Minority leadership and the unending crisis in House of Reps

When all seemed that the crisis surrounding emergence of the minority leadership of the 9th House of Representatives may have subsided, it resurfaced last week. JOSHUA EGBODO writes on the lingering issues

The beginning 

After inauguration of the current House of Representatives, it was as expected that the remaining principal officers, beside the speaker and the deputy speaker who emerged through votes of members, would be named in accordance with the guiding rules. 

However, that of the minority leadership, led by the main opposition political party; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) experienced some delays. The PDP in a communication to the new speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila in July named Kingsley Chinda as Minority Leader, Chukwuma Onyema as Deputy Minority Leader, Umar Barde as Minority Whip, and Ajibola  Muraina as Deputy Minority Whip. 

However, Gbajabiamila in announcing the minority leadership as contained in a list reported to have emanated “from the conglomeration of all the minority political parties”, named Ndudi Elumelu, Toby Okechukwu, Gideon Gwani and Adekoya Adesegun for the positions in that respective order, sparking protests on the floor.

The development later earned Elumelu and his colleagues of the PDP extraction suspension by the party, but the team is still being recognized by the leadership of the House. 

The renewed feud

Signs that issues surrounding the minority leadership in the house may not have been rested surfaced last Wednesday, when a motion was brought on the floor to the effect that Chinda and his team were still parading themselves as representing minority leadership, in contravention of those recognized in the house”

Ben Igbakpe at plenary of the house last Wednesday came through a point of order under matters of privileges, recalling that the speaker on July 3, 2019 announced the minority leaders of the House, but that some members, namely; Chinda, Onyema, Barde and Muraina were “parading themselves as PDP Caucus leader, deputy caucus leader, minority whip and deputy minority whip, issuing statements outside the nomenclature of this House, misleading the public and causing disaffection in the House of Representatives”.

He argued that actions of the four lawmakers violated section 24 of the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act, praying “I hereby call on this House to investigate this and bring the perpetrators to book”. The motion was adopted through voice votes, and immediately referred to the House’s committee on ethics and privileges.

Chinda’s defence

But Chinda in an immediate defence of his action, said he was in order. “I am the PDP Caucus leader in the House with the authority and consent of the party. PDP is a registered political party and a creation of law and not the rules of the House. PDP has its leaders in units, communities, amongst students, traders, professionals and parliamentarians. These leaders are recognized as such. I have the mandate of the PDP to act as its leader in the House.

“Other minority parties are free to have their caucus leadership. I don’t see how that offends the rule or law of the House or the constitution”, the lawmaker stated.

Backed by PDP?

The leading opposition PDP appeared to be in support of Chinda’s submissions, as its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan on Friday explained position its National Working Committee (NWC) on the matter.

“The National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wishes to clarify its position on the PDP Caucus at the House of Representatives as follows; That the suspension placed on some PDP Members who connived with others to supplant the Party decision with regards to Party positions in the House is subsisting and has not been lifted.

“That the suspended members of the Party cannot therefore conduct any business of the Party at whatever level until disciplinary measures have been concluded.

“That the National Working Committee (NWC) in its wisdom, knowing that nature abhors a vacuum and consistent with its position on the matter which has not changed, directed that the affairs of the PDP Caucus of the House of Representatives be organized and managed by: Hon. Kingsley Chinda, Hon. Yakubu Barde, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema and Hon. Muraina Ajibola.

“That the members mentioned in paragraph 3 above have the express mandate and authority of the PDP to lead its Caucus at the House of Representatives.

“That the PDP under our leadership will not reward disloyalty and will not allow anyone other than the party to impose their choices on us with the sole aim of annihilating or stifling the voice of the opposition.

“All PDP NASS (National Assembly) Members and Organs are to note this and accord the irreversible party choices the necessary support to execute the party’s mandate in distinction as they have been doing so far”, the party’ spokesman stated.

Elumelu insists

Incumbent minority leader of the house, Ndudi Elumelu while describing his colleagues and self as loyal party members, however insisted that his team was rightly picked through the collective acceptance of his PDP and other minority political parties, stating “on rule of law we stand”.

A statement to that effect one Barr. Oyorima Idahosa, Special Adviser (Legal) to Elumelu explained that the allegations against his principal and others as contained in the statement by PDP’s national publicity secretary “is completely against the principle of democracy, rule of law and fairness upon which our great party, the PDP is founded and known since its formation 21 years ago”.

He continued; “For the avoidance of doubt, the Minority leadership of the House of Representatives was elected in strict observance of Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Order 7 Rule 8 of the Standing Rule of the House of Representatives.

“Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution unambiguously provides that “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have power to regulate its own procedure, including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House”. 

“Accordingly, Order 7 Rule 8 clearly states that ‘Members of the Minority Parties in the House shall nominate from among them, the Minority Leader, Minority Whip, Deputy Minority Leader, and Deputy Minority Whip’

“This, the overwhelming majority of the Minority Caucus comprising nine political parties (PDP, APGA, ADC, LP, SDP, PRP, AA, APM, ADP) did, and communicated their decision to the Speaker in a letter dated 2nd July 2019 and signed by over 100 members of the 147-Member Caucus.

“By parliamentary rules persons so elected become the leaders of the party caucuses in the legislature. While the party can GUIDE their elected Members through the zoning of various Minority leadership offices, it is not in the place of the party, by the provisions of the Constitution, House Standing Rule, and parliamentary traditions, to APPOINT or FOIST Minority or Majority Caucus leadership on its Members…..”.

He expressed as a curious development, “that over four months after various organs of the party set up Committees to investigate this matter and related issues bordering on PDP National Assembly Caucus within two weeks, the party has been reluctant and/or refused to consider the reports of these various Committees so that the issues can be laid to rest”.

He therefore submitted that “the endless suspension of loyal party members outside the provisions of the PDP Constitution, 1999 Constitution, and rules of parliament as palpably oppressive”, urging the leadership of the PDP to weigh its actions and not allow certain individuals with vested personal interests to destroy the reputation and democratic foundations of the PDP”.

But the move against Chinda and co.

While the controversial suspension of Elumelu and his team by the PDP was yet unresolved, Chinda and his co-travelers who were accused of “breach of legislative privileges” would be facing the ethics and privileges committee of the house anytime soon. The other affected members are Chukwuma Onyema, Umar Barde and Muraina Ajibola.

It is at the moment not clear on what might be their fate, experience in the past have shown that the most likely punitive would be their suspension from the house, for specified period of time. The waiting therefore continues.

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