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The race for the speakership of the House of Representatives is at the home stretch, but the drama has kept the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the President, Bola Tinubu, “awake” as they strive to avoid the repeat of the 2011 and 2015 rebellions.

An amendment to the Standing Rule of the House which was done in 2020 and an alteration to the 1999 constitution may be the major deciding factors in the race. Unlike in 2015, these alterations may favour the establishment candidates over the other aspirants.

Background

In the last two weeks, Mr Tinubu has had marathon meetings with lawmakers across the political parties as he seeks to ensure that his endorsed candidates do not suffer embarrassing defeat on 13 June. The former Lagos State governor endorsed Godswill Akpabio and Barau Jibrin as Senate President and Deputy Senate President. In the House, Tajudeen Abbas and Ben Kalu got the nod to lead the 10th House as speaker and deputy. Initially, the announcement was met with fervent opposition. However, the tides seem to be favouring the president.

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Sen. Godswill Akpabio (South-south)

His diplomatic approach appears to be yielding some returns with the withdrawal of Muktar Betara and Yusuf Gagdi from the race following a meeting with Mr Tinubu. Some weeks ago, Alhassan Doguwa, the Leader of the immediate past House, alongside Abubakar Makki and Olatunji Raheem withdrew from the race and declared their support for Mr Abbas. This leaves the Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase, Aminu Jaji, Sada Soli and Miriam Onuoha in the race. But the deputy speaker has been the most vocal among all the aspirants.

Mr Wase appears to be unwilling to bow out of the race irrespective of the pressure. On Thursday, during the valedictory session, he said he remains in the race and must fulfil a divine prophecy by Solomon Lar, a former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, that he would someday become the Speaker of the House.

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House of Representatives Speaker aspirant, Tajudeen Abbas

“I want to appreciate my political leaders among whom (was) Solomon Lar. When I was contesting in 2007, I went to him and he prophesied the number of (times) I’ll come to this assembly,” he said.

“I will tell this crowd and the world that he (Lar) said I’ll come to this assembly…and prophesied even the leadership I’ll attain (including) the deputy speaker. And he prophesied that the next time when I return I’ll be the speaker. Insha Allah, I’ll be the speaker of this chamber.”

Abdulazizi Yari
Former Gov. Abdulazizi-Yari of Zamfara State.

But Mr Wase is racing against time, as he may not enjoy the support of sufficient number of members-elect with Messrs Betara and Gagdi now gone to the other side.

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In the Senate, Abdulaziz Yari and Orji Kalu have vowed to stay in the race till the end, setting up a potential replica of the 2015 showdown, when Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara outmanoeuvred the party on the floor of the two chambers.

Changes to House Rules

The constitution alteration and the amendment of the Standing Rule of the House of Representatives could make a repeat of previous rebellion difficult. Former President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the amendment to sections 54, 96 and 311 of the 1999 Constitution.

Section 54 was amended to provide the quorum for the first sitting of the Assembly. Before this latest alteration of the constitution, the quorum for the first sitting was one-third of all the members of the House. With the creation of a new section 54 (1A) the quorum for the first sitting of the parliament is now two-thirds.

“(1A) For the purpose of the inaugural and first sitting of the Senate or the House of Representatives, the quorum shall be at least two-thirds of all the members-elect of either the Senate or the House of Representatives,” the section reads.

This amendment will prevent a repeat of the situation that happened in the 8th Assembly when the presiding officers were elected in the Senate while many senators were at the International Conference Center (ICC).

Mr Saraki was elected unopposed with 57 lawmakers present and voting, while 51 were absent.

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Following the election, there was a controversy and allegations of forgery against Mr Saraki and others. The government arraigned him, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu; the then Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, and deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, Benedict Efeturi, on charges of forgery.

Open balloting system

The most consequential amendment is the changes in the Standing Rule of the House of Representatives that provide that the election of presiding officers of the House, according to Order 2 rule 3(f(III)), shall be an open balloting system.

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“(II) voting shall be conducted by the Clerk to the National Assembly or Deputy Clerk to the National Assembly using the list of the Members-elect of the House, with the proposers and Seconders as Tellers;

(III) every member voting shall name clearly and in the Open the candidate of his choice.

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The constitution, section 54(3), gives lawmakers the power to develop a standing rule that guides their activities. The two chambers have their respective standing rules that guide their activities.

This amendment to the House standing rule was done in 2020 following the adoption of the recommendations of an ad hoc committee, chaired by Julius Ihonvbere.

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Mr Ihonvbere’s committee was given the mandate to review the Standing Rule. Following the review, the report was submitted to the House and it was considered by the Committee of the Whole and adopted.

The implication of the new law is that the president will see how each member of the House voted. Even though Mr Tinubu has declared that he is ready to work with anyone that emerges, he still has his preferred candidates in the race in both chambers.

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A former senator, Shehu Sani, in a tweet, said the mode of election would give the “anointed candidates” of the president an undue advantage because the president would see those who voted against his candidate, and out of fear, the lawmakers may vote in support of the president’s candidates.

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Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Wase [PHOTO CREDIT: Hon Ahmed Idris Wase on Facebook]

“If open ballot is adopted in the chamber and shown on live TV where the President will be watching every senator, the President’s anointed candidate will win squarely.
“If Secret Ballot is adopted in the chamber and no one knows where anyone voted, the result will be different.

“When a rebel candidate wins, those who voted for him will be considered the adversaries of the executives for the next four years. However, I’m not a soothsayer but just suggesting a possible scenario,” he tweeted.

Elections in House, Senate to run concurrently

One other significant amendment to the standing rule is a section that allows the Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly to preside over the election of the House of Representatives.

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In the past, only the Clerk of the National Assembly presides over the elections in the two chambers. Often, the House election is done after that of the Senate. But the new amendment provides that if the clerk is not available, the deputy clerk should preside.

“After the roll call, but before their swearing in, the Clerk to the National Assembly and where not available the Deputy Clerk to the National Assembly shall preside over the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker,” the new amendment reads.

This means that the elections could run concurrently. The outcome in the Senate may not have an effect on voting in the House. Many believe that the outcome in the Senate in 2015 influenced the election in the House. With the amendment, such a possibility has been significantly reduced.

Ugochiyere Ikenga, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said the amendment confirmed that the House is not a lower chamber to the Senate.

“The reason is that we are not a lower House or inferior. It is a bi-cameral legislative system. And the constitution and the House rules have been amended which is what most people don’t understand—making provision for a clerk and deputy clerk,” he said.

The combination of these factors appears to be taking the steam off the rebellious aspirants in the House and Senate. However, it is still too early to outrightly predict the outcome.

Credit: Premium Times

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