BY AUGUSTINE AVWODE
With the ruling All Progressives Congress inching closer to a consensus on the zoning of principal offices in the 10th National Assembly, especially the Senate presidency and Speakership of the House of Representatives, the North Central region at the weekend doubled down on its clamour for the position of the Speakership of the House.
There were reports that the party leadership, aspirants for various offices and other stakeholders would be meeting to fine tune modalities for a zoning arrangement that would lead to a rancour-free election of the principal officers in June.
And the National Chairman of the party, Abdullahi Adamu, has summoned a meeting of the APC National Working Committee for Wednesday, May 3, where far-reaching decisions are expected to be taken ahead of a planned NEC meeting and the eventual inauguration of the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, on May 29.
However, unhappy that the party leadership seemed not to take cognizance of the contribution of the North Central Region to the victory of the party in the 2023 general elections, a social political group, the Middle Belt Renaissance Group, has intensified its clamour for the North Central Region to be considered for the Speakership, claiming that justice, equity and fairness demand that the region be the first zone to be considered for the position.
Speaking with The Point at the weekend, national coordinator of the MBRG, Edwin Iorfa, argued that the zone cannot continue to play the second fiddle when it comes to producing top citizens of the country having been consistently contributing immensely to the emergence of ruling parties in the country both past and present.
He regretted that in the past, especially when the main opposition People’s Democratic Party held sway, the region’s contribution in terms of electoral successes of the party was never fully appreciated and adequately rewarded.
He noted that the same trend is again beginning to play out since 2015 when the APC gained control of the central government and the National Assembly.
He then vowed that it would not be allowed to continue.
Iorfa said his group had taken time to study the political development of the country in so far as the Speakership of the House of Representatives was concerned and discovered to its chagrin that the region had only produced the Speaker of the House of Representatives for only a mere three months.
He said historically, the North Central region has always been asked to hold the short end of the stick after elections.
He narrated the plight of the region from the return of democratic rule in 1999 and even went down memory lane to justify the claim that the zone should be given due consideration by the APC.
“We have called on the All Progressives Congress to prioritise the principles of equity, fairness and justice above everything else by zoning the speakership position to the North Central Region. In arriving at the decision, we are not unmindful of the fact that almost all the other zones are equally clamouring for the position of the Speakership of the House of Representatives. However, it must be noted that in the history of Nigeria’s legislature, out of the zones that have occupied the seat, the North Central has had the shortest stint, only for three months. And that should be a compelling thing to make the leadership of the APC say North Central, go ahead and pick one of your qualified lawmakers. All the other zones have held it for several years, excluding the South-South,” he argued.
Not done with his historical analysis, Iorfa pointed out that the North Central only had the opportunity of leading the Green Chamber in 1983 for just three months before a military coup swept away the Shehu Shagari administration and that was almost 40 years ago.
“For the students of Nigeria’s political history, the only time the North Central held the coveted position was in 1983 and it was just for three months from October to December of that year. That was almost 40 years ago. It was during the administration of President Shehu Shagari when the National Party of Nigeria was the ruling party. The administration of Shagari had just won a second term and the late Hon. Akkai Chaha Biam from Benue was elected Speaker and he served just from October to December of that year before the military came and sacked the 2nd Republic. I am sure you must have read about that episode in the political evolution of Nigeria.”
“For the students of Nigeria’s political history, the only time the North Central held the coveted position was in 1983 and it was just for three months from October to December of that year. That was almost forty years ago. It was during the administration of President Shehu Shagari when the National Party of Nigeria was the ruling party”
Tracing the lengthy history of how the North Central has been shortchanged in the choice of Speakership of the House of Representatives from pre-independent days, Iorfa said the lot of the people from the region must not follow the same trajectory this time around.
“Our campaign is not just for the sake of noise making or just getting involved in the fray because others are also agitating. We have a solid ground for requesting that the APC should consider the region. In the days of the People’s Democratic Party, they overlooked the region, we don’t want APC to overlook us.
“In the 1st Republic, Chief Jaja Wachukwu from the South East became the first indigenous Speaker in 1959 shortly before independence and handed over to Ibrahim Jalo Waziri from the region now known as North East in 1960.
“Of course there was the lengthy period of military interregnum when the Parliament was the first casualty of any military putsch. But then, when in 1979, democracy returned, the late Edwin Ume-Ezeoke from the South East of the Nigeria People’s Party, which went into alliance with the NPN, steered the ship of the House between 1979 and 1983.
“During the transition period of then President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, popularly known as IBB, his administration inaugurated a federal legislature that served under his military government, the South East took the slot of Speaker. You will recall Agunwa Anaekwe from Anambra served as Speaker between 1992 and 1993. The South East held the position thrice.
“Now coming to this present dispensation, from 1999 to 2007, the position was zoned to the North West with Salisu Buhari, Ghali Na’aba and Aminu Masari holding sway. All these people were under the PDP.
“Then the card flipped to the South West. Between 2007 and 2011, the South West had it with Dimeji Bankole and Honourable Patricia Olubunmi Etteh as Speakers.
“Curiously, it reverted back to the North West again between 2011 and 2015 when the present Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, presided over the House. And when the APC pushed the PDP out of government in 2015, Yakubu Dogara from the North East presided over the House between 2015 and 2019,” he argued.
The national coordinator lamented that the contributions of the people from the six states of the North Central to the electoral victories of different political parties have been grossly under-appreciated.
He highlighted the contribution of the region to the victory of the APC in the February 25 presidential election and submitted that the ruling party won convincingly in four of the six states from the zone.
Asked if the group was making moves to present its case to the national body of the party, Iorfa said all options would be explored and nothing would be left out.
“We are not ruling out any option, in fact all options would be explored. If it means staging a rally, we will do it. See, it is pertinent to note that the North Central contributed impressively to the success and victory of the APC during the presidential and National Assembly elections. In fact, the APC won four out of the six states of the North Central. But the party lost in the North West states of Kebbi, Katsina, Kano, Kaduna and Sokoto to other parties. So, we expect the party to genuinely reciprocate the love the region has shown and demonstrated and allow it to produce the Speaker of the House,” he explained.
As if to back the claim up with constitutional provisions, Iorfa quoted copiously from the 1999 Constitution as amended to buttress the fact that all segments and regions of the country must be treated in a manner that would give them a sense of belonging.
“Don’t forget that even the 1999 Constitution says that every section of the country and all segments of society must be carried along in terms of appointment to ensure no segment is dominated. Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended says, ‘The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies shall be carried out in a manner as to reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few ethnic or sectional groups in that Government or any of its agencies, in order to command loyalty and peaceful coexistence,’” he stated.
Asked if he has those he would like to be considered, he mentioned three ranking lawmakers, including the current Deputy Speaker of the House, Idris Wase.
“We have ranking and experienced lawmakers from North Central who are in the race. And these individuals have proven over the years that they are indeed tried and tested lawmakers in terms of legislative experience and representation of their constituents.
“We have the likes of the Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase, who is from Plateau State and don’t forget, he is very much in the race. We have Tunji Raheem from Kwara State and a fine gentleman, Yusuf Gagdi, also from Plateau State. We have no hesitation in recommending any of these three fine gentlemen and lawmakers,” he said.
However, whether the party would be swayed by the clamour of many groups from the North Central region, of which MBRG is one or not, only time will tell.