The power game in the Femi Gbajabiamila-led House of Representatives is a throwback to the politicking that defined the emergence of Senator Evan(s) Enwerem as President of the Senate in 1999 at the expense of Senator Chuba Okadigbo who was the choice of the majority Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the Senate.
Enwerem was foisted on the Senate by President Olusegun Obasanjo who deployed the caucuses of the opposition All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD), acting in concert with twenty-three of the sixty-six PDP members, in ensuring the defeat of Okadigbo. The forty-three PDP senators that voted for Okadigbo on June 3, 1999 could not produce him as senate president.
There was an encore in 2011 in the House of Representatives when Aminu Waziri Tambuwal upended the decision of the PDP to install Mulikat Adeola as Speaker. Tambuwal achieved the feat through the support of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) caucus, which had a huge number from which to tap to swing the pendulum of victory to his side in the House leadership race.
In 2015, Yakubu Dogara, who contested the position of Speaker on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), borrowed some lines from Tambuwal’s playbook of power acquisition. With the bloc support of the PDP caucus, he defeated the choice of the APC for the plum position, Femi Gbajabiamila (Gbaja, for short), by a slim margin of eight votes.
Fast forward to 2019! Providentially, Gbaja had again received the APC endorsement to step in the saddle as Speaker. Experienced in the politics of leadership in the Legislature, he had immediately set out to avert the farce of the 2015 tragedy from repeating itself. With a largely secure APC caucus, he had made a strategic foray into the PDP caucus for significant support and endorsements. He succeeded and the rest, as they say, is history.
Effectively in charge, it is time he kept fidelity with the promises he made and the pacts he negotiated to secure the huge number of PDP legislators that voted for him in the historic defeat of his APC colleague, Umar Bago, by 281 to 76 votes. Whereas, Bago turned out to be an adopted candidate of the opposition PDP, the decision was respected more in the breach by members of the party.
Having been a victim of legislative gerrymandering in 2015, Gbaja must be happy watching the hysteria in the other camp. Summoning to duty his dexterous legislative élan, the hands of the Lagos-born politician have been strengthened by the 99-member faction of the PDP caucus that voted for him to be Speaker.
Gbaja had chosen to be bound by the decision of the faction that constitutes the majority in the minority caucus. To be sure, the faction of the PDP caucus nominated Ndudi Elumelu as the minority leader. But the PDP had nominated Kingsley Chinda as the minority leader on the platform of the 47-member faction that aligns with PDP’s decision on Chinda.
The action of the 99-member faction that nominated Elumelu is in pari materia with Order 6 Rule 1 of the House Standing Orders that members of the minority party in the chamber shall choose from among themselves someone with experience to lead them. That being the case, since there is dissonance in the minority party and the majority of its membership is in dalliance with and had nominated Elumelu, Gbaja was in apple-pie order to have accepted, recognized and announced him and others in the faction’s letter.
It is obvious that this is a war that the PDP cannot win. Not even a judicial intercession can cause a reversal of the decision since the court will ordinarily refrain from giving orders that will stop the legislature from acting to regulate its proceedings and activities. Besides, not even a decision to either suspend, as the PDP has done, or expel those fingered or indicted in the deal that produced Elumelu may be salutary.
This position takes into account the suspension, in the first instance, of Elumelu and the six significant others, namely Wole Oke (Oriade/Obokun Federal Constituency of Osun State), Lynda Ikpeazu (Onitsha North and Onitsha South Federal Constituency of Anambra State; Anayo Edwin (Ezza North/Ishielu Federal Constituency of Ebonyi), Gideon Gwani (Kaura Federal Constituency of Kaduna State) Toby Okechukwu (Aninri/Awgu/Oji River Federal Constituency of Enugu State and Adekoya Abdulmajid (Ijebu-North/Ijebu-East/Ogun Waterside federal Constituency of Ogun state) that were identified as prime motivators of the support for Gbaja.
In fact, the process can become dilatory if the PDP approaches the court or the suspended members approach the court. By the time the matter gets to the Supreme Court, the life of the 9th National Assembly may be approaching a terminus. The hysteria by the PDP is thus understandable. It has been paid back in its own coin. It has been fed with a poisoned chalice by the hands of Gbaja, who was denied the crown through PDP’s conspiratorial alliance with a faction of the APC that supported Dogara.
Interestingly, all the seven suspended PDP legislators are experienced members of the House, having spent more than a term in the National Assembly. From the explanations provided by Hon. Wole Oke in his swift riposte to the PDP decision suspending them, it was clear that the suspension stemmed from their decision to support and vote for Gbaja who, according to him, satisfied their essential aspirations and expectations from the occupant of the office of a Speaker instead of Bago that the PDP directed them, in the eleventh hour to vote for.
Oke’s positions were quite illuminating. Hinging his defence on the argument that both candidates for the position of Speaker were APC, he had declared that the PDP had no candidate in the election for the plum position. In that circumstance, he had to vote for his conscience as a ranking member of the House. Read him: “I owe my party and its leaders a duty of care to advise appropriately as one of the ranking members of the House. I have discharged that duty.”
According to him, “I advised my party leaders appropriately about our House Rules’ provisions about nomination of our leadership; that the PDP alone cannot do it without eight political parties. On speakership, PDP had no candidate. I followed my conscience. I followed what my constituents clamoured for. I followed practices and conventions.” There cannot be better validations of his action. The suspended seven members of the House must find locus standi in the liberty of choice and the outweighing force of conscience.
The PDP “Seven”, in the main, are, understandably, the opposition party’s “scapegoats” in the increasing intrigues that now define the administration of the House of Representatives under Gbaja’s speakership. Gbaja has the power of the gavel. Not only that, he enjoys the support of the vast majority of the House members to rein in any legislative rascally acts by opposition members.
Besides, Gbaja benefits from the approbation of his party, the APC, and the party must be proud of the raw deal he has meted to the PDP in his first few weeks in office. Without a doubt, Gbaja has confirmed that he is a master of legislative gerrymandering and the PDP “Seven” can rest assured of his support and protection to contain the attacks from Wadata Plaza, the operational enclave of the PDP’s National Working Committee (read party leadership).
· Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, contributed this piece via email@example.com