The election of Hon. Tajudeen Abbas and Hon. Benjamin Kalu as Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the 10th House of Representatives may have come and gone. What were the undercurrents in their journey to securing such an unprecedented landslide like? Find out in this piece by our National Assembly Lead, Elizabeth Atime.
The journey preceding the election of Tajudeen Abbas and Benjamin Kalu. as presiding officers of the 10th House of Representatives came with the usual buzz, and a lot can indeed be said to have taken place in the build-up to their emergence,
On 13th June 2023, Nigerians were in front of their television sets, while some stayed glued to their mobile devices, waiting eagerly for the outcome of the elections that would usher in the Speaker and Deputy Speaker that will oversee the affairs of the Green Chamber over the next four (4) years as stipulated in the Nigerian constitution.
At the end of the 2023 National Assembly election and the supplementary polls, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had a total of 179 seats, while the minority parties collectively won 182 seats. The death of Ismaila Yushau Maihanchi, Member-Elect for Jalingo, Yorro, Zing Federal Constituency of Taraba State elected on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) however, reduced their number to 181.
These minority lawmakers are spread across the; Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP), New Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NNPP), All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Social Democratic Party (SDP), African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Young Progressives Party (YPP).
Since the All Progressives Congress (APC), with the majority in the House, was yet to officially release a power-sharing formula for the executive and the legislature positions, Members of the House from the six geo-political zones (including President Bola Tinubu’s South-west), were thus not deterred from throwing their hats into the contest for the Presiding Officer position.
These lawmakers included South West: Olajide Akinremi (Oyo), South East: Benjamin Kalu (Abia), and Miriam Onuoha (Imo). Others were North Central: Ahmed Idris Wase; then Deputy Speaker (Plateau), Yusuf Gagdi (Plateau) and Abdulraheem Olawuyi (Kwara). North East: Muktar Aliyu Betara (Borno). North West: Makki Yalleman (Jigawa), Sada Soli (Katsina), Alhassan Ado Doguwa (Kano) Aminu Jaji (Zamfara) and Tajudeen Abass (Kaduna).
As it has become conventional, the Speakership campaigns of the 10th House were not devoid of plots, twists and turns, just as jabs were thrown at each other to score political goals against opponents. Following weeks of speculations and consultations, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), on May 8, 2023, eventually announced its power-sharing arrangement and choice of candidates ahead of the inauguration of the Tenth National Assembly and election of its presiding officers.
In a release by the party’s National Working Committee (NWC), it announced the duo of Senator Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom) and Rep. Tajudeen Abass (Kaduna) as its preference for the seat of the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Tenth National Assembly. The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation in the Ninth Senate, Senator Jibrin Barau and the Spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Rep. Benjamin Kalu, were adopted as its choice for the seats of the Deputy President of the Senate and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Emergence of the G6
With this development, some contenders for the Speakership seat besieged the secretariat of the ruling All Progressives Congress to register their displeasure over its imposition of consensus candidates. At a meeting with the Senator Abdullahi Adamu-led National Working Committee, the group of six (G6) lawmakers led by the then Deputy Speaker of the House, Ahmed Idris Wase, alongside Aminu Sani Jaji (Zamfara), Yusuf Gagdi (Plateau); Muktar Betara (Borno), Mariam Onuoha (Imo), Sada Soli (Kastina) accused the party of not carrying any of the aspirants along in the dialogue and negotiation.
Vowing to stand against the party’s nomination as well as backlash from allies of the aspirants, the party, through the Chairman, thus played down the decision saying that the selections were “not cast on stone.”
“I want to say categorically that none of us here was approached or consulted even for a second to seek our opinion on what was going to be done. While trying to convince ourselves it was one of social media reports, we saw the spokesman of our party on television confirming that there was actual negotiation or consultation that resulted in the list (of consensus candidates) produced,” Wase lamented.
The Gbajabiamila Factor
The adoption of Abbas is believed in many quarters to be the brainchild of former Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, who allegedly prefers to sustain a grip of the 10th House of Representatives for the benefit of his principal, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the APC as a party.
It thus became glaring ahead of the inauguration of the 10th Assembly that Gbajabiamila (now Chief of Staff to the President) was prepared to install a successor when Members-elect under the ‘JOINT TASK – 10TH ASSEMBLY’ (a similar nomenclature used during the 2019 campaign of the former Speaker) convened a meeting in Abuja to ensure a smooth take-off of the project.
At the meeting held on the 2nd of May 2023, members-elect from the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples’ Democratic Party PDP, Labour Party (LP), New Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NNPP), All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Social Democratic Party (SDP), African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Young Progressives Party (YPP) were present. Also, in attendance were close allies of the former Speaker; Reps. Tasir Wale Raji Wale (APC, Lagos), Chinedu Ogah (PDP, Imo), Babajimi Benson (APC, Lagos) Nnaji Nnolim (PDP, Enugu) etc.
Chairman of the Committee, Usman Bello Kumo, during his speech at the inaugural meeting of the Forum, said the essence of the ‘Joint Task -10th Assembly’ is to defend the sanctity of the parliament, promote its independence, ensure equity, fairness and balance in the emergence of the leadership of the House among others. Kumo stated that the driving force of the forum is the unity of Nigeria, adding that the forum has decided to go by the zoning decision of the ruling APC.
According to Kumo: “We vowed to provide maturity in the conduct and responsibilities of the 10th House. We are not promoting the interest of any particular candidate and we are not fighting any candidate.”
Interestingly, Gbajabiamila showed up at the third meeting of the forum, where he openly declared his stance. Meeting with members of the Joint Task Force, he explained: “North West geopolitical zone alone contributed 30% of the total votes for APC in the last elections and if you conduct a proper research, the North West zone has not been considered for the number four position in the history of our parliament.”
At another meeting, the former Speaker further urged the Members-elect to vote for competence.
“For those who know me, I just won my sixth term, perhaps the oldest legislator, except for one. It’s because I eat, drink and sleep and wake up with the legislature in my heart. That’s my constituency and I love that institution so much. So, I decided to support a person that’s least close to me of everybody that is running, because I saw in him a man with tremendous capacity.”
The Tinubu Factor
As the days drew closer, there was still suspense as to what the G6 will pull up from their sleeves on inauguration day. However, the coast became much clearer in the penultimate week before the inauguration, as some key members of the G6 dropped off the race to join Alhassan Doguwa, who had previously withdrawn his participation. Hon. Yusuf Gagdi and Hon Muktar Aliyu Betara, following a crucial meeting with President Bola Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima, withdrew from the race for Tajudeen Abbas; three days to the inauguration of the 10th House.
Known to be a core politician with deft political moves, President Tinubu was not going to leave anything to chance as he went ahead to convene a meeting of all lawmakers-elect across party lines where he persuaded them to accept the APC-backed candidates in the interest of unity of the country. Vice President Kashim Shettima is also said to have personally reached out to a couple of Aspirants, prevailing on them to support the party’s preference.
On D-day, to the surprise of many, following the proclamation of the 10th Assembly by President Bola Tinubu, the House of Representatives adopted an open voting where Members were asked to mention the names of their chosen candidate for the office. Interestingly, contrary to expectations, the Deputy Clerk to the National Assembly, Kamaru Ogunlana, kick-started the voting process before the Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA), Sani Magaji Tambuwal, emerged from the Senate at the end of a similar exercise to complete it.
Hon. Tajudeen Abass, in a landslide, garnered 353 votes out of the 359 voice votes cast.to defeat the last men standing; Aminu Sani Jaji and Ahmed Idris Wase, who polled three votes each, to emerge Speaker of the Green Chamber. Similarly, Abia lawmaker, Hon. Benjamin Kalu was nominated unopposed and elected as Deputy Speaker of the 10th House.
Meanwhile, a total of 359 members took their oath of office for Members of the House following the death of a Member-elect from Taraba State, weeks before the inauguration.