Minority leadership row: Will Ayu save PDP House caucus?
JACOB SEGUN OLATUNJI reports on the ongoing muscle-flexing in the caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the House of Representatives over the post of Minority Leader.
THE once vibrant Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House of Representatives seems to be in disarray over the composition of the Minority Principal Officers of the ninth National Assembly. Two camps are locked in a battle for supremacy. The battle has assumed different dimensions since it began shortly after the House resumed from a brief recess after its inauguration, with neither party ready to back down.
The crisis started on July 3, when the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila announced Honourable Ndudi Elumelu of the PDP as the Minority Leader of the House based on the communication he received from and signed by more than 90 members. The lawmakers were elected on the tickets of nine minority parties. They claimed to have endorsed the nominations of Honourable Elumelufor the post of Minority Leader; Honourable Toby Okechukwu as deputy Minority Leader; Honourable Gideon Gwani as Minority Whip and Honourable Adesegun Adekoya as deputy Minority Whip.
When the Speaker was about to read out the content of the communication, Honourable Kingsley Chinda, the anointed candidate of the PDP for the position, raised a Point of Order on the need for the Speaker to follow due process by reading the original letter which contained the party’s choice candidates as the practice. However, Chinda was ruled out of order. The preferred candidates of the PDP as contained in the list to the Speaker included Hon Kingsley Chidafor for the post of Minority leader; Honourable Chukwuma Onyema (deputy Minority Leader); Honourable Yakubu Bade(Chief Whip) and Muraina Ajibola as Deputy Leader.
With the division over the choice of the principal officers for the minority parties, it was obvious that there was a looming clash of interests. The normal legislative activities were soon disrupted, forcing the leadership of the House to quickly adjourn sitting. But the PDP caucus, led by HonourableChinda (PDP-Rivers)immediately organised a press conference at the media centre in the House to denounce the stand of the House leadership to disregard the correspondence of the PDP on the subject matter. He said the PDP leadership officially communicated its position via a letter dated June, 26, 2019 to the leadership of the House. He accused Honourable Gbajabiamila of a flagrant abuse of legislative practice by attempting to impose some lawmakers unknown to the PDP caucus in the House. “We all met as members of the minority parties; that the parties should choose among them who should be the principal officers for them and revert back to us,” he said.
Honourable Chida who insisted that all the members of the parties unanimously agreed to align with minority parties to avert what he described as an attempt to decimate them. Despite the intrigues that played out over the issue, he said he and others dissatisfied with the development were resolved to promote harmony in the House. He stated, “we are ready to cooperate with the Gbajabiamila-led administration. Yet, we are also ready to critically and very responsibly look at the various policies of the Federal Government.”
The aggrieved members provided further insight into the genesis of the cold war. They claimed the crisis was externally induced. In fact, they pointed the finger at the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that has the majority in the House. They alleged that the other letter, which purportedly emanated from some PDP lawmakers and supported by the APC leadership, was an intrusion into the affairs of the minority parties.
However, a few minutes after, the Ndudi Elumelu group appeared at the same media centre to state its own side of the story. It claimed that all the nine minority parties in the House endorsed the nomination of Honourable Elumelu as Minority Leader; Honourable Toby Okechukwu (deputy Minority Leader); Honourable Gideon Gwani (Minority Whip) and Honourable Adesegun Adekoya as the deputy Minority Whip. According to Honourable Elumelu, out of the 147 members of the opposition parties, 111 voted in support of his group as announced by the Speaker, Honourable Gbajabiamila.
The members of the group who spoke one after the other at the press conference frowned on the imposition of the PDP lawmakers on other minority parties. They vouched for all the names on the Elumelu list. They emphasised: “We are convinced of their character, integrity and experience to discharge the duty of the office in line with the House Rules, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and in the interest of the minority caucus. The caucus will continue to do everything to promote and respect the interest of our various parties and use the instrumentality of legislation to ensure a fair deal for all Nigerians.” Honourable Elumelu gave further explanations on the position of his group. He argued that the choice of the principal officers was in line with Order 7 Rule 8 of the Standing Rules of the House.
However, the national leadership of the PDP kicked against the action of the Speaker, insisting on the list submitted to him which endorsed Honourable Chida as the Minority Leader of the House. The position of the PDP was contained in a statement by the national publicly secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan. He cautioned the leadership of the House of undermining the global standards and practices on parliamentary procedures, conventions and processes. “It is instructive to state that the PDP had duly written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, after consultation with other minority members in the House of Representatives, notifying him of members that have been selected for leadership position in the House of Representatives, in line with dictates of the rules and parliamentary practice.”
“However, to our utter dismay, the PDP had discovered that the Speaker attempted to smuggle in names other than those recognised and forwarded to him as the leaders of the minority in the House of Representatives. We caution against this abuse of rules, parliamentary practices and procedures as well as the convention and we urge the Speaker to respect the rules and read the list submitted to him by the leadership of the PDP.”
The PDP has, however, gone beyond that caution in its determined belief to address what it considers an act of injustice. The National Working Committee (NWC) of the party held an emergency meeting and summoned seven of its members to its national secretariat. But, not all the members attended meeting, especially Honourable Ndudi Elumelu; Honourable Wole Oke; Honourable Lynda Ikpeazu; Honourable Anayo Edwin; Honourable Gideon Gwadi; Honourable Toby Okechukwu and Hononourable Adekoya Abdul-Majid. Consequently, the NWC slammed a month’s suspension on the affected members with their case referred to the National Disciplinary Committee of the PDP for further action.
Sensing more trouble, the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party headed by Senator Wali Jibrin, waded into the crisis as it set up a five-man committee headed by a former President of the Senate, Senator Iyorchia Ayu to resolve the imbroglio over the emergence of Honourable Elumelu as the Minority leader of the House. Last Thursday, the committee commenced its assignment behind closed doors in Abuja. Other members of the committee included Senators David Mark, Adolphus Wabara, Ibrahim Mantu and Hon. Austin Okpara. Those who appeared before it along with Honourable Elumelu were Honourable Wole Oke, Honourable Lynda Ikpeazu, Honourable Anayo Edwin, Honourable Gideon Gwadi, Honourable Toby Okechukwu and Honourable Adekoya Abdul-Majid.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that before its meeting with the suspended lawmakers, the Ayu committee had resolved that regardless of the intrigues which culminated in the flouting of the party’s directive by the embattled lawmakers, the PDP would not take any decision capable of factionalising the party. However, in his brief remarks before the commencement of the business session, Senator Ayu, who described it as a family affair said: “The elders of the party are meeting and this is a family affair; this committee will take a decision in the best interest of the party.”
All eyes are now on the Committee to resolve the crisis amicably for the once vibrant caucus in the House to able to speak with one voice as a credible main opposition party. The belief among the PDP members is that Gbajabiamila decided to ignore the communication from the party and instead, recognise the Elumelu list as a compensation for those who worked for his emergence as the speaker, despite the PDP’s directive to its lawmakers to work for his opponent, Honourable Mohammed Umaru Bago. However, the House deputy Minority Whip, Honourable Adesegun Adekoya, the only PDP member from Ogun State, dismissed such speculations, saying that “all the members of the caucus are loyal and committed party members.”