Last week Tuesday, Gbajabiamila was announced as the House Leader following several consultations by both camps in the House of Representatives. His emergence practically ended the 49-day old crisis in the House. In this piece, DOZIE EMMANUEL examines the long walk of Gbajabiamila to his current position
The 49-day leadership tussle in the House of Representatives finally came to an end last week Tuesday after the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara formally announced the four principal officers of the 8th Assembly. They are: Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, House Leader (South-West); Hon. Buba Jubrin, Deputy Leader (North-Central); Hon. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, Chief Whip (North-West) and Hon. Pally Iriase, Deputy Chief Whip (South-South).
The amicable resolution reached by both factions came to Nigerians as a huge relief. As the heartbeat of any democracy, the Nigerian legislature has suffered serious setback since the inception of the current administration under President Muhammadu Buhari. While it lasted, the crisis in the National Assembly, especially in the lower chamber, took its toll on core legislative business.
There are no misgivings that the legislative business in the Green Chamber suffered serious setbacks since the inauguration of the 8th Assembly. Of course, the quest of who should occupy the Speakership position suddenly took the centre stage shortly before the 7th House of Representatives under Aminu Tambuwal wound up on June 2015.
One of the prominent contenders that wanted to succeed Tambuwal was former Minority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila known to be eloquent, aggressive and sometimes controversial in his contributions. He was the APC caucus leader in the 7th Assembly, who had led the opposition in the lower chamber for eight years. When he indicated interest to run for the speakership position, his ambition obviously raised some dust among the PDP lawmakers.
Though some have argued that as the Minority Leader in the 7th Assembly, it was only natural for him to emerge as the Majority Leader or even Speaker in the 8th Assembly since the party is now in the majority. Others, however, insisted that it does not always follow that pattern since the eventual winner will emerge after election.
Ab initio, Gbajabiamila is seen as a stooge to Ahmed Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and s prominent leader in the APC. Perhaps, it was widely believed that if he emerges Speaker, he would be used by Tinubu to call the shorts in the lower chamber. Thus, to ensure that this did not happen, the PDP lawmakers in the House decided to settle for someone, who would carry all members along irrespective of party affiliation.
Few days to the its inauguration, in one of its caucus meetings, the PDP lawmakers led by Hon. Leo Ogor pitched their tent with Hon. Yakubu Dogara, a Christian minority from Bauchi state. Dogara was one of the 37 PDP lawmakers that defected to the APC in December 2013. He is being seen as one of them because of his political neutrality.
So it was not surprising to the lawmakers when Dogara eventually defeated Gbajabiala (though with a small margin of 8 votes) in the contest. Recall that before the election, the party conducted a mock election that produced Hon. Gbajabiamila as Speaker and Hon. Tahir Monguno as Deputy Speaker. But the PDP caucus and other APC lawmakers loyal to Dogara kicked against the election and insisted that the party has no right to foist members on them.
After the emergence of Dogara as Speaker, the crisis in the party worsened. On June 25, the Speaker refused to read the letter from the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun on which zone should get what. The decision to ignore the national chairman’s letter led to a fracas, which forced the House to adjourn. In his letter dated June 23, Odigie-Oyegun proposed that the South West should produce the Majority Leader. This proposal by the party did not go down well by the pro-Dogara group and other PDP lawmakers, who argued that since the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yussuf Lasun is from the South West, the Majority Leader should come from another zone. They went further to say that all the six geo-political zones must be represented in sharing the principal offices.
In his reply to Odigie-Oyegun’s letter on July 16, Dogara instead zoned the Majority House Leader to the North West geo-political zone.
He explained that the zone has 86 APC lawmakers.
He also zoned the post of the Deputy House Leader to the North-Central with 33 members, the position of the Chief Whip was zoned to the South South, while the Deputy Whip was zoned to the South East. He added that it would not be fair to give the same zone the position of the House leader while some zones had nothing. Dogara used the same explanation for zoning the deputy whip to South-East, instead of North-East as proposed by the party. He explained that he could not take action on Odigie-Oyegun’s letter immediately or reply him because he was constrained by a court process served on him by some lawmakers from the North-Central and other interested parties.
Throughout the whole crisis period, Hon. Gbajabiamila was seen as a desperate lawmaker bent on clinching the House Leader’s position having lost out in the speakership race. Insiders are of the view that his desperation was further heightened by the strong backing of Tinubu and the leadership of the APC.
But the House Leader has denied that he was never desperate to become the Speaker nor the House Leader. He rather insisted that he would have been contented being a floor member in the lower chamber. Gbajabiamila alleged that throughout the crisis, he was framed up to be the cause of the crisis that lasted for about 49 days.
In a chart with House Press Corps recently, Gbajabiamila revealed that at a point, he informed President Muhammadu Buhari and his party that he wanted to withdraw from the race. The House Leader said it was the insistence of President Buhari and the APC that made him not to withdraw from the race. He was emphatic that it was not the office that makes the legislator, but rather said the legislator makes the office.
According to him, “A lot of people don’t know this; long-time ago, I saw the President and my party and I explained to them that the thing has been framed to be about me; it was never about me and that is what my members believe and I told Mr. President and I told the party that I wanted to withdraw from the race.
“I told the governors at the meeting four weeks ago that it was not about the office; I told them that I would leave this thing in a heartbeat without thinking of it. I would not even think twice about it and I will go and sit on the floor of the House without even accepting anything even a chairmanship position.
“I have never been a chairman of the committee in this House and never been a deputy chairman and I made it clear to them that I have turned down things in the past. I have been offered national honours and I turned it down. I was meant to be a deputy to Aminu Tambuwal; we turned it down before Emeka Ihedioha took over and there have been many other things in the past.
“It was not about me; it was not about office, it is not the office that makes you a legislator, the legislator makes the office. It is not vice versa and I made it clear that I will leave it but on principle, my members refused.
“When I told the President to allow me leave, he did not accept it, he was reluctant. My party did not accept it and I thank God for that they did have that kind of confidence in me to be able to deliver the goods for the party. Who am I to say no?”.
Now that Gbajabiamila has been made the House Leader, thus bringing the crisis to an end, Nigerians are just asking: how soon will the lawmakers get down to work given the time that has been lost in the crisis? Will they now turn their attention to lobbying to become chairmen of ‘juicy committees’ or begin the work they were voted to do?
But the House Leader has assured Nigerians that the House is back to business and will work for the common good of the country.
“What you saw in the last 49 days was actually democracy in action. That is what politics is all about; everybody is trying to outwit everybody for the greater good of the country. I am glad that everything has panned out the way it has panned out.
“You will now see the House you knew in the last four years back in action; working for the people, working for the nation. I am sure we will have a lot more to say in the days ahead.” Gbajabiamila stated.
Therefore, as the lawmakers quickly settle down to the business of lawmaking and other oversight functions with a view to ensuring that funds budgeted for are spent on people-oriented projects, they should be mindful that public interest will always over-ride their personal and selfish interest.