It is really not about whether Femi Gbajabiamila, the senior lawmaker from Lagos state and principal officer at the National Assembly, was recently endorsed by the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party that produced him. It is not also whether he has the backing of notable leaders of the party as being put up and argued by his opponents. No.
I have taken my time to read various opinions, many with reasons why Gbajabiamila should be the next speaker after Yakubu Dogara, while some have kicked against his ambition. Some of those in his favour simply hinge their argument on the fact that it is the decision of the party. Others feel his emergence as speaker should be compensation for his loyalty to the party and his efforts in strengthening the APC over the years.
Those against his ambition, however, peg their own argument on nothing other than the recent proclamation of Adams Oshiomhiole, the APC national chairman, concerning the decision of the party to have Gbajabiamila as the speaker. These set believe either of two things, the first being that the Lagos lawmaker is a mentee and loyal follower of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whose continuous political rise and strength bewilders others. They think that if Gbajabiamila is made the speaker, it would pave the way for an unhindered interference by the Jagaban Borgu.
The second set in this category argue that the position should be left open to members to independently pick who they want as their speaker. They kick against any interference by the political party, the platform through which they got the four-year mandate ahead. Some also, especially contenders for the position also say they are as qualified as Gbajabiamila for the seat.
In trying to lay bare my thought concerning this issue of national importance, I would want Nigerians to realise that the country is in dire need of those who can, as fast as possible, move it from what we have come to inherit from many years of bad leadership. There is no longer time to waste on frivolities and self-deception. We do not need to continue turning in circles, we have had enough time, since 1999, to experiment with democracy. If we cannot get things right at this stage, then, all hope may be lost.
Before we hold tenaciously to the argument that the APC does not have much influence on who should emerge as speaker or that the party should allow the independence of the members to pick who they want, we need to remember the most recent history – the eighth National Assembly – and what Nigerians had to suffer as a result. The crisis of leadership at the outgoing National Assembly has never seized up to this moment. This, whether we decide to be truthful to ourselves or not, has hampered development.
If we keep our sentiments and personal drives aside, we would realise that there is nowhere in the world with an existing legislature that does not have the imprimatur of the party. Only candidates who won elections without a party umbrella are free from such an influence. But in Nigeria currently, we do not have independent candidacy. It therefore behooves on us all to remain bounded by our party policy and dictates. That is how democracy thrives.
The last ridiculous argument is believing that with the emergence of Gbajabiamila, it means Asiwaju Tinubu would become the hidden head of the National Assembly or that it would help his 2023 ambition. How? What relationship does having legislative influence to do with a political ambition if any? Are the lawmakers the ones that would lead Nigerians to the polls and tell them what to do? Does that mean that Gbajabiamila would become the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)? Would the speaker decide who would lead the ruling party or those to emerge candidates? It is laughable, but not funny.
This leads one to wonder if these people are even talking about the same Asiwaju who led the party from its shadowy state to what is now internationally acclaimed. History will not be kind to anyone who refuses to see Tinubu’s imprint in the successes so far recorded by the party today. In its days as the Alliance for Democracy, the party was almost swallowed up by then ruling Peoples Democratic Party with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as president. It was Asiwaju’s firm stand that got the party hail and kicking again even when his government in Lagos had to suffered it in the form of seizure of allocations to the state for many months. In case, they refuse to acknowledge it, Asiwaju never betrayed his loyalty to the party and its ideals. When it metamorphosed into the AC and the ACN, he was there. Today, it is called the APC. It produced the president twice consecutively. Yes, the party alone did not form APC, but if Asiwaju had jumped ship, it would have been difficult for those enjoying on the platform of the party today to have such opportunity.
I have been a lawmaker Lagos state and, therefore, cannot be seen as a neophyte in politics. I have only moved a step higher to the National Assembly. I can categorically say that Gbajabiamila meets the choice that Nigerians currently yearn for, not because he is from same place as mine, but because he knows what the country needs urgently and how to arrive at a near promised land.
Gbajabiamila has stayed long enough in the House of Representatives and to have the needed experience for the task ahead. Lagosians are never known to condone failures. If Gbajabiamila could be in the House for this number of years, served in various committees, became the minority leader, then the majority leader and head of the south-west caucus effectively, there is no doubting his capacity. A brilliant performer, it has been difficult to pin him to any controversy. He will never be a part of anything that would dent his party or his own image. Little wonder he is widely accepted by his colleagues.
As a lawmaker at the Lagos state House of Assembly, my constituency was a neighbour to Surulere, the one overseen by Gbajabiamila. I can testify that the people have not had any reason to turn their backs on him. To show his extreme loyalty to the party far before his endorsement, he once told some of us that though he has his eyes for the seat, he would relinquish his ambition if the speakership is zoned to the north. Fortunately for him, it was zoned to the south.
With the elections done and dusted, every member of the APC is now supposed to start playing roles that would further strengthen the party ahead of future elections. We must know that elections are not one-off and that our opponents are waiting for us.
Egberongbe, a former Lagos lawmaker, is the House of Representatives member-elect for Apapa federal constituency in Lagos state.