The All Progressives Congress (APC) has in principle, formally adopted the incumbent House majority leader, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila as its candidate for the position of House Speaker in the 9th National Assembly. APC spokesman, Lanre Issa-Onilu, who posted this information on the party’s website on Tuesday night, also revealed that the Deputy Speaker position has been zoned to the North Central.
APC sources told reporters that the decision was reached after an intensive deliberation between APC House of Representatives members-elect with President Muhammadu Buhari at a dinner in the Banquet Hall of Aso Villa. After the dinner, the president is reported to have later gone into closed doors session with all APC House of Representatives members-elect.
President Buhari had on March 26 also hosted Senators-elect of the APC to a similar dinner at the Presidential Villa, where he reportedly tried to bully them to support the party’s endorsement of Senator Ahmed Lawan to be the next president of the 9th Senate.
The move by the president comes amid growing signs of rebellion amongst APC lawmakers-elect against the decision by the party to hand-pick and impose its choice of leadership of the principal officers of the 9th legislature. There are growing calls for the party to respect the federal character principle in its zoning of leadership positions within the legislative branch of government.
APC sources told reporters the president’s maneuvers has done little to dent the growing rebellion within the party, especially amongst lawmakers who believe it is their legitimate right to contest for any leadership position in the new legislature. Senator Ali Ndume has made no secret of his decision to challenge Lawan for the senate presidency, even after meeting with Vice-president Yemi Osinbajo, who tried to impress on him to respect the party decision.
Several House Reps have vowed to challenge Gbajabiamila for the House speakership; the latest being Rep Chike Okafor (APC-Imo), who on Tuesday, formally declared to run for the position. Okafor made his intention known when members of Good Governance and Transparency Initiative (GGTI) visited him at his National Assembly’s office, Abuja. The GGTI, an association of different youth organizations in the country, had, during the visit, endorsed Okafor as its preferred candidate for the speaker’s slot. The lawmaker disclosed that he had already written to the party’s National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, on his intention to vie for the position.
”The issue of zoning and election of principal officers of the National Assembly is about the most important talking point for most legislators and politicians, presently. While the position of the Senate President has been zoned by our party, the APC, to the North-East, we are aware that the party is yet to zone the Speakership of the House of Representatives to any zone.
”You are already aware of the clamour from across the country for equitable distribution of the principal offices of the National Assembly. Most importantly, the recent push by several APC support groups from across the northern states and the South-East calling on the party’s leadership to zone the speakership of the 9th assembly of the House of Representatives to the South-East,” he said.
According to him, in 2015, the APC denied the South-East principal officer’s positions in the National Assembly on the ground that we did not have a ranking member under the APC. ”I was slated for leadership position then, but was eventually denied the position of deputy whip because I was a first timer. Now, I am back and ranking! Gentlemen and ladies, let me use the opportunity of your visit and overwhelming endorsement to declare that I have thrown my hat into the ring. I am running for the speakership of the 9th assembly of the House of Representatives, and have formally written to the National chairman, and members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of my party, the APC,” he remarked.
Okafor, who is the Chairman, House Committee on Health, said it was no gainsaying that the South-East, which was denied a leadership position in the ruling party leadership caucus of the 8th assembly deserved compensation in the 9th assembly. ”And I am the appropriate vehicle for an equitable compensation to the South-East,” he said.
The lawmaker, who said that his zone gave 403,958 votes to President Buhari’s re-election victory in 2019 presidential poll, said this was against 198, 248 votes from the five states of the region in 2015.
”403,000 votes for Mr. President in the 2019 presidential election may not seem a big deal, but there is no geo-political zone in Nigeria that doubled its vote haul of 2015 in 2019 and improved on it performance in 2015 by more than 100% except the South-East!
“A ruling party doesn’t just look at the numbers alone; it also looks at national interest; it looks at social justice; it considers political stability and harmony in the body politics. It feels the pulse of the nation and weighs in on equitable inclusion of federating units of the country in line with the provisions of the constitution of the country and the party, even as it affects sharing of political offices. And looking at all these indices, as a party, we have not given the South-East a fair deal! Not yet,” he said.
Earlier, the leader of GGTI delegation, Abdulbasit Abubakar, said after the group’s congress meeting at Arewa House, Kaduna, Rep Okafor was unanimously endorsed by members as most qualified person to lead the 9th House. He said a 5000-man march would soon be organized by the group to press home their demand.