OrderPaperToday – On the 6th of June, the 8th House of Representatives adjourned sine die, bringing the end to the era of Yakubu Dogara as speaker.
Coincidentally the motion to adjourn that particular House was moved by Femi Gbajabiamila, who was then the majority leader.
Barely one week later, the baton of stewardship of the House was passed to Gbajabiamila and Dogara has become the first speaker of the House since the return of democracy to become a floor member.
This piece takes a hindsight view of the Green Chamber from January 1st to December 31, 2019.
Defection drama as prelude to general elections
Before the end of 2018, the scene for the mass defection of 37 members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and African Democratic Party (ADP) had been set. Even the then speaker, Dogara, had concluded plans to defect from the APC to the PDP, but did not announce it on the floor of the House till January 2019. Though he visited the headquarters of the PDP in September to announce his defection, the declaration was not done till January.
Permutations then was that the defections were reportedly planned to tilt the majority status of the House from APC to PDP, but this, according to Gbajabiamila, was not achieved.
Then serving in the role of majority leader of the House, Gbajabiamila said the PDP needed 60 defectors but they got 37 only.
“The APC controls overwhelming majority. The defectors were looking for about 60 members, but they got only 37,” Gbajabiamila stated shortly after the mass defection in June 2018.
This wave and the outcome of primaries of the APC which was filled with rancour suggested a possible retake of the House by the PDP after the election. However, the reverse was the case as the outcome of the February 23rd election put the control of the House firmly in the grip of the ruling party.
The initial report immediately after the election put APC on 211, while the closest rival, PDP had 111 with other smaller parties sharing the remaining number.
Scheming for the speakership and unlikely alliances
Even before the curtain was drawn on the 8th Assembly, the jostle for the control of Green Chamber had commenced. Several members of the ruling APC declared interest for the position.
The House already gained a reputation for rebellion against imposition of anointed candidates for its leadership as evident in the rejection of Gbajabiamila when the APC failed to learn from the 6th and 7th assembly in 2015.
Interestingly, to actualise his ambition in the second attempt, Gbajabiamila reached out to an unlikely ally, Abdulmummin Jibrin, the same man who spearheaded his defeat in 2015 to manage his campaign.
Having covered that end, the former leader moved to neutralise the camp of lawmakers from the North Central region who were agitating for the speakership slot to be zoned to the region for equity and fairness by choosing Idris Wase to run as the deputy speaker.
This strategy deflated the number of supporters of Umar Bago (APC, Niger), who rode on the North Central agenda campaign.
On the other hand, Nkiruka Onyejiocha, was co-opted into the Gbajabiamila team when the South East and gender agitation mantra did not gather enough momentum to get the desired results. She was later compensated with deputy whip position of the House.
The ability to reach out to the members of the PDP proved important for Gbajabiamila and the crack within the ranks of the main opposition party turned out to be the way in. The national chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus, made a last minute endorsement of Umar Bago but the final result of Gbajabiamila’s 281 to Bago’s 76 tells a story of defiance of the party.
Minority tussle and the collapse of PDP
Many pundits predicted the collapse of the APC during the tussle for the speakership. However, events that followed the selection of minority leaders showed that PDP is the party that needs reconciliation the most. The tussle between Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta) and Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) effectively balkanised the main opposition party.
Ndudi emerged as the minority leader against the direct instruction of the party. Chinda’s name, alongside several others, were sent by the party to the speaker to make up the minority caucus leadership. However, Speaker Gbajabiamila announced names from a different list including some members of the opposition parties and a row ensued on the floor.
The speaker justified the action with an interpretation of Order 7, Rule 8, which reads: “Members of the minority parties in the House shall nominate among them, the minority leader, the minority whip, deputy minority leader and deputy whip”.
While the party swiftly suspended Elumelu and several others, the fact finding committee charged with investigating the matter got itself embroiled in bribery allegations levelled against it by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. As it stands, Elumelu is still on suspension from the party he is representing at the Green Chamber.
Election tribunal and the gale of sack
Presently, the House has no substantive majority leader due to the sacking of the former minority leader, Hassan Ado Doguwa by the Court of Appeal. Doguwa is still awaiting the date for the re-run election.
Also, arrowhead of Gbajabiamila’s speakership campaign, Abdulmumin Jibrin, was sacked from the House following the verdict of a Court of Appeal. Like Doguwa, who coincidentally also hails from Kano like Jibrin, he is also waiting for a date to be set for the rerun election that would determine his fate.
A pliant leadership and N37 billion renovation budget as alleged compensation
The National Assembly is currently getting slammed over the budgetary allocation of N37 billion for the renovation of its complex amidst accusation of being a rubber stamp of the executive.
However, the impression that the current assembly is easily bent to suit the demands of the presidency was addressed by Speaker Gbajabiamila over the weekend when he categorically stated that his constituency did not elect him to fight the president.
Speaking on Sunday in Lagos at the ‘Gbaja 2019 End of the Year Grassroots Empowerment Programme’, Gbajabiamila said:“People, naysayers, critics and people from other parties have said the 9th National Assembly is a rubber stamp to the executive.
“You know my reply when they say that to you? Tell them that you would rather have a rubber-stamp National Assembly that will bring progress than the one that is fighting the executive without progress.
“This is because when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. This is not a rubber stamp National Assembly; this is a National Assembly that represents the people and is committed to their interests.
“The people of Surulere Federal Constituency 1 did not elect me to go and be fighting the executive, is that what you asked me to go and do? Rather, you asked me to engage and collaborate with other stakeholders to deliver democratic dividends, part of which we are having today.
“This is a new dispensation where there will be checks and balances, there will be separation of powers, we will disagree with the executive when there is need to do so and agree with them if there is need.”
This relationship with the president, Muhammadu Buhari, that the speaker was alluding to already bore a fruit with the historical signing of the budget before the end of another budget, but questions continue to be raised on whether the 9th assembly can perform the function of checking the executive.
It was also evident in the approval of N37 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex by the presidency,a move many Nigerians have condemned and tagged a compensation for easy approval by the lawmakers to requests of the executive.