Two months to the inauguration of the 9th Assembly, the jostle for who becomes the next Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives has commenced in earnest.
So far, no fewer than 12 lawmakers from the All Progressives Congress (APC) have indicated interest to succeed Hon. Yakubu Dogara as the leader of the lower chamber of the National Assembly in the 9th Assembly.
The APC won about 220 seats in the February 23 National Assembly elections to emerge the majority party in the House of Representatives, which would be inaugurated in June this year; leaving the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other opposition parties with about 140 seats in the 360-man Assembly. Other parties that won seats in the Assembly include the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Action Alliance (AA), Action Democratic Party (ADP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The contest for the two presiding officers is open to all the members irrespective of their political parties. The convention is that the party with the majority of members produces the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. However, the PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, last week, stated that its members can equally contest for the speakership , as well as the Senate Presidency, as the positions are not the exclusive preserves of any political party. According to the opposition party, Section 50 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that “There shall be:- (a) a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves; and (b) a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves”.
The contenders and their chances
analysts say only very few of those who have indicated interest to be Speaker can be said to be serious contenders. At best many of those who have declared for the Speakership may actually be angling for the Deputy Speakership or House Leader as the case may be.
The main contenders include:
Hon Femi Gbajabiamila: Gbajabiamila, who is currently the House Leader, was first elected in 2003 under the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to represent Surulere Federal Constituency of Lagos State and was at some point the minority leader in the Green Chamber. He was the APC’s anointed candidate for the plum position in the 8th Assembly.
However, he narrowly lost the speakership to Dogara. Largely touted as the preferred choice of the ruling party for the Speakership position in the 9th Assembly, the House leader is no doubt qualified to lead the lower chamber of the National Assembly.
However, the odds that are against him in the contest are many. Firstly, the Lagos-born lawmaker is said not to enjoy the support of most of his colleagues, especially the returning members. Besides, coming from the Southwest, same zone with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is also a drawback. Analysts argue it is not expedient to have the Speaker and the Vice President come from the same geo-political zone. Again, Gbajabiamila’s closeness to the APC national leader, Senator Bola Tinubu is considered a minus for him in the speakership contest. Those opposed to Tinubu’s much-speculated 2023 presidential bid sees a Gbajabiamila speakership as a boost to the APC leader’s 2023 “ambition.” Perhaps, the only thing the House leader has going for him in the speakership contest is the touted support of the ruling party.
Hon Idris Wase: Wase is the Deputy House Leader and hails from Plateau State in North-central. The lawmaker, who was first elected into the House in 2007 seems to enjoy the support of his colleagues. Coming from the North-central, which is making a strong push for the speakership position is an advantage.
Mohammed Tahir Monguno: Monguno, who represents Marte/Monguno/Nganzai Federal Constituency of Borno State in the Northeast is a fourth term member of the House. He was first elected into the Green Chamber in the botched Third Republic.
He is currently the chairman of the House Committee on Agricultural Production and Services and chairman of the Northeast caucus in the House.
During the House leadership tussle in 2015, Monguno, a former Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice in Borno State, sought to be deputy speaker. However, the emergence of Dogara as Speaker, eclipsed that ambition as both of them hail from the same Northeast.
Abdulrasak Namdas: Namdas is the chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs. He represents Jada/Ganye/ Mayo-Belwa/ Toungo Federal Constituency of Adamawa State. The possibility of Namdas emerging Speaker is tied to the outcome of the Senate President’s bid. However, in the event that the APC decides to zone the Speakership to the Northeast, the House spokesman will have the likes of Mongunu to contend with.
Umar Bago: Bago who represents Chanchaga Federal Constituency of Niger State is the Chairman, House Committee on Maritime Safety. The lawmaker, who is among those who supported Dogara to emerge as Speaker in 2015 will be hoping that the Speaker will reciprocate that gesture.
Nkeiruka Onyejeocha: Onyejeocha represents Isukwuato/ Umunneochi Federal Constituency of Abia State. And is so far the only female in the speakership contest. Onyejeocha was first elected into the House in 2007 on the platform of the PDP.
However, the lawmaker, who currently chairs the House Committee on Aviation, defected to the APC, the platform on which she contested the February 23 National Assembly polls, some time last year. If the contest will be based on cognate experience, then the Abia-born lawmaker is good to go. She also stands to benefit if the party decides to cede the position to the Southeast. Her gender may also become a strength or drawback, depending on how the succession battle in the Green Chamber plays out.
Chike Okafor: Okafor is the chairman, House Committee on Health Services. The lawmaker, who was first elected to the House in 2015 represents Ehime Mbano/Ihitte Uboma/Obowo Federal Constituency of Imo State. In the event that the speakership is zoned to the Southeast, the contest will be a straight fight between the Imo-born lawmaker and Onyejeocha. Okafor’s greatest straight in the contest is perhaps his acceptability across board.
Magaji Da’U Aliyu: Aliyu is a strong contender for the position of deputy speaker. He was first elected into the House in 2015 to represent Birnin Kudu/Buji Federal Constituency in Jigawa State.
In the 8th Assembly, Aliyu at various times served as chairman Ad-hoc Committees on International Oil Companies’ Huge Debts and Loss of Crude Oil Revenue and State House Clinic, among others. Pundits say Aliyu as deputy speaker will be a rallying point for members, owing to his detribalized nature. He is reputed to have sponsored and supported bills and motion that sought to promote good governance in the country and the welfare of the citizenry.
Other lawmakers known to be interested in the speakership are the Chief Whip, Hon Al-hassan Ado-Doguwa; Chairman, House Committee on Higher Education, Hon Aminu Suleiman; Chairman, House Committee on Finance, Hon Ibrahim Babangida; and former Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on the House, Hon Abdulrahman Kawu. Also, the list include former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khadijat Buka Ibrahim; Chairman, House Committee on Information and Orientation , Hon Segun Odebunmi; and Hon Yusuf Yakub.
A plea for equity
Ahead of the release of the zoning formula for the principal officers of the National Assembly, the Southeast and the North-central geopolitical zones are making passionate appeals for the Speaker to be ceded to their respective zones in the spirit of equity and fair play.
Last week, the Southeast APC Youths Consultative Forum has charged the leadership of the party to zone the position of Speaker, House of Representatives, to the Southeast.
The National Coordinator of the group, Romanus Oguleme told journalists in Abuja, that zoning the speakership to the Southeast would be in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to run a more inclusive government in his second tenure.
Oguleme noted that the Southeast has credible and ranking members of the party in the National Assembly, who are eminently qualified to head any of the two chambers. According to him, the excuse in 2015 that Southeast APC did not have ranking members to be considered for positions of presiding officers in the House is not tenable in 2019, as there are two ranking members of the ruling party from the zone, who will be part of the 9th Assembly.
Recall that in the 8th Assembly, the APC had shut out the Southeast in the zoning of National Assembly offices on the grounds that there were no ranking federal legislators from the zone.
Similarly, the North-central APC caucus in the House is equally lobbying for the Speakership. The caucus at a press briefing in Abuja recently said it is imperative for the Speaker of the House in the 9th Assembly to come from their zone in the interest of equity and fair play.
Hon John Dyegh, who spoke on behalf of the caucus, said the lawmakers appreciate the supremacy of the APC leadership in determining the zoning of offices in the 9th Assembly.
Dyegh noted that ceding the Speakership position to the North-central will advance equity in distribution of positions in the country, especially as the Northwest and Southwest has already produced the president and vice president respectively.
“We note that apart from the Northwest and the Northeast, the North-central zone delivered handsomely for the party in the general elections, and as such needs to be rewarded for the hard work and loyalty.
“The need to ensure balance and spread between and among the six geo-political zones has made it imperative to give prime consideration to the North-central zone to produce the position of Speaker. Being the zone with delicate and peculiar location and challenges within the federation, it is of utmost importance to carry us along in the hierarchy of power distribution in the country, as this will in no small measure, help in stabilizing the polity,” the lawmaker stated.
APC treading a familiar path?
Regardless of the plea of the Southeast and North-central to be considered for the Speakership position, pundits say the party may have made up its mind on who will be the next Speaker.
Speculations are rife that the APC leadership may have settled for Gbajabiamila as the next Speaker. Several lawmakers believe that the ruling party will be over-reaching itself, if it decides to micro-zone Speakership to an individual in which case, it would not have the buy-in of all its members. One of the lawmakers in this school of thought , Hon Abdulrahman Shuaibu says it is not the business of the APC to choose a leader for the Green Chamber. Shaibu, who spoke at a function in Abuja last week opined that the business of the ruling party ends at zoning the position, while members will be at liberty to choose a Speaker of the choice from the area where the position has been zoned.
“They should consult very well before zoning. When the position is zoned, I want to appeal to the APC to allow members elect their members from the zone”, he stated.
The lawmaker warned that anything short of that will be counter-productive for the ruling party. There is no doubt that if the APC fails to reach a consensus on the matter, it would be going into the election with a divided house like what obtained at the inauguration of the 8th Assembly; a situation that will be akin to playing into the hands of the opposition again.
Opposition as a deciding factor
Analysts say in the event that the APC is unable to reach a consensus on the Speakership contest, the next leader of the lower chamber of the National Assembly will most likely be determined by the opposition led by the PDP.
Recall that since 2011 a culture of rebellion, fueled by disagreement by members of the majority party, is gradually being entrenched in the House.
At the inception of the 7th Assembly in 2011, some members of the ruling party supported by the then opposition had worked against the zoning of the Speakership and Deputy Speakership positions. While the PDP had zoned speakership to the Southwest, with Hon Mulikat Adeola as the preferred candidate, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal with the backing of the opposition led by Gbajabiamila, defiled his party to emerge as the Speaker, with the Imo State governor-elect, Emeka Ihedioha as his deputy.
The same scenario played out at the inauguration of the 8th Assembly in 2015, where Dogara emerged as Speaker against the wish of the APC leadership to the chagrin of the ruling party.
Pundits say the same scenario cannot completely be ruled out in the 9th Assembly. Analysts say with over 140 members, the opposition led by the PDP can easily torpedo the APC zoning arrangement if the ruling party does not get its act right. Besides, Dogara, who incidentally belongs to the PDP, is expected to play a major role in the emergence of his successor. The outgoing Speaker has played his politics very well in the last four years and as such wields great influence among members. Not a few think it will be fool-hardy for the ruling party to wish away the influence of the opposition in the election of the next Speaker.
A PDP lawmaker from Osun State, Hon Oluwole Oke told Sunday Sun that the posturing of the ruling party over the speakership contest will hurt their preferred candidate.
According to him, “ I will be surprised if APC is taking the opposition that has up to 140 members for granted. We are about 140 – PDP and other smaller parties. You don’t take such sizeable number for granted; because all that is needed is an APC member who can get 41 members or at most 45 to become Speaker.”
At the moment, the PDP caucus seems to be keeping its cards very close to its chest, apparently waiting to maximise any disagreement within the ruling party over the leadership tussle for the 9th Assembly.
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