In April, when the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Idris Wase, visited Nyesom Wike, the governor of Rivers State, to solicit support for his ambition to be the next Speaker, he got a cryptic response from his host. “We are going to support the leadership of your party at the national level,” the governor told him.
Mr Wike’s message was clear: the relationship between him and President Bola Tinubu will continue beyond the presidential election to the race for the leadership of the National Assembly. Hence, Mr Wase could only get his support after first getting the approval of his party.
A few days after the comments, a member of the House from Rivers State, Kingsley Chinda, who is a close ally of Mr Wike, announced the formation of a multi-partisan coalition called Joint Task. The coalition has since become the main group pushing the campaign of Tajudeen Abbas, the candidate endorsed by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the top seat.
Mr Chinda’s new alliance with the outgoing Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, in the current race for the position may baffle some observers. In 2019, he was nominated as the Minority Leader by the Uche Secondus-led PDP. However, Mr Gbajabiamila used technicality to truncate his nomination. The speaker argued that lawmakers are to nominate their minority leader and not the party because the officer represents all minority parties, not just PDP. He, therefore, announced Ndudi Elumelu to the position, acting on a letter written by members of the minority caucus.
Aside from that, Mr Chinda and other senior members that opposed Mr Elumelu were denied leadership of committees or given positions considered less juicy by lawmakers. In the past four years, Mr Chinda has not been active on the floor of the House.
But there has been a change in direction. To underscore this, Mr Gbajabiamila recently constituted four ad hoc committees and named PDP and LP members as the heads, including Mr Chinda. The others are Mark Gbillah (LP, Benue), Idem Uyime (PDP, Akwa-Ibom) and Bamidele Salam (PDP, Osun).
Why does APC need Wike?
The APC needs help from the minority parties to install the next speaker. This is because although the party has the highest number of elected lawmakers, it does not have the majority in the House. The APC is equally grappling with its own internal row. Many of the old guards from the North-west are angry that the party endorsed Mr Abbas without consulting them. But the South-west members-elect have been very vocal in their support for the Abbas movement.
The minority parties have more seats in the incoming House. They have a combined total of 181 seats while the ruling party has 177 seats. The breakdown is as follows: APC 177, PDP 116, LP 36, NNPP 19, APGA five, ADC
two, SDP two seats and YPP one seat.
With several APC members in the race, the party’s members in the House are divided. Therefore, the opposition lawmakers are in a strategic position to decide who becomes the next speaker or even cause an upset by producing one from among their ranks.
However, the chances of the opposition coming together for that upset appear to be slim, given Mr Wike’s place in the picture.
The minority parties are well aware of their numerical strength and strategic position. They formed a coalition called “Greater Majority” headed by Fred Agbedi, a PDP member from Bayelsa State. The aim was to unite all the members-elect of the seven minority parties.
Earlier, they declared a goal of producing a candidate for the race. However, no member of the caucus indicated interest to be that candidate.
To start with, the alliance between Messrs Wike and Tinubu has taken the 11 members-elect from Rivers out of the Greater Majority group. Hence, the maximum number of lawmakers in the Greater Majority group is 170.
Division of the PDP
The PDP as the largest opposition bloc is expected to lead the minority caucus, and even produce the Minority Leader. However, the bloc is the most divided in the opposition ranks.
In the past few days, the minority group championed by the PDP has existed in name only. The movement of the members is so fluid it is difficult to say where any lawmaker belongs. “We are all fishing in the same pond,” APC lawmaker Miriam Onuoha recently told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview.
Within the Greater Majority, there is another faction loyal to Governor Wike. The group, headed by Idu Igariwe, a member from Ebonyi State, recently endorsed Mr Abbas and Benjamin Kalu as the speaker and deputy speaker respectively. While the second group led by Mr Agbedi has yet to endorse a candidate, it has also met with Mr Abbas’s camp and the other group of speakership aspirants, G7.
The Igariwe-led faction includes some influential members of the NNPP, including Alhassan Rurun. Earlier, Abdulmummin Jibrin, a member of the NNPP and a veteran of leadership battles in the House, gave the impression that the NNPP was with the Greater Majority. However, different NNPP lawmakers are supporting either of the two pro-APC establishment groups.
NNPP’s Aliyu Madaki serves as the secretary of the Joint Task while Alhassan Rurun serves as secretary of the Greater Majority faction.
The meeting last month in France between Mr Tinubu and the leader of the NNPP, Rabiu Kwankwaso, appears to explain the stance of the NNPP lawmakers in the race. In addition, most of them were APC members who decamped to the NNPP.
Also, the ADC caucus is headed by Leke Abejide. The lawmaker from Kogi State is believed to be a pro-Tinubu politician. Therefore, the two ADC lawmakers in the new House are in the Joint Task, further depleting the ranks of the opposition.
This division within the opposition gives the Joint Task group the edge in the push for Mr Abbas to emerge as the Speaker unless the rival G7 succeeds in producing a consensus candidate against him.
Equally, there has been a lack of direction from the minority parties on what their lawmakers should do in terms of leadership of the 10th House.
Mr Agbedi, during a meeting of the Greater Majority, said governors of the opposition were yet to give direction. Many expect the presidential candidates of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, and Labour Party, Peter Obi, to provide direction to their lawmakers but there is nothing to suggest such.
Atiku was very quiet until recently when he advised PDP lawmakers to be more united in forming a strong opposition.
But that might change soon with a planned retreat of the opposition lawmakers-elect in Akwa-Ibom. Governor Emmanuel Udom may provide the leadership to give the lawmakers the needed direction. Mr Emmanuel served as the Chairman of the Atiku Presidential campaign, so he is in a position to counter the stride of Mr Wike.
Fight to become Minority Leader
One other major factor playing a role in this election is the possible battle for the minority leadership seat between Mr Chinda and Oluwole Oke, a PDP lawmaker from Osun State.
There are speculations that Mr Wike and his loyalists may join the ruling party. In the meantime, Mr Chinda has his eyes set on the minority leadership position that he missed in the outgoing assembly due to Mr Gbajabiamila’s technicality.
If the joint task team succeeds in installing Mr Abbas, then Mr Chinda would be a step closer to the position. But if the Greater Majority prevails, Mr Oke would have an edge.
Difficult consensus arrangement in G7
The G7 are the aggrieved speakership aspirants in the APC, who came together as the Coalition of Progressive Speakership Aspirants (COPSA). The members include the current Deputy Speaker Wase, Muktar Betara, Sada Soli, Aminu Jaji, Yusuf Gagdi and Miriam Onuoha. Alhassan Doguwa was in the group but has pulled out to stand behind the party’s candidate, Mr Abbas. The others want to produce a consensus candidate to challenge Mr Abbas.
The group met with the Greater Majority group weeks ago and hinted at an agreement in the coming days. Mr Gagdi even issued a statement that the group had agreed on a candidate. However, PREMIUM TIMES learnt the group is still considering four of the aspirants – Messrs Betara, Wase, Gagdi and Jaji.
Within the group, some are pushing for a North-west candidate in order to maintain the zoning arrangement of the party. Some of the strongest anti-Abbas members are from the North-west. However, it appears the problem is not Mr Abbas but Mr Gbajabimaila, whom several aspirants accused of betraying their support for him in 2019.
Therefore, there is a strong argument for the G7 to adopt a candidate from the North-west. Two candidates from the zone – Alhassan Doguwa and Abubakar Makki, had withdrawn from the race and now support Mr Abbas. Perhaps to take advantage of the opportunity, Mr Jaji recently officially announced his entry into the race in anticipation of the North-west argument. His closeness to Mr Tinubu has also been raised by his handlers, who argued that in the event that the rebellion succeeded, the president-elect would have no difficulty working with the Zamfara lawmaker.
The G7 has difficulty reaching a consensus. However, any chance of success for them depends on a united front against the candidate of their party.
A divided House
In the past weeks, the G7 went public with its fight with Mr Gbajabiamila — the days of speaking behind closed doors appear to be gone. Weeks ago, for the very first time, Mr Gbajabimaila spoke on the race and took shots at the aspirants, notably Mr Betara, who is considered the strongest in the G7.
“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,” Mr Gbajabiamila said, adding that in 2019, he gave the most powerful committee to one of the aspirants in the race, who worked against him in 2015.
“I gave the chairmanship of the most powerful committee in the house to one of the prime movers that worked against me and worked against the party. Not only did I give him that committee, I turned away and gave him a free hand to operate,” he said.
Observers believe that the salvo was directed at Mr Betara because he is the Appropriation Committee Chairman, a position considered to be the most powerful in the National Assembly.
But the most visible fight has been with Mr Wase. Mr Gbajabimaila in the past weeks appears to be doing everything within his power to prevent a situation where his deputy would preside over the House again.
The friction came to a head some weeks ago, when the deputy speaker openly challenged Mr Gbajabiamila on the floor of the House.
While all these intrigues are ongoing, the deciding factor may come from outside the ruling party and the National Assembly as Mr Wike has promised to join the campaign for Mr Abbas after leaving office.
Mr Wike had since met with Mr Tinubu in Abuja and shunned the reconciliation meeting of his own party in Bauchi last week. Mr Abbas will be hoping that the former Rivers governor’s support for him is as significant as it was for Mr Tinubu in the presidential election.
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