The 9th national assembly to be inaugurated in June will definitely come with a lot of surprises, intrigues and power play. The two prominent leaders of the legislature are most likely not returning to their positions. This leaves room for speculation over who presides over the two chambers. Senate President Bukola Saraki lost his reelection bid, while Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the house of representatives, now falls within the minority, having defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The current composition of the lower chamber shows that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has 211 seats, while the PDP trails with 111 seats. The race for the speakership has begun, undoubtedly and all eyes are on Femi Gbajabiamila, majority leader of the house. In 2015, Buhari and Bola Tinubu, a national leader of the party, favoured the lawmaker representing Surulere 1 federal constituency of Lagos, for the position. But Dogara secured just eight votes ahead of him to emerge speaker.
With his reelection on February 23, the 56-year-old lawmaker may emerge as the next helmsman, considering his pedigree and experience.
Below are five reasons why Gbaja, as he is called in the political circle, might succeed Dogara:
16 YEARS OF LEGISLATIVE EXPERIENCE
Gbajabiamila assumed office in 2003 – making him a four-time returnee to the green chamber. He was the deputy minority leader in the 6th assembly and emerged as the minority leader with the 7th assembly. Aside his eloquence and tactical approach to issues in the house, Gbajabiamila maintains an enviable track record.
Having sponsored a myriad of bills in the national assembly, he is seen as one of the brilliant minds to have graced the chamber. He initiated a motion in the house for the invocation of the doctrine of necessity while former President Musa Yar’adua was critically ill and absent from the country. This led to the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as acting president.
In 2011, Gbajabiamila rejected his nomination for a national honours award of the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR), citing that he wasn’t qualified for it given that the award was no longer achieving its original intent.
PROTECTED THE INTEREST OF THE PARTY
Gbajabiamila addressing the media after a caucus meeting of the APC reps
The Lagos lawmaker played a pivotal role in protecting the interest of the APC, positioning it as a strong force, especially in the eight assembly where the party suffered internal crisis that led to gales of defection.
While 37 members of the caucus dumped the party during plenary on July 2018, Gbajabiamila led the remaining members to reject the defection, while he hinted at taking “necessary steps” over the move which he described as illegal.
“People elected you on a particular platform to represent them. That seat does not belong to you; it belongs to the political party. Not only does APC remain the majority in the house it is still a clear majority. This leaves APC over and beyond what is required for majority,” Gbajabiamila had said.
A LAWYER LIKE PREVIOUS SPEAKERS
This lawyer might succeed his ‘learned’ colleague
Gbajabiamila’s legislative know-how might have stemmed from his experience as a lawyer and strong academic records. Interestingly, the house has recently been headed by lawyers: Aminu Tambuwal and Dogara.
A law graduate from the University of Lagos, he started his career with the Bentley, Edu and Co law firm in Lagos before he established his own firm, Femi Gbaja and Co. where he was principal partner. Gbajabiamila later returned to John Marshall Law School in the US and was said to have graduated top of his class, earning himself a juris doctorate. He set up a law firm and had a brief stint of practice in the US after he passed his Georgia bar exams in 2001. Later, he returned to Nigeria to join politics.
The lion of Bourdillon
One thing that might work for Gbajabiamila is the undeniable fact that he is a loyalist of Tinubu, the Lagos-based political kingmaker. In his bid to clinch the speakership seat in 2015, Tinubu pushed for his endorsement in the party. In fact, he won the mock election conducted by the party for the seat and was widely accepted before he was narrowly trounced on the floor of the house.
“He appealed to us and said what he only wanted, as a leader, as a political father, was for us to please collapse our campaign into Femi’s and declare our support for him. Asiwaju maintained that, as a matter of fact, support for Femi was a support for him. He said if we supported Femi by extension we were actually supporting him and reciprocating the work he did to ensure APC won the Presidency,” Dogara said.
Tinubu has also played key roles in the political career of the lawmaker.
LED APC CAUCUS FROM MINORITY TO MAJORITY PARTY
As the APC maintains its majority control of the house in the 9th assembly, one cannot divorce Gbaja’s role in the transition of the party to its present domination. He was the minority leader when the PDP maintained hegemony. When APC flipped the script and had the domineering figure, he stepped up to become the majority leader. With the present vacuum in the leadership of the next assembly, he’s could just to leap to the “next level”.
Apart from Gbajabiamila, another top contender that could be considered is Abdulmumin Jibrin from Kano state.
The lawmaker, who was elected to represent Kiru/Bebeji federal constituency in 2011 also appears to be a top contender for the seat he eyed in 2015. He dropped his ambition to sponsor and support Dogara but the duo later fell out.
Aside having limited experience in the house compared to Gbajabiamila, having come from the north west, the same zone as the president, may not work in Jubrin’s favour.