—By Kennedy Friday
The lower chamber of Nigeria’s bicameral legislature, the House of Representatives, experienced its first test of fire yesterday during plenary when the issue of minority principal positions came up. In the aftermath of the dramatic high-wire politics that played out leading to the main opposition not getting its wish, emotions have been high and tongues wagging against the Rt.Hon. Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila and the APC, with accusations of impunity, subversion of house rules and high-handedness. However, a dispassionate and careful interrogation of all available shades of facts shows that Femi Gbajabiamila was right and has come out of the test of fire unscathed, with his democratic credentials intact.
The main opposition party in the house, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had, through a letter dated 21 of June, 2019, and addressed to the Speaker, forwarded the name of Hon. Kingsley Chinda from Rivers State as the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives. Other names in the letter were Hon. Chukwuka Onyema as Deputy Minority Leader; Hon Yakubu Barde as Minority Whip and Hon Muraina Ajibola as Deputy Minority Whip. The letter was signed by Prince Uche Secondus and Senator Umaru Ibrahim Tsauri, National Chairman and National Secretary respectively of the PDP.
However, during plenary on Wednesday 3 July, 2019, the Speaker informed the house that he was served with a letter from members of all the minority parties in the House of Representatives in which 99 house members had signed up for a different set of honorable members for the minority principal positions.
The Speaker was about to read the letter signed by 99 members of opposition parties in the house when Hon Kingsley Chinda tried to raise a point of order, relying on Order 6 Rule 1, which says members of opposition parties in the house shall choose from among themselves someone with experience who will be the Minority Leader. Hon Kingsley asserted that the PDP, the main opposition party, had already submitted a letter to the Speaker and he should read from that letter and not the one signed by 99 members. Hon Kingsley was correctly ruled out of order by the Speaker. His own argument was detrimental to his position, it rather strengthened the position of the 99 opposition members who had decided differently through their letter.
As expected, the Speaker went ahead to read the letter signed by 99 members of opposition parties in the house which cemented the place of Hon. Ndudi Olumelu as Minority Leader of the House of Representatives . Others are Hon. Tobi Okechukwu , Deputy Minority Leader; Hon. Gideon Gwoni, Minority Whip and Hon. Adesegun Adekoya, Deputy Minority Whip. The house was almost thrown into a melee as a result, with protests from some PDP members.
Looking at the facts, however, we cannot but commend Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for doing the right thing by reading the letter signed by 99 members of opposition parties in the House instead of the letter from the national leadership of PDP which clearly sought to impose minority principal officers.
Although PDP is the main opposition party in the House of Representatives, there are nevertheless seven other opposition parties making up membership of the house. It would appear that not only did the national leadership of the PDP fail to convince the majority of its members in the House of Representatives about the officers it wanted for the minority positions, it also probably did not consult members of the other opposition parties as the facts of what transpired in the house yesterday conspicuously showed.
The House of Representatives has 360 members, with eight seats yet to be filled for one reason or the other. The PDP, which is the main opposition party, has a total of 115 members currently and the other eight opposition parties have 20 members. That means that if PDP in the house is united, it has the numerical superiority to garner all the minority positions, but as you will see in the analysis that follows, PDP is not united and majority of its members mutinied the position of the national leadership of the party, culminating into the debacle that we saw yesterday.
Given that 99 opposition parties members signed for the Minority leadership of Hon Elumelu and others against the position of the national leadership of PDP; assuming that all 20 members from the other opposition parties in the house signed the letter to the speaker, then it means that at least 79 members of PDP went against the position of its national leadership.
It is therefore clear that the issue, as you can see, has absolutely nothing to do with APC or the Speaker Rt.Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, the problem is that majority of PDP members in the house were not happy with the position of its national leadership as far as the minority principal officers were concerned and felt compelled to flout it in the most dramatic fashion to show their disgust, with 20 members from other parties helping them on.
In a situation where 99 members out of the 130 opposition figures in the house had adduced their names and signatures for a potion in the house, did you, in all honestly, expect the Speaker to ignore their position in favour of the wish only 29 persons? How would that have conduced to democracy, which is a game of numbers?
Surprisingly, I have read some people equate what happened in the Rivers State House of Assembly in 2016 when the PDP leadership of the house chose and imposed minority leadership on the APC members with what transpired at the House of Representatives yesterday, calling it karma, especially as Hon Chinda, who got hit with political missile, is a member of Rivers PDP. With respect, I beg to differ as such comparison is a non sequitur. While it is true that majority PDP members imposed a minority leader on the minority APC in what was essentially a house made up of only two political parties, Rt Hon Gbajabiamila and the APC did not impose minority leadership on the PDP. Majority of PDP members, at least 79 of them out of 115, actually chose for themselves their own leaders. So there is no case of imposition that can be made in the House of Representatives.
Stunned as some members of the PDP are as to what happened yesterday, there is clearly a huge division in the party, from the top echelon of its leadership down to members of the House of Representatives on the platform of the party. The bullet that broke the party’s foot in the parliament yesterday was actually shot from the party’s gun. Blaming the Rt. the Hon Speaker therefore is to deny responsibility of the very urgent task of putting the main opposition party together.
I therefore submit that Rt. Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives, should be commended for yet again demonstrating his democratic mettle and rising to the occasion to show leadership by giving effect to the wishes of overwhelming majority of opposition parties members instead of submitting to to the whim and caprices of the PDP leadership which itself would have been a rape on democracy. I have never doubted the political dexterity and leadership acumen of Rt Hon Gbajabiamila. For making the correct call yesterday in the face of seeming turbulence , the impression that democrats across the country have of him has only skyrocketed.