The House Of Representatives Leadership And Its Malcontents

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Clearly the biggest political story of the past few weeks, the decision by some members of the House of Representatives to give Speaker Dimeji Bankole, an ultimatum to resign within seven days has underlined the deep crisis in Nigerian politics. A few days earlier, the Speaker and one of his traducers, Honorable Ogunewe was reported to have exhibited boxing skills that would have been the envy of Mike Tyson. The group which tagged itself as “progressive” gave Bankole the ultimatum, or it will make public questionable financial practices under the Speaker’s watch in the past three years. The spokesperson for the group is Dino Melaiye, remembered for his unruly ways during the lead to the impeachment of former Speaker, Olubunmi Etteh.

Dino Melaiye was quoted as saying that his group called on “Bankole to resign honorably within seven days or we will make the House ungovernable for him”. The self-styled progressives include Melaiye and the “boxer” Independence Ogunewe, Bitrus Kaze, Ehioge West Idahosa and a few others; they accuse Bankole of corruption, ineptitude and high handedness. These accusations are so general as to mean nothing or everything, in the context of the high stake politics within the House of Representatives, as the “boxing bout” between the speaker and Ogunewe underlined. But as in all politics, there must be far more than meets the eye, as the saying goes.

It is imperative to remember that a lot is going on in the country, in terms of the posturing of different political factions and the struggle for advantage. Some of those accusing Bankole, for want of a better term, belong to the “lumpen” stratum of the House and were directly tied to the short tenure of the “hairdresser” Speaker, Etteh. But far more telling is that Etteh had been imposed by the old despot, Olusegun Obasanjo.  Etteh’s removal was one of the earliest reverses suffered by the Obasanjo tendency within the PDP and the Yar’adua dispensation. But not only was that a national setback, there is also the local fight for hegemony within Ogun state politics, because Dimeji Bankole’s emergence as Speaker meant that he has attained a clout and visibility, much to the dislike of Obasanjo and the governor of the state, Gbenga Daniel.

So Bankole’s political enemies wanted a way to cut him to size but that was not available for as long as Umaru Yar’adua was president of Nigeria. They found their métier when Yar’adua fell sick and Jonathan Goodluck eventually emerged as president. There is the Jonathan angle to these troubles, because Bankole had stayed loyal to the ailing president Yar’adua for long at a point when Jonathan had started salivating for presidency. NEXT ON SUNDAY newspaper of June 13, 2010, reported “a highly placed security source” that revealed Goodluck is to hold a meeting with Speaker Bankole on June 22, because Jonathan “is unhappy with the situation (in the House) and will demand…account for the alleged charges brought by his own fellow representatives”. That plays into the space of the tested style of squeezing/blackmailing out of a job whoever loses favor, by President Jonathan Goodluck, who has become adroit in the use of the hostage-taking tactics which Obasanjo perfected between 1999 and 2007.

The saving grace for Speaker Dimeji Bankole and the House leadership is that the “coup” attempt by the self-styled “progressive” legislators is clearly unpopular with the vast majority of members. The reason is simply that the relative peace and unity under the present leadership, has seen quite a number of significant legislative developments including the controversial constitutional amendment and the forthcoming examination of the Electoral Act. There is also the feeling that some of the aggrieved Members are in anger and frustration because of a recent reshufflement of House Committees.

But it is clear that at the base of what is happening in the House is a combination of factors and the most important today, is Jonathan Goodluck’s ambition to dominate the political space, in his all-consuming desire to run for president in 2011. Check it out: the removal of Ogbulafor, using the ICPC; the emergence of the Nigeria First Forum in parliament; the Masari/Nnamani Reform group and efforts to dump PDP’s zoning. The Speaker and House leadership stuck with Yar’adua for long and so cannot be trusted as an ally in the effort to sweep the stakes in 2011. Similarly, there are the Speaker’s enemies at home, Gbenga Daniel and Obasanjo, who felt really worried that under Yar’adua, Dimeji Bankole could very well have nicked the PDP ticket as the governorship candidate in Ogun State in 2011. Yar’adua’s death changed all political permutations and that is why they are baying for the Speaker’s blood. What they do not have is the majority of the members and that remains the best bet for Dimeji Bankole and his colleagues: retain the loyalty of the members without forgetting that treachery is very much at the heart of Nigeria’s political process and things can often change very fast.

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