The leader of the House of Representatives and chairman of the APC Caucus, Femi Gbajabiamila, in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Festus Owete and Nasir Ayitogo, speaks on the defections in the House, his relationship with Speaker Yakubu Dogara, the demand by the APC for the resignation of the Senate president, Bukola Saraki and other issues. Mr Gbajabiamila only agreed to respond to questions written and transmitted by mail, making it difficult to follow up on leads.
PT: The APC senators and members of the House of Representatives met with the party’s national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and other members of the NWC on Tuesday. You are the Leader of the APC Caucus in the House and you spoke at that forum. Why was Speaker Yakubu Dogara not there?
Gbajabiamila: The Speaker is a member of the APC Caucus as far as I know. He was not at the meeting just like several other members were absent due to one reason or the other. That does not mean they are not APC members. The Speaker I’m sure you’re aware has been in Bauchi where they just concluded a senatorial by-election
PT: The exit of about 33 APC lawmakers must have jolted your caucus. How are you taking it? I am sure your party is yet to recover from it.
Gbajabiamila: The exit of a single member should jolt any member to use your words, not to talk of 33. The jolt then turns into sympathy when you know the member has made a big mistake. Soon after the sympathy becomes a sigh of relief with the knowledge that your party remains the party of the masses which for me is the most important consideration. We all witnessed the size of the rallies and decampment that took place subsequently in various states and local governments where notable politicians had decamped from. We also make the costly mistake when we think a party belongs to the elite or political class when truly it belongs to the masses who every day continue to understand the intrigues and lust for power amongst the political class and know those who are there to protect them. I assure you many who got caught up in the euphoria of decamping are regretting today.
PT: Some say this is payback time because in 2013 your party hugely benefitted from the gale of defections that hit the PDP. I recall that in December 2013, 37 PDP members joined the newly formed APC. That was after five governors had defected. So why are bitter this time?
Gbajabiamila: When you characterise a process that is devoid of ideology as payback then you do a great disservice to Nigerians. Politics may be a game but must be anchored and played with certain ideological goals in mind and premised on the need for the greater good of Nigerians. That it was done four years ago does not mean it should be celebrated as a quadro annual event. What we should be working against is a repeat in another four years. The absence of clear political ideologies must be discouraged. Parties must have ideologies that differentiate them such that if you decamp from one to the other you will become a laughing stock as someone with no ideological underpinning who swings like a pendulum. Even if you call it payback for one political party what of the people who you represent who elected you most times because of the party you belong.
If you study most advanced democracies it’s practically impossible to find a single politician defect from one party to another simply because they don’t believe in same thing. In the rare case that it happens eg Senator Joe Lieberman in United States he defected from the Democratic Party not to the Republican whose ideology he didn’t share as a democrat. Instead he became an independent candidate and thank God the idea of independent candidacy is gradually finding its way into our constitution through the process of constitutional amendment. So please do Nigerians a favour and call this anomaly what it is and not describe it flippantly as pay back. It’s the Nigerian that are holding the short end of the stick
PT: As we speak, would you say the APC is in comfortable majority in the House now and how many are you?
Gbajabiamila: The APC has a clear and overwhelming majority in the House of about 196 thereabouts to PDP’s 150 or so, a difference of about 40. That’s a big deficit for the PDP. Don’t forget that all of the members that defected to ADC have progressive inclinations and we expect them to work with the APC in the House. That there are many members still expected to leave the APC is nothing but wishful thinking. In fact it’s the other way round. As you know two members so far have joined APC from Akwa Ibom since the so called gale.
PT: Some have said the manner your party, especially the national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole is going about the issue of Saraki is procedurally wrong. The Senate and the House have procedures for electing and removing their presiding officers. These rules are clear. But the national chairman was appears to favour illegal and undemocratic means to remove Saraki. Why is your party desperate?
Gbajabiamila: The national chairman spoke of legality and morality of an opposition member occupying headship of the legislature. I don’t know where you find desperation or illegality in the national chairman’s conduct.
PT: Four years ago, former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal defected from PDP to APC. You did not only hail him, you made sure he didn’t resign. In fact, you protected his seat. Is it not hypocritical asking Saraki to resign, given that the fact that the two issues are the same?
Gbajabiamila: I said at the time the whole House voted for Tambuwal and not just ACN. I stand by that. Whether the whole House voted for someone is not same thing as whether Tambuwal’s movement to a minority party at the time he should have remained the Speaker. I never addressed that particular issue. Now assuming I did perhaps that was what I thought. There is nothing wrong in changing one’s mind in the face of further and better evidence of the law. Indeed what would be wrong will be for one to be an ostrich and remain inflexible just because you don’t want to change your position even in face of new and more detailed research. That ability to change in face of a more compelling argument makes you a better person. After all even the Supreme Court has had occasion to reverse itself in the past when they realised they were wrong. The Senate President is a family friend I grew up with and did not know or meet in politics. That’s why this has been particularly difficult for me and I wish the situation was not what it is now. I believe beyond the 2/3rds debate, a constitution or law is interpreted based on the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. If a provision is ambiguous as it apparently is now you look at the intention of the drafters and framers if the constitution. So question is – could it have been the intention of the framers that a minority or opposition member would be a senate president? The answer is clearly no. Any other interpretation will lead to absurdity. If we say yes the law did not mind a situation where such would happen then it means an opposition senate president can use his position to make sure the ruling party/government fails. It would be in his interest to do so, so as to give his opposition party the opportunity to take over government. This could never have been the intention. If I were the senate president and I belonged to the opposition I would make sure the House did not reconvene so the money needed to finance the budget would not be approved by the National Assembly. Or what stops an opposition senate president from appointing all opposition members as committee chairmen including committees needed to make the government function? The midterm elections are coming up in the US in November. If the democrats should regain control of the Congress as speculated Speaker Ryan automatically steps down. Nowhere in the world that I know where constitutional democracy is practiced does the minority party occupy headship of the legislature. Now the provision commonly referred to that the whole House shall elect to mean the whole House shall elect from among the candidates produced by the majority party. This is why I said then that the House elected Tambuwal and not PDP. Even the PDP knows this and that is why even though here was ample opportunity to elect a PDP member as senate president because they were in the majority on the day of election they did not present a candidate. So it really isn’t about impeachment or 2/3rds. It’s about office eligibility. This is my take. Like I said I have a relationship with the senate president that goes beyond politics and wish it hadn’t come to this but it is what it is.
PT: The APC caucus in the House of Representatives seems to be divided due to the existence of Parliamentary Support Group led by Abdulmumin Jibrin. Is there anything the caucus is doing to address this?
Gbajabiamila: PSG is a group of lawmakers who have the right of association. However there is only one APC caucus in the House and no other.
PT: What is your relationship with the Speaker considering the fact that you are eyeing the seat in the next assembly?
Gbajabiamila: I enjoy a cordial relationship with the Speaker let no one make a mistake. There is only one Speaker at a time and I have never voiced or otherwise expressed my future intentions to anyone. I am not God.
PT: There are reports indicating that you are facing a stiff opposition in your bid to return as representative of Surulere constituency in 2019. What is the real situation on ground?
Gbajabiamila: Please show me one constituency where there isn’t opposition. It’s normal and it’s what makes politics interesting at every level. The concept of direct primaries allows everyone to go out there and test their popularity and level of acceptability.