The race for the seat of speaker of the House of Representatives may have turned into a straight battle between the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the immediate past Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal.
The twist which became very apparent following the recent retreat for the members of the House which failed to mend the crack between the leadership of the party and some interest groups backing some candidates, succeeded in widening the gulf of entrenched interests and further narrowed the race.
Although the leadership of the party in a preemptive move had abrogated the zoning principle it had been running with to avert a full-blown crisis, the new development is posing serious threat to the existing harmony in the party and its soul.
Sunday Sun learnt that the leadership of the party had sought to use the opportunity offered by the retreat to change the House rules especially as it relates to ranking and cognate experience, which would have paved the way for the emergence of the outgoing Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, who is from the South-west and the candidate of Tinubu to coast to the Speaker’s seat without encumbrances. The attempt, it was learnt, met with stiff resistance from supporters of Hon Yakubu Dogara, the chairman of the House Services Committee who is widely believed to enjoy the full backing of the former Speaker and his Deputy Chief Emeka Ihedioha. Dogara’s group also opposed the plot by the leadership of the party to adopt open ballot as against their preference for secret ballot in the election of the speaker. This was perceived as a ploy to victimize lawmakers who may vote against the choice of the party. The resistance forced the leaders to withdraw the motion for the change of House rules, ostensibly for further consultations and to re-strategize. Piqued by the development, especially after appeasement efforts failed to yield desired results, the errant legislators-elect were forced to vacate their hotel rooms in a desperate and well-choreographed bid to bend their backs. Indeed, they were even accused of playing the script of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an accusation they have flatly denied An indication of the direction of the puzzle came in a statement by Dogara’s campaign group, which said:
“members should be given the free hand to choose their leaders without any external interference by some godfathers. This will further deepen and consolidate on the gains of the Seventh Assembly under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal.”
A competent source close to the House told Sunday Sun that only a miracle would turn the tide against Dogara, between now and June 9 when the House would be inaugurated. “I don’t see anything changing between now and June 9. Dogara is the project of Tambuwal and Ihedioha. It was so well worked out in concert with the PDP members that it will be difficult to change. You know how popular Tambuwal and Ihedioha are in the House. Even, how they emerged in 2011 against the expressed wish and zoning principle of their party then is a pointer,” Sunday Sun was told. Apart from the former Speaker’s influence and the support of the PDP, it was further learnt that the logjam is further fuelled by the desire of some people to cash in on this situation to whittle down Tinubu’s growing powers in the party. According to the same source, Tinubu who is widely acclaimed as the brain behind the mergers that culminated in the formation of the party is also credited with being the force behind the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo as presidential candidate and running mate respectively. “We need to checkmate him before it is too late.
How can one man produce the national chairman of the party, the presidential candidate and his running mate. If he has the national chairman, the president and his deputy, and then the Speaker, it means the party is in his pocket, and he will do what he likes with it.” The jigsaw has thrown up a stalemate with both sides beleaguered, but obviously sizing each other up.
The battle may have inadvertently opened new fronts of dichotomy between the original members of the APC at inception and those that are derogatorily referred to as ‘joiners.’
Gbajabiamila’s supporters have often made references to Dogara’s men as ‘joiners’. This label has not only infuriated them, but created a steel wedge in the way of harmony and reconciliation.
It also influenced the determination of Tambuwal who stepped down last week for his inauguration as Sokoto State governor to allow Ihedioha to step in the gap instead of electing a speaker pro- tempore. As House Services Committee chairman, Dogara enjoyed immense popularity as he saw to the welfare
of lawmakers without much blemish. As a Christian minority from Bauchi State where President Buhari enjoyed tremendous support in the March 28 election, most of his supporters believe the zone must not be left out in the sharing of the spoils of victory at this time. Apart from the Tinubu factor, critics of Gbajabiamila allege that he is arrogant and hot tempered, which they claim may not augur well for the smooth running of the House. But he is seen as a suave bridge-builder and principled party loyalist by many.