The House of Representatives will, today, elect a new set of presiding officers to pilot the affairs of the 9th Assembly. PHILIP NYAM examines the intrigues and the likely outcome
At exactly 10.00am today, the process for the swearing in of lawmakers-elect and the election of presiding officers will commence in the House of Representatives.
Although, eleven candidates had initially indicated intention to contest for the position of speaker of the House, only six have remained afloat with their campaigns.
But with the D-day today, it is expected that the contest will finally narrow down to a two-horse race between the anointed candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and immediate past majority leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and perhaps one out of the other four candidates.
Those challenging Gbajabiamila for the prime position include Hon. Umar Mohammed Bago (APC, Niger), Hon. John Dyegh (APC, Benue), Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia), Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba (Accord, Imo) and Hon. Olajide Olatunbosun (APC, Oyo).
While Gbajabiamila and Olatunbosun are from the South-West, where the party has zoned the position to, Bago and Dyegh are from the North Central geopolitical, which incidentally has been allocated the slot of deputy speaker. Onyejeocha and Nwajuiba are from the South-East, which like the North Central, is insisting that the APC should reconsider its zoning arrangement and redirect the position to their zone.
Other lawmakers, who had signified intention to vie for the position of speaker shortly after the general elections, were Idris Wase (APC, Plateau), Abdulrazaq Namdas (APC, Adamawa), Aliyu Betara (APC, Borno), Yakub Buba (APC, Adamawa) and Segun Odebunmi (APC, Oyo).
However, when the party subsequently released its zoning formula, these four discontinued with their campaigns. The remaining six have been up and doing and talking tough.
As at Sunday night, it was not clear as to who will square up with Gbajabiamila as series of meetings were being held by the contestants with different stakeholders strategizing to covet the position.
But surprisingly, only one candidate has so far openly indicated interest in the position of deputy speaker, Idris Wase (APC, Plateau), who initially showed interest in the speakership but withdrew to join the Gbajabiamila camp to contest from a common caucus.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, the executive and the ruling party’s hierarchy have always tried to impose leadership on both chambers of the National Assembly.
In the 4th Assembly in 1999, the PDP led by President Olusegun Obasanjo imposed Hon. Salisu Buhari as the speaker against the popular choice of Hon. Farouk Lawan.
Unfortunately, Buhari was soon engulfed in a perjury and certificate forgery scandal, which forced him to resign. He was subsequently prosecuted and convicted. He was succeeded by Hon. Ghali Umar Na’abba, who was not the government’s candidate.
Although, the Na’abba-led House had a frosty relationship with the executive, he was able to teeher on till the end of the tenure.
In 2003, the executive again imposed Hon. Aminu Bello Masari as speaker of the House against other popular candidates like Hon. Usman Bugaje and Hon. Yar’Adua. Masari had some issues with his colleagues but due to his maturity, he was able to survive the hurricane till the end of his tenure.
But in 2007, the first female speaker, Hon. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh was not lucky. Although, the PDP had succeeded in installing her unopposed, she could only hold on for three months before she was compelled to step down.
Etteh was accused of misappropriation of funds in the award of contract for the renovation of official residences of the speaker and deputy speaker. She was however cleared of these allegations before the close of the 6th Assembly.
Hon. Dimeji Bankole took over from Etteh and completed the term. Bankole was not the party’s candidate but he defeated the anointed candidate of the party, Hon. George Jolaiye.
In 2011, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal defeated the preferred candidate of the PDP, Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola to become speaker alongside his deputy, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who contested from the South-East, even when the party had zoned the position to the North-East.
Similarly, in 2015, the immediate past speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara deferred the party’s position and defeated Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.
Predicting who will emerge as speaker of the 9th House today had been difficult, but the camp of Gbajabiamila has exuded a lot of confidence going into the elections, boasting of securing the endorsement of majority of fresh members-elect.
At the weekend, 184 members-elect on the platform of Forum of First Time Members endorsed the speakership candidature of Gbajabiamila.
Addressing journalists at the grand endorsement of Femi Gbajabiamila/Idris Wase as speaker and deputy speaker of the 9th Assembly, chairman of the Forum, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, said their support for the two candidates was borne out of their competence because “they have what it takes to deliver Nigeria,” adding that the endorsement cut across party lines.
He said contrary to reports in some quarters that they were swayed by monetary gratifications, there was no motivation anywhere as they were motivated by national interest.
According to him, “some people are saying they want to bring money into the system, the want to monetize the system; but we are telling them, money cannot win elections. We are here to protect the interest of our constituents. If they bring money, we will not even take it. If you bring money, we will disgrace you and at the end of the day, you will go to jail.”
Tunji-Ojo assured that they have the number and Tuesday ‘will be a hurricane’ as “they will see the result they have never seen before.”
Unlike in the previous Assemblies, the opposition parties for the first time organized an elaborate interview session where they took on six of the speakership contestants.
Many weeks after the exercise, there has been no formal declaration from the party as to which of the candidates it is backing. But, the immediate past minority leader of the House, Hon. Leo Ogor, stirred the hornet nest a week ago, when he issued a statement to the effect that PDP members-elect were at liberty to vote for candidates of their choice.
But two days after, Ogor issued a counter-statement clarifying that the party had not taken any decision yet.
However, intense meetings have been going on and there are insinuations that the PDP may either queue behind Hon. Bago or Hon. Dyegh against the APC’s duo of Gbajabiamila and Wase.
If the party eventually takes this decision, Gbajabiamila may have an uphill task to ascend to the position he lost four years ago. On the other hand, if the PDP and other minority parties do not get their acts together and resolve to back a single candidate, Gbajabiamila will have a smooth sail this time around.
Already, the Gbajabiamila camp has picked Wase who is from North Central as a ploy to whittle down the agitation by the two candidates from the geopolitical area who are insisting that they will not withdraw from the race.
Again, a lot of factors will play out in the election of the new speaker. While Gbajabiamila is the anointed candidate of the APC, Bago and Dyegh are arguing that the North Central needs to be treated fairly since it contributed the third highest votes in the presidential election.
Similarly, Onyejeocha and Nwajiuba are of the contention that the South-East has no place in the scheme of things in the National Assembly leadership perking order.
Before now, the former speaker, Yakubu Dogara was said to be nursing the intention of throwing his hat into the ring. But even as he has denied any plan to seek reelection as speaker, many believe that he still wields much weight in the House and whoever he decides to throw his weight behind will give Gbajabiamila a run for his money.
If recent statements by Gbajabiamila are anything to go by, Dogara will never support the former House leader’s ambition. Gbajabimila had severally revealed how Dogara never even found him worthy to be allocated one committee chairmanship slot after his election as speaker in 2015.
Whatever happens, the 360 members will decide their fate today. The election is going to be through secret ballot and therefore it will be a bit difficult to declare before the ballot is cast that a particular candidate will emerge victorious.
However, Gbajabiamila remains the candidate to beat, but surprises in politics and especially elections can never be ruled out.
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