How NASS polls, speakership contest shaped Reps in 2023

The outgoing year was very eventful in the House of Representatives. From the beginning through the last month, there was never a dull moment, as the House tried to proffer legislative solutions  to the economic and security woes bedeviling the country. 

But 2023 was unique in two respects. First, it was an election year. Secondly, it was a transition year, which was to mark the end of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency and the beginning of another administration. Invariably, it meant the beginning of a new assembly, as well as  re-zoning of presiding officers’ positions in the House.

The two major issues that shaped the green chambers in 2023 were majorly the outcome of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections and the speakership contest that kept the House on the edge for several weeks.

The NASS polls. 

The February 25 National Assembly election altered significantly the composition of the House. Prior to the general election, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had an overwhelming majority of members, with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the major opposition party.  However, after the election, the opposition parties combined had a slight edge over the APC, which still maintained its lead as the dominant party in the green chamber. The opposition had 181 members, against APC’s 179 members.

Apart from the PDP, other opposition parties that won election into the House were Labour Party (LP), New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Young Progressive Party (YPP).

Also, a total 278 new members were elected to the party as the several old members, who sought for re-election lost their return bids.

The immediate past speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, had described the outcome of the February 25 National Assembly contest as a tough one, saying that it has implication for both the House and the country’s democracy.

Gbajabiamila, who is presently the Chief of Staff to President Bola Tinubu, in the aftermath of the poll, had noted that, “it was a hard-won battle not just for me but for many of our colleagues on the floor there. All 360 of us. Many were unlucky. Some were lucky. I used the word ‘lucky’ deliberately because this election was not as it should be, not so much about the performance of members whether on the floor or in their constituencies.

 “Even though at the general election’s members lost, a lot of members actually lost their elections at the primaries, where their acceptance by the constituents was not put to test. What was put to test was what one or two leaders in their constituencies determined whether they were returning or not. So, we lost a lot of legislators even at the primaries level, and that does not help our democracy. »

Prominent members of the 9th House were minority leader, Ndudi Elumelu, deputy minority whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, minority whip, Gideon Gwani and the deputy minority whip, as well as Chike Okafor. Ironically, Elumelu, Onyejeocha and Okafor were among those touted to be eyeing presiding officers’ position in the tenth assembly.

 However, while Okafor, eventually returned to the House, after the Court of Appeal, declared him the validly elected member for Okigwe/ Obowo/ Ehite-Uboma Federal Constituency of Imo State, Elumelu and Onyejeocha›s hopes of returning to the parliament were dashed by the appellate court.

The tussle for speakership

After the polls, attention shifted to the contest for the position of speaker and deputy speaker of the House.  A total of 11 lawmakers indicated interest to lead the House. They included the speaker, Abbas Tajudeen, who was then the chairman, House Committee on Land Transport, former deputy speaker,

Idris Wase; former House leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, former chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, Muktar Betara;  chairman, House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi and chairman, House Committee on Ecological Matters, Aminu Jaji.

Others were the deputy speaker, Benjamin Kalu; chairman, House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli; Mariam Onuoha; Raheem Olawuyi; and Makki Yalleman.

In the run-up to the inauguration of the 10th House, the members-elect broke into two main pressure groups- the Joint Task and the Greater Majority.  The Joint Task, which consisted of members of the APC and other opposition parties, had Bello Kumo of the APC, as chairman with Kingsley Chinda of the PDP as co-chairman.

Its objective was to ensure that preference of the ruling party prevails in the leadership of the House.  On the flip side, the Greater Majority, whose objective was to leverage on the number of the opposition members-elect to determine the leadership of the House, had Fred Agbedi as the anchor man.

However, the contest assumed a new twist after the APC announced Abbas and Kalu as their preferred choices for the speaker and deputy speaker positions respectively.

Expectedly, the other aspirants kicked against the endorsements, vowing that it would not stand.

Doguwa, while reacting to the development, had stated that the parliament must be respected, noting that who leads the parliament, is purely its business.

The former House leader, who spoke at Betara’s formal declaration for the speakership contest, said, “the business of our leadership should be solely our business and no other person’s business. We must be respected as an institution.  In a situation where you have some other people in whatsoever guise or whatsoever name trying to decide our leadership or determine where or how our leadership or who should form part of our leadership from outside, without consulting us, I think that should be seen as a mere failure. Inclusion in politics is very key and important.”

Gbajabiamila, at a different event, tried to rationalize his preference for the duo of Abass and Kalu for the leadership of the House. He said: “if I don’t support you today, we all have to fear God. It is for a  reason. It is not because I don’t like you. I decided to support the person that is least closest to me out of those who are running. Because of  tremendous capacity. I want a speaker who can stand toe to toe with any speaker in Africa and the world.”

Wase,  on his part,  apparently referring to the former speaker, had noted that it is not in the place of an individual to determine who leads the 10th assembly.

“I think the arrogance is becoming too much. I think we have  every reason to rise to the occasion to defend democracy. And ensure that we have credible leaders  that will lead us.  I  never thought that anybody who believes in the scripture, whether Christian  or Muslim will be that arrogant.”

“I want to believe the shenanigan done by my brother for very special reasons known to him will not stand the test  of time. This group by the Grace of God will produce the speaker, “ the former deputy speaker had stated at an event at the Transcorp Hilton.

The aggrieved speakership aspirants, in their determined bid to stop the emergence of Abbas and Kalu as presiding officers,  formed a coalition christened G-7.  The coalition, which consisted  of Wase,  Doguwa, Betara; Gagdi, Soli, Jaji, and Onuoha, vowed that one of them will be elected speaker of the 10th House.

Expectedly, the Greater Majority, which had earlier said the opposition lawmakers would leverage on its numbers to contest for the speakership and deputy speaker positions pitched its tent with the coalition.

As the political temperature in the House rose, Gbajabiamila and his deputy parted ways. Apart from speaking in innuendos, both men clashed openly at plenary. On that fateful day, the then speaker had asked that the order paper for the next legislative day be made light, so that the House can adjourn early for members to attend the commissioning of the permanent site of the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies ( NILDS).

However, Wase openly disagreed, saying that the business of the House should take precedence over any other thing. He said: “Mr speaker,  I am  beginning  to see this getting so funny and we have lost quite a number of period of time. For the commissioning of projects for God’s sake, why do we have to shelve a lot of activities that we have just to go and witness the commissioning of a project of NILDS? I want to beg sir, that we should do our functions. Those who have the interest to go, they have the right to. But our main primary function is this parliament.”

The speaker retorted: “Mr deputy speaker, this is the first time in history. I have been in this house for many years, perhaps even longer than anybody here. This is the first time in history that a deputy speaker will be challenging what the speaker is saying.”    Prior to the speakership contest, the duo who contested and won the positions of presiding officers of the ninth House had enjoyed a very cordial relationship.

Nevertheless, the G-7 Coalition failed to produce a consensus candidate, after five of the members dumped their ambitions to support APC’ s choice. Consequently, on June 11, when the House was inaugurated, it was only Abbas, Wase and Jaji that were left in the speakership contest.

Abbas later polled a total of 353 votes to emerge speaker, while his challengers garnered three votes each. Immediately Abbas emerged speaker, the coast was clear for Kalu to emerge unopposed as the deputy speaker.

After the victory, came the sharing of the spoils  of office. All those, who played key roles in mobilizing the House for APC victory were rewarded with principal officers position,  and chairmanship of choice committees. Kumo and Chinda, who spear-headed the Joint Task emerged majority whip and minority leader respectively.

But the speaker was in  a fix on how to accommodate every member, owing to the overwhelming support he received, at the inauguration of the House. Consequently, the leadership raised the number of committees from 109 to 140. In the process, some of the key House committees were fragmented into several parts.

The House also created parliamentary friendship groups, all in a bid to ensure that every member was either a committee chairman, deputy or head of a parliamentary friendship group.


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