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By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & EMMAN OVUAKPORIE

RELIGION has become a central issue in the election of the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. The spiritual orientation of the candidates are being framed into the zoning permutations of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP which as at press time was yet to be worked out.

There is, however, a growing consensus among major stakeholders that the present zoning arrangement as prescribed by the Olusegun Obasanjo leadership of the PDP should be upheld.

Under that arrangement, the President, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Deputy Senate President and Speaker of the House were zoned to the North West, South-South, North-Central, Southwest, Southeast and Northeast. The zoning configuration is to reflect the constitutional provision as stipulated in Section 14 (3) of the constitution that the composition of the government of a State, a local government council or any agency of government should be made to reflect the diversity of the people.

The federal character principle is also reflected in the distribution of the several offices of the two chambers of the National Assembly and the distribution of the top offices of the presidency. The impression that the present zoning arrangement would be sustained is borne out of unconfirmed insinuations of a tacit agreement between the Jonathan administration and top officials of the National Assembly for a sustenance of the status quo prior to the recent elections.

However, whatever arrangements by the principal officers of the two arms of government have come to the point of scrutiny upon the poor returns for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the Southwest zone. That zone was supposed to nominate the Speaker under the arrangement. The poor returns of the Southwest, for the PDP have, however, made other more performing zones such as the Southeast to question why they should have a lesser position to the Southwest. Should rebellion against the ruling party be honoured by the PDP?

Is the question that the Southeast has sought to raise in agitations presently driven by some returning members from the southeast. The elements from the Southeast zone are contending for the position of Speaker of the House as a reward for the good performance of the PDP in the Southeast as compared to the poor outing recorded in the Southwest. However, their quest is challenged by the apparent sensitivity to the religious bearing of the rest of the country.

Given that the President of the country, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is a Christian and that the likely Senate President, David Mark is also a Christian, there is a growing agitation that the Speaker of the House of Representatives should be a Muslim. However, a number of other stakeholders are calling for the adoption of merit as the requisite criteria needed to position persons in the above offices.

Such reasoning is, however, now challenged by insinuations that the many scandals that rocked the outgoing leadership of the House could have been avoided had merit been adopted above other sentimental factors in its election. The consideration of religion as a factor puts the next House in a delicate position as only two Muslims from the Southwest qualify fit into the mould from the ruling PDP.

Indeed it is in consideration of the fact that the office of Speaker would be zoned to the zone that there emerged insinuations of possible defections to the PDP from among the ranks of returning members of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN who would dominate the Southwest caucus. Eyes are now focused on Alhaji Muraina Ajibola the only male Muslim from the PDP returned to the House. Ajibola who is 48 years old is a lawyer who before his election was a local government chairman in Oyo State.

The only other Muslim returning is the 51 year old Mrs. Mulikat Akande-Adeola. Like Ajibola, she is also a lawyer. Besides the position of Speaker other positions are also up for grabs. The position of Deputy Speaker is to be filled by a new person as the incumbent, Usman Nafada did not contest for his position having chosen to contest for the governorship of Gombe. He failed in his bid.

The office is probably returning to the Northeast geopolitical zone. Equally, up for grab is the position of House Leader. The incumbent, Chief Tunde Akogun failed in his bid to win re-election on the platform of the PDP. In his absence eyes are now focusing on prominent returning members from the South-South geopolitical zone to which it is zoned. Among those eyes are contending for the position are Rep. Ndudi Elumelu and Rep. Leo Ogor both from Delta State.

Elumelu won public approval over his populist conduct of the probe of the funding of the power sector during the Obasanjo administration. Though he is very popular among his colleagues his legal entanglements following the unraveling of the rural electrification scandal in the Ministry of Power may be a distraction for him.

Muraina Ajibola from the South West Geo-political zone may emerge as speaker to satisfy the pre-election promise said to have been made by President Jonathan and the leadership of PDP to retain both Mark and Dimeji Bankole in their respective offices if they were re-elected. The choice of Ajibola is linked to the absence of Bankole who failed the contest, he among the lawmakers coming to the House is the only ranking member from the zone.

He also satisfies the criteria of having a Muslim Speaker for the House and a Christian President for the Senate, as was the case in the out-going National Assembly. The  tussle which  has already started as old members are fast getting in touch with the new members who will form the bulk of the House to canvass for their votes via text messages and direct contacts may scuttle the PDP arrangement as they are poised to make their own king not an imposed king in this new dispensation.