The rebellion of members of the House of Representatives against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the choice of the principal officers of the House has significant implications for 2015 politics
Bello Mohammed, acting chairman, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, cut such a forlorn figure as he left the Green Chamber of the House of Representatives on Monday, June 6. Like a disappointed football fan whose darling team is irretrievably losing an important match about to end in a few minutes, he sulked out with the party flag literally at half mast as rebellious representatives defied party order and elected Aminu Tambuwal from Sokoto State Speaker of the seventh House of Representatives.
He was not alone. Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State could not stay for the blowing of the last whistle too. At the count of vote 181 for Tambuwal, it was obvious the way the wind was blowing; so he followed Mohammed minutes later. Adebayo Alao-Akala, former governor of Oyo State was the next to go. He had come to cheer Mulikat Adeola-Akande, who is from his constituency, to victory and to rejoice in her triumph but things turned sour for the ex-governor, who is still smarting from his failure to be re-elected into office. They did not come just to add colour to the event; rather they were there to add muscle to the party position that Adeola-Akande should be crowned Speaker.
They were not there to hear Salisu Maikasuwa, clerk of the National Assembly, NASS, and his team declare Tambuwal winner with 252 votes. Adeola-Akande came a distant second with 90 votes; one person abstained while eight votes were voided. However, they too later saw the television footage of the victory dance in the Green Chamber as the victors exalted in their triumph. And Adeola-Akande hugged Tambuwal in a great show of sportsmanship.
For Adeola-Akande, who was not a frontrunner until the issue of gender balance came into the picture, displacing previous favourite Muraina Ajibola as the party’s choice, it appeared easy to close ranks with her colleagues once the battle was lost. But for the PDP, the event has grave implications for the party’s fortunes in the next four years and the 2015 general elections.
After the victory of President Goodluck Jonathan and the overall good performance of the ruling party in the April general elections despite public apathy, PDP, according to party sources, resolved to clean up its image with the public, restore discipline in the party and also restore stability in the geo-political sharing of political largesse in the country, which appeared unhinged by Jonathan’s succession of the late Umaru Yar’Adua. To achieve this, the party aimed to reaffirm zoning as a reflection of the Federal Character Principle enshrined in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution. Consequently, the party announced the allocation of posts to the six geo-political zones as follows: South-south — President; North-west — Vice President; North-central — Senate president; South-west — Speaker of House of Representatives; South-east — Deputy Senate president and secretary to the government of the federation, SGF; North-east — deputy Speaker and PDP chairman.
In obedience to this sharing formula, which was endorsed by the party organs at all levels; the federal government appointed Anyim Pius Anyim, from the South-east as SGF. The Senate obediently re-elected David Mark as the Senate president and Ike Ekweremadu deputy Senate president.
Mohammed is warming up to give up the party chairmanship to the North-east; he is completing the slot of the South-east, which was denied them as punishment for ousting Okwesilieze Nwodo from the post unceremoniously. Things were looking good until the Reps made good their threat not to adhere to the dictates of the ruling party.
Signs of discordance began to emerge when it was time for the NASS to elect its principal officers. Reacting to PDP’s attempt to reaffirm zoning, Ibrahim Babangida, former military president, said it was illogical to talk about zoning when the election of Jonathan as President had effectively put paid to the party’s zoning principle. This was read as the position of the Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF, which insisted that a northerner should replace the late Yar’Adua in 2010 to complete the North’s eight years in power in line with the zoning principle. Prior to this, Babangida had said that the North must produce the president in 2015. This surprised many people as it came even before the inauguration of the new government when 2015 was the least thing in people’s mind.
Unknown to many, the 2015 power game had started even before the April elections were won and lost. Having lost the Presidency and Senate, some northern political gladiators felt the remaining vantage bastion of power from where they could engage Jonathan is the House of Representatives. The plan to challenge Mark for the Senate presidency crashed when the crafty retired general got his ‘distinguished’ colleagues to amend the standing rules on election of principal officers to exclude new senators. No returning senator mustered up enough courage to challenge Mark because of the robust politics he played in the last four years. So he returned unopposed. He has played his politics so effectively that all the zones endorsed him for the job. He also has personal relationship with members of NPLF so they could not oppose him publicly.
The House of Representatives had always presented a big conflict for southern presidents because that is where the discrepancy in the number of electoral constituencies sticks out like a sore thumb. Of the 360 members, 192 are from the North while 168 are from the South. It means that no southerner can become the Speaker of the House without a robust support from the North. A southern president will also find the House difficult to handle in difficult times, like Olusegun Obasanjo experience with Umar Ghali-Na’Abba. Likewise, the Dimeji Bankole House was the point of hardest resistance in the sixth National Assembly because of its composition. Bankole rode to power on the back of the northern dominated Integrity Group and could not be impeached despite all efforts of his opponents because of a strong northern backing. If he was re-elected he could easily have been retained as Speaker like Mark. His defeat at the polls complicated the issue for the ruling party, and for the President.
And Bankole amplified this conflict when like Mark; he led the closing session of the sixth House to amend their standing rules to approve the use of open secret ballot for the election of the principal officers of the House. This paved the way for the rebellion that aided Tambuwal to emerge Speaker as members hid under the shield it provided to vote for independent candidates. Tambuwal was the deputy Chief Whip under Bankole; while Emeka Ihedioha was the Chief Whip. In a reversal of roles of sorts, Tambuwal was elected Speaker and Ihedioha as his deputy. Ihedioha had expressed interest in the post of the Speaker and encouraged an agitation for the position to be re-zoned to the South-east on account of the much better performance of the party in the zone than in the South-west where the party produced only five Reps. However, Ohaneze Ndigbo and other Igbo political elite, aligned with the zoning formula of the party and accepted the post of SGF and deputy Senate president. His additional nomination is, therefore, seen as a personal enterprise and of no relevance to the political interest of Ndigbo.
The way the power equation was configured, the leadership of the two Houses of the NASS are supposed to be shared at all times between the North and the South to maintain a balance. During the Obasanjo presidency, the South-east held the Senate president while the North-west held the Speaker. During the Yar’Adua presidency, a northern president had a Senate president from North-central and the Speaker from the South-west. Now with the development in the House of Reps last week, a southern president has found himself, on paper, without a hold on the NASS, securely in the hands of the North-central and North-west. According to some analysts, this makes Jonathan a sitting duck for the North. Their fear is that if push comes to shove, it becomes hypothetically easy to impeach the President.
A member of the House lamented last Wednesday after the House adjourned for two weeks that the infraction happened because of the weakness of the party, which in turn suggests a vulnerable presidency. He also felt it was a direct consequence of the ouster of Nwodo as PDP chairman, which left the party without an institutional backbone. He found it perplexing that in the presence of the acting party chairman, governors and other party bigwigs; ‘loyal’ party men willfully disobeyed the party and elected Tambuwal. He described it as a shame, which must not be allowed to stand. Some felt the endorsement of a woman made even some neutral members vote for Tambuwal. Those who belong to this school of thought believe that there are certain religious beliefs that may not be too comfortable with a woman occupying a leadership position. Whatever the reason for the defeat of the official candidate of the party, the process that enthroned Tambuwal was a complete disregard for party supremacy.
This appears to be the thinking of some PDP leaders who are still smarting from the public disgrace the party took from the rebellious act. That explains the rejection of the decision of the House by the National Working Committee, NWC, of the party, which began after a two-day meeting at the party headquarters in Abuja. Apart from rejecting the result of the election of Tambuwal and other principal officers of the House, they also threatened to take “appropriate action” against the infraction. Though the President had immediately congratulated Tambuwal and his team, the party rather condemned their election vehemently. According to Rufai Akali, PDP national publicity secretary, “PDP will not congratulate them because they violated the party decision on zoning.” The NWC says the development is “against the spirit of party cohesion and supremacy and would not be allowed to stand. At the moment, the errant children are on their own.”
In an official statement last Tuesday, Abubakar Baraje, the national secretary of the party stated: “The National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, notes with great concern the unfolding developments in the House of Representatives especially the outcome of the election of principal officers on Monday 6th June, 2011. While the party believes in, and indeed encourages, the exercise of freedom of choice for all Nigerians including members of the National Assembly, it is important to reiterate that the principle of zoning is still an integral part of the PDP Constitution. The idea of zoning is a well thought-out philosophy for national stability and integration. It is the only guarantee that every segment of Nigeria enjoys a sense of belonging by being represented in all the decision-making organs of the government of Nigeria. Consequently, prior to the election of principal officers that took place in the Senate and the House of Representatives on the 6th of June 2011, the NWC in collaboration with other decision-making bodies of our party made spirited efforts to build a consensus around the zoning formula. The NWC is currently consulting other organs of the party to re-assess the entire scenario and will come up with an appropriate policy in due course.”
The party had organised a two-day retreat in Abuja for all its elected members for all positions. Attended by Jonathan and other party top-notchers, it emphasised high-level party discipline, sacrifice and orderly conduct. The President reminded party faithful that, “It is a fact that the liberal nature of democracy makes it the most suitable form of political administration and democracy vests abundant freedom on the citizens as well as the political parties (but) what attracts condemnation within the liberality is indiscipline.” He described this as “eventual self-centred activities of individuals or a group against established, orderly, all inclusive and fair procedures.”
Jonathan further admonished the party’s elected members: “The message is that despite the free handedness of democracy, there are basic rules of conduct and behaviour that regulate the actions of members of every political party to ensure cohesion and achieving a common purpose for the good of all. We will reform to enable us achieve our objectives. Therefore, the reforms to transform the polity must begin from home. We must all work together to subject our party to the much needed reform so that it can position itself for the great task ahead.” He further noted that, “the executive-legislature symbiosis is particularly important because of the oversight functions of the legislature.”
Mohammed, the party’s acting chairman was more direct about what the party wanted. “We must all recognise that we are products and representatives of a political party. It is the PDP that gives legitimacy to our mandates as elected public officials. We must, therefore, learn to fall in line with the decisions of the party at all times. If all obey the rules of the party and conform to its decision, frictions and conflicts would be reduced to the barest minimum, if not totally eliminated.”
It appeared the members of the House of Representatives who attended the retreat did not understand the President and the party chairman as a few days later they voted a dissident leadership into power.
So how far can PDP go? A National Executive Council, NEC, member told the magazine last week that the Tambuwal leadership might not last long, if the party has its way. But how will the party dislodge the team? This will take time given the variables that brought them to power. Put together, the ruling party has 202, out of the 360 members in the House; while the other parties have a total of 158. To impeach the team, or at least, Tambuwal and Ihedioha, the party needs 240 votes. In other words, in the unlikely event that the party could perform a miracle and get all the 202 PDP members to accept its position, it would still need 38 votes from the opposition parties to actualise the plot.
This is highly unlikely for the same variables that catapaulted Tambuwal to power. Bola Tinubu, the increasingly ubiquitous national leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, appears to be part of the power play. His party has become central to the power calculus of the country. The President got his support to win the presidential election in the South-west. Since then he has featured in most of the stakeholders’ meetings and consultations on key policy issues. Mark is believed to have got his support to ride unopposed to an unprecedented second term as Senate President. But in the choice of speaker he parted ways with the ruling party. Tinubu’s strategy is becoming clear; he appears not interested in short-term gains; rather, he is mapping out strategies towards greater relevance in power in 2015; power sharing, if not outright control, under any format necessary. For that to happen, ACN has to strengthen its hold on the South-west. According to the political thinking, a PDP Speaker from the South-west might lead a resurgence of the ruling party in the zone and cause problems for the ACN in future elections.
Tinubu is playing a skilful political chess game. He appears available to the major political blocs when it pleases him, yet he jealously guards the independence of ACN. A PDP source says what makes Tinubu a more difficult ally, or slippery ally (depending on what side he is viewed from) is his wealth, which means, money is the least that might buy. He thinks Tinubu wants power and is in a vantage position to make good his desire in 2015.
Babangida and Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, appear to be catalysts in the unfolding scenario. Babangida’s statement said that it was unfair and contradictory for his party to be talking about zoning and even trying to enforce it when Jonathan’s election indicated an effective end to zoning. Tambuwal and his colleagues are well aware that their political careers are on the line if they fail. There was a strong lobby by both the PDP and the northern opposition for votes. Both parties, according to our sources, are alleged to have spent money to lobby the Reps members. Those opposed to the emergence of Tambuwal were allegedly lodged at Abuja Sheraton, all expenses paid, including those who have houses in Abuja.
TELL learnt that having lost to Mark and Jonathan at the Senate, the NPLF, which is plotting that power, must not only return to the North in 2015 but that it must be to the candidate of the North’s choosing, sees the House as the only hope to have a hand in the politics of 2015. They suspect that Jonathan is plotting to amend some relevant sections of the constitution to achieve his purpose before 2015 and the only way to stop him is to take control of the House of Reps. The Senate cannot pass any amendments without concurrence from the House, which is slanted in favour of the North because of the arbitrary creation of local governments in the North by successive military regimes to the detriment of the South. For instance, Lagos State with about the same population with Kano State has only 20 local governments, LGs, while Kano has 44. Katsina with 5.7 million population has 34 LGs while Rivers State with 5.1 million has only 23 LGs.
Out of the 774 local government councils in the country, 421, about 54 .4 per cent, are from the 19 northern states and Abuja while 353 are from the 18 states, about 45.6 per cent, are from the South. Similarly out of 360 federal constituencies, 192 are from the North and Abuja; while 168 are from the South. In the Senate, however, every state has equal representation of three senators while Abuja has one, making 109 senators. The North has 58 senators while the South has 54 senators. Apart from a near balance between the North and the South in the Senate, the senators also appear more mature than members of the House of Reps. That may be the reason some people say it is easier to influence or convince the senators on an issue than members of the House. The House is also seen as a more fertile ground for revolutionaries than the Senate. Political gladiators take advantage of this to fuel conflict in the House.
While PDP was reprimanding the Reps members, Babangida, a supposedly loyal party man congratulated the House. “The bold moves of the Federal House of Representatives will further strengthen our democratic structures and entrench a culture of separation of powers with its manifest checks and balances for a people-driven democracy. It is a wake-up call and the earlier the polity allowed this culture of separation of powers to flourish, the better it would be for participatory democracy. I therefore, congratulate both leadership of the National Assembly for being true representatives of the people. Well done. I salute your courage."
He assured the rebellious members of his support: “Let me assure the leadership of the National Assembly of my unflinching support. I will be ready at all times to offer my advice in whatever little way for the sustenance of democracy, rule of law and stability of the system. The example that the Federal House has shown would go a long way to eliminate culture of impunity and executive interference into the internal operations and workings of the legislature. It will promote sound debate and robust interaction amongst the Lawmakers for the overall interest of the country.” This clearly conflicts with the official position of Babangida’s party.
It was gathered that some political interests in the North fear that they are already foreclosed in the 2015 presidential race, where the NASS is likely going to play an important part. More states and federal constituencies may be created, according to the Senate. More sections of the Constitution may also be amended. And some northern gladiators also fear that Mark may be interested in the presidency in 2015 and needs to be checkmated through the House. The overwhelming endorsement Mark got from all the geopolitical zones for his re-election as Senate President increased the fear in other likely northern presidential aspirants that he is positioning himself for the presidency in four years. His seamless working relationship with his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, according the proponents of this theory, may extend to the 2015 with the deputy Senate President as Mark’s presidential running mate. This does not fit the plan of some power interests in the North. Many people feel that Tambuwal and his group played into the hands of these hawks.
Last Wednesday, Tambuwal apologised to the party for disobeying its directives. The same day, PDP stated that it had forgiven him. Some party sources say the only saving grace for Tambuwal and his team is to resign and allow the party’s nomination to ascend the throne. If he succumbs, he might go down in history as the Speaker with the shortest reign; if he remains obstinate, he may be implicated for alleged corruption. A source told the magazine that it was only a matter of time before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, comes after Tambuwal and Ihedioha in connection with the case involving Bankole. Tambuwal headed the 37-man committee that recommended the increase of N14 million for Representatives members. As the deputy chief whip his quarterly allowance was increased from N40.5 million to N54.5 million; while that of Ihedioha as the chief whip was increased from N41 million to N55 million. All the members of the sixth House of Representatives got N28 million extra in the last two quarters as recommended by the Tambuwal committee. The thinking is that a little forensic investigation of Tambuwal by EFFC will have him begging to resign.
However, he may decide to fight it out to the end. With support from NPLF and other ambitious PDP members, he can hold out till 2015. It will be near impossible to impeach him, as the ruling party cannot get the required 240 votes to achieve that. But it might be the end of his political career if he fails to achieve his aim.