By Lawrence Olaoye
Going by recent developments in the nation’s political landscape, the race for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives promises to be interesting.
The outcome of the ongoing political horse trading, alignments and re-alignments in the struggle for the House leadership has the potential of shocking bookmakers.
Just as one was about concluding that the coast was clear for Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila to be the only and dominant contending force to contest the leadership of the Green Chamber from the South West to which the Speakership position was zoned by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), another virile, vivacious and cerebral lawmaker, Rt. Hon. Olajide Olatubosun, threw his hat into the ring.
Olatubosun, who recently joined the Speakership race after painstaking consultations with his colleagues that prevailed on him to run for the exalted position on the strength of his acceptability by majority of the members, old and new alike, has begun to make reverberating impacts ahead of the inauguration of the parliament billed for 11th of June.
Other contenders for the number four position in the country aside Olatubosun are the outgoing Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, Segun Odebunmi from the South-west to which the Speakership position was zoned by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
From the North Central are Mohammed Umaru Bago and John Dyegh while Nkeiruka Onyejeocha and Emeka Nwajuiba are running from the South East geo-political zone. All, except one, are from the ruling APC.
Barring last minute development, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is not likely to present any candidate for the exalted position.
Unarguably, all members who have so far indicated interests in succeeding Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara as the Speaker are qualified considering their background and rich contributions to the business of the legislature both at the plenary and the committee levels. This explains why the battle for the Ninth Assembly Speakership promises to be titanic.
The decision of the ruling party to zone the Speakership position to the South-west seems to have the support of majority of the elected lawmakers but what has attracted serious condemnation from the incoming lawmakers appears to be an attempt by certain interests to micro-zone the position to an individual from a particular state.
With benefits of hindsight, the House of Representatives has always been an assemblage of men and women with independent minds and zeal to contribute to national development.
These are Nigerians who have cut an edge for themselves in their individual careers before offering themselves for service to their constituencies in the National Assembly.
Therefore, attempting to impose a leader on them will backfire like it did in 2011 when Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (now Sokoto State governor) emerged the Speaker despite the then ruling party (the People’s Democratic Party) endorsement of Rt. Hon. Akande Adeola, who later became the Majority Leader of the 7th Assembly.
History repeated itself also in the 8th Assembly when the incumbent Speaker Dogara defeated the endorsed candidate of the ruling APC, Gbajabiamila, who later became the House Leader and now one of the top contenders for the Speakership of the Ninth Assembly.
So, micro-zoning the Speakership position, as done in the past, has never worked and there are indications that it won’t work again this time. Forcing a leadership on the effervescent lawmakers in the Ninth Assembly is obviously an invitation to parliamentary instability.
Majority of the incoming members have no problem with the zoning announced by the party leadership, they are however averse to imposition. They have always insisted on electing their leaders.
Reasonable members-elect, as well as critical stakeholders of the ruling party from the South-west are not particularly pleased by the alleged APC’s leadership endorsement of Gbajabiamila for the number four position in the country.
The argument has been that choiced elective position, including the position of the Vice President and other appointive slots have been cornered by Lagos and Ogun states to the exclusion of others in the South-west.
Those opposed to Gbajabiamila’s emergence argue that micro-zoning the position to him would confer undue advantage on Lagos above other states in the South-west.
This reasoning perhaps explained why pressures were mounted on Olatubosun from Oyo state by his colleagues from all political divides to run for the Speakership so that there could be balance of power in the region.
Other consideration in the calculation is the religious factor. While the party has settled for the North-east to produce the Senate President in the upper Chamber with clear indication that a Muslim will emerge, head or tail, political correctness demands that a Christian from the South-west should emerge the Ninth Assembly Speaker.
Though this line of argument may not be encouraged, political watchers, conscious of the delicate ethno-religious composition of the country, believe that such must not be discountenanced at this point of our national development.
Already, the religious sentiment has been highlighted by the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) which has raised the concerns that the religious equation must be balanced to reflect the heterogeneity of Nigerian society for there to be trust and tranquility in governance.
Olatubosun’s entrance into the race has therefore become the game-changer as many members across regions and tribal lines, who are afraid of the possibility of the emergence of a puppet-leader tied to the apron-string of a political paymaster, have resolved to queue behind him as the countdown to the inauguration of the Ninth Assembly in a few days continues.
The Saki, Oyo State, born lawmaker who has been enjoying incremental support from his colleagues struck the cord recently when he appeared before the opposition PDP Reps-elect caucus and said “Our democracy is at risk and we must stand to be counted and rescue it from forces bent on appropriating it for their selfish ends. We are united by a common destiny and we don’t want the house to be controlled by external forces. We run three tiers of government and we must not allow ourselves to be cowed.”
Olatubosun expressed the secret fears of majority of the in-coming members in this succinct statement and not a few have resolved to back this vocal lawmaker who has demonstrated enough courage to succeed Dogara in the Ninth Assembly.
Of course, if there is anything that dominates discussions among the incoming lawmakers and political parlance, it is the fear of allowing the emergence of a leader who may subjugate their interests to external control.
They believe that Gbajabiamila is not only enjoying the backing of the APC leadership (which many of them consider dictatorial) but also under the vice-grip of a known political heavyweight from Lagos who is generally seen as an influential factor in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Many believe that Gbajabiamila’s leadership would be subservient to the nation’s current political colossus and acclaimed master strategist, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who is also the National Leader of the ruling party.
Political watchers believe that the emergence of Gbajabiamila as the Speaker will be tantamount to an extension of Tinubu’s bourgeoning influence on the parliament. This, they say would complete his total dominance of the nation’s political landscape which may end up eclipsing their ambitions, and those of others, ahead of 2023 general election.
Olatubosun’s promise of injecting new ideas into the running of the Ninth Assembly if elected and his vow to uphold the sanctity of the parliament by asserting the independence of the legislature in the spirit of separation of powers while subscribing to the principles of checks and balances among the three arms of government has also endeared him to his colleagues who are going to take a pivotal decision that will redirect the destiny of the parliament in a few days.
At the same point of interaction with his colleagues in several other fora, Olatubosun has said that considering the nation’s socio-economic realities, his leadership focus would be to re-engineer and re-direct the public budgeting system by engaging his colleagues in robust oversight of government agencies to ensure that the nation gets value for money.
Like the President said, Olatubisun has promised to return the nation’s budgetary cycle to January-December. This he intends to do by ensuring speedy passage of the Appropriation Bills from the executive after robust debates in the parliament. He also promised to give equal attention to private members’ bills
According to him, the welfare of his colleagues remains paramount as he has promised to intensify capacity building in areas of financial education and investments among his peers with a view to guaranteeing their financial capacities even when they cease to be members of the parliament.
Olatubosun, who is a Chartered Accountant and financial expert with broad knowledge and experience in public sector financial management, logistics, human resource, management of strategic alliances and general corporate administration, is obviously a formidable force in the ongoing race for Speakership.
A group, North-Central Inter-religious Inter-tribal Political Forum for Peace Development and United Nigeria, which recently endorsed his Speakership ambition, described Olatubosun thus: “a second timer who contributed immensely, both at the plenary and committee levels, to the success of the Eighth Assembly. A dedicated lawmaker who believes in building bridges across tribal, racial, religious and political lines for the peaceful coexistence of the people of Nigeria.” They vowed that Olatubosun will be a ‘Servant Speaker’ who will not disappoint Nigerians if elected Speaker of the Ninth Assembly.