Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
They are from different walks of life, with varied personalities. However, apart from being members of the Ninth House of Representatives, they have one other thing in common – they are the Speaker’s men.
Across the world, it is not unusual for men of power to have a select club of men and women, with whom they confer with on a regular basis on critical issues.
These are men and women who determine who gets what done in an administration or what should not be done and in most cases and are most often trusted with critical and very sensitive assignments for the boss.
This select group is usually referred to as the kitchen cabinet.
Like most men in power, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has his own men. Gbajabiamila, currently in his fifth term as a member of the National Assembly, representing Surulere Federal Constituency 1, was first elected into the federal legislature in 2003 on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD).
The 57-year-old Speaker, who has a law degree from the University of Lagos, was minority leader in the Seventh Assembly and emerged House leader in the Eight Assembly, after losing the speakership contest to Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
At the inauguration of the Ninth Assembly on June 10, Gbajabiamila emerged Speaker of the House, after a tension-soaked contest that pitched him directly against Hon. Umar Bago, who was backed by Dogara and the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The opposition party, which scuttled Gbajabiamila’s ambition to lead the Eight House had sought to repeat the feat, albeit unsuccessfully.
Today, with the leadership contest over and the House swung into business, there are a few members, who have formed the nucleus of the Speaker’s support base. These are the members of his inner caucus or kitchen cabinet.
This is understandable as the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly is a very slippery. Therefore, no presiding officer can afford to be caught off-guard.
Among the Gbajabiamila’s men are some old political adversaries now turned allies, long standing friends and very influential members of the Green Chamber, who played key roles in his election as the Speaker of the Ninth House. These are lawmakers, who have the Speaker’s ears. They are the powers behind the throne.
Today, all the Speaker’s men, with the exemption of one, preside over key committees in the House, from where they are providing strategic support for him. These men include:
Hon. Idris Wase, who is incumbent deputy speaker of the House. Wase, who represents Wase Federal Constituency of Plateau State, was the deputy house leader in the later part of the Eight Assembly.
Prior to the inauguration of the Ninth Assembly, Wase, a graduate of civil engineering from the Plateau State Polytechnic, had sought to lead the House as Speaker.
However, when he realized that the internal politics of the All Progressives Congress(APC) does not favour his emergence as Speaker, he quickly aligned forces with Gbajabiamila, after the latter was named the anointed candidate of the ruling party for the leadership of the Ninth House.
It was this granite coalition between Wase and Gbajabiamila that resulted in their election as the presiding officers of the House of Representatives at the inauguration of the Ninth Assembly. Expectedly, the deputy speaker is a key figure in Gbajabiamila’s kitchen cabinet. He is known to have influenced key decisions in the House.
Hon. Abdulminin Jibrin, a former chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation in the Eight Assembly is an adversary-turned ally. In the run up to the inauguration of the Eight Assembly, Jibrin had stood firmly against Gbajabiamila’s quest to become Speaker.
The 43-year-old lawmaker, who represents Kiru/Bebeji Federal Constituency of Kano State, had nursed the ambition to be Speaker of the House in 2015. However, he later stepped down for the immediate past Speaker, Hon. Dogara.
As the arrowhead of Dogara ‘s speakership bid, the former Appropriation Committee chair had vehemently opposed Gbajabiamila’s quest to be Speaker in 2015.
However, as the saying goes, there is no permanent friend or foe in politics, but permanent interest. So, it is with Jibrin and Gbajabiamila.
In the run-up to the inauguration of the Ninth Assembly, Jibrin abandoned the Dogara camp and teamed up with Gbajabiamila; and was subsequently named the Director General of the Gbajabiamila/Wase Speakership Campaign Council.
Today, the Kano-born lawmaker is one of the most influential members of the House. He is believed to have made serious input in the composition of the various standing committees of the House.
Following speculations that Jibrin may have fallen out with Gbajabiamila, after the former’s name was missing from the list of committee chairmen, the Speaker in a tweet from his verified twitter handle @femigbaja had explained: Let me clarify that Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin was not excluded from the leadership composition. He was involved in the composition process and declined accepting any committee leadership. Hon. Jibrin had, repeatedly, made clear his intention to leave the House. My persuasions and that of some other leaders convinced him, reluctantly, to stay a bit longer.
“He wants a fresh challenge and his preference will be to return to the university and pursue his professorial ambition, face his private business or serve in the executive arm of public service. I have no doubt, whatever he decides, he will be of immense value. He has had a meritorious career in the House over the last decade.”
The former Appropriations Committee chairman was first elected into the Green Chamber on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2011. He left the opposition party for the APC in 2013.
An alumnus of the Ahmadu Bello University and the University of Abuja, where he bagged degrees in Political Science and International Relations respectively, Jibrin is perhaps the only lawmaker, who has successively led campaign for the installation of two speakers of the Green Chamber.
Hon. Muktar Betara, popularly known as the “Head Boy” is a key member of the Gbajabiamila inner caucus and one of those, who played key roles in the making of the Speaker.
Betera was first elected into the House in 2007 on the platform of the defunct All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), and represents Biu, Kwaya Kusar, Bayo and Shani Constituency of Borno State.
After the 2019 general elections, Betara, who is 53 years old, was among those, who indicated interest to be Speaker of the House. However, when the APC settled for Gbajabiamila, he jettisoned his ambition. Ironically, many of the members, especially those in the Eight Assembly, were routing for the “Head Boy”, who is famous among members for his simplicity and generosity to lead the Ninth House.
The lawmaker, who currently chairs the House Committee on Appropriations, is a known ally of former Speaker Dogara. But surprisingly, he chose to work for Gbajabiamila in the last speakership contest. Inside sources say to show his appreciation, Gbajabiamila gave Betara opportunity to chose a committee of his choice. And the Borno-born lawmaker, who was the chairman House Committee on Defence in the Eight Assembly, went for the Appropriations Committee.
From the outside, the chairmanship of House Committee on Appropriations is seen like the headship of any other committees, but in the legislative circle, there is more to it. It is a position that most times is occupied by the Speaker’s right hand man. This is because the Appropriations Committee is the clearing house for budget matters, which is one of the cardinal responsibility of the legislature. Betara is a graduate of the Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri.
James Faleke is Gbajabiamila’s man Friday. Like the Speaker, Faleke belongs to the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu political family.
The lawmaker, who was first elected to the House in 2011 on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), represents Ikeja Federal Constituency of Lagos State . He was the deputy governorship candidate of APC in the 2015 Kogi governorship poll.
However, he narrowly lost out in the Kogi political equation, following the death of the gubernatorial candidate, Abubakar Audu before the declaration of the election results.
After the botched governorship outing in Kogi, Faleke re-contested for the Ikeja Federal Constituency seat in the 2019 polls and won for the third consecutive time.
A former local government chairman in Lagos State, Faleke, who is 57 years old , with Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the Imo State University, is presently calling the shots as chairman of the House Committee on Finance.
Hon. Julius Ihonvbere, a professor of political science, is more or less the intellectual power house of the Gbajabiamila inner caucus. Although, Ihonvbere is in his first term in the House, he plays strategic role in the Gbajabiamila speakership, so much so that he is given sensitive assignments. For instance, the 63-year-old professor chaired the House ad-hoc committee that reviewed the standing rules of the House.
As soon as he was done with that assignment, Ihonvbere also chaired the ad-hoc committee on drafting of the House legislative agenda. These two ad-hoc committees will to a large extent determine the shape of the Ninth House under Gbajabiamila.
The lawmaker, who represents Owan Federal Constituency of Edo State, is the chairman of the House Committee on Basic Education.
Prior to coming into the House, Ihonvbere was at various times the special adviser to the President on Policy and Programmes Monitoring, as well speech writer to the President, during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Owan-born academic-turned politician was also Secretary to the Edo State Government (SSG) during the second term of APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole as governor of the state. He earlier sought to be governor of the state on the platform of the PDP in 2007 and 2012 without success.
Hon. Wale Raji represents Epe Federal Constituency of Lagos State. He was first elected into the House in 2015. The Epe-born lawmaker is among the “Tinubu boys” in the National Assembly.
Sixty-two-year-old Raji is the chairman of the all-important House Committee on House Services. The House Services Committee, which is one of the most “juicy” committees in the parliament, is in charge of the budget and appropriation of the House, members welfare, provision of office equipment and materials, including provision of utility vehicles for House Committees, among others.
Hon. Babajimi Benson, who represents Ikorodu Federal Constituency of Lagos State, is another member of the Tinubu political family in the Green Chamber. Benson, who chairs the House Committee on Defence, was first elected to the National Assembly in 2015 on the platform of the APC. The 46-year-old lawyer had a stint in the public and private sector before his election as a member of the House.