The race for who occupies the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 9th Assembly has commenced and members-elect along with their various interest groups are leaving no stone unturned to outsmart one another irrespective of the controversial micro-zoning arrangement by the national leadership of the ruling APC. BODE GBADEBO writes on the contending forces and the possible implications.
The inability of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to formally announce its zoning formula for the election of the presiding officers of the House of Representatives is causing crisis of interest in the party despite its majority status in the yet-to-be inaugurated parliament.
The zoning arrangement initiated by the then PDP-led federal government was aimed at achieving the principle of federal character in the distribution of appointments and elective offices as enshrined in the 1999 constitution (as amended) in order to engender fairness, balance and ultimately a sense of belonging among various interests in the country.
The zoning arrangement as regards top political offices in the land was adhered to from 1999 up till 2011 when former President Goodluck Jonathan contested for presidency against the PDP’s decision of zoning the office of the president to the North for the second time after the sudden death of the then President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and sequel to the completion of two-term of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007.
The most dramatic breach of the zoning formula was in 2011 during the election of presiding officers for the 7th National Assembly. While Senators at that time obeyed the then ruling PDP’s choice of presiding officers, aggrieved party members in House teamed up with then opposition ACN to elect presiding officers, who were not the choice of the party.
Senator David Mark emerged the Senate President as directed by the PDP while Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwa emerged Speaker of the House against the preferred candidate of the party, Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola in 2011.
Four years later, the same scenario of 2011 repeated itself in 2015 when APC took over as the ruling party but couldn’t learn any lesson from PDP’s mistake on the choice of presiding officers for the National Assembly.
Incumbent Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker Yakubu Dogara emerged vicltorious against the preferred choices of the APC – Senator Ahmad Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila respectively – in 2015.
This year, the story is the same and it is becoming a survival of the strongest.
The North-central gave the third highest number of votes to the APC in the 2019 presidential election and won convincingly in the majority states of the zone.
Not a few pundits have therefore opined and clamoured for the consideration of the North-central for the speakership slot since the ruling party had zoned Senate President’s position to the North-east zone and in the spirit of fainess, equity and justice.
Arguments in favour of the North-central option include the fact that the South-west already has the vice president and many other appointments in government and so should not be further given the speakership slot as doing so will amount to gross injustice against other zones.
Other advocates for the North-central zone are of the view that the zone plays the balancing act in the nation’s politics and should not be denied the speakership slot for the fact it has never produced a presiding officer in the Green Chamber.
On its part, the North-Central Caucus of the House has also formally added its voice to the debate and clamour even as it called on the APC to do justice to all concerned.
“We want to use this medium to acknowledge the supremacy of our party, the APC, in addressing the issue of zoning of positions in an equitable, just and fair manner that will foster unity and cordial relations among members of our party and our colleagues from the other political divides.
“We are confident of the ability and capacity of the national leadership of the APC to do right to all in order to advance national cohesion, balance of power and federal character.
“It is in this regard that we humbly wish to appeal to our great party, the APC, to strongly consider the North Central geo-political zone for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 9th assembly,” said Rt. Hon. John Dyegh (Benue) at a press conference addressed by the caucus.
They added that, “We are mindful of the fact that events that surrounded the emergence of leaders of previous assemblies can provide ample guide for our great party to avoid past pitfalls and engender harmony, peace and stability in the House of Representatives as partners in progress with the executive.”
Meanwhile, one of the front runners in the race for the office of the speaker from the North-Central zone is Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase from Plateau state. Political observers say he is poised to carry the day if the arguments in favour of the zone to produce the speaker sail through.
Hon. Wase was elected into the House in 2007 and he is currently serving his third term as a member representing Wase Federal Constituency of Plateau state. His victory at the 2019 poll will translate to his 4th term as a federal lawmaker.
All things being equal, Wase will have other formidable contestants to contend with in this speakership race. They include Hon. Mohammed Umaru Bago (North-Central); Hon. John Dyegh (North-Central); Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas (North-East); current House Leader and APC’s annointed candidate, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, among others.
Intense pressure from governors and heavyweight politicians from North-Central geo-political zone may have forced the ruling APC to make a retreat over the adoption of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as the Speaker of the incoming 9th House of Representatives.
Credible sources informed this reporter that APC governors in North-Central had resolved to support a lawmaker from the zone to emerge as speaker. The zone is alleging marginalisation in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, saying no visible position had been given to them.
Meanwhile, with the unofficial adoption of Gbajabiamila causing furore in the party, sources said that the APC national leadership may be forced to ignore the South-West and zone the speakership to the North-Central zone in the interest of the equity and social justice.
At the same time, irrespective of the resolution of the North-central APC governors, there were strong moves by the Lagos axis to zone the office of the speaker to the south-west and the deputy to the north-central. To counter that move, certain powerful forces in the north-central and other parts of the north started a massive campaign to insist that the speakership be zoned to the north-central on premise of equity and fairness.
All north-central governors were met by selected members sympathetic to the cause of Wase. The Governors committed to fighting to ensure equity and fairness is done by zoning the speakership to the North Central.
After much consultations, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had a meeting with Wase, seeing that he is one of the strongest candidates with the backing of a sizeable number of lawmakers. At the meeting, he told Wase to commit to working together with Gbajabiamila, who is the party’s favourite.
President Muhammadu Buhari also met Wase and Gbajabiamila and asked them to work together whichever place the speakership is zoned. One as speaker and the other as the deputy. This move was aimed at forestalling as crack within the two major camps in the speakership race.
Then there is pressure from certain powerful interests within the presidency and the party hierarchy who are hell-bent on stopping Tinubu from overreaching himself. They are unhappy with his dictatorial tendency of wanting to fix his interest in every leadership structurs of the party and the National Assembly. They insist no single man should be allowed to wield such powers.
Apart from north-central governors, another north-west governor pushing for north-central is consideration is Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna state. He had met the President on several occassions on the issue of fairness.
These pressures from all corners made the party to stall the formal adoption of Gbajabiamila and there are indications that the party is planning to cave in to the pressures and zone the speakership to the north-central.
Tinubu is also said to be caving in gradually because many northern power brokers have warned him that his insistence on producing both the vice president and the House speaker can affect his 2023 ambition.
Such insistence, he was told will alienate the north-central, seen as a strategic zone and vital to the APC’s success, and even create animosity, suspicions and fears among many northern political stakeholders.
“None of these is good for his 2023 ambition. So as it is, Asiwaju himself is now willing to sacrifice Gbajabiamila in order to safeguard his 2023 presidential ambition,” a source privy to the unfolding developments said.
The presidency is said to be thinking of suspending its support for the Lagos-born lawmaker due to fears that his candidature will be problematic for the party. It was found out that he is not very popular amongst his colleagues especially amongst opposition lawmakers, who have actually ganged up and waiting to spring a hurting surprise if the party goes ahead to anoint him as the preferred candidate over others.
Moreover, the presidency is apparently considering the massive pressure from North-central political elders and stakeholders who have been clamouring for the position of the House speaker to be zoned to their place based on equity, fairness and large votes from the zone to the APC.
Based on the above considerations, the Presidency and a number of the APC National Working Committee (NWC) members who were scheduled to meet yesterday (Tuesday) are said to be scouting for another candidate to anoint.
There are very strong indications that the Presidency is beginning to consider annoiting Hon. Wase as speaker based on several positive factors. One, Wase is the most senior and most experienced legislator from the North-central zone (the zone being favored to produce the speaker based on equitable zoning).
Secondly, it was found out that Wase enjoys tremendous support amongst members from various divides including the opposition. Hence it is only by fielding a candidate like him who has popular support base and can carry everyone along that the party can forestall any surprise move from the opposition.
Meanwhile, president Buhari was to had dinner with lawmakers-elect last night to further consult on the leadership issue before arriving at a final decision.
However, with the ongoing horse trading, negotiations, and alliance formations only time will tell where the pendulum will swing come June when the 9th Assembly will be inaugurated.