•Contenders warn against imposition, PDP to capitalise on mistake
•Gbajabiamila, Doguwa are top favorites
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, have been gripped by tensions over who emerge as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The decision on the Senate President seems to have been settled with the party leadership announcing the current Majority Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, from Yobe State, as its choice even though the decision has ignited controversy revolving around Senator Ali Ndume, the erstwhile occupant of Lawan’s office, from Borno State, who has challenged the leadership for the office.
Ndume is certainly poised for a showdown with the APC leadership. He had queried the process that produced Lawan.
To him, the best approach was to allow the members of different geopolitical caucuses to elect their leaders and not by executive fiat, preference or imposition.
But the party leadership appears unperturbed.
On daily basis, its National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, talks tough, vowing no retreat no surrender.
Interestingly, Lawan was also the party’s projected candidate, championed by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the revered APC National Leader, for the top job in 2015 before things went awry and Senator Bukola Saraki emerged as Senate President.
Will the scenario replay in 2019?
The answer is tucked in the womb of time.
For the House, the APC leadership, according to sources, will come out with its zoning arrangement this week.
Meanwhile, the effect of the delay is that it has left many ranking lawmakers jostling for the positions of Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
At the last count, there are five Reps-elect who have publicly declared their interest for Speaker or are building synergies and consensus on the matter.
Sources said there are many others.
Presiding and principal officers
The Speaker and Deputy Speaker are the presiding officers of the House. The principal offices include House Leader, Deputy House Leader, Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip. All the offices are conventional but not constitutionally the exclusive reserve of any political party, ruling or the opposition.
History has shown that anyone can occupy any of the positions as long as he or she enjoys the support of his/her colleagues.
However, there are other offices for the main opposition party. They include Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Minority Whip and Deputy Minority Whip.
Outside the named portfolios, there are, of course, 97 standing committees incubated by the House among which are many juicy ones which are usually compensatory for hustlers or jostlers for the principal offices.
At the moment, the aspirants for Speaker are Nkiru Onyejiocha from Abia State, South-East; Abdulrazaq Namdas from Adamawa State, North-East; Yusuf Buba Yakub from Adamawa State, North-East; Ado Doguwa from Kano State, North-East and Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos State, South-West.
Whereas Senate President Saraki was unlucky at the polls to stage a comeback and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, who jilted the APC and returned on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the status quo within the power structures has remained the same.
The prognosis shows that there are six geopolitical zones in the country and it is customary for political parties to share offices in a reflective manner.
The President is from the North-West and Vice President, South-West. Meanwhile, the ruling party has zoned the Senate Presidency to North-East. This means that three zones have been represented leaving the South-East, North-Central and South-South with nothing.
To many analysts, it would be politically balanced to zone the remaining offices of Deputy Senate President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker among the three zones. This informs why Onyejiocha, a fourth time parliamentarian from Abia, is in the race for Speaker.
In 2015, power was shared along that line but without the South-East and South-South. This was understandably so because, at the time, there was no elected senator from the zone in the party with majority senators, APC.
South-West for Speaker?
There are speculations of a possible ceding of the speakership position to the South-West with Gbajabiamila as the preferred choice. Gbajabiamila has been in the contest for a long time. He has been in the House since 2003. In 2015, he squared up with Dogara but lost and later got compensated with the office he presently occupies as the House Leader. He’s an experienced lawmaker, savvy, sagacious, phenomenal and, sometimes, fierce in his political arithmetics. His oratory prowess resonates and that’s to his advantage. But outside the qualities, the lawmaker has got a swag which many of his colleagues interpret as arrogance. Besides, he carries a baggage, and that is his political godfather, Tinubu. Gbajabiamila is, without reservations, a Tinubu apologist.
Critics are of the view that making him Speaker would literally mean extending Tinubu’s political empire outside Lagos State.
Already, Vice President Osinbajo is Tinubu’s associate, meaning that the South-West would be in control of two powerful offices.
In the outgoing structure, the President is from the North-West, Vice President, South-West, Senate President, North-Central, Deputy Senate President, South-East, House Speaker, North-East and Deputy Speaker, South-West.
Feelers from Gbajabiamila’s office last week indicated that the lawmaker was awaiting the party’s zoning formula to be announced.
North-West for Majority Leader, Doguwa tipped to emerge
Feelers from the House and the APC National Secretariat in Abuja indicated that the party may have also zoned the Majority Leader to the North-West. The zone, being the home of the President, gave the highest number of votes to the APC at the general elections. Sunday Vanguard gathered that the party is most likely to settle for Hon. Ado Doguwa, who is the Chief Whip of the eighth Assembly. This is in the event that the speakership is finally zoned to the South-West. Checks however revealed that names like Hon. Isimaila Kawu, the Special Assistant to the President who is returning to the House, are being peddled for Deputy Chief Whip after he allegedly failed an evaluation test for Deputy Speaker and Majority Leader. But senior party members are said to be frowning at the offer of Deputy Chief Whip to the North-West as they argue it is demotion having held the office of the Chief Whip. To this end, the party is seriously considering Doguwa for promotion to Majority Leader. Kawu and Doguwa are worlds apart in terms of legislative experience. Doguwa has been in the House since 2007. Apart from that, he was first elected as member in 1992 in the botched third republic. He also aspired for speakership in 2015 but later withdrew as directed by the APC. He is a loyal party man and, at the moment, the Chairman of the North-West caucus in the House. Analysts believe that he is most qualified for the House leadership office should the party decide to move the speakership and deputy speakership offices to other zones, to compensate the North-West for its bloc votes for the APC.
Gale of declarations
In the build-up to the proclamation of the 9th House in June, Yakub, Namdas and Onyejiocha have declared their intentions to run for Speaker. Yakub, the House Committee Chairman on Nigeria-China Relations, and Namdas, the House Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs, who both are from Adamawa, North-East, are second term lawmakers while Onyejiocha, the House Committee Chairperson on Aviation, from Abia, South-East, is returning to the House for the fourth term.
Meanwhile, Doguwa from Kano State, North-West and incumbent Chief Whip of the House, has set up his campaign office at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja but he is yet to make a public statement on his ambition.
A chat with the various aspirants indicated a common demand: APC leadership should allow the zones to produce their leaders. Anything short of this could instigate a situation which may throw up a PDP leadership.
The North-Central push
Penultimate week, lawmakers from the North-Central states of Plateau, Benue, Kogi, Niger, Kwara and Nassarawa, led by Hon. Mark Gbilah, from Benue, had asked the APC leadership to give them a chance. Will that materialize? Only time could tell.
Watching with keen interest
Anyone who heard Oshiomhole speaking at a meeting with APC’s National Assembly members-elect, early last week, would have seen a man who loathed the PDP and does not want to share any office of the legislature with its members. As a matter of fact, he declared the opposition party as inconsequential as far as the 9th National Assembly is concerned.
But investigations reveal that the PDP is watching the APC with keen interest in the formation of the National Assembly leadership.
The nation’s Constitution, according to the PDP, is not categorical on which party should form the two chambers leadership but merely empowers members to elect for themselves leaders. And the opposition party has re-echoed the constitutional provision to Oshiomhole in response to his message.
It will be recalled that Nigerians, in 2015, saw the emergence of Senator Ike Ekwerenmadu of the PDP as Deputy Senate President as against convention. Political pundits are pontificating that should APC throw up unpopular candidate or jettison an acceptable zoning formula, such scenario might play back in the House where there may be an APC Speaker and a PDP Deputy Speaker. At the moment, APC has over 200 seats just as PDP boasts of over 100 in the 360 – member House. While the aspirants are currently strategising, all eyes are on APC on the power sharing arrangement.