As the fourth highest position of power anyone could aspire to in Nigeria, the Speakership of the House of Representatives is a highly coveted seat in the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly. It appears since 1999, however, that leading the House of Representatives as its Speaker is akin to committing political hara-kiri, writes Osigbesan Sultan Luqman, EDITOR:
If you aspire to a seat in the House of Representatives in the 2015 General Elections and you eventually succeed, likely you might want to lead the House as its Speaker, especially if political permutations, zoning of national offices in particular as it is the norm now, go in your favour and if you are elected on the platform of the “largest political party in Africa,” the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). That is good enough. It is in fact a lofty ambition to have, after all you will become the fourth most powerful Nigerians among a sea of heads numbering nearly 200 million today!
However, you might want to hold on a bit and ponder over the political fortunes, or shall we say misfortune, of your predecessors in office since the return to civil rule in 1999, all of them numbering a considerable six individuals in sum till date. They are Malam Salisu Buhari (1999-2000), Malam Ghali Umar Na’Abba (2000-2003), Malam Aminu Bello Masari (2003-2007), Mrs. Patricia Etteh (2007), Mr. ‘Dimeji Bankole (2007-2011) and Malam Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (2011 till date, or rather at the time of going to press).
Of the these six members of the House who ended up being elected as Speaker, only three – Na’Abba, Masari and Bankole, or 50 per cent, finished their terms. In fact, only Masari spent four full years as Speaker. And only Providence can tell if Tambuwal would finish his full term as Speaker, going by the acrimony generated thus far by his recent defection from the ruling PDP to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
None of these Speakers of the House of Representatives have successfully returned to the Lower Chambers, even as an ordinary member, although some of them attempted to seek re-election. Others have looked up – some would argue that it is rather going a rung down the ladder – to becoming governors of their states, with resounding failure, and slide into the political wilderness, even oblivion.
On the foregoing and The Dream Daily’s recap thenceforth, clearly anyone eyeing the Speakership of the Lower Chamber come 2015 must pay considerable attention to the career carcasses of his or her predecessors since the latter left office, with a view to avoiding the obvious and not so obvious banana peels on the way in and out of that exalted office. Failure to do this can only mean an encore of bitter experiences of five of all six Speakers of the House since 1999, which has set expert political analysts and wannabe public affairs analysers asking the question: Is the Speaker’s Seat in the House of Representatives jinxed?
Malam Salisu Buhari (1999-2000)
If, as some critics insist, the country’s current democratic dispensation is still tottering 15 years after its birth, Malam Salisu Buhari’s aborted Speakership reign at the House of Representatives must surely pass for a veritable foreboding of the country’s democratic journey thus far. Buhari had barely taken his seat as Speaker when the Nigerian media shifted gear to overdrive with the double whammy allegations of age falsification and certificate forgery hitting the young leader of the lower chamber of the National Assembly.
Despite his initial braggadocio to hang on to his now soiled seat, neither his traducers on floor of the House nor the media relented in insisting that Buhari was guilty as alleged. In no time, Buhari’s walls collapsed around him. At a formal resignation session, Salisu Buhari broke down in tears, apologetic for being “misled in error by zeal to serve the nation,” which led him to inflate his age and presented a sham educational qualification purportedly obtained from Toronto University, Canada
Salisu Buhari was forced to quit both the Speakership and his seat in the House of Representatives on July 22, 1999, less than 60 days into the life of Nigeria’s current democratic regime.
While he had reportedly bagged a genuine degree now, it seems though that the Nigerian People have totally refused to accept Salisu Buhari’s honest efforts to serve in public office again. This was effectively demonstrated with the hoopla that greeted Buhari’s appointment to the Governing Council of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2013.
Despite the best efforts to rehabilitate and bring him back into the system, Malam Salisu Buhari remains in Nigeria’s political wilderness, till date.
Malam Ghali Umar Na’Abba (2000-2003)
Arguably the Speaker under whom the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly sealed its reputation as “the House of Tempest.” Ghali Umar Na’Abba’s tenure as Speaker could not have passed under a different circumstance. What with alleged interference in House matters by the formidable President Olusegun Obasanjo, with whom Na’Abba and the House he led had a very bitter relationship. Ghali Umar Na’Abba did not bend, and as most Nigerians have come to believe, President Obasanjo was unbendable. Somehow, however, both men saw democracy through the first four years of the Fourth Republic.
Although his store rose in the public domain for standing up to President Obasanjo, it was not enough to guarantee a return to the House for Speaker Na’Abba. Few days to the 2003 General Elections, he was reportedly expelled from the PDP over alleged “anti-party activities.” In turn Na’Abba alleged a conspiracy of the highest order against his person and candidature. In any case, he was defeated in that election and never made it back to the House of Representatives. He even wanted to a shot at the Kano State governorship seat, but failed to clinch the ticket of the defunct Action Congress, which he joined after resigning from the PDP.
While he had reportedly returned to the PDP, Ghali Umar Na’Abba remains at the periphery of real action in the ruling party, with a lowly visibility at the party’s public affairs, and, according to those who know, uncertain influence in the PDP of today.
Malam Aminu Bello Masari (2003-2007)
The only Speaker of the House of Representatives to hold the seat from start to full term since 1999 (Rt. Hon. Tambuwal would equal this record if he successfully hold on till 2015.), Malam Masari cuts the figure of an urbane politician any genteel spirit would want to lead him or her. Likeable, articulate and soft spoken, Masari held his own during President Obasanjo’s second term in office, and that is not a small feat to achieve under that circumstance. When one also remembers that it was those heady days of alleged moves to secure a constitutional amendment for third term for Presidents, which would purportedly start with President Obasanjo, you would likely doff your hat all the more for Malam Masari’s political skills and achievements as Speaker.
However, those privy to the inner workings of the corridor of powers say Masari’s fallen political fortunes is traceable to the divisive third term debacle, at least as a starting point. What is known, however, is that after finishing his term as Speaker, Masari’s attempts to occupy other elective offices, notably his bid for the Katsina governorship seat, have been largely unsuccessful, even when he switched allegiance from the PDP to the opposition.
While he is currently a chieftain of the mega-opposition party, APC, and he is number two in the hierarchy of those who have tasted power at the national level in this political dispensation – only former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is higher – political affairs experts wonder why Masari’s name has not come up for consideration as a potential presidential aspirant in the APC, which appears to favour giving the ticket to a northerner but is at a loss in picking a “sellable” candidate from the north.
The polished Masari is from the north and few people would disagree on his saleability to the electorate across the country. As a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, he has the requisite experience, even clout, to bid for the Presidency. However, it appears that neither the man nor his party have given a thought to this, even when upstarts who have not contested for a councillorship post are interested in the APC presidential ticket.
Could it be that the Spell of the Speaker’s Seat is at work here? All public affairs analysts who spoke with The Dream Daily answered in the affirmative!
Mrs. Patricia Etteh (2007)
Nigeria’s first female Speaker of the House of Representatives was only in office for four months – June 6, 200 – October 30, 2007. Mrs. Etteh was barely three months into her tenure when accusations surfaced in the House that she had approved the spending of N628 million on the renovation of her official residence and that of her deputy, and purchase of some official cars. Although not officially indicted, majority of the Etteh-led members of the House of Representatives stuck to their guns for her ouster. Following weeks of pressure from these members and an outraged public, Mrs. Etteh threw in the towel on October 30, 2007.
It serves little comfort that at the last sitting of the 6th session of the House of Representatives, it was agreed that “there is no record or proceedings of the House where Patricia Olubunmi Etteh was ever indicted” for any wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Patricia Etteh is nowhere near the political heights she attained as Speaker in 2007. When last did you spot her at a high-level PDP functions or even hear her speak politics? Hers, it appears, is also a scalp claimed by the Speaker’s Seat Scourge!
Mr. ‘Dimeji Bankole (2007-2011)
Honourable Oladimeji Saburi Bankole took over a deeply divided House of Representatives as Speaker after Mrs. Etteh, whose saga had largely eroded whatever good store the House of Representatives had with the Nigerian People. The enormity of the situation was not lost on the young Speaker, as he was widely quoted to have said: “I am taking over the mantle of leadership at a very difficult time. These are hard times, we need to build confidence again and assure the populace that we are still their representatives. I want an independent House that Nigerians will be proud of, this is my first task.”
The Bankole-led House had its ups and down, and he did not escape the Scourge of the Speaker’s Seat, with a number of corrupt-related scandals hitting the House as a whole. It is pertinent to add that Bankole lost his re-election bid for the House of Representatives in the 2011 General Elections. Also, he soon had a personal run in with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), immediately after exiting office. The EFCC filed a 17-count charge bordering on alleged misappropriation of a N10 billion naira loan borrowed while they were in office against Bankole and his Deputy, Usman Bayero Nafada.
Although a court later found them not guilty and discharged and acquitted the duo, the high drama that trailed this episode, it appears, did not rub off well on the former Speaker’s public image, and, perhaps, this has depleted his political stock. Political analysts point to Bankole’s faint visibility in the PDP family in both his state, Ogun, and at the federal level to buttress their point:
“As a former Number Four Man in this country, one would expect Hon. ‘Dimeji Bankole to be a power bloc in Ogun PDP at least, and then leverage on that to be relevant at the national level of the party. It seems to me, however, that this is not the case with him. You could hardly hear his voice or name being touted in Ogun PDP, which is one heck of PDP state chapter where there has never been a dull moment – there is the Obasanjo camp there, there is the Gbenga Daniel faction, there is also the Prince Buruji Kashamu power bloc, to mention just three spheres of influence in Ogun PDP. Bankole, in my opinion, should be right up there with these formidable PDP power brokers in Ogun State but he is not. That is why I think, and I stand to be corrected, that his rumoured gubernatorial ambition is not generating the usual buzz and would not be a walk in the park for him,” a public affairs analyst told The Dream Daily on condition of anonymity.
Having not successfully bided for any public office since 2011, it is safe to surmise that the political career of former Hon. ‘Dimeji Bankole has only followed the dimming trajectory of all Speakers of the House of Representatives since 1999. The jury is in on this one too: The Scourge of the Speaker’s Seat has struck again!
Malam Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (2011 till date/Press time)
Honourable Aminu Waziri Tambuwal is the Speaker his party, the PDP, never wanted, and he became Speaker only out of the benevolence of opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives. Little wonder he took what a public affairs analyst told The Dream Daily on condition of anonymity “is political hemlock by his defection to the APC, whose members in the House made him Speaker in the first place, anyway.”
It is to Speaker Tambuwal’s political clout and credit that he had survived in the Speakership till date in the face of considerable efforts to unseat him by the PDP apparatchiks a number of times since 2011.
However, following his defection to the APC, the Speaker, as at the time of going to press, faces what analysts say “will be the biggest plot to kick him out of the House leadership.” Nevertheless, Tambuwal’s supporters in the House have stood solidly behind the Sokoto-born Speaker, who apparently enjoys going by the sobriquet, “the People’s Speaker.” In fact, the dye-in-the-wool Tambuwalites, according to claims in the media, went ahead to purchase an APC presidential nomination form for their principal.
If Tambuwal had pursued this presidential ambition that would have been a step up the political ladder for the Speaker. However, he has reportedly shelved that presidential bid for another, less cloudy day, opting instead to take a shot at the Sokoto governorship seat in 2015. It is an alleyway that at least a former Speaker of the House – Masari – had gone before now, albeit ending in a political cul-de-sac from, which the suave and likeable Masari has not be able to exit in terms of being politically relevant at the federal level.
Is it Nunc dimittis for the Speaker’s political career now? Will the Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal beat the political odds against all former Speakers of the House of Representatives since 1999? Only time will tell!