A zoning formula in Jos East that insisted on a single tenure for each State Assembly lawmaker has placed a rear opportunity on the lap of 33-year-old final year law student, Ayuba Abok, who recently emerged as Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly.
Until Monday’s election, the Speakership position was held by Joshua Madaki from the 8th Assembly, also from Jos East. But the same zoning formula that gave Abok such a rear opportunity had also pushed Madaki out by deterring him from even contesting the primaries after his one tenure.
Saleh Yipmong, representing Dengi constituency and former Deputy Speaker in the 8th Assembly was re-nominated as deputy speaker of the 9th Assembly.
However, Abok’s emergence as Speaker, though unanimous, didn’t come without controversies at the initial stage. His main challenger, Ibrahim Baba Hassan, had due to last minute permutations withdrawn his candidacy and in a moment of bewilderment nominated Abok for Speaker. Being the only nominee, Abok was immediately sworn in by the Clerk of the House after taking the oath of allegiance and office.
There was no argument that as a former Deputy Speaker and fourth timer, Baba Hassan who represents Jos North had better experience and the All Progressives Congress (APC) zoning formula which had allocated the position of Speaker to Plateau North Senatorial district had favoured him.
Baba Hassan and Abok who represents Jos East were the only two remaining APC legislators from Plateau North Senatorial district since the demise of Ezekiel Afon who represented Pengana constituency in Bassa local government area. Afon, who won his second term on the platform of the APC and whose name was said to have been penciled down for Speaker, died shortly after he won his re-election in March. Presently, with the APC’s 14 seats against the PDP’s nine, Ezekiel Afon’s seat remains vacant pending when the Independent National Electoral Commission will schedule a by-election.
With his demise, the contest had squarely centred on Abok and Baba Hassan. At the early stage, there were rumours of lobbying to get Peter Gyendeng; another astute legislator from Barkin Ladi and a member of the Peoples Democratic Party to decamp to the APC. Sources say between ambition and a likely betrayal of his constituents who are known to be astute PDP diehards, Gyendeng had stuck with his constituents and his name was silently eliminated from the equation.
Prior to the nomination of Abok and his eventual emergence as Speaker, the contest had suddenly taken an ethnic and religious dimension with speculations that Governor Simon Bako Lalong’s recent emergence as the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum was a grand design to tip the position of the Speaker to someone from the Hausa and Fulani extraction of Jos North. It didn’t take foresight to link the speculations with Baba Hassan’s interest in the speakership position. Despite being the most qualified; having been favoured by zoning and experience, his interest in the position had began to arouse tension that a Muslim and one from Jos North would likely head the number three position in the state; a feat that has never been achieved.
Sources from Baba Hassan’s camp told our correspondent that his surprising retreat at the twilight of nomination had been in the interest of peace and to de-escalate the ethnic and religious tension the election was taking.
“It was one of the reasons why he decided to nominate Abok himself. It was a way to deescalate the tension, it was the right thing to do,” he said.
The source told Daily Trust Saturday that, “the party and Governor Lalong were already in a dilemma on the issue of Speaker. Many were accusing the governor of trying to install a Muslim while he as governor was doing everything possible to disassociate himself from the election of principal officers in the House. The party had already taken a stand that it was going for Abok and if Baba Hassan had insisted, the whole process would have taken a religious dimension.”
Never the less, many supporters from Jos North North, Baba Hassan’s constituency, expressed their anger before leaving the assembly complex. They accused the APC-led government of backstabbing the people of Jos North by denying Baba Hassan the opportunity despite the overwhelming support the party received from the area in the just concluded general election.
The State APC chairman, Leteb Dabang, told Daily Trust Saturday that though the party had supported the emergence of Abok as Speaker, it was however not done on religious or ethnic grounds.
Dabang said the party had sat with other members of the State House of Assembly to arrive at a mutual understanding and consensus, adding that, “we took into consideration the opinion of the members. Ayuba Abok was the most favoured candidate among the members and as a party; we had to be sensitive to the interest of the people the Speaker is going to lead.”
He said to show there were no hard feelings and that Abok was indeed favoured across party lines, Baba Hassan himself had nominated him, a move which was seconded by Esther Dusu of the PDP representing Jos North West.
Corroborating Dabang’s position, another member of the House from the central senatorial district told our correspondent that what could have affected Baba Hassan’s chance was nothing other than the fact that he did not make wide consultations with colleagues. “We only learnt from the social media that he was a contender but the truth is that he never approached some of us. I for one was never approached by him for my support and the same goes for others,” he said.
The member stressed that, “I’m not sure he really wanted to be Speaker, perhaps he just didn’t want his constituents to think he was bypassing such an opportunity. You saw how the Senate and House of Representatives handled the campaign and elections, despite the APC’s position on Ahmed Lawan, did it stop Ali Ndume from contesting? You saw the intensive lobbying that took place.”
But despite the uncertainty that greeted the emergence of Abok, many say with the necessary guidance of experienced members and leaning on a slightly experienced Deputy Speaker, Abok could succeed.
A former Speaker of the House, Titus Alams, told Daily Trust Saturday that emphasis on experience in the legislature was paramount because of the tedious nature of the work. “There is no law that says a new member cannot be Speaker but the institution feels some level of experience is needed to lead the House,” he said.
Alams, who represented Bokkos constituency and was Speaker from 2013 to 2015, said though it was obvious that there were other more experienced members in the House, party politics had prevailed but advised the new Speaker to work with other members to move the House forward.
“He is going to be the head of a 24-member House. If he knows that he is there not just to be their leader but to lead in the discussions and the policies of the House, then he will succeed,” advised the ex Speaker.
He said the State House of Assembly must throw away party politics, religion, as well as sentiments to move the 9th Assembly forward, adding that, “despite an inexperienced Speaker, they should sit and build the House and make laws that will help the people of the state. If the Speaker relies on the experience of members from different fields and goes out to get experienced legislators that were once in the House to consult with, they would move forward.”