BANKOLE'S THEATRE OF WARS
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole is a practising Muslim and by faith, he attaches little meaning to the significance of figure six because in religious mythology, it stands for imperfection.
But if the events of the last one week, after the resumption of the House from the Easter break are anything to go by, the Speaker must be beginning to have a rethink and prepared to fight six battles to keep the number four seat in the country.
Bankole took advantage of the short holiday to have a rest in London, but could not return home as scheduled because of the volcanic ash, which forced European authorities to order the closure of all airports.
While he was stranded, members who were opposed to his rule seized the opportunity to actualize the plot to remove him. Indeed, the rumour of his sack has been on since the scandal over the purchase of cars for committee work broke out.
Tension heightened few days to the resumption from the Easter holiday, the media feasted on the activities of the Nigeria First Forum, a group of lawmakers launched to support the making of Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President.
It is true that NFF is at the forefront of effecting a change in the leadership of the House, as a way of restoring the dignity of the House but investigations revealed that Bankole has six battles from different fronts to contend with.
Incidentally, Bankole's six theatres of war are located outside the hallowed chamber of the House, a development which makes it a dirty war of attrition.
Act One: Obasanjo
The emergence of Bankole as the Speaker of did not go down well with some political gladiators from his home state, Ogun state. Among them is the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The former President installed the first female Speaker of the House, Mrs Patricia Etteh who was forced out of office on phantom charges of corruption. She was accused of breach of due process in the award of contracts to renovate her official residence.
Obasanjo had rallied the South West governors and political leaders in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to save Etteh, but he was roundly defeated and the beneficiary of his humiliation was Dimeji Bankole. This was how Dimeji entered the bad book of the former President, known for his unforgiving spirit. Bankole did not help matters when he gave total support for the probe of the power sector in the eight years of Obasanjo's administration. This was seen by political pundits as a ground design to humiliate Obasanjo.
The climax of the probe was when an invitation was sent to Obasanjo to appear before the Power Committee probing the $16billion spent on the reform of the power sector by his government. Bankole did nothing to stop the public appearance of a former president to face a probe panel. Obasanjo was ready to appear before the panel, until he was prevailed upon not to but he sent his defence memo to the committee with a cover note. Since then, the two have been looking at each other from the barrel of the gun. It was no surprise therefore when it was reported that a meeting to oust Bankole from office held in Otta Farm House of the former President few weeks ago when money was allegedly raised to execute the last plot.
A member of Bankole's kitchen cabinet, Hon Chinyere Igwe confirmed that the plot to sack Bankole was real and that Otta was used as the launch pad.
Act Two : GBENGA DANIEL
Still from Ogun state, Bankole is facing stiff opposition. He and his state governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel had been at daggers drawn. It is a fact that though the governor was instrumental to the return of Bankole to the House for a second term, which qualified him to contest the position of the Speaker, but today, there no love between the duo. Shortly after Bankole ascended the throne to become number four citizen of the country, the struggle for the control of the political landscape in Ogun state started in full blast.
The directives by Obasanjo to governors of the South West to support Etteh to the last was the first signpost that all will not be well between Bankole and the governor. Bankole benefited from the fall of Obasanjo's anointed candidate even when it was glaring that the chickens had come home to roost for Etteh. The straw which finally broke the Carmel's back was the reported moves by Bankole to succeed Gbenga Daniel. Daniel saw this an affront and time to tell Bankole that Abuja based politicians are paper weight when it comes to grassroots politicking.
As the gate keeper of politics in the state, Daniel released his foot soldiers to muscle out any footprint of Bankole from the state, starting from the constituency he represents at the federal level. It was instructive that when the Speaker sent some instructional materials to his constituency, they was rejected by the leaders, because accepting such gifts is like accepting a dinner invitation from a sworn enemy. The sour relationship between the governor and the Speaker caused a split among members of Ogun State caucus in the House of Representatives. For the loyalists of the governor in the House, they are ready to join any forces to humiliate Bankole and they are not hiding it.
Act three: Presidency
The undercurrent roles played by Speaker Bankole in the chains of events, which culminated in the making of Goodluck Jonathan as the Acting President laid the foundation of a frosty relationship between him and the Presidency. This frosty relationship is largely regarded as the storm capable of consuming him. Bankole was a favourite of the Yar'Adua presidency, he was the choice of standing in for the president in many public engagements. In fact, he was regarded as a member of the Yar'Adua kitchen cabinet.
The eyes of the President in the National Assembly. He carried his loyalty to the ridiculous level of frustrating all moves made by his colleagues to ensure that Yar'Adua complied with the constitution, when it was certain that his sickness was affecting governance. It took the formation of a pressure group by name, Nigeria First Forum to get the House to rise up to the challenges of the political implications of the absence of the President from the country. By the time Bankole woke up, the Senate had took the shine off the House by conferring on Jonathan, the power to assume the presidency of the country in an acting capacity. Based on the bias displayed by the Speaker, it was very easy to create a friction between him and the Acting President. It was rumoured that the Acting President had ordered for a revisit of the report of the probe of the purchase of 380 (407) Peugeot cars by EFCC. The report is believed to have indicted Bankole and the leadership of the House. In fact, it was argued that the EFCC's report is a potent weapon to shoot down Bankole.
Act Four: Senate
It is legend that since the open confrontation over who will be the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 constitution set up by the National Assembly in Minna, Niger state, the relationship between the House of Representatives and the Senate has been that of cat and mouse. After the Minna Retreat episode, when members of the House in the Joint committee staged a walkout, no national assignment had joined the two chambers together. Instead, each had gone separately to attend to national calls.
The fallout of the face-off between the two chambers was the break in the tradition of receiving the annual budget presentation from the President and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation at a joint sitting. The Senate and the House have gone different ways in reviewing the constitution and the Electoral Act. The only point where they have met is in the consideration of budget for easy passage. This is understandable because money is involved and the refusal to bury the hatchet means that there will be no money to spend. The fact remains that the struggle for supremacy is still lingering and this why some believe that in every move to unseat Bankole, fingers are pointed to the direction of the Senate as where the fire is coming from.
Act Five: Public Perception
It is no gain saying that the perception of House under Bankole's leadership is poor. Under previous Speakers, the House was seen as the conscience of the nation. The House was adjudged vibrant, chatting the way to deepen democracy. On any national issue, the public will look unto the House for direction, but the tide has changed. With Bankole presiding, popular motions and bills are thrown out. When the public expect the House to rise up and take a definite position, it has been the other way.
The handling of motions and bills which could have spared the nation of the heat and agonies generated by the ailment of President Umaru Yar'Adua is the recent actions of the House, which reduce its status in the eyes of the public. The slow response to the review of the 1999 constitution and the Electoral Act was another minus for the Bankole led House. The comments of the people on the conduct and reactions to events had contributed to the low ratings of the House and the clamour for a change in the leadership, even from outside the chamber.
Act Six: Media
The media represents the last theatre of war for the embattled Speaker. His relationship with the media is anything but cordial. On several occasions, Bankole has never hiden his disdain for the press. He once told his colleagues during a live cast of proceedings on the floor that they should ignore the press and stop believing what newspapers are publishing about him and the House. He always supports the bashing of the media by his colleagues. It was under his rule that the Freedom of Information Bill (FOIB) suffered the longest gestation in the House.
Till today, journalists covering the House cannot say at what stage of lawmaking is the FOIB. The only access to reach him is to watch him presiding over the plenary from the Gallery, or when he is declaring open a public hearing or workshop. He does not see reasons why he should be media friendly. Since he became the Speaker, Bankole has never granted any Nigerian editor interview. His preferences are the BBC and CNN. He has even stopped talking to Airport Correspondents. This is why he may not enjoy the support of the media against the array of opposition lined up to fight him.