Rumbles in states over Assembly speakership

June 2, 2019
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As the states prepare to inaugurate their new Houses of Assembly, our correspondents report on the intrigues trailing the search for the new Speakers. Excerpts

Desperate search for the chamber lords

The plum seats overlooking all the others at the hollowed chambers of the various state Houses of Assembly in Nigeria are simply awe inspiring. Designed to be occupied not by a god, but by one of the elected lawmakers, aptly described by the honourable members as ‘the first among equals,’ the occupant of this unique seat is considered very powerful in the politics of the state, not only because the revered occupant, as the Speaker, is the third citizen in the state, but more importantly because he leads all the most powerful elected officials in the state with the exception of the governor and the deputy governor.

Also, aside the fact that the lawmakers he leads are the true representatives of the grassroots and that they have the constitutional power to make and amend laws, he and the other lawmakers also have the awesome power to impeach any governor or his deputy if and whenever they deem it necessary.

Aware of this rather frightening reality, the politics of election of the Speaker and that of the other members of the leadership of each state House of Assembly, like what now obtains at the National Assembly, has become quite intriguing. Not only are the governors desperate to ensure they install their supporters as the Speakers and Leaders of their Assemblies, ruling political parties and other political godfathers in the states are also playing active roles in the intricate game of power.

We gathered, for example, that even before the May 29, 2019 swearing-in of state governors across the country, the search for the leadership of state Assemblies has taken the centre stage in the politics of the country, though it was then mainly played behind the doors by the then governors-elects and other interested godfathers and stakeholders.

Today, as the new governors look forward for the inauguration of the state Assemblies in order to kick start the new administration, there is tension as various interest groups move to determine the lawmaker to seat on the powerful plum seat.

From Abakaliki in Ebonyi State, to Minna in Niger State and Abeokuta in Ogun State, we learnt that governors and other godfathers are not sleeping and are not ready to take chances.

Reports from our correspondents also show that the issue of who presides over the state Assemblies now goes beyond what the lawmakers want or even what the governors themselves desire as zones and other interest groups within the polity have joined in the politics of State Assemblies.

Already, powerful aspirants have emerged, but it seems certain that until the day of election and inauguration, nobody is certain of anything. So until then, the tension builds on.

EBONYI: NWIFURU SET

TO BE RE-ELECTED

From Ogochukwu Anioke, Abakaliki

IN Ebonyi State, the incumbent Speaker, Francis Nwifuru, is set to be re-elected by his colleagues following the interventions by the State Governor David Umahi.

15 of the 24 members from the outgoing set were re-elected during the last general election. All 24 members of the House were elected under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which also swept all the National Assembly’s positions in the state.

A source with inside knowledge of the recent politicking and horse trading over the next Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assemly revealed to The Nation that immediately after the elections, some ranking members of the House began scheming for the speakership position, among them a floor functionary of the House from Ebonyi South Senatorial zone.

Also, some members of the governor’s kitchen cabinet were said to also be against the return of the Speaker. Their thinking being that Nwifuru, who is alleged to be nursing a serious ambition to succeed Umahi in 2023, will be very dangerous and more powerful to contend with if the powers that be do not support him.

Some National Assembly members, who are also eyeing the governorship position come 2023, have also made moves to stop his re-election but the governor was resolute and in the end had his way as he was able to convince them all to allow Nwifuru who has been very loyal to be returned when the House is inaugurated.

One thing that is in Nwifuru’s favour is the zoning structure that has been in place over the years in the state which recommends that the top three positions be shared among the three senatorial zones of the state.

Umahi hails from Ebonyi South while his Deputy, Kelechi Igwe, is from Ebonyi Central zone. That was why Nwifuru from the North was given the Speaker in 2015.

Governor Umahi has also been a strong advocate of second term which is why he is backing Nwifuru to be retained.

Barring any last minute change of mind, the incumbent Speaker, Nwifuru, is set to be re-elected.

ABIA: A LIKELY

TWO HORSE RACE

From Sonny Nwankwo, Umuahia

The speakership of the Abia State House of Assembly remains one of the most topical issues in the state as intrigues surrounding it is already causing bad blood amongst members of yet to be constituted Assembly, especially of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

An investigation by The Nation shows that unlike in the past where the position of speakership may have been zoned to a particular part of the state, until the May 29 swearing-in of the re-elected governor into power, there have been serious political meetings going on with some of them ending in crisis.

It was gathered from a reliable source that the majority of members of the yet-to-be inaugurated from the ruling PDP and other parties are divided between the two major contending candidates; incumbent Speaker of the State House, Rt. Hon. Chikwendu Kalu, representing Isiala Ngwa South State Constituency and the Majority Leader of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Chindeum Orji, representing Umuahia Central State Constituency.

Chinedum Orji, who is the son of the former governor of Abia State, sources at the State House of Assembly said, had allegedly nursed the ambition of becoming the Speaker of the House of Assembly in 2015 but had to drop the ambition after some stakeholders of the party intervened and mounted pressure on him to jettison such ambition.

Though Jnr Orji and Kalu are yet to make public their intentions to run for the number three seat in the state, their loyalists, however, have taken to the social media canvassing support for their principals and in some cases, throwing banters against one another which is heating up the polity.

While the two top contenders as at the time of filing this report are eminently qualified to contest for the position, there are factors that could, however, affect their candidacy.

Apart from the fact that the two contenders are second-term lawmakers, by the PDP zoning formula, both of them come from the same Abia Central zone where the speakership of the State House of Assembly is zoned to.

Speaking on the two potential Speakership candidates, a political analyst Mr. Godfrey Ikeagwu said “the two candidates are most qualified for the position.

“Chikwendu is a lawyer and by training, Chinedum Orji is a grassroots politician that is loved by the people around him. He is from Abia Central and is the current Speaker of the House. He has got legislative experience and as a lawyer, he should know more about legislation and legal implications over some laws and policies of government as it has to do with the constitutionality of their actions and inactions.

“And as it has been the custom of politics in Nigeria and PDP’s way of life, you cannot rule out the return-return syndrome.

“For Chinedum Orji, I learned that he is one legislature that has touched the lives of people around him, especially the youth population. I have read through the internet, what he has been able to do as a state legislature. To me, he has been able to do what some federal lawmakers haven’t been able to do. I was thinking that he should have contested for the National Assembly seat because we need vibrant and youth-friendly lawmakers like him to be there.

“But the problem is that the Ngwa bloc is thinking that he might sponsor the impeachment of Ikpeazu if he becomes Speaker. Don’t forget that it was the fear that made people protest in 2015 when rumors had it that he was going to run for the Speakership as at then.

“Unconfirmed reports, however, have it that though the current State House Assembly Speaker is from the Ukwa Ngwa bloc which should naturally have the blessings of the governor,  Ikpeazu is reported to have endorsed the Speakership of Ikuku as a way of paying him back for seeing to his choice and emergence as the governorship candidate of the PDP in 2015 against the choice of his father, Senator Theodore Ahamefule Orji and some PDP stakeholders in the state that have other candidates such as Dr. Alex Otti, Uche Sampson Ogah, Senator Nkechi Nwaogu, Barr. Friday N. Nwosu, among others, including Ikpeazu’s brother-in-law and former Deputy Governor of the State, Chief Eric Acho Nwakanma.

Commenting on the ongoing leadership tussle, former Senator representing Abia Central at the National Assembly, Chris Adighije, who is an All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain in the state, said it would be proper for the Speakership position of Abia State House of Assembly, which has been zoned to Abia Central, to be micro zoned to Ikwuano/Umuahia for equity’s sake.

“Since the governor is from Abia South and an Ngwa man, the Deputy Governor from Abia North, it will be proper for the Ikwuano/Umuahia to produce the Speaker for the sake of balance. Isiala Ngwa North and South are our Ngwa brothers and the governor is an ngwa man.”

When asked if he has a favored candidate from Ikwuano/Umuahia, he has this to say; “I don’t have a favored candidate, the Ikwuano/Umuahia members elect should be able to choose amongst themselves who they believe has the capacity to do the work effectively,” he said.

But in what seems to be a morale boost to the speakership quest of Jnr. Orji, ex- Senate President and Secretary, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Adolphus Wabara, has not only endorsed the Speakership position ambition of the son of the former governor of the state and senator representing Abia Central, Chief Theodore Orji, Chief Chinedum Orji, he has equally urged Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu not to interfere in the affairs of the House of Assembly that will lead to the election of Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly come June.

Addressing select newsmen in Aba on Sunday, Senator Wabara said as the Secretary of BoT of PDP, whose sole responsibility is advisory, the governor should not interfere in the affairs of the State House of Assembly, particularly as it relates to choosing who should be the Speaker.

He said that in PDP, zoning, which breeds equity is key, adding that it is as a result of zoning that made Ngwa man to become governor in 2015 for the first time in the history of the state.

While admonishing those who are interested in the Speakership position to be mindful of their utterances, the former Senate President said that fairness and equity demands that the speakership position should be zoned to Umuahia axis of Abia Central and the Deputy Speakership position to Ukwa ethnic nationality.

“What I am saying is that the governor is from Abia South; Ukwa/Ngwa extraction, the deputy governor, Ude Okochukwu, is from Abia North, then why should the Speakership coming to Abia Central still remain with an Ngwa person? It is not fair.

Prof Gregory Ibe speaking to news men recently in Amaokwe Uturu his hometown enjoined incoming members of the Assembly to embrace the candidature of Engr. Orji and subsequently work towards his emergence as Speaker.

But sources said that though Engr. Orji may have been getting the endorsements from people in the state, they warned that the incumbent Speaker in the state would not be a pushover.

LAGOS: PARTY LEADERSHIP TO DECIDE WHO BECOMES SPEAKER

By Oziegbe Okoeki, Lagos

As the countdown to the end of the 8th Assembly of Lagos State begins and the inauguration of the 9th Assembly is around the corner what is uppermost in the mind of political pundits is who will emerge the Speaker of the 9th Assembly?

Will it remain the incumbent Speaker, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, who won a return ticket for a record fifth term and oldest member in the Assembly or will there be change of leadership?

Although for now there seems to be a lot of quietness in the Assembly as to the issue of speakership, it however does not translate to an endorsement of the current Speaker to continue in the 9th Assembly.

Though on the surface no lawmaker has come out openly to signify interest in contesting for the position, The Nation gathers that this is primarily because, from past experience, the issue of who emerges as Speaker in Lagos Assembly is always decided by godfathers and the party leadership.

And since none of the lawmakers for now is sure of what the position of the leaders is on the issue, everybody is holding back because if the leadership decides that the incumbent should continue they would not want to be caught on the wrong side because the consequences from the 2015 experiences of those who eventually lost out in the race may be grave.

However, this is not to say that in a House where you have 4th, 3rd and 2nd termers, they are not eyeing the seat, but for reasons stated above they are not ready to come out openly.

From our investigations, few who show interest in the seat are actually working underground meeting with stakeholders, which include party leaders, traditional rulers and other influential people in the state to swing the pendulum to their side.

Like one of such interested lawmaker confided in our correspondent on condition of anonymity, “I will not become the Speaker through the pages of newspaper or on the social media; I know those who can make it happen and I am reaching out to them.”

This is obviously the attitude and belief of those interested in the race. They are working underground and who knows, there may be surprises.

But will it be a walkover for the incumbent? It is very unlikely because there seem to be so much unease among the lawmakers, especially the ranking members, because the newcomers are not too familiar with the terrain yet.

Although there is so much grumbling among many of the ranking members, nobody really wants to speak out on what the problem really is except for some who said it borders on style of leadership and members’ welfare.

Even a principal figure who is also a major power broker in the House and who was instrumental and played a major role in the emergence of Obasa in 2015, from sources within the Assembly, is also aggrieved. He is actually seen as a godfather in the Assembly.

Though he is no longer coming back to the Assembly since he has secured a ticket to go higher, he however remains relevant and powerful in the Assembly politics and many believe the party leadership will listen to him when the issue of speakership comes up.

He is even said to have called a meeting of some prominent ranking members in the Assembly to complain bitterly about his protégé, especially on issues concerning members’ welfare and other sundry matters.

Even members of the speaker’s kitchen cabinet are said to be aggrieved also and have indeed met, and though they are not averse to his returning as Speaker, they have however detailed out conditions he must abide to and changes in style he must adhere to so as to retain their support. It is however not certain how far they have gone in their quest.

One of the conditions given is that the Speaker must promise to make lawmakers and staffs’ welfare a priority to gain their support.

But sources at the Assembly say the Speaker sees this as betrayal and this may have estranged both parties.

This may account for why the Speaker has opted for another lawmaker who observers in the Assembly will tell you they have never been best of friend’s probably because he contested for the position against Obasa in 2015; as his campaign manager for the coveted seat.  He is not coming back and also lost his bid to go to House of Representatives.

Definitely, the Speaker has more trust in him, because he is not coming back, than members of his kitchen cabinet who are coming back.

And the major plank of his campaign manager to the new comer lawmakers as disclosed by one of them when asked who he will vote for is “vote for Obasa, if you don’t vote for him and he wins, he will victimize you because he is very vindictive. I have suffered it in the last four years. I was victimized in the last four years because I did not support him in 2015”.

That Obasa may have prepared the ground for a smooth return as Speaker of the 9th Assembly is not in doubt. He is said to have been instrumental to the return of many of the returning members, especially those coming for second term and particularly the Peoples Democratic Party defectors, by ensuring that even those who lost out in the party primaries were eventually given the ticket by the party to come back; he is sure of their loyalty.

He is also sure of the loyalty of some of the ranking members, particularly those who he made chairmen of juicy committees as they would want him back so as to continue to enjoy chairmanship of their juicy committees or at least switch to other juicy committees.

If the contest is to be decided on the floor of the House, he is almost 100 per cent sure of the votes of these members and some of the new comers whom he has already reached out to.

But as mentioned earlier, the decision of who becomes the Speaker is neither decided on the floor of the House or by the lawmakers but by the godfathers and leadership of the party. This much the Speaker alluded to in 2015 during the tussle for the speakership position.

And their yardstick for deciding who eventually emerges as Speaker may be very different from other calculations as seen in the case of out-going governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who despite his spectacular performance, was denied a second term ticket by the party leadership.

In the Lagos Assembly who becomes speaker remains a matter of conjecture for now; will it remain Obasa or will another Speaker emerge? Will there be surprises? These questions will only be answered in June maybe days or hours before the inauguration of the 9th Assembly.

For now, all fingers are crossed as the underground work, campaign and intrigues continue.

NIGER: HOW NEW MEMBERS’ BAN AFFECTS RACE

From Justina Asishana – Minna

The newly elected members of the Niger State House of Assembly are prevented from contesting due to last minute amendment of the standing order of the House which states that fresh and new members will not be qualified to vie for the leadership of the Assembly.

The Nation gathered that the state government may have already selected a candidate from among the new entrants but with the change in the standing order, they had to shift their focus.

We reliably gathered that three returning members, including the incumbent Speaker, would be contesting for the number three position in the state.

These contenders include the current Speaker, Honorable Ahmed Marafa Guni, who is representing Chachanga Constituency, the member representing Bosso Constituency, Honorable Malik Madaki Bosso and the Chairman of the Committee on Information who represents Suleja Constituency, Honorable Shua’ibu Liman Iya.

The government is leaning favorably in support of the member representing Suleja Constituency, Honorable Shua’ibu Liman Iya who entered into the Assembly under the platform of the PDP but defected during his second year as a member in the House.

Reasons for the support of Iya is not far-fetched as the government is looking at who will bend to its will, approve their whims and be at their beck and call.

The current Speaker, Ahmed Marafa Guni, may likely have the support of his fellow colleagues but not the government; this is because the government is not able to bend him to do their will during his four year tenure.

What possibly put off the government about Marafa may not be far from his inability to get the Assembly to approve the Sukuk Bond which the government wanted at all cost; this ended up in causing a frosty relationship between the government and the legislators.

Another reason the government is not favorably disposed to him may be his insistence that the governor signs and acts on the bills passed by the House and his usual tendency to call the government to order.

However, on his part, Marafa says he is not worried about the outcome of the Speakership position as according to him, “position comes from God. I will be comfortable with every outcome, be it for me or against me.”

Honorable Madaki Malik Bosso’s emergence as one of the contenders is not a surprise because he has been the most vocal member in the Assembly in the past four years, however he is not favored by the government because of his outspokenness and his ability to speak against government policies each time it is not favorable to the people.

Out of these three major candidates, it seems the current Speaker and Madaki Bosso will be the two most favoured in the battle to get the plum seat. The governor’s will and say over the speakership position has always not been met and this time will be no different.

CROSS RIVER: GOVERNOR HOLDS THE ACE

From Nicholas Kalu, Calabar

In Cross River State, the present Speaker of the House of Assembly, John Gaul Lebo, representing Abi State Constituency in the Central District of the state, would not be coming back, given that he lost out in his bid to move up to the House of Representatives in the last election.

With some kind of unwritten consensus that the speakership be retained in the central district of the state, the position may have been narrowed down to the six local government areas that constitute the district.

The local governments are Abi, Yakurr, Obubra, Etung, Boki and Ikom. However, it seems due to various factors that would be highlighted here, it still would seem there is a further narrowing down.

Presently, the 25 member House is constituted of all members of the Peoples Democratic Party and a breakdown of the central district as it would be in the next Assembly would be as follows Abi (Dave Etta), Boki 1 (Itam Abang), Boki 2 (Hilary Bisong), Obubua 1 (Okpeche Friday)

Obubra 2 (Samson Francis), Etung (Chris Mbu-Ogar), Ikom 1 (Fred Osim), Ikom 2 (Elvert Ekom), Yakurr 1 (Ofem Nelson) and Yakurr 2 (Eteng Williams).

However favourites among these seem to be the representatives of Boki, who in considering elective positions from the area seem to be lacking.

There seems to be the feeling that one of these two should present the Speaker for some form of equity within the district.

For instance Ikom has Chris Agibe who is in the federal House of Representatives member representing Ikom/Boki. Obubra has Mike Etaba representing Obubra/Etung. Abi has Alex Egbona representing Abi/Yakurr. Etung has Sandy Onor as a Senator of the district. Also Yakurr had produced a Speaker before in the person of Bassey Ewa. Abi and Yakurr share the same federal constituency and Abi had just produced the immediate past Speaker in the person of John Gaul. There is also the feeling that Abi has also produced a governor in the person of Liyel Imoke and  Yakurr just finished from the House of Reps in the person of Bassey Ewa, who is to hand over to Alex Ebgona from Abi.

For some, if fairness and equity are to be achieved, then it should be Boki that should get the speakership, even as those from the area say they gave the governor the highest number of votes in the state in the last general elections.

Bisong, heading for a second term in office, had achieved some popularity in the last Assembly. He is one of those whose name comes up whenever the matter is discussed, but it should be noted that the governor’s interest would also play a role in who would eventually emerge as the Speaker as it seems the legislature in the state has always been under the influence of the executive.

The governor is expected to look for someone that it would be able to work smoothly with given that most of his projects would need legislative backing. It is in this regard many feel that Bisong may not be favoured as he is believed to be an independent minded person.

But sources close to Bisong say he is a team player, who is not coming to challenge the system because he also has a political future and is committed to move the state forward.

Another strong contender would be Williams from Yakurr, a close associate of Lebo. But there is the feeling that if the governor really wants smooth working relations with the House this might not be the best option because his would be like an extension of Lebo’s speakership, who many members of the House felt did not protect their interests well enough. In fact, it is argued that it is such loss of popularity that made Lebo to lose his bid for the Abi/Yakurr federal seat, which is the only constituency the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) won in all the elections across the state.

Fred Osim, representing Ikom I, is another name that features for this position although the permutations highlighted earlier may not favour his area.

As pointed out earlier, in the midst of all these schemings, the person that would make the final decision would be the governor himself. The politics of the state seems to be tied around the apron strings of the governor and whoever the governor decides would emerge. Against this backdrop and given that of course in politics anything is possible, hence pushing it further one may consider the present Deputy Speaker of the House who represents Calabar South 2 from the Southern district.

This is due to the feeling that Bassey, who would be returning for a third term, is considered to be level headed and diplomatic and that he would be able to build the kind of cohesion the governor would like to pursue his agenda.

OGUN: UNCERTAINTY TRAILS SEARCH FOR NEW SPEAKER

From Ernest Nwokolo, Abeokuta

The current state legislative Assembly in Ogun State, presided over by Hon. Suraj Adekunbi, will wind down in June, giving way to another leadership.

The seat of the Speaker, in the political configuration of the state, had been zoned to Ogun Central since Ogun East has the Governor while the Ogun West has the Deputy Governor.

The race for the position had since  began, albeit, subtly even before the State House of Assembly election was held last March 9 in Ogun State.

The duo of Kunle Oluomo from Ifo 1 State Constituency and Elemide Daisy Victor, an Architect, from Odeda State Constituency are the contenders to the office.

Honourable Kunle Oluomo is being said to be interested in the seat. He is presently the Deputy Speaker and has eight years of legislative experience on his side, a grassroots politician, and mobiliser and often referred to as the grand master of Ifo politics by a section of his supporters.

Oluomo had a stint in the media. In the last eight years, he has been running people – ariented and welfarist representation for his Ifo 1 State Constituency, providing free school shuttle buses that convey pupils and students to and fro schools in Ifo town and surrounding villages.

He is making his third appearance at the Ogun Assembly where, of the 26 – member legislators, about a dozen of them are making their first appearances.

He was an Amosun loyalist to the core, dating back to the time of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP). He was first elected a lawmaker on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), 2011, when he followed Amosun to the party, got re-elected on the ticket of APC 2015 and now in 2019 on the strength of the same party.

He however fell out with Amosun when his former boss denied him ticket and so he had to align with Dapo Abiodun and Osoba camp to get the ticket to run.

Oluomo is believed to be banking on the likely support of colleagues who would be returning to the House to clinch the Speakership position when the time comes.

The odds against him is his connection with Amosun, and even though the relationship between the duo had diverged, political expediency and need for healthy and  stable forthcoming Ogun Assembly may make the choice of Oluomo a difficult path to thread by the decision makers in APC.

For no fault of his, it is not unexpected for people to assume that he could easily look back to his else while political mentor for tutoring when the chips are down to the hurt of executive – legislative harmony. How he will pull this albatross off his shoulder remained a matter to be seen.

Oluomo has been paying heavy price on account of what some people ascribed to his severed relationship with the governor while others said his political travails were the manifestation of the people’s discontents with his style of politics.

He has been attacked on a number of occasions by political foes; his supporters too had equally been spared during such attacks, with some of them gravely injured.

Recently, he lost what could be regarded as a fleet of busses to hoodlums, who set them ablaze and also torched his constituency office in Ifo.

Elemide is an Osoba loyalist. An intelligent and calm politician, he was in the House from 2011 to 2015; followed Osoba to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 2015 when Amosun elbowed them out of APC and also joined the camp to successfully fight their way back to the party.

Elemide appeared to have many things working on his side towards emerging the next Speaker of the Ogun Assembly. He earns the trust of the party chieftains, his people and to a significant extent, that of the party as whole.

Some of the first time lawmakers too are likely to give him their support on the strength of the series of alliances that brought about the victory of APC in the governorship poll.

And given the experience of the party leaders and chieftains in the hand of Governor Ibikunle Amosun in the last eight years, particularly in the build-up to the last general elections, it is almost certain that nobody remotely or directly connected to Amosun would be supported to become Speaker.

This is where Oluomo is most disadvantaged and Elemide seem better favored. And if the rule of ‘Baba so pe’ takes precedence, as it is expected to be done underground, Elemide is likely going to be the next Speaker.

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