The House of Representatives is arguably one of the most interesting places to visit at the moment. It has at least, in the last two years, been a hub of drama and uncommon intrigues. But the chamber showed last week that it can be worse than that.
Last Tuesday , the Lower House threw decency to the wind as members of the All Progressives Congress(APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) decided to openly test their strength.
But for the intervention of the leaders of the chamber, some lawmakers could have engaged in a free -for -all. It didn’t take watchers of the disgraceful episode unaware. Many predicted it. The scope of the duel was even less than what some analysts projected.
Since last December when some PDP lawmakers defected to the rival APC and swelled the latter’s population in such a manner that it now wears the captain’s band in the house, many knew that a ground has been prepared for a dugout between the two. What was not expected was that the battle would start from the first plenary of the House after its December/ New Year break.
Some happenings on Monday signaled that Tuesday’s opening plenary session might be testy. A Federal High Court in Abuja gave an order restraining APC in the chamber from effecting a leadership change. The court injunction was not taken lightly by APC lawmakers. Led by Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, the Minority Leader, the lawmakers quickly summoned a meeting and agreed to upturn the order. In fact some of them suggested that they should give a cold shoulder to the injunction .
The next day, when the plenary kicked off, everything initially appeared to be in order. The lawmakers from the two divides exchanged pleasantries, engaged in banters and even had back slaps . But that was to be momentary. Soon, their real colours came out.
The drama started when Hon Femi Gbajabiamila (APC) in his submission referred to the PDP Deputy Majority Leader,Hon Leo Ogor as the Deputy Minority Leader . This infuriated PDP members who instantly came on their feet and protested to the Speaker, Hon Aminu Tambuwal.
Gbajabiamila was contributing to a motion moved by Hon Sani Madaki (APC,Kano) under matters of National Importance . It was titled “The Urgent Need to Save Our Nascent Democracy”. Madaki called for the removal of Mohammed and Mbu, accusing them of escalating the Rivers crisis through their alleged biased handling of the recurring crisis in the state. He warned that the crisis in Rivers may hurt the country’s democracy if The IGP and Mbu were allowed to continue taking sides in the crisis.
Hon Ogor, PDP, Isoko Federal Constituency, Delta, faulted the call for the sack of IGP. He quoted Section 36 of the constitution contending that fair hearing should be given to the IGP and CP Mbu . His suggestion was instantly dismissed by APC members who also shouted him down.
Gbajabiamila was given the floor by Tambuwal to contribute on the matter. He picked holes in Ogor’s position . He referred to Ogor as the Deputy Minority Leader of the House. This , instantly sparked off protest from PDP lawmakers.
Some of them moved angrily towards Gbajabiamila , pointing fingers at his face. APC members quickly came to the rescue of their leader as they formed a wedge around him to save him from being mobbed.
The situation halted proceedings for close to 25 minutes . The Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal refused to utter a word in rancorous atmosphere.
The shouts of PDP , APC rented the air from members of the two parties. Most members left their seats to discuss the issue, while others like Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha consulted the Speaker. Also on the Speaker’s table were Hon Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi, Toby Okechukwu,Dep Minority Leader, Kawu Sumaila .
Interestingly, even when calm was gradually returning to the chamber, Hon Bashir Adamu was still shouting on top of his voice, thus attracting the attention of everybody. At this juncture, the Speaker decided to hit the gavel repeatedly to bring the situation under control. But that was not achieved for about ten minutes.
Tambuwal heaped the blame on Gbajabiamila, claiming that his joke was responsible for the rowdy session.
He said “The Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila who is a very senior lawyer and member of the House presented us with a very expensive joke of the New Year.
“We have our rules and procedures. We are aware of the change of leadership issue and the recent court order on that. In fact, we have been served with the order. But be that as it may, whether it was a slip of tongue, there is a court order”.
Tambuwal warned that as lawmakers, they should be the last set of people to disobey the court order no matter the situation.
He cited the 1992 general elections where he said MKO Abiola was on his way to win when the elections were annulled.
But Gbajabiamila stood his ground on the issue, saying he was only referring to the statement of fact since APC now has the majority in the House.
Citing the House rules, Gbajabiamila said “the majority shall… and the minority shall.” He however stood and moved to Leo and had a hand shake with him .
He defended his action saying “In reference to your office and your position Mr Speaker, I now refer to Honourable Leo Ogor as Honourable Leo Ogor,” he concluded.
Madaki in his motion had moved that the House should call on the President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to remove the Inspector General of Police from office within two weeks, failing which the National Assembly will take appropriate measure necessary in the circumstances.
He also moved that the House should urge the Police Service Commission to dismiss Mr Mbu and that the Federal Ministry of Justice should initiate his prosecution .
He further urged the House to “mandate the Committees on Interior, National Security and Police Affairs to liaise with the relevant government bodies to ensure the implementation of the House Resolution on this matter and report back to the House within four weeks.”
However, Tambuwal said the prayers of the motion have implications, therefore he referred the motion to committees on rules and business, judiciary and justice for them to study it and advise the House on what to do.
The development on the floor of the House was celebrated by PDP lawmakers. Their mood after the session clearly showed that. APC members had to summon another meeting immediately to re-strategies and agree on the next step to take .
They weighed the implication of disobeying the court order that barred them from upstaging the PDP in the House.
They had premised their earlier reason for not wanting to respect it on “lack of jurisdiction by the court to entertain the matter” as they argued that the matter was purely an internal affair of another arm of government.
They however resolved to abide by the court order until February 3rd, when hearing will resume on the matter.
Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) during a press briefing shortly after the planary said APC members “Have now taken decision to abide by the court’s order for now. Once we studied the order, we will vacate the judgement.
“We want Nigerians to know that what happened today has ridiculed the government of Nigeria, because it is only in this parliament in the whole world where minority party retains the position of majority and the majority party remain minority,”.
He said his reference to the deputy majority leader as the deputy minority leader at the session “was simply a fact”, stressing that “The slim majority of 171-172 is not actual”. As at the last check, APC has a difference of about 20 members.
“Today the bleeding of PDP has continued and will continue this week, next week, next month and in the future. With time everybody will take his rightful position.”
Gbajabiamila added that their concern is to focus on legislative works currently before them, citing the need of considering the 2014 budget estimate, “Rivers impunity”, PIB, the $10.5bn and many other issues to be addressed.
The APC decision to wait till February to vacate the order did not end the drama. More shocking developments were to take place. Two APC members decamped to PDP on Wednesday. They are Hon Francis Hananiya (Adamawa) and Hon Ganama Kwaga . The move restored PDP to the driving seat. APC openly rued the development.
However, before PDP could celebrate its return to the top spot, it lost another member , Hon Emmanuel Jime (Benue)to APC.
Another lawmaker, Hon Sulayman Konbi of the Democratic Peoples Party(DPP ) defected to APC. The movements restored the configuration to APC 172 while PDP remains 171, so far no change with the new development.
Although APC is hoping to attract more members especially from small political parties, PDP members believe that they can hang on the court to continue to call the shots. Right now, those who are praying hard that courts should continue to churn out injunctions that would stop APC from changing the leadership of the House include the Majority Leader, Hon Mulikat Adeola-Akande, her deputy, Hon Leo Ogor and the Chief Whip, Ishaka Bawa.
APC’s control of the chamber does not have much effect on the Speaker and his deputy. They can only resign or be impeached. In the case of the latter, 240 lawmakers are needed to oust them. Going by the configuration of the House, the number would be difficult to muster. However, in politics, nothing is impossible.
All eyes are watching.