The Making of the Speaker

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Femi Gbajabiamila

Shola Oyeyipo writes that the emergence of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives may have resulted from strategic deals sealed with the main opposition party  

Until, the curtains were drawn on the leadership election of the 9th House of Representatives, not many who witnessed the turn of events and 2015 and believed in the possibility of history repeating itself, could say with certainty which way the pendulum will swing. The election might have come and gone, but the intrigues and politicking that characterised the build-up to the June 11 date of the election and the eventual emergence of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who was the preferred candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), as the Speaker and the Hon. Idris Wase as the Deputy Speaker, will not be forgotten in a hurry.

As soon as the 2019 elections were concluded, the party didn’t mince words; it came out clear on its preference for Gbajabiamila. He was the party’s choice just as Senator Ahmed Lawan was favoured by the party for the office of the Senate President. At the onset, quite a number of other ambitious APC members were undeterred by the party’s decision, they declared their intention to run for speakership, in a demonstration of their right to aspire to any office in the land that they are qualified for.

Though he entered the race for Speaker as a fifth timer, the former Minority Leader and  immediate past Majority Leader, Gbajabiamila initially had the likes of another fifth-timer and chairman of the North-east caucus of the APC, Hon. Mohammed Monguno representing Jere Federal Constituency, Borno State; member representing Takai/Sumaila Federal Constituency, Kano State, who was the immediate past Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Abdulrahman Sumaila and the Deputy Majority Leader, Hon. Ahmed Wase representing Wase Federal Constituency, Plateau State were some of the earliest to join the race. It was not limited to them. As the plot thickened, more contestants began to show interest. 

Names of the Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas representing Jada/Ganye/MayoBelwa/Toungo Federal Constituency; the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Khajidat Bukar-Ibrahim representing Damaturu, Gujba, Gulani and Tarmuwa Federal Constituency, Yobe State; member representing Ogo Oluwa/Surulere Federal Constituency, Oyo State, Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi and Hon. Yakub Buba representing Gombi/Hong Federal Constituency, Adamawa State, also came up at various points in the race.

Others were; the Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa representing Tudun-Wada/Doguwa Federal Constituency, Kano State; Chairman, Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration, Hon. Umar Bago representing Chanchaga Federal Constituency, Niger State; Chairman, Committee on Aviation, Nkiruka Onyejeocha representing Isuikwuato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency, Abia State, Hon. John Dyegh representing Gboko/Tarka Federal Constituency and Hon. Olajide Olatunbosun representing Saki West/Saki East/Atisbo Federal Constituency, Oyo State.

The playing field was wide open and it looked it could be anyone’s trophy for the taking. There were so many issues on the table. Perhaps, strongest of it all was the fact that the party, still licking the wounds from its catastrophic handling of the 2015 National Assembly leadership election, was not willing to leave anything to chance, this time around, when it came to the issue of  party supremacy. Whatever it failed to do to secure the emergence of its favoured candidates in the 2015, it had apparently learnt from its mistakes. To assert that it was on top of its game, in this seeming replay, the APC re-presented the duo of Lawan and Gbajabiamila and followed through with a methodic approach to ensure their emergence.

 

Talking Points 

There were party members within and outside the House of Representatives who felt the choices of Lawan and Gbajabiamila was the prerogative of former Lagos State Governor and National Leader of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu. Not a few  considered it an extension of ‘Lagos culture of imposition,’ that will hand over the legislature to the executive.  

Some South-west contenders also lamented that there was no consultation or meeting at the regional level where it was agreed upon that after the speakership was zoned to the South-west it should go to Lagos and that it should be Gbajabiamila.

When the campaigns started North-central contenders like Dyegh (Benue), Wase (Plateau) and Bago (Niger) were more vehement in their individual and collective agitation that their zone deserved the speakership in the sense that it contributed more votes to President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2019 electoral victory and also because the South-west already has the Vice President. Their campaigns were based on a push for justice, fairness and equity argument. They maintained that the party had to be fair to other zones.

There was also the aspect that Gbajabiamila-Wase speakership and deputy speakership is a Muslim-Muslim ticket and that Gbajabiamila was not qualified to be speaker because he was purportedly found guilty of a criminal act by the US Supreme Court of Georgia in February 2007. He reportedly fully admitted to stealing $25,000 from his client.

The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), Mr. Ikenga-Imo Ugochinyere and the Action People’s Party (APP) in a suit No. M/6810/2019 filed on May 30 before the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), wanted the court to bar Gbajabiamila,  but Justice Charles Agbaza refused to grant the order in an ex-parte motion seeking an interim injunction restraining Gbajabiamila from contesting the speaker of the 9th National Assembly and other principal offices.

The claimant alleged that Gbajabiamila had been convicted for the offence of involving dishonesty and fraud by the Supreme Court of State of Georgia, United States of America in suit No. S06Y0829.

Before then the ruling party had broken the ranks of its erring members from the North-central by cajoling Wase to drop his ambition and instead pair with Gbajabiamila as his Deputy Speaker.

The Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai also clarified the contentious issue of imposition by Tinubu when he received 121 members-elect, who were on consultation tour of North-west that Gbajabiamila was not Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu’s project but President Buhari’s. He also reiterated that the President Buhari convinced Wase to drop his speakership ambition for Gbajabiamila.

“It’s a misconception that Gbajabiamila is Asiwaju’s project, because it was President Buhari himself that has always observed Femi in the House. Even before he became President, he read newspapers and watched television and he followed Gbajabiamila; his dedication and contributions on the floor, and he said this time around I want Femi.  I am sure Asiwaju is happy, but this is not his project, he is not the one that zeroed in on him,” el-Rufai said.

 

The Gambits

 

Judging from what played out in the gallery on June 11 when the House was inaugurated by Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr. Mohammed Sani-Omolori, it was obvious that the ruling party had done its homework properly and was resolute on ensuring victory for its candidates in both chambers.

Just about 48 hours to the election, Hon. Onyejeocha reportedly stepped down for Gbajabiamila. She was the only female and most formidable South-easterner in the race. Another vocal opposition to the Gbajabiamila candidacy in the South-west, Hon. Odebunmi, also caved in. He protested that the South-west did not decide on Gbajabiamila collectively.

Though the duo of Hon. Dyegh and Hon. Olatunbosun did not officially declare that they were stepping down, both men were not nominated for speakership. It simply left the floor to the previously known two main contestants; Gbajabiamila and Bago.

The rest is history, as the Majority Leader in the 8th assembly, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila APC emerged Speaker of the 9th assembly. He polled 281 votes from 358 members to defeat his main rival, Bago, who polled 76 votes.

The Clerk of the National Assembly (CNA), Mohammed Sani-Omolori who pronounced Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as the Speaker-elect of the 9th House of Representatives, said: “It is my pleasure to say that counting of votes is complete, 358 members voted. Hon. Umar Bago 76 votes, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila 281 votes. We have one invalid vote.

“Therefore, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, having secured the highest number of votes over and above the required number of votes, has been returned as the Speaker of the House.”

There was no election in Wase’s case. No other person was nominated to contest against him. He was returned unopposed as the Deputy Speaker.

 

Breaking Bago

The Bago team had been working closely with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He enjoyed the support from the immediate past Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara and some members of the APC. That back bone was broken when the PDP Minority Leader announced that members of his party were at liberty to support any speakership candidate of their choice. The party did not take a clear cut position on the matter.

Few hours to the election to determine the leadership of the 9th assembly, the Director-General, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila/Hon. Ahmed Wase Campaign Organisation, Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin, hinted that the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates have offered a faction of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members committee leadership slots.

That was contrary to the position of the National Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, that PDP will not get any committee chairmanship seat in the 9th National Assembly except the constitutionally stipulated public accounts committee.

Jibrin’s statement about 48 hours to the election became instructive at the end. He said, “In 2015, there was a bit of complacency because APC was only guarding its votes. We believed then that we had the numbers to win the election, so we weren’t bothered about the PDP, but PDP were concentrating on how to poach the APC and that was how the election was won. But this time around, APC is much more comfortable because we have more number. We have 223, but even at that our campaign is more aggressive to get more PDP than the aggression of PDP members trying to poach our members.”

He reiterated that, “These members of PDP working with us, there is nothing you can do to change their mind, because their support for Gbajabiamila and Wase is based on conviction that they are competent to occupy the position.”

He told select journalists at that meeting that 60 PDP members already working with the Gbajabianila team have been promised 60 committee slots and that nobody could convince them to vote otherwise.

That was almost exactly what played out, Gbajabiamila eventually polled 281 votes, which means the combination of the entire 223 APC members with the 60 PDP members, minus two.  

It is therefore obvious that Gbajabiamila actually brokered deals with PDP Reps. However,  apart from the information given by Jibrin that committee slot that should have gone to the entire PDP has been shared out to those with whom they had understanding, other details of these deals are not public and whether or not the Gbajabiamila leadership is in a position to fulfill these deals will only be known as events unfold.

Already, Gbajabiamila has promised an all-inclusive leadership that will work with all the political parties that in the 9thassembly. He has behind his seat, a portrait with the logo of all the parties, so people will watch his disposition to making good his promises.

 

Why PDP Melted

Though many commentators may be amused at why the main opposition party did not put up a strong show and ended up giving its members the leeway to vote their conscience, close watchers would have seen that the opposition lacked the capacity to break the rank of the APC this time around. Members of the ruling party were united to defeat the 121 members of the PDP.

Apart from that, some PDP members like Hon. Wole Oke were already openly hobnobbing with the Gbajabiamila camp and since it was going to be secret ballot election, it was in the best interest of the party to give its members free hand. If the PDP had been recalcitrant and Gbajabiamila eventually won, it would have amounted to double jeopardy for the opposition.

Allowing some of its members to back Gbajabiamila was therefore a clever survival tactic on the part of the PDP, but it cost Bago his ambition.

 

A Tale of Betrayal

In a commendable spirit of sportsmanship, Bago said he accepted the decision of lawmakers to elect Gbajabiamila as the Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives. In fact, he walked up to him on the floor and hugged him.

Bago officially pledge loyalty to the Gbajabiamila and Hon. Wase leadership in the House in a statement signed by the spokesman, Hon. Bago Campaign Organisation, Hon. Victor Afam Ogene.

A day before that, he had told members of his campaign team to close down the campaign at every level and submit themselves to the Gbajabimila leadership, saying: “He is my Speaker.”

He added, “We therefore formally congratulate the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and the Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon. Idris Wase on their election.

While wishing them well, he added that, “We hereby pledge the support of our principal, Rt. Hon. Mohammed Umaru Bago to work with them and give all the support they would need from him to evolve and pursue populist and people-oriented policies and programmes for the good of the House and Nigerians at

“Bago shall be glad to lend his vision to the entire House leadership to also enable our great party, the All Progressives Congress, APC and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari realise its Next Level agenda for the country.”

As things turned out, it became obvious that Bago was betrayed by many of those who had assured him of their support.

The lawmaker said he was taken aback on June 11 at the plenary when he saw that a number of people of his so-called supporters were working for his opponent.

The lawmaker from Niger State is however undaunted. He maintained that his decision to pursue his ambition was not an affront to the party leadership, but a conviction that his North-central zone and Niger State in particular, which produced more votes than the entire South-west for the APC during the last election deserved to enjoy from the principles of equity, fairness and justice.

At 45 years, Bago’s political future is bright, but before then, history would record him as apolitician with a lion heart who dared the APC hierarchy and struggled long and hard enough to gather as much as 76 votes against a candidate who enjoyed the full backing of the party.

 

Likely Henchmen in the 9th Assembly

The Director-General, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila/Hon. Ahmed Wase campaign organisation, Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin is perhaps the main man in the campaign. A good friend of the erstwhile Speaker Dogara, Jibrin put in his best to ensure a robust campaign for the team. He would be expected to get a noticeable spot in the scheme of things.  

The longest serving member, immediate past Chief Whip, Hon. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa representing Tudun-Wada/Doguwa federal constituency, Kano State is not one to be sidelined.

Names of the Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas representing Jada/Ganye/Mayo Belwa/Toungo federal constituency; the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Khajidat Bukar-Ibrahim representing Damaturu, Gujba, Gulani and Tarmuwa federal constituency, Yobe State; member representing Ogo Oluwa/Surulere federal constituency, Oyo State, Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi and Hon. Yakub Buba representing Gombi/Hong federal constituency, Adamawa State, who made a strong bid for the leadership of the House of Representatives will naturally stand a good chance of peddling considerable influence.

Others include the Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa representing Tudun-Wada/Doguwa federal constituency, Kano State; chairman; the chairman of the North-east caucus of the APC, Hon. Mohammed Monguno representing Jere federal constituency, Borno State; the immediate past Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Abdulrahman Sumaila; Chairman, Committee on Aviation, Nkiruka Onyejeocha representing Isuikwuato/Umunneochi federal constituency, Abia State; Hon Lynda Chuba Ikpeazu, representing Onitsha North and South federal constituency; former chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas representing Jada/Ganye/MayoBelwa/Toungo federal constituency; the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Khajidat Bukar-Ibrahim representing Damaturu, Gujba, Gulani and Tarmuwa federal constituency, Yobe State; member representing Ogo Oluwa/Surulere federal constituency, Oyo State, Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi and Hon. Yakub Buba representing Gombi/Hong federal constituency, Adamawa State, are some of the members expected to play prominent roles in the 9th assembly. 

It is becoming a sure bet plan to show interest in leadership elections, even when the contestant stands little or no chance of winning only to end up negotiating for a juicy portfolio. 

QUICK FACTS
*Election for the leadership of the 9th House of Representatives held on June 11
*The House of Representatives has 360 members drawn from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory
*Many anticipated a repeat of the 2015 NASS leadership election when some members defied the directive of the party to contested against the preferred candidates of the ruling  party
*The 2019 scenario was, however, different as the APC successfully managed its affairs to clinch victory for its anointed candidates
*Last minute obstacles by interest groups through judicial processes attempting to the election from going ahead or Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila from contesting did not succeed
*Only 358 members voted in the June 11 election
*After many contestants who initially showed interest backed out, it became a straight fight between Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila of Lagos State and Hon. Umar Bago of Niger State
*Gbajabiamila won with 281 votes to defeat his main rival, Bago, who polled 76 votes.
*Gbajabiamila was nominated by Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin who managed the Gbajabiamila/Wase campaign. Jibrin also had the distinction of nominating Hon Yakubu Dograra, Speaker of the 8th House of Representatives