by Stanley Azuakola
This year, two men have been at the centre of most of the partisan disagreements in the House of Representatives. They are – deputy house leader, Leo Ogor (PDP, Delta state) and minority leader, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos state).
The first time they clashed was on Tuesday, January 21st. That was the season when the APC appeared to have the upper hand in the lower chamber of the national assembly. A wave of defections from the ruling party following the decamping of five PDP governors to the APC left the opposition party briefly with the majority of members in the House.
On the said day, Ogor had just finished making a contribution on the alleged attack of a Rivers senator, Magnus Abe by policemen with rubber bullets, when Gbajabiamila stood up and made a statement that caused an uproar in the House. Gbajabiamila referred to Ogor, not by his official position of “deputy majority leader”, but as “deputy minority leader.”
Gbajabiamila argued that with the APC’s upper hand in the House, the leadership of the House ought to change, in which case Ogor could no longer be the deputy majority leader. The PDP members did not take kindly to Gbajabiamila’s words and a shouting match ensued which took the intervention of House Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, to resolve after 20 minutes.
On 3rd June, it was the turn of Ogor to extract his pound of flesh. By that time, the PDP had rallied back and was in the driver’s seat following more defections from the APC. Ogor cited a point of order, saying that the current opposition leaders in the House (Femi Gbajabiamila, minority leader; Kawu Sumaila, Deputy Minority Leader; Samson Osagie, Minority Whip; Garba Datti Mohammed, Deputy Minority Whip) could no longer be occupying their position because they were all members of the same party (APC) whereas the opposition in the national assembly comprised of not just the APC, but APGA an Labour party as well. He wanted those other parties to have representation in the leadership of the minority.
Citing Point of Order, under Privileges Order 19 (1) (2), Item 31, the deputy leader insisted that Gbajabiamila and others should vacate their seats and allow for proper nomination and selection of substantive minority leaders.
“It behoves the minority parties, in line with item 31 of the House rules, to nominate from among them, new minority leader, minority whip, deputy minority leader and deputy minority whip,” he said.
Femi Gbajabiamila was however not ready to accept Ogor’s position because according to him, none of Ogor’s personal privileges had been assailed or violated by the present composition of the minority leadership.
“First of all, you have to show that your privilege, as Leo Ogor, has been breached. That is what the law says. If this privilege would have been raised by a member of minority parties, it would have been a different thing. The rules say the minority shall nominate and select their leaders, and that is exactly what we did. It did not say the minority shall nominate from each minority party,” he said.
After several other House members had contributed, the Deputy Speaker of the House, Emeka Ihedioha, who presided over the session, directed the Rules and Business committee alongside Justice committee to look into the matter and come up with recommendations to the House within two weeks. The committees did not deliver in two weeks but were finally ready to submit their report to the House yesterday, July 8th, and thus the stage was set for the next round of the Ogor-Gbajabiamila battle.
The chairman of the committee on rules and business, Albert Sam-Tsokwa, was supposed to present the report before the House when Gbajabiamila stood up and objected to it. He said that as a leader in the House, he ought to have been briefed on the content of the report in line with House rules, before the presentation.
“I have not been called to any meeting of the leadership of the House, where we were briefed. Except you are telling me that the other side (the PDP) was briefed and I was left out,” he said.
Although Ogor did not lend his voice to the debate, his shadow loomed large as he was the one whose call about a month ago had led to the need for any such report in the first place.
The situation was calmed by deputy speaker, Emeka Ihedioha, who presided again, as he stood the report down till Wednesday (today) “after all consultations would have been done.”
But that was not the only drama to occur in the House yesterday, and once again, Ogor and Gbajabiamila were involved.
The issue this time was the powers of the president to deploy troops during an election. The debate came up when members discussed the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act, 2010.
A new amendment to the Act seeks to empower the Independent National Electoral Commission as the only authority that can request the deployment of security agencies for election purposes, but should restrict it to the “distribution and delivery of election materials.”
But disagreement on the proposal started when the PDP lawmakers insisted that the President had “absolute and prerogative” powers to deploy troops as he deemed fit.
The Deputy House Majority Leader, Leo Ogor, who argued the position of the PDP, stated that troop deployment was a constitutional matter.
“We all know that this is a constitutional issue. The President can deploy troops for operations; it is his prerogative,” he said.
As usual, Minority Leader and APC leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, was there to counter him, arguing that his PDP rivals were merely turning the law on its head. Gbajabiamila contended that while the President could deploy troops, the same 1999 Constitution gave a condition that it should be done in accordance with the provisions of a law passed by the National Assembly.
“This Electoral Act is a law of the National Assembly. It will, therefore, mean that soldiers can be used in the way stipulated by this Act,” he said.
The two men – Ogor and Gbajabiamila – raised voices at each other.
The deputy speaker consequently asked the Chairman, House Committee on Rules/Business, Mr. Albert Sam-Tsokwa, to intervene and guide the debate.
Sam-Tsokwa said the fight was unnecessary because the bill was merely at the general principles stage. According to him, it is expected to be sent to a committee which will work on it and do the appropriate thing by complying with the position of the law.
The bill subsequently passed the second reading in a majority voice vote and was referred to the committee stage for further legislative action.
With the way things are going, Nigerians might not have to wait for long before the next phase of the Ogor-Gbajabiamila brouhaha resurfaces. It could even be as early as today (Wednesday) when it is expected that the report on the composition of the minority leadership will be discussed.