THIS HOUSE HAS RISEN
Karl Maier’s grim treatise on Nigeria entitled, ‘This House has fallen” remains a painful reflection of the country’s historical reality. But the task of nation-building continually demands of patriotic citizens to arise from the dust, wash off the ashes of shame and continue the march towards realizing the collective aspiration of all Nigerians. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, aptly declared in his inauguration speech on May 29, 2011 that the time for lamentation is over; now is the time for transformation.
Exactly eight days after, precisely on June 6, the transformation gospel of Mr. President picked sail in the Federal House of Representatives. There was a whirlpool against the old order; members of the House arose in near unison to take the lead in a transformational movement to redirect legislative energies towards actualizing the popular aspirations of the majority of Nigerians: they elected a leadership solely out of their imprimatur, a decision that could have ricocheted. Messrs Aminu Waziri Tambuwal andChukwuemeka Nkem Ihedioha were elected Speaker and Deputy Speaker of theHouse respectively.
Hon. Tambuwal of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) representing Kebbi/Tambuwal federal constituency of Sokoto State (North-west Nigeria) polled 252 votes while Mulikat Akande-Adeola, representing Ogbomosho North/Ogbomosho South/Orire federal constituency of Oyo State (South-west Nigeria), who was the endorsed candidate of the PDP scored 90 votes. Eight votes were declared invalid in the election supervised by the Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa and conducted through an open secret-ballot system. One member abstained from voting.
A very remarkable feature of the emergence of Tambuwal as Speaker of the House is not necessarily the margin of votes he secured over that of his rival but the overwhelming determination of the PDP-dominated lower chamber to make their choice of leaders in defiance of the often larger-than-life extraneous influence of party apparatchiks but significantly in deference to the wishes of the Nigerian people, the electorate who provided the mandate for the consummation of the social contract. The election of Ihedioha as Deputy Speaker was no less dramatic; he was elected unopposed and his nomination, like that of his boss, was indeed pan-Nigerian. Ihedioha, a three-time consummate legislator and immediate past chief whip of the House representing Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala federal constituency in Imo State, was nominated by Musa Adar (PDP-Sokoto), while Friday Itulah from Edo State seconded the nomination.
With the emergence of this populist, pro-people and pan-Nigerian leadership, the House of Representatives on June 6 set the ball rolling to remake itself within the template of a new Nigeria set on the path of transformation. That is why within hours of their election, President Jonathan sent a congratulatory message to the new leadership of the 7th National Assembly (the Senate and House of Representatives). In a statement, the President described the election of the principal officers as an affirmation of their sterling leadership qualities and tested commitment to strengthening democracy in Nigeria. “The President looks forward to working harmoniously with the re-elected Senate President and his deputy, as well as the newly elected Speaker and his deputy, other principal officers and all members of the 7th National Assembly on the implementation of his Agenda for National Transformation,” the statement read.
It was therefore within this context that the PDP withdrew its initial angst against the emergent House leadership and embraced the principle of vox populi vox dei. But then, the new House leaders displayed uncommon loyalty to the party even in their overwhelming victory. Although riding high on thewave of its widely accepted emergence, the duo of Tambuwal and Ihedioha promptly extended an olive branch to the ruling party which had bowed to popular revolt against its zoning formula in the House. The PDP therefore had no choice but to forgive the new leaders and salvage what is left of its zoning principle.
“I can assure you that the party will work with you. The government of Nigeria, under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan, will work with you. And we will make sure that the government works with you so that the mutual cooperation that we have developed in the last 12 years will continue,” Mohammed Haliru Bello, the party’s Acting National Chairman told Tambuwal and Ihedioha during a visit to PDP national headquarters. Echoing the transformation gospel, the party chairman went further: “The PDP has amajority both in the Senate and in the House. Therefore, the people ofNigeria will not forgive us if we do not use this majority to work for the development and transformation of Nigeria within the time available to us. Therefore, the party will like you, like you have said in your address and we welcome that statement, to work closely with the government so that PDP programmes will be delivered to the people of this country.”
Speaker Tambuwal had earlier in his remark, pleaded for forgiveness for himself and Ihedioha, noting that their emergence as principal officers was divine and a reflection of the popular will of members of the House: “As your dear children and as loyal members, we are here to give you your due respect and to say here and now that all that we did was not intended in anyway, to either undermine our party or out of disrespect to our party. It was a sheer coincidence of the history of this country and destiny and providence had it that from the inauguration of the 7th National Assembly, House of Representatives in particular, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal from North-west and Emeka Ihedioha from South-east, contrary to the hope and aspiration of our party will emerge as speaker and deputy speaker.
“Mr. chairman, I and my deputy are here to assure you and indeed the party, through you, to Mr. President, the head of our government, that we shall give our government maximum cooperation towards ensuring that all the laudable programmes of our party are implemented through good legislation that will come out of the House of Representatives in collaboration with the Senate. We assure you that we shall give cooperation and every support to Mr. President and the Government so that our party can deliver on its promises to the electorate.”
Towing the line of the party’s national headquarters, the Conference of State Chairmen of PDP announced its endorsement of the election of Tambuwal and Ihedioha as Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively. In a communiqué signed by Dr. Emmanuel Agbo and Chief Bola Olu-Ojo, Chairman and Secretary respectively, the Conference expressed hope that “the cordial relationship that existed between the Presidency and the NASS leadership in the last dispensation will be sustained and improved upon by the new leadership of the National Assembly.”
Indeed, various other stakeholders in the Nigerian project have commended the new House leadership. What is imperative from all of these is that this new wave of populism demonstrated in the election of Tambuwal and Ihedioha as Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively is a further testimony of the desire of the Nigerian masses to take greater control of their electoral destiny. It is recalled that the electorate voted massively both at party primaries and the general elections against the return of many legislatures. Over 250 former members of the 360- capacity House were denied their bid to return as federal legislators while seven were rewarded with promotion to the Senate. These are Abdul Ningi (Bauchi); Mr. Ita Enang (Akwa Ibom); Clever Ikisikpo (Bayelsa); Mr. Gilbert Nnaji (Enugu); Philip Aduda (FCT); Paulinus Igwe (Ebonyi State); and Mohammed Ndume (Borno).
In effect, members of the 6th session of the House of Representatives who made it into the 7thassembly can be said to have clearly secured the popular mandate of their constituents to represent them in Abuja. And to have further emerged as principal officers of the House, the Speaker and his deputy have notched up their standing with Nigerians into a higher plane based on solid representation in the past two sessions of the legislature. Speaking recently at the 7th Synod of the St. Michael & All Angels, Anglican Church, Diocese of Mbaise in Ezinihitte Mbaise of Imo State, Ihedioha said of his election into the House and subsequent elevation to the position of Deputy Speaker: “I was elected for the third time in the National Assembly because my people (constituency) saw in me that rare skill of achievement which I have attracted for them. Again, my colleagues at the National Assembly believed that I have the experience and drive to serve them in that capacity; hence they unanimously endorsed me for the position of the deputy speaker.”
It is quite refreshing to note that this burgeoning unanimity of purpose in the House is being reinforced by its new leadership in its first few steps. They have displayed inclusive style of leadership without prejudice to party platforms and laced it with humility, experience, competence, and vision. For instance, the composition of the ad-hoc committee on media cuts across almost all party lines with Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) lawmaker from Ekiti State appointed as chairperson. Both Tambuwal and his deputy have displayed strong commitment to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of not just the totality of Nigerians but that of their colleagues as well. For instance, Ihedioha directly undertook inspection of renovation/replacement work of the chambers and office spaces for members in spite of assurances by the management of the National Assembly that the place would be ready before the start of plenary. Such show of commitment to colleagues’ welfare would of course increase pressure on the contractors to speed up work. This new House under the leadership of Tambuwal and Ihedioha, both seasoned, astute and consummate lawmakers, has certainly indicated its desire and willingness to redeem and re-order its perception among the populace as a pro-Nigerian parliament that has not only keyed into the transformation agenda of President Jonathan but also expressed its strong commitment towards retrieving Nigeria from the status of Maier’s fallen house.
The 7th session of the House of Representatives under the leadership of Tambuwal and Ihedioha is working very hard to make Nigeria rise again. Its determined step towards rising from the shadows of its past image burden as a critical arm of government deserves the support of all Nigerians. The collective and populist steam that threw them up should not only be sustained but fired up as we exit the era of lamentation into the days of transformation.
Mr. Oke Epia, SA (Media) to the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, writes from Abuja.