By Damilola Oyedele and Senator Iroegbu
After an alleged close understanding between members of the Consolidation Group and Loyalists Group, the two warring sides in the House of Representatives, it emerged at the weekend that former House Minority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, may no longer be Majority Leader as proposed by the leadership of the ruling party. This is because three close allies of Gbajabiamila and key members of the Loyalists Group, which is aligned with the ruling All Progressives Congress, have accepted House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara’s script for the distribution of principal offices.
Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa, Hon. Pally Iriase, and Hon. Mohammed Monguno said they had to bend over backward to aid the smooth take-off of the legislative functions of the lower chamber in the overall interest of the country. They joined the spokesperson for Dogara’s supporters in the Consolidation Group, Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumin, to address a press conference in Abuja on Saturday, where they supported the speaker’s nominations of Doguwa from the North-west and Iriase from the South-south as House Leader and Chief Whip, respectively. It was an event that tended to mark the end of the House of Representatives’ leg of a National Assembly crisis that had forced the two chambers to shift their resumption from July 21 to July 28.
But a member of the Loyalists Group, Hon. Nasiru Zangon-Daura, swiftly denied any understanding with the Consolidation Group, saying members of his group declaring support for Dogara’s proposal are acting on their own.
“The APC Loyalists Group hereby deny and unequivocally reject any purported endorsement of a so-called formula on the APC leadership in the House of Representatives. Any member of our group who claims to be part of this arrangement acts on his own and not on behalf of the group,” Zangon-Daura said in a brief statement.
The National Assembly has been enmeshed in crisis since June 9, when Senator Bukola Saraki and Dogara emerged Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, against the choices of their party, APC. The ruling party had chosen Senator Ahmed Lawan for the post of Senate President and Gbajabiamila for House Speaker. Following the election of Saraki and Dogara, APC offered a compromise position in which it proposed names for the remaining principal posts.
APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, in a letter to the Speaker on June 23 detailed the party’s zoning arrangement for the principal offices in the House, thus, Gbajabiamila (House Leader), South-west; Doguwa (Deputy House Leader), North-west; Monguno (Chief Whip), North-east; and Iriase(Deputy Chief Whip), South-south. Odigie-Oyegun had also written a similar letter to Saraki and it was completely flouted.
However, in a response on July 16 to the APC chairman’s suggestions, Dogara maintained that the principle of geopolitical balance dictated that the positions of House Leader, Chief Whip, Deputy Leader, and Deputy Chief Whip should go to the North-west, South-south, North-central, and South-east, respectively, which had not gotten any principal positions in the lower chamber. The Speaker, thus, proposed Doguwa as House Leader, Iriase as Chief Whip, Hon. Buba Jibrin from the North-central as Deputy Leader, and Hon. Chike Okafor from the South-east as Deputy Chief Whip. Dogara faulted the proposal of the APC leadership on the grounds that persons from the North-east and South-west had already occupied principal positions in the House.
At the press conference, Abdulmumin stated, “Mr Speaker’s argument has always been since the North-east and South-west have produced the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, the remaining principal positions should go to the North-west, North-central, South-south and South-east in the spirit of equity, fairness, justice, a strong precedence and provision of the constitution. In the interest of peace, unity and harmony in the House, Speaker Dogara reached out extensively to individuals and groups and committed lot of energy and time toward finding an amicable solution to the nagging issue.”
Abdulmumin said, “Intense consultations carried out by Speaker Dogara is what eventually led to the birth of the Dogara formula that saw the emergence of what is now known as the Equity Team. In line with the formula, the Equity Team has Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa (APC Kano, North-west) as House Leader, Hon Buba Jibrin (APC Kogi, North-central) as Deputy Leader, Hon Pally Iriase (APC Edo, South-south) as Chief Whip, and Hon. Chika Okafor (APC Imo, South-east) as Deputy Chief Whip.
“Interestingly, both the Speaker and a great majority of the APC caucus in the House, including gladiators in the Gbajabiamila’s group like Hon Monguno, Hon Doguwa, and Hon Pally, support and stand by the Equity Team. We have commenced collection of signatures which has reached advanced stage to affirm the Dogara formula. All other interests, including those excluded from the principal offices, specifically Hon. Gbajabiamila and Hon Monguno, will be duly accommodated with commensurate responsibility to serve. Since the Speaker has about 200 positions to share out, many members will have the opportunity to serve the country.”
Iriase, in his address, said Dogara’s proposal ensured inclusiveness and equity in the distribution of the principal positions.
“Mr. Speaker is mandated to ensure that Section 14 (3), which deals with Federal Character, is abided by in the composition of that arm of government. I would urge those who are not very conversant with this matter to look at Section 13, which mandates the heads of the three arms of government to ensure preservation and adherence to the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state affairs in Nigeria,” Iriase said.
Arguing that they accepted the speaker’s suggestions to prevent the discontent in the House from festering, Iriase said, “We urge all those who may have wished that this crisis ought to be resolved in a different way to think Nigeria first, and embrace peace for the sake of having a respectable and enduring institution of the legislature in Nigeria.
“The three of us from the Loyalists Group, who have been noted as being key members, have stepped forward on behalf of our teeming majority to accept the position as indicated in the Speaker’s letter. We remain very committed members of that group; we feel this is a fair arrangement to resolve the crisis.”
In his own contribution, Monguno said, “The reasoning behind the party nominating us to serve in the various principal positions of the House is to take care of the interest of the Loyalists Group. But right now, Hon. Doguwa and Hon. Pally Iriase are still members of the Loyalists Group, and I think they are capable and well positioned to take care of the interest of the Loyalists Group in the affairs of the House, as enunciated by the party. Also in the interest of fairness, to reflect the diversity of Nigeria, to take care of the various geopolitical zones, I decided to follow suit on the Dogara formula.”
In a related development, members of the Lawan group in the Senate, which opposed the election of Saraki as Senate President and Ike Ekweremadu from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party as Deputy Senate President, are alleged to be plotting to sponsor the removal of the two principal officers of the upper chamber.
THISDAY learnt from sources close to the Saraki and Lawan groups that the plot involved a two-pronged plan, to get Saraki and Ekweremadu arrested, or get Saraki harassed to the point of submission to the impeachment of Ekweremadu on the floor of the Senate to pave the way for the election of a deputy senate president who would be a check on Saraki.
In the first plan, the anti-Saraki group is alleged to be scheming to revive an old case against Saraki at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which had been investigated under the former President Goodluck Jonathan government, and use it as a basis for the arrest and trial of the senate president. It is alleged that the report of the police investigation on the alleged forgery of the 2015 Standing Rule of the Senate is being planned as the basis for the prosecution of Ekweremadu.
“Even if nothing comes out of the trials, the two men would have been sufficiently embarrassed to such extent that it will be easy to get their fellow senators to dump them or they can encourage others to get interested in their positions,” a source said.
However, when contacted for comments on the allegations, the Nigerian Police, which is investigating the alleged falsification of the senate rules by Ekweremadu, denied any move to arrest the principal officers of the upper chamber. Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Emmanuel Ojukwu, said, “It is not true,” stressing that he is “not aware of such directive” to arrest and prosecute Saraki and Ekweremadu.