Considering the North-central Challenge for House of Representatives Speaker

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Onyebuchi Ezeigbo writes that the Northcentral geo-political zone is mounting a strong lobby for the position of Speaker of the Ninth House of Representatives

Nobody reckoned that the North-central zone of the All Progressives Congress (APC) will make such an appreciable impact in the last presidential election. At the final count, the area which the opposition party, had hoped to reap bountiful dividends in terms of votes did not disappoint. It ended up giving President Muhammadu Buhari an impressive 2.4 million votes.

That performance by the zone which placed it in third position, behind Northwest and Northeast has given it a pedestal to fight for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the next dispensation.

However, the quest by elected members of the House of Representatives from the North-central to become Speaker has pitted them against other members-elect from the Southwest, Southeast and Southsouth zones. From all indications, the jostle for the office of Speaker is between the Southwest and Northcentral. Whereas the Southwest brandishes an unofficial endorsement said to have been given by the party through its National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, the Northcentral is basing its lobby on several factors.

The arrow head in the Southwest positioning to clinch the speakership seat is the current House Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, a man of considerable political prowess. Apart from the seeming support from the party, the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has declared support for Gbajabiamila and is giving him all the push that will help him succeed.

But the reported position by the National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, that the slot of Speaker of the House of Representatives will go to the Southwest has met with an opposing argument which sees the move as over patronizing the zone that has already had its fair share of the largesse of the present administration.

Also while reacting to the report, National Publicity Secretary of the party, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu said the information was false. He said the party was yet to take a final decision on zoning of leadership offices of the House to the geopolitical zones. He said, “We have not come out as a party to say that we have adopted Gbajabilamila and it is not in anyone’s position to go and announce that.” Also party stakeholders from the Northcentral saw such a ploy to hurriedly allocate the National Assembly leadership positions as amounting to injustice, which the APC seeks to correct under its ‘Change’ mantra.That pronouncement by the APC Spokesman laid to rest the issue of endorsement for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and has thrown it open to competition.

As it stands now, there are more than 10 other House of Representatives members challenging the Lagos-born lawmaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. Among them are House of Representatives Spokesman Abdulrazak Namdas (Adamawa), Mukhtar Aliyu Betara (Borno), Idris Wase (Plateau), Umar Bago (Niger), Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (Abia), John Okafor (Imo), Babangida Ibrahim (Katsina) and Mohammed Kazaure ( Jigawa).
Following the renewed jostle for the coveted Speakership position in the Ninth Assembly, an APC youth group from the six states of Northcentral, organised a protest at the national secretariat of the party, demanding that the zone be considered for the seat. Its argument is that if the Northcentral was able to generate about 2.4 million votes for the president during the general elections, it presupposes that the zone should have more stake in the emerging new administration. The group, under the aegis of Northcentral APC Ambassadors, in a letter dated April 1, which was addressed to the National Chairman of the party, insisted that the zone must be rewarded with the seat because of the number of votes it delivered to President Muhammadu Buhari during last Presidential poll.

The letter was signed by five state coordinators and FCT coordinator, including, Muyideen Yusuf (Kwara), Rita Longjap (Plateau), Muhammad Ibn Muhammad (Niger), Lucas Cassius (Nasarawa) Yahaya Dauda (FCT) and Shehu Araga (Kogi).
Also, the Northcentral group, according to the letter said since Northwest has the President, the Vice President is from the Southwest and Senate President has been zoned to Northeast, Speakership must be zoned to Northcentral.

The letter partly read, “North-central should be rewarded for its performance in the 2019 election. With 2.4million votes for President Muhammadu Buhari, Northcentral came third behind Northwest and northeast.
“Even though South West has the Vice President, it didn’t perform as well as Northcentral in last elections. So, who should be rewarded?
“Northcentral has consistently been loyal to the party. Since 1999, Northcentral has never occupied the position of Speaker or Deputy Speaker while all the other zones have occupied these positions.”

Again, those pushing the campaign for the zoning of the Speaker to Northcentral further query the rationale for having the Number Two citizen of this country, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo from the Southwest, and still allowing the Number Four person also to emerge from the same zone. They argue that it was for reasons of fairness that some ranking members of the House of Representatives from the Northwest would not want contest for the office of Speaker because Mr. President hails from the same zone. Some of the stakeholders have also anchored their argument on the provisions of Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which says, “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies shall be carried out in a manner as to reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few ethnic or sectional groups in that Government or any of its agencies, in order to command loyalty and peaceful coexistence.

However, the Northcentral bloc in the APC are mindful of the contrary view that the outgoing Senate President is from the zone, instead, they were quick to state that the emergence of Senator Saraki in 2015 did not enjoy the support of President Buhari nor that of the party leadership. According to the postulations of these growing army of lobbyists from the Northcentral zone, though President Buhari did not win the 2019 presidential election in Plateau and Benue, it would be a great act of statesmanship for him and the party to grant the request of the people of the Northcentral to produce the Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives. The Northcentral lobby team is also employing fresh tactics trying to arm twist the party and the President to consider ceding the Speakership position to the zone as a political concession towards healing the perceived wounds inflicted on the various peoples inhabiting the region, due largely to the herder-farmer crisis.

Equally, they say the President Buhari would have convinced millions of citizens about his avowed commitment to ensuring inclusiveness in his second term in office, and enhancing the unity of Nigeria. Even as agitators for the Speakership seat are busy deploying strategies, another dimension was brought to the fore by no less a formidable entity than the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN). CAN has urged the newly elected members of the National Assembly to ensure that religious balance is reflected in the leadership of the two legislative chambers. The Christian body said that of particular interest are the offices of the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President, the Speaker of the House Representatives and the Deputy Speaker. In a statement issued on behalf of the CAN President, Rev. Samson Ayokunle by his Special Assistant, (Media & Communications),Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, the association said there is need to balance the appointments of principal officers across religious divides to avoid domination and marginalisation of any kind in the interest of equity, justice, and fair play as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

CAN said, “As you prepare for your inauguration, CAN urges you to balance the appointments of your principal officers across religious divides to avoid domination and marginalisation of any kind in the interest of equity, justice, and fair play as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

We, from the Christian Association of Nigeria, recognize the importance of the National Assembly to the stability and growth of our polity. It is in this regard that we call for ethnic and religious balance with depth in picking the leadership of that great institution of democracy”. CAN said in order to remove any apprehension and suspicion harbored towards the leadership of the country. It said members the National Assembly should endeavour to address both the religious and the North and South dichotomies in the interest of equity, justice and fair play.

“Our quest becomes imperative due to the existing order in the two other arms of the government. Today, both the President and the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria are Muslims and our appeal is to let either the Senate President or the Speaker be a Christian to address the religious dichotomy. This will give all Nigerians a sense of belonging irrespective of their religious affiliations”. The concern expressed by CAN has brought a new dimension to the jostle for National Assembly leadership which may ultimately send the contenders back to the drawing board on how to make any head way. How this whole issue will be resolved remains to seen and only time will tell.