The morning of Monday, December 26, was dry and windy, as the North-east trade wind visited Abuja, accompanied by a hay of dusty clouds. At about 10am, I got a call from a close friend and a brother, who is also the member, representing Adavi/Okehi Federal Constituency of Kogi State, Hon. Muhammed Kabir Ajanah – a scion of the famous Madaki Ajanah political dynasty. The call was an invitation to accompany him to felicitate with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon Yakubu Dogara, who turned forty-nine on that day. As a ‘‘fresh man’’ in the House, Hon. Ajanah took a decisive step of faith in pitching his tent with Rt. Hon. Dogara in the fierce contest for the speakership of the House of Representatives; a step that has become a giant leap because at a relatively youthful age of thirty-nine, Hon. Ajanah has emerged as a major power broker in the politics of the National Assembly and the ruling APC. The visit was an opportunity to meet a man whose activities I have closely followed right from his first term in the seventh assembly.
If his emergence, as the speaker of the House of Representatives was rancorous, the House of Representatives under his leadership appears to be controversially eventful. As a candidate, who wasn’t that of the establishment, he fought his way to victory against entrenched forces within the APC, with the strength and virility of a youth but in victory, he has led the House of Representatives with the wisdom and patience of an elder. His first pragmatic step at stabilising his position and consolidation of his grip on power was to reconcile with the leadership of the establishment forces in the ruling APC by accepting and faithfully implementing the terms of a negotiated settlement that saw to the emergence of his closest rival in the contest for the position of the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, as the House of Representatives majority leader. This was his unique way of restoring and entrenching party supremacy over the affairs of the House after initially defying the party to emerge as the speaker. Dogara appears to have also maintained a delicate balance of power and political forces within the House of Representatives, between the majority APC and the significantly minority PDP on one hand and the House of Representatives and the APC-led executive arm of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency. This strategy has created a fair balance that has ensured all parties having a sense of belonging in affairs of the House, while also ensuring a harmonious working relationship with the executive in a manner that does not undermine the independence and compromise the constitutional functions of ensuring checks and balances of the lower legislative chamber.
The emergence of Yakubu Dogara, a northern Christian from Bagoro/Dass/Tafawa-Balewa Federal Constituency of Bauchi State, as the speaker of the House has been a soothing balm on the fractured political landscape of northern Nigeria. The northern region has a recent history of a polarising political culture along ethno-religious fault lines. This unfortunate scenario has often boiled over into violent confrontations between majority Hausa-Fulani Muslims and minority predominantly Christian tribes in areas like Kaduna, Plateau, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Gombe and Taraba. This division has often been exploited by anti-northern forces to accentuate and promote the narrative of oppression of minorities by the majority tribes of the North. The biggest victim of this perception was General Muhammadu Buhari, now President of the Nigerian republican federation. His earlier attempts to be elected president in 2003, 2007 and 2011 saw him losing the votes of predominantly Christian tribes of the North to mostly his Christian southern rivals. However, this would change in the 2015 presidential election. The attempt to rally northern Christian votes by Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP, who was in the habit of going from one church to another and pouring out political messages from the pulpit that was apparently aimed at invoking religious sentiments to gain sympathy and foster solidarity, failed woefully. This time around majority of northern Christians looked beyond sectional religious interests, far into national interests and voted objectively. This great shift in voting pattern of northern Christians was enhanced by leading political leaders of northern Christian extraction. These include, Audu Ogbeh, Barnabas Gemade, Dino Melaye, George Akume, David Umaru, Solomon Dalung, David Babachir Lawal and Yakubu Dogara, a former member of the then ruling PDP, who was a vocal critic of the policies and programmes of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. He would also be one of the fearless members of the House of Representatives of the seventh assembly, who resisted all financial inducements and defied all intimidations of the almighty “federal might’’ to move out of the then ruling PDP and formed the now ruling APC. The impact of these illustrious citizens was far reaching in ensuring victory for President Muhammadu Buhari. From Benue, Plateau, Niger to Taraba, Kogi and Bauchi, it was a massive vote for APC’s Muhammadu Buhari.
However, when it was time to distribute the spoils of war, the APC establishment forces failed to factor this all-important major source of victory into the power sharing equation. George Akume, who was initially proposed for the position of senate president was later dropped for Ahmed Lawan, a northern Muslim from Yobe State. The establishment in their wisdom also decided to shut out Yakubu Dogara for Femi Gbajabiamilla, a southern Muslim. If the plans of the APC had gone unchallenged, no northern Christian would have been elected to the highest levels of power in Nigeria today. This would have re-opened old wounds, deepened the ethno religious fault lines and further give credence to the age-long held conspiracy theory that northern minority Christians were mere raw materials in the hands of the majority Hausa-Fulani Muslim oligarchs when sourcing for power, with the consequence of a reversal of the gains towards unity and oneness of the North, as was manifest in 2015 presidential election. Fortunately, Dogara also got strong backing from notable northern Muslim politicians both within and outside the Green Chambers.
The National Assembly have come under intense scrutiny by a critical mass of Nigerian citizens over its finances and corrupt practices. The new lexicon known as ‘‘budget padding’’ was introduced during the first assignment of appropriation by the eighth assembly. Then entered the ‘’Jibrin affair’’ that had the potential of bringing the entire legislative arm of government to disrepute. All these fed into the narrative that portrayed the National Assembly as institution of corruption, which then bolstered the ‘‘Occupy NASS’’ movement, seeking a fundamental restructuring that would drastically reduce the size as well as privileges of its membership. In all of these, speaker Dogara has managed to come out unscathed. He has avoided the slippery terrain of banana peels by leading the House with the strength of a youth and the wisdom of an elder.
The relatively high cost of running the National Assembly is the high price to be paid for a proper democracy. The relative comfort and reasonable privileges enjoyed by members of the National Assembly is what has ensured the considerable independence of the legislative arm of government, which is critical to enhancing checks and balances that is the hallmark of a constitutional democracy. It is an obvious fact that these privileges are sometimes abused and corruptly converted by some members away from the intended benefit of the spirit and letter of the institution of the National Assembly. The solution is not to ‘‘occupy NASS complex’’ but for those concerned enough to go back to constituencies of origin and attempt to participate in the electoral process with the aim of ensuring only people of quality character, deserving of a seat in the National Assembly get elected to occupy the hallowed chambers.