Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives elected its presiding officers. PHILIP NYAM, who witnessed the elections, reports
The campaign for the office of Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, which began shortly after the presidential and National Assembly elections came to a climax on June 11, when President Muhammadu Buhari proclaimed the 9th Assembly.
The most intriguing feature of the inauguration of the 9th House of Representatives was the emergence of the anointed candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); former Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) and his erstwhile deputy, Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase (APC, Plateau) as Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Green Chamber, respectively.
The election of Gbajabiamila as speaker also restored the position to the South-West after eight years of fruitless bid for the exalted seat. It would be recalled that in 2011, the incumbent governor of Sokoto State, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, defied the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) zoning arrangement and snatched the position from the South-West by flooring Hon. Mulikat Adeola-Akande, who was the preferred candidate of the then ruling party.
Similarly, the incumbent governor of Imo State, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha who worked in cahoots with Tambuwal denied the North-East of the position of deputy speaker. Although, the North-East was able to make a turnaround in 2015 through the immediate past speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, who again denied the South-West of the seat of speaker by defeating Gbajabiamila in a keenly contested election. The South-West however had some compensation then with Hon. Lasun Yusuff emerging as deputy speaker.
But the APC seemed to have learnt fast and recovered from its mistakes of 2015. For the first time in the history of the House of Representatives, the party and Gbajabiamila took the campaign to the states visiting governors and other stakeholders. The preferred candidate never took things for granted and was able to convince other candidates vying for the position from the South-West and other geo-political zones to step down. Gbajabiamila was left to square up against the immediate past chairman of the House Committee on Marine Transport and Education, Hon. Umar Mohammed Bago from Niger State in North-Central zone.
Again, the election of the presiding officers last Tuesday defied the partisan voting pattern and even the nomination process. For the first time, lawmakers from opposition parties seconded the nomination of the presiding officers. In fact, even Bago who lost to Gbajabiamila too had his nomination endorsed by an opposition legislator.
Gbajabiamila polled 281 votes to defeat his lone challenger; Hon. Bago (APC, Niger) who scored 76 votes in an election in which 258 members of the House participated. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had less than 24 hours to the election directed its members to vote for Bago, but this directive was flouted by the lawmakers, who decided to follow their consciences.
Consequently, Hon. Idris Wase (APC, Plateau) was elected unopposed as the deputy speaker following the withdrawal of Hon. John Dyegh (APC, Benue), whose ambition was a threat to the emergence of Wase. Dyegh had on the eve of the election withdrew from the speakership race and declared support for Gbajabiamila, but was billed to challenge Wase in a North-Central derby.
Gbajabiamila, representing Surulere I Federal Constituency of Lagos State, who has been in the House of Representatives since 2003, was nominated for the Speakership election on Tuesday by the Director-General of his campaign team, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin (APC, Kano), while Hon. Lynda Ikpeazu (PDP, Anambra) seconded the nomination. Similarly, Hon. Umar Bago was nominated by Hon. Abubakar Yunusa Ahmed (APC, Gombe), with Hon. Mark Terseer Gbillah (PDP, Benue) seconding. Gbajabiamila holds the record of the only legislator in the National Assembly to have functioned both as minority and majority leader.
In the case of Hon. Wase, the erstwhile Chief of Staff to former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal, Hon. Sada Soli (APC, Katsina) nominated him for the Deputy Speaker election, which he won unopposed. Wase was first elected to the House in 2007 and was chairman of the House committee on Federal Character before becoming the deputy majority leader following the death of Hon. Umar Buba-Jibril.
The Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA), Alhaji Mohammed Sani-Omolori assisted by the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Mr. Patrick Giwa conducted the election, which was by open-secret balloting. The process that began at 2.38pm lasted till 6.18 pm, when the result of the speakership election was announced.
A mild protest took place at about 3.58pm, when Hon. Tajudeen Yusuf (PDP, Kogi) raised an alarm and protested that lawmakers were taking pictures of the ballot papers after voting. Sani Omolori quickly intervened saying “any member is free to use his ballot the way he chooses to use it.”
Before the elections, security operatives barred vehicles from gaining entry into the National Assembly Complex. All the entry points into the complex are manned by operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS), police and other agencies.
The entry point through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) that was partially opened was barricaded at the annex axis of the complex as motorists were asked to use the main entry point. The main entry point on Shehu Shagari Road too was barricaded as motorists were asked to disembark and park outside.
Members of the House of Representatives who had thronged the chambers as early as 8.30am had to wait for hours for the election of presiding officers to end in the senate. When Gbajabiamila arrived, the shouts of ‘Gbaja!’, ‘Gbaja!!’, ‘Gbaja!!!’ rent the air in the chambers.
Immediately the result was announced, Bago did not hesitate to congratulate his opponent. Bago approached the new speaker and they embraced each other to the delight of members and guests.
In his acceptance speech, Speaker Gbajabiamila promised to embark on reforms assuring that it will no longer be business as usual.
His words: “The 9th Assembly under my leadership is going to be a House of reforms or if you like a reform Assembly. The reforms will be dished out piecemeal and at intervals so as not to shock the system.
“Moving forward therefore my dear colleagues, it will not be business as usual and we will be shaking the table just a little. We will be introducing various reforms that will reposition this institution but please rest assured that they will be for the greater good.
“On our shoulders lie the responsibility of working together as a House to safeguard the future of our great country. The House must be reformed before the country can be reformed. We simply cannot and must not fail.”
He urge his colleagues to brace up to the challenges of the times adding that Nigerians were looking up to them. “There is much work to be done in such little time. Let’s roll our sleeves and get to work. Nigerians are waiting,” he said.
The new speaker also noted that: “I understand that I hold this office in trust for you and Nigerians. Conscious of this sacred trust I hereby dedicate myself to the service of this Honourable House and of the good citizens of this great country, with the commitment that I shall at all times strive to defend the constitution of our Republic.
“I equally commit myself to always observe the tenets of justice, equity and fairness in my dealings with my colleagues, and to apply the ideals of transparency, probity and accountability in my management of the affairs of this Honourable House.
“It is my honour and pleasure to address you today as the duly elected Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives. No greater honour can be done a man than to be elected by his peers as their leader and standard bearer. This is the honour you have given me today and from the bottom of my heart I say thank you.
“I thank Mr. President, my party leaders and colleagues across party lines for the confidence reposed in me. I thank my wife and family for putting up with my long hours and being absent over the months but most importantly I thank the Almighty Allah for I see his thumb and footprints all over from the moment this campaign started”.
According to Gbajabiamila, “the contest for the speakership of this 9th Assembly is now over and it is time to move on. Our country is presently confronted with a myriad of problems and it is our responsibility as members of this institution to set aside political, ideological and other differences that may distract us from the assignment the Nigerian people have sent us here to perform.
“There’s a lot more that unite us than divide us. There is much work to be done and we must now pull together, roll up our sleeves, settle down and attend to the peoples’ business. Whatever political party each one of us may belong, we must be conscious of the fact that Nigerians are truly desirous of good governance and are looking to us to be the agents that will through meaningful legislation combat security, poverty, corruption and other problems and contradictions that have held our country back and stunted our development.
“It is this message of unity and coming together that informed the theme of our campaign “Nation Building, A Joint Task.” We have decided to carry this theme into the operations of the 9th Assembly. As you can see, the logo, which embodies all parties represented in the House, will be displayed permanently behind the Speaker’s chair for all to see and as a constant reminder of what this Assembly is all about”.
He advised that “we must remain one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity. Our vision is very simple, and that is to use the legislative platform and the instrumentality of the law to make Nigeria a better and more perfect union.
“My deputy, Hon Ahmed Idris Wase and I come with a cumulative 30 year legislative experience which we intend to deploy in making our vision a reality. It was Winston Churchill that said ‘we make a living by what we get but we make by what we give a life.’ I found those words very profound and Hon Wase and I intend to have fulfillment through what we will be giving for the next 4 years”.
Speaking further, the speaker observed that “there comes a time in the life and history of a people when they interrogate the past and present, review past sacrifices, miscalculations and errors and collectively decide to opt for change, peace and progress. We are at such a moment in this country. Hon Colleagues of the 9th Assembly this is our time, this is our moment and history beckons”.
“In this regard and so as to quickly hit the ground running I am announcing the appointment of Hon Sanusi Rikiji the former Speaker of Zamfara State as my Chief of Staff. Hon Sanusi comes with a wealth of legislative experience and I believe his inclusion in this Assembly will add immense value.”
The appointment of Rikiji as Chief of Staff by Gbajabiamila was also a first as no speaker before had made an appointment immediately after being sworn in on the floor. The speaker is apparently in a hurry to make a mark on a position that eluded him four years ago.
Apart from the appointment of a chief of staff, the Speaker constituted ad hoc committees 48 hours later to set the House in motion. With the election over, Nigerians are waiting patiently to see how a legislature run by anointed candidate of a ruling party would marry loyalty to the party leadership and the constituents who voted them in.