Prior to the inauguration of the House of Representatives on June 11, 2019, not a few anticipated a very strong, vibrant and united opposition, which will effectively checkmate the All Progressives Congress (APC) controlled majority.
The opposition parties combined produced about 147 lawmakers, with over one hundred of them coming from the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP), in the 360-member, whlle the APC has about 213 seats in the House.
The calculation then was that with 147 seats, which is more than one-third of the membership of the Green chamber, the opposition will to a great extent influence developments in the House, as the majority party requires a two-third majority to take critical decisions, especially in constitutional related issues, which it cannot muster on its own.
However, this expectation was dashed on July 4, as the members of minority caucus turned on themselves over who should lead the caucus. On that fateful day, the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, had amidst protestations from some PDP members, announced Ndudi Elumelu, Toby Okechukwu, Gideon Gwani and Segun Adekoya as minority leader, deputy minority leader, minority whip and deputy minority whip respectively.
According to the speaker, the quartet was nominated as the minority leadership by members of the minority parties in accordance with the rules of the House. The PDP had in a letter by its national leadership nominated Kingsley Chinda, Chukwuka Onyema, Yakubu Barde and Muraina Ajibola as its choice for the positions of minority leader, deputy minority leader, minority whip and deputy minority whip.
Regardless, Gbajabiamila spurned the letter, stating that it was not in the place of the PDP to choose the minority leadership.
In its reaction, the PDP, while accusing the APC of interfering in its affairs, slammed a one-month suspension, which has now lasted for over six months, on Elumelu, Okechukwu, Gwani, Adekoya, as well as three lawmakers for their role in the minority leadership row. The opposition party went on to designate Chinda and three others as leaders of the PDP caucus in the Green chamber, stating that the Elumelu-led minority leadership cannot represent its interest in the House.
This did not go down well with the Elumelu group, who believes that there should not be a PDP caucus leader, other than the minority leader. Since then things have never been the same in the once-cohesive minority and PDP caucus.
If you are a keen observer of developments in the House, you will agree with me that the division in the PDP caucus, is rubbing off negatively on opposition politics in the Green chamber. The situation of the minority caucus in the House today is not a very pleasant one. Elumelu is the minority leader, yet he has been disowned by his own political party. On the other, Chinda enjoys the support of the PDP, but lacks the support of majority of PDP lawmakers. The implication is that you have two opposition leaders, who does not enjoy the full support of their party men.
No matter how hard, Elumelu may try to play the role of opposition leader in the House, the fact that he lacks the support of the national leadership of the PDP is a big challenge, both for him and the minority caucus. And the majority party knows that and will not hesitate to tell him so, when push comes to shove.
The impasse in the PDP caucus of the House over the minority leadership is a big minus to the Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee. It raises a big question mark on the claim of the PDP to leading a virile opposition in the country. What party would want to lead opposition in the country and be on a warpath with the leadership of the opposition in the parliament?
The truth is that there is need for a synergy between the minority leadership and the PDP. The minority leadership needs the party, as much as the party needs them. Both parties must close ranks to give the country an effective opposition. The PDP must accept that it was defeated in its own game. The opposition party had wanted to install a speaker for the ruling party and got its hand burnt in the process. The party should accept the reality and move on. If for nothing else for the sake of Nigerians, who they claim to love so much.
Ironically, in the heat of the campaign for the speakership contest, former chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, at the launch of the Femi Gbajabiamila speakership campaign, had cautioned the opposition that they will not like it if the APC interferes in their choice of minority leadership.
Therefore, the opposition party should consider all its reports relating to the minority leadership imbroglio and take whatever action it deems fit. But there must be a closure to the issue.
Having said that, I do not understand, why Elumelu and his men are finding it difficult to accept Chinda as the PDP caucus leader.
Truly, in the eight National Assembly, Leo Ogor was both the minority leader and the PDP caucus leader. But the composition of the minority caucus in the ninth National Assembly is different from what it was in the eight Assembly. Whereas the eight National Assembly was made up of only PDP lawmakers, in the minority caucus today consists of a multiplicity of political parties. Therefore, if the other political parties can have their own caucus leadership, what is the big deal in the PDP having a caucus leadership distinct from the minority leadership?
Essentially, the PDP national leadership must take steps to reconcile all its members in House in its own interest and that of the country, bearing in mind that the opposition cannot afford to be disunited at this critical time in our country.
Like Honourable Nicholas Ossai told yours sincerely in a recent interview, “…in moving the opposition ahead, we could come up with very amicable solution, that since other parties have caucus leaders, yet there is a minority leader, can’t we have a PDP caucus leader that will always defer to the minority leader at all times,since PDP produced the minority leader?
“So these instruments can be worked out. And moving forward, you will see the opposition bouncing back. Because, what we are seeing now, Nigeria is not been defended. The opposition must defend Nigeria. There must be an end to this politics of ego that has polarised the PDP caucus and by extension the opposition in the Green Chamber.”