On June 9, the clerk of the National Assembly spearheaded the election of presiding officers of the House that saw the emergence of Yakubu Dogara as the speaker, with Yusuf Lasun Sulaiman as his deputy.
The two emerged against the wish of their party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), which supported Femi Gbajabiamila to be elected as speaker after his success at a straw poll.
The newly-inaugurated 8th National Assembly managed to spend four days during plenary session. Since the election of Dogara, members of the House have fallen apart. The climax was the turmoil witnessed on June 25 that forced the lawmakers to adjourn plenary for a month.
The festering crisis between the warring groups of Dogara and that of his main rival, Gbajabiamila, has begun to affect the House’s rules and activities.
Order XVIII that talks about committees of the House, their establishment and jurisdiction in the House’s standing rules updated in July last year, stated that: “Within the first 30 Legislative Days following the first sitting of the House, the membership of the following Special Committee shall be appointed:
“(a) Committee on Selection; (b) Committee on Rules and Business; (c) Committee on Public Petitions; (d) Committee on Public Accounts; (e) Committee on Ethics and Privileges; (f) Committee on House Services; and (g) Committee on Media and Public Affairs”.
However, out of the seven special committees listed that needed to be raised within the first 30 days, only three committees, including Rules and Business, Ethics and Privileges as well as Media and Public Affairs had been constituted and inaugurated.
The seven listed special committees were singled out because of their critical functions to the House even before the official selection and constitution of the House’s over 50 standing committees.
For instance, it is the prerogative of the selection committee to select members that will form the House’s various standing committees. “There shall be a Committee to be known as the Committee on Selection appointed or constituted at the commencement of every Assembly to perform the functions allocated to it by these rules, and for such other matter as the House may from time to time refer to it,” the rules state.
But the selection committee must comprise House leader, House whip, minority leader as well as the two presiding officers – speaker and his deputy.
Hence, the constitution of this committee will be impossible due to the ongoing stalemate over who should occupy the position of House leader between the APC, Gbajabiamila group as well as the speaker’s Consolidation group.
Various efforts to restore peace and broker understanding by the ruling APC between the two groups have continued to yield no results. The party leaders, who had rejected Dogara, later accepted him. But the crisis resurrected again after the Dogara-led House refused to accept the list of principal officers from party leaders.
In a letter, the APC nominated its candidate for speaker, Gbajabiamila as the House leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa as deputy House leader, Tahir Monguno as Chief Whip, and Paly Iriase as deputy Chief Whip.
By the party’s nominations, two geo-political zones of North-central and South-east were left out of any position in the House.
The speaker, Dogara refused to read the letter on the floor, citing breach of federal character provision in the constitution as well as the pending court case on the matter, instituted by the House’s South-central caucus.
This action further irked the ‘APC loyalists’ members who on June 25 brought the activities in the House to a standstill for a long time, insisting that the letter must be read by the speaker.
It was this logjam, particularly in the House of Representatives that compelled APC’s impromptu National Executive Council (NEC) meeting last week, where the situation in the House became a front burner.
Consequently, the APC governors intervened to broker peace. They selected a 3-man peace committee headed by the immediate-past speaker of the House, and Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal.
The constitution of the peace committee, which was given only one week to do its job, had, however, eroded the confidence of one of the groups, which viewed the former speaker as the main player in the emergence of Dogara as the speaker.
Despite that, Tambuwal committee had separately met with both camps. But the outcomes of their meetings only seemed to have fanned embers of bigotry instead of solving the problem.
Last Tuesday, the peace committee met the Dogara group, which said through their spokesperson, Rep Abdulmumini Jibrin, that “in order to achieve peace and accommodation in the House, the position of the House Leader be conceded to the Femi Gbajabiamila group to nominate a candidate.
“But considering the constitutional requirement of equitable representation and federal character, such candidate should be from any zone other than the North-east and South-west zones that had already produced the Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively.”
The group also told the committee that it had realised that the APC position letter was only representing certain individuals of the party as it failed to follow due process in the nomination of the said positions.
As a last resort, when this concession was not embraced by their opposing group, Dogara group said, “we also provided that it should be left for us to choose principal officers of the House in line with the standing rules of the House. So, we have to come back and hold an election.”
Conversely, the Gbajabiamila group, which had earlier interfaced with Tambuwal’s peace committee, quickly reacted to the said concession. The group, which expressed ignorance of “any agreement”, said that the party’s position must remain sacrosanct.
Rep Rufa’i Chanchangi, in a statement on behalf of the group, said “in playing his mediatory role, the former House Speaker, Gov. Tambuwal agreed to take our position to Dogara group for consideration and convene a joint meeting of both groups, which is yet to be convened as at Wednesday evening.
“So, any purported decision reeled out to the public in the name of the National Assembly peace pact before such joint meeting is lopsided and not acceptable to the APC Loyalists group.”
Like their opponents, the Gbajabiamila group, equally, subscribed to the idea of going back to ballot box to determine the House leader position amongst members of the APC in the House when all avenues had been exhausted.
“As a group that wants peace and quick solution to the logjam in the House, the APC Loyalists group would equally subscribe to an election among entire members of the APC House caucus where all members irrespective of zone would exercise their right to elect their principal officers,” the group added.
Daily Trust learnt that the Dogara group might have welcomed the APC’s position letter after the group’s triumph over the party at the polls, but for the strong opposition to that by the PDP members, who determined the speaker’s emergence at the election.
On the other hand, some members, in a chat with Daily Trust, said the reason behind Dogara group’s insistence against the nomination of Gbajabiamila was their fear of eventual eclipse of the speaker by the oratory of Gbajabiamila.
They said with that in mind, coupled with the likelihood of the APC’s backing to Gbajabiamila, should he become the House leader, the Dogara group front-liners were uncomfortable to cede the single position to their election opponent because of an uncertain fear of dominance in the future.
As the seed of discord continues to grow in the House, political watchers view the development as just a prelude to many breaches of the law if the presidency, which hitherto remained at the spectator’s stand, maintains this position.
Presently, the lawmakers are billed to resume from the month-long forced recess in a fortnight. Another traditional annual recess of two months is approaching. These are happening at a time when the bulk of the legislative works, including the review of the 2015 budget, the constitution of standing committees and other numerous oversight functions of the legislators have been pushed to the background.