The House of Representatives was on fire yesterday. Members were shouting and threatening one another – a reminder of the Sixth House at its most shameful moments.
The reason was the deep suspicion that the wishes of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the selection of principal officers was going to be truncated by Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
In a June 23 letter addressed to Dogara, the APC sent a list of names for principal officers.
Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila ( South West) was chosen as the Majority Leader, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa (North West), Deputy Majority Leader,; M.T. Monguno ( North East), Chief Whip; and Hon. Pally Iriase (South South), Deputy Chief Whip.
A member from Sokoto State attempted to snatch the mace. Sitting was disrupted for over two hours and the business of the day as listed in the order paper was terminated.
The drama began as Dogara invited Hon. Oker Jev to move a motion that the House dissolves into an executive session.
But a member from Sokoto State, Balarabe Abdullahi Salame shouted “point of Order, point of order!” He was not recognised by the Speaker. He thereafter attempted to snatch the mace.
The Sergeants- at- Arm sprang to thwart the move and other members joined the fray. They surged back and forth like a raging sea as they struggled, some to grab the mace; others to stop them.
Having failed to seize the mace, Salame made straight for the Speaker, holding his dress. Members rushed to stop him, forming a protective ring around Dogara.
The mace was eventually moved to a safe place after about 25 minutes struggle.
However the conflict heightened when Hon. Hassan Garba Ado-Doguwa ( APC Kano) clambered on the table on which the mace previously sat but was pushed down by irate members.
In the struggle, some members fell to the floor and the bulky volumes of the acts of Parliament on the table became missiles, used freely by lawmakers loyal to Femi Gbajabiamila and those on Dogara’s side.
From that moment till about past 12pm, members were swearing and threatening one another.
Suddenly, chants of ‘’all we are saying, give us Gbaja’’ rent the air. There were also interjections of ‘’APC’’. PDP member chanted ‘’shame’’ in response.
At exactly 12:34 pm, the mace re-entered the Chamber, causing members to applaud. Oker Jev thereafter moved that plenary resumes. Goni Bukar Lawan (Yobe), who seconded nearly caused anther round of unrest as his reference to Jeff as “Acting Leader “ incensed Hon. Madaki who launched at him but was held back by other members.
But immediately the members settled down, Dogara pleaded for patience, saying the contentious issue of Principal Officers will be resolved.
He said: “We are very fortunate. Let me remind us of the fact that we are very very fortunate. In a nation of 170 million people only 360 of us are selected or elected to represent the people and we should be grateful to our constituents for sending us here.”
He said APC has promised “change” and that Nigerians expect the change to manifest.
“ As to the issues that led to the fracas today, we will sit down as leaders and resolve whatever the fight; we have to ensure that this matter as quickly as possible is resolved and that is what we will do by the grace of God.”
He approved the votes and proceedings of the next day and adjourned plenary till July 21.
After the House adjourned, both the APC and the PDP caucuses traded blames over the matter.
The APC Caucus said the problem was caused by Dogara’s actions at plenary.
The APC’s position was read by Hon. Nasiru Sani Zangon Daura ( APC Katsina State.)
“The action that occurred inside the chamber of the House of Representatives was in reaction to the illegal and unconstitutional action taken by Speaker Yakubu Dogara of the House of Representatives, an action in his usual tradition of total disregard to the wishes of the majority members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Caucus, the party itself and the spirit of the party.
“We are aware of a letter sent by our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), dated 23rd June 2015 conveying the approval of the party’s Principal Officers vis a vis the APC House Leader, the APC Chief Whip, the APC Deputy House Leader and the APC Deputy Chief Whip for the House of Representatives.
“This letter by the party is in compliance with the expressed wish and mandate of the majority members of the APC Caucus in the House of Representatives.
“This action of the party and the APC House Caucus is in compliance with the Nigerian Constitution, the House Rules and parliamentary tradition, practices and precedents in Nigeria and all over the world.
“But to our surprise and in breach of our privilege and rights as contained in the Constitution and extant House Rules, Mr. Speaker refused to read the letter from our party.
“The Speaker and Deputy Speaker are not party principal officers but are House of Representatives Presiding Officers and by precedent and practice are expected to provide a level playing ground for all members, while the party principal officers are supposed to be the main advocates for their individual party positions.
“The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives are elected by all members of the House of Representatives, irrespective of party affiliation and it is also possible under our extant rules for a Speaker and his Deputy to be elected from a minority/opposition party in the National Assembly.
“Therefore, Speaker Yakubu Dogara of the House of Representatives cannot under extant Laws and House Rules appoint, choose, select, dictate or even provide guidance on how party principal officers emerge or are elected or selected. That responsibility and authority lies with each party and party’s caucus members in the House.
The PDP said the fracas was caused by the “unparliamentary” behaviour of APC members on the floor.
The Caucus, in a briefing led by Hon. Leo Ogor, said: ”Something unparliamentary happened today and I think it’s important from the minority point we should put the facts before the public.
“Because of issues that border on some level of agitation he decided that we go into executive session to discuss as parliamentarians. A very embarrassing and unpleasant action took place from the APC group; they decided to take laws into their hands, turned the House upside down and went as far as even carrying the mace, which is the symbol of authority.”