Dyegh also hammered on the need for justice and equity in the nation’s polity, arguing that the North Central’s performance in the 2019 general elections earned it a deserving place to vie for the number four position in the nation. He said his aspiration was a response to a combination of factors, divided broadly into three –personal characteristics, geo-political balancing consideration, sensitivity and generational imperatives. He maintained that whoever will be the speaker of the 9th Assembly must be strong on relational dictates.
“He must be able to manage all stakeholders and relationships, from the ever recurring frosty executive-legislature relationship, to the primus intern pares dictum. The person must not convey a boss and subordinate National Assembly bureaucracy. Former members and other stakeholders must be well and effectively managed,” he said. Bago maintained that he has a clear understanding of the workings of the National Assembly as a member and chairman of committees who moved and supported several motions and bills. “I have been an active person in plenary and at committee sessions. I have related with speakers. I believe I am eminently able to also manage our colleagues from the chair to the benefit of the 8th Assembly.” He said.
Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Imo)
Onyejeocha, who is the highest ranking APC lawmaker from the South-East promised to run an all-inclusive leadership that will carry all members of the House along. According to her, the relationship between the executive, legislature and judiciary will be cordial if she is given the opportunity to lead the House. The lawmaker, who represents Isuikwuato/ Umunneochi federal constituency of Abia State explained that she took the decision to vie for the speakership as a result of the concerns of the people of the South-East regarding the distribution of presiding officers’ positions in the National Assembly. According to her, the people are worried that an inequitable distribution will create lopsidedness and lead to worsened divides in the country. She also noted that she has been a member of the House for more than 11 years and has served her constituents and Nigeria diligently and with distinction. On her performance as a legislator, Onyejeocha said she has sponsored several motions and bills, conducted oversight over multiple activities and initiatives of government, ministries, departments and agencies, as well as helped deliver meaningful constituency projects to the people of her constituency. She, therefore, pledged that if elected as Speaker, she would improve communications with Nigerians as well as strengthen internal communications and relationships among members of the House. She also promised to strengthen House committees and processes as well as adopt a legislative agenda with a clear framework for compliance and monitoring, among others.
Olajide Olatunbosun (APC, Oyo)
Olatunbosun, who also appeared before the panel called on members to rise up and save Nigeria’s democracy from forces that want to dominate the nation’s polity. The lawmaker, who represents Saki West/Saki East/Atisbo federal constituency of Oyo State in the House, said: “Our democracy is at risk and we must stand to be counted and rescue it from forces bent on appropriating it to their selfish ends. We are united by a common destiny and we don’t want the House to be controlled by external forces. We run three tiers of government and we must not allow ourselves to be cowed.” The latest entrant into the race told his colleagues that he decided to run because Nigeria has gotten to a point that men of goodwill must not hold back. “We have to stand up to be counted. The National Assembly, most especially the House of Representatives, where I belong needs good, quality leadership as well as a Nigerian who can unite members of the House across political divide and also unite Nigerians in general regardless of their ethnic and religious beliefs. The House also needs a speaker, who will ensure harmony between the executive and the legislature,” he said.
Emeka Nwajiuba (Accord Party, Imo)
Nwajiuba is the only contestant for the speakership, who is presently not serving in the House. This will be his second term in the Green Chamber having served between 1999 and 2003. Although, he was the last contestant that was taken on the first day, Nwajiuba, a humorous politician, brought life to the occasion as his use of proverbs and comic expressions lighten the mood in the Niger Hall, venue of the interaction. He promised to engage the executive and try to build a cordial and sustainable relationship. He told the lawmakers that his aspiration was borne out of his desire to press for power balancing among the geopolitical zones, arguing that he is eminently qualified by virtue of his academic attainment and political and legislative experience. He revealed his long standing relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari, saying they share the same political philosophy. Nwajiuba added that he was not in the race for monetary gains saying if it were for pecuniary reasons, he would not have resigned his appointment as chairman of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). He also disclosed that he was a founding member of the APC, but had to contest election on the platform of the Accord Party for political exigency.
Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos)
The anointed candidate of the APC, Gbajabiamila had his day with the minority lawmakers the following day at Kano Hall of Transcorp Hilton. However, unlike the first day when the media was allowed to cover the presentation of candidates, the House leader demanded to interact with the minority caucus in camera. He asked journalists to excuse them half way into his address before the lawmakers. But before journalists were asked to leave the hall, Gbajabiamila lamented that as majority leader, the leadership of the House under Speaker Yakubu Dogara did not accord him the privilege of nominating any of his loyalists as chairman of the 98 standing committees of the House. Speaking glowingly about his person, Gbajabiamila said: “I am the leader of the House, with no single committee chairman slot of almost 200 committees. I heard about the appointment of committee chairmen on the floor of the House like any other person, but I took it in my stride.”
One of the longest serving members of the House, the lawmaker representing Surulere II federal constituency of Lagos explained that he was a different person from what many people paint him, saying he has been accused of partisanship. “I have been accused of being partisan, but I am a politician and there is nobody here that is not partisan.
I am somebody who when I lost election in 2015, I quickly raised the hand of the speaker; I am somebody who never opposed the speaker; I am somebody who is often quiet but jovial, I am somebody who those that opposed me in 2015 are now some of my best friends in the House,” he said. The House leader also revealed that he knows no other business in the past 20 years apart from lawmaking. Although, the media was barred from covering the interaction between the caucus and Gbajabiamila, some of the lawmakers who were part of the exercise later disclosed in confidence what transpired during the session.
One of them revealed that Gbajabiamila disowned the APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, on his declaration that the PDP will not be given any committee to head. According to him, Gbajabiamila “promised to give us (PDP) committee chairmen and told us that his party chairman (Oshiomhole) doesn’t understand how the House works” On the concern that the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is behind his aspiration and is likely to dictate for him, the lawmaker said “Gbajabiamila told us that every politician has a godfather, but someone in Lagos will not determine committee chairmen for him or how he will run the House, if he is elected speaker.”
He added: “We put him to task and he opened up even though some of us were not comfortable with the idea of interrogating him in secret because we had a similar interview with five other speakership contestants on Wednesday evening and the media was allowed to be part of it. So, it was quite unfortunate that the media was asked to vacate the room. But the request came from him, so we respected his preference.” Speaking further on what prevailed at the closed door session, the lawmaker revealed that Gbajabiamila was frank and open. “He was actually frank because he told us that as House leader, his budget is N2.5 billion annually. He also told us how he fought with former speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, over sharing of committees because he (Tambuwal) was giving committees to our enemies.” In a brief chat with the media after the interaction, the deputy minority leader (Onyema) disclosed that the minority caucus will analyse and review the presentations from the six speakership contestants and “take a position.”
He said the PDP has not endorsed any candidate “but we will soon come up with a position, not necessarily endorsement. We have listened to the candidates and it is a successful exercise, but we need to sit down and look at what they have presented to us. On why the caucus decided to take Gbajabiamila behind closed door, he explained that it was the House leader’s desire and they had to respect his views.
The haze over the PDP caucus decision got cleared on Tuesday, when it advised its members to support any speakership aspirant of their choice from the APC. Minority leader of the House, Hon. Leo Ogor who disclosed this in a Sallah message said the caucus took the decision in national interest.
He said: “While we further our unflinching commitment to the principles and ethos of democracy, the PDP House Caucus has endorsed its members’ decision to work with speakership aspirants from the ruling party, thereby allowing all who feel thus inclined, the freedom to attend all meetings, participate in campaigns, strategy sessions and other activities of any speakership aspirant of their choice.”
Ogor maintained that “while the nation looks forward to the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, the PDP House Caucus is leaving no stone unturned in furtherance of its resolute determination to proactively decide the final outcome of the ongoing contest for leadership of the House in ways that would ultimately ensure that the people’s will ultimately prevails.”