Former Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, emerged as the Majority Leader of the 8th House on Tuesday after a leadership tussle spanning 49 days since the inauguration of the House on June 9.
The Speaker, Mr Yakubu Dogara, announced the lawmaker from Lagos as the majority leader on the floor of the House at about 3.19pm.
“Now, this is the big one,” Dogara told eager members as he named Gbajabiamila the House leader.
The announcement came following last-minute negotiations between the warring factions of the All Progressives Congress caucus of the House that had been involved in the leadership tussle.
The choice of Gbajabiamila also altered the initial plan of the speaker to zone the majority leader to the North-West.
The position of the Deputy Leader went to Mr. Buba Jibrin (North-Central), while Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa (North-West) was named the Chief Whip.
The position of the Deputy Whip was given to Mr. Pally Iriase (South-South).
The South-East became the loser in the APC’s caucus in the House.
House Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yusuf Lasun, who is from the South-West, retained his position, laying to rest the speculation that Lasun had been asked to resign in order to accommodate Gbajabiamila on the body of principal officers.
The minority Peoples Democratic Party also unveiled its principal officers.
Former Deputy Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor (South-South), was named the minority leader, while the post of deputy minority leader went to Ugochukwu Onyeama (South-East).
Mr. Yakubu Barde (North-West) emerged as the minority whip, while Binta Bello-Maigeri (North-East) became the deputy minority whip.
There had been no dispute in the PDP caucus over the choice of principal officers, unlike in the APC.
Dogara had invited all the actors to his back office on Tuesday, where they negotiated for nearly one hour before they finally struck an agreement.
“It was time to tell one another some home truth, and they did. It had become clear to all that Nigerians had become impatient with the House. The solution was to accommodate the major interests, which was what played out”, said a senior official of the House.
The senior official spoke further, “After the separate meetings, the parties came back together again to meet at the house of the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. There were about 11 members of the Gbajabiamila group at the meeting, while up to 50 members attended from Dogara’s side. It was decided at the meeting that both groups should share the two principal offices two apiece.”
A member from Adamawa State, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, who took part in the negotiation process, explained why there was initial opposition to Gbajabiamila and how the dispute was later resolved.
He said, “From the beginning, we were not saying that Femi (Gbajabiamila) was not competent, but it was the manner in which the list came that we didn’t agree with. When the President said the party should consult us and the party did so, we felt that we should resolve the matter and forge ahead. Our leaders were duly consulted, that was why we all agreed. It was initially like a military fashion order, but now they know that we are all part of the decision.”
However, Dogara put up a drama before he announced the names of Gbajabiamila and others on Tuesday. Contrary to expectations, the speaker did not announce the names at the start of the session. He first presided over the proceedings of the day until midway when he left the chamber, with some members of the warring factions.
Dogara later returned to the chamber amid silence to start the announcement of the names. He still heightened the suspense when he started announcing names of the principal officers of the PDP before getting to those of the majority APC. Before announcing the names, Dogara stated that those who felt they could continue to make money from the crisis would be disappointed.
“For those who think they will continue to make money from this; sorry, we have sorted out ourselves,” he said.
Jubilation followed the announcement on the floor, especially from the Gbajabiamila camp, as some of them even called Dogara a hero. A member from Lagos State, Mr. James Faleke, known to be Gbajabiamila’s staunch supporter, jumped from his seat in celebration.
Across the rows of seats, members of both warring factions broke into a song, “Dogara, hero”; “Dogara, hero”; “Dogara, hero.” The speaker was almost lifted up by the jubilant lawmakers.
Speaking after the session had ended, the Chairman, House Ad hoc Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Sani Zoro, described the development as a “triumph of democracy based on reasoning and constitutionalism.”
Zoro said by resolving the crisis “amicably”, members had proved that they were mature. He also confirmed that a major factor, which broke the ice for the lawmakers, was Monday’s intervention by Buhari.
“We want to use this opportunity to thank Mr. President for his 20-minute meeting; it was very crucial. What Mr. President did was a fatherly engagement; what he did has clearly shown that he is not the so-called dictator that our opponents wanted to paint him”, he stated.
Reacting to the turn of events, Gbajabiamila sounded elated, saying that peace had returned to the House at last. He said, “What you saw in the last 49 days was actually democracy in action. That is what politics is all about; everybody is trying to outwit everybody for the greater good of the country.
“I am glad that everything has panned out the way it has panned out. You will now see the House you knew in the last four years back in action, working for the people, working for the nation. I am sure we will have a lot more to say tomorrow (today).”
The crisis in the APC’s caucus had worsened soon after the June 9 speakership poll in which Gbajabiamila lost to Dogara by eight votes. In a bid to accommodate the former opposition leader, the APC’s leadership came up with a proposal to make him the majority leader. The party also zoned the deputy leader to the North-West; chief whip to the North-East; and deputy whip to the South-South.
However, Dogara had opposed the list on the grounds that it did not reflect the federal character. He made his own proposal, which would have seen the majority leader come from the North-West and the deputy leader from the North-Central. The speaker also zoned the chief whip to the South-South and the deputy whip to the South-East.
The issue had deepened the dispute between Dogara’s Consolidation Group and Gbajabiamila’s APC Loyalists Group. The groups were fallout of the June 9 House poll.