‘Why PDP members will work with the Speaker of the House of Representatives’

Mr. Teejay Yusuf (Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu Federal Constituency of Kogi State), a third term member of the House of Representatives and one of the leading voices of the PDP House Caucus, acknowledges conflict of interest within the minority caucus and explains that while several members may have political differences and other issues with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, constitutional reasons remain compelling basis for cooperation. He spoke with Assistant Editor, Jide Babalola. Excerpts

Can you give an insight into what led to the seemingly irreconcilable disagreement among members of the PDP in the House over the choice of Minority Leader?

The Parliament operates by laws, rules and conventions; where our rules do not explicitly provide we go back to our practices and conventions. I came to the House in 2011 and I know that Rules 7 (4), 7 (8), 7 (14) of our Rule Book specify that the Minority Leader shall be nominated from among members of minority parties.  Rule 7 (14) put it clearly that to be qualified for principal officer in the House, you must be a cognate member of the National Assembly for you to be appointed, that is the word used. So, my question is, if the drafter of the rule was expecting an election would he have put appointed? What has been the practice is that members of minority parties come together, the party provides leadership because if you just say members, who convokes the meeting? At the beginning of the session, there is no minority leader so, who calls the meeting? That was why the party called the meeting. What the party does first is to zone the offices to reduce the choice to zones most times; zones can agree to consensus or they go for election, the party then writes the Speaker to say so and so person is for so and so office. In 2011, it was the then Action Congress of Nigeria that wrote. There was Congress for Progressive Change, there was All Nigeria Peoples Party and others who were minority parties; they met, I don’t know what method they used but it was the ACN that wrote because it was the leading minority party and gave the name of Gbajabiamila as Minority Leader; gave the name of Samson Osagie as Minority Whip, gave the name of Kawu Sumaila and a member of the CPC from Kaduna was named as Deputy Minority Whip but it was the ACN that wrote. If you followed the events of 2015 very well, and the emergence of Bukola Saraki and Senate President, APC wrote the Senate President and proposed Lawan, Adeyeye and so on as leaders; he recognised three, minority whip, deputy leader and so on, but gave the position of Leader to Senator Ndume but it was the APC that wrote. However after about a year, something happened and they put Lawan there. In the House, Gbaja ran and lost to Yakubu Dogara who became Speaker; it was the APC who wrote and proposed Gbaja as leader. So, when people now say the party does not write I begin to wonder. As at the time the APC wrote, there was a division in the camp of Gbaja, Ado Doguwa was being proposed as leader; if they had voted, Doguwa would have won but the party insisted on Gbaja. So, in 2015 too we came together, we never voted, Leo Ogor emerged by consensus. The Southeast voted, Chukwuka Onyema emerged but it was still the party that wrote: both the members and the party worked together. In 2019, before the election, the party called us, they called the Senators. Look at how it went in the Senate – APC wrote, PDP wrote; in the Senate, you have more than one minority party but the PDP is the leading minority party; it reached out to other minority parties. The PDP first met and asked members who do you think should be Minority Leader? Consensus was arrived at and there Senator Abaribe emerged. The position of Minority Whip was contentious, (Gabriel) Suswam and (Philip) Aduda showed interest; if they were voting, Suswam could have won but the party advised that there should be a balance and a consensus was reached.

In the House of Representatives, the PDP called a meeting of House members, incidentally, I was the secretary of the meeting; I have the records of the attendance; we were 96 in attendance. On the issue of minority parties, this was the choice of words, “we will not zone until you give us your minority leader, and we will now zone the other positions. We want you to give us your best.” Eleven members stood up and nominated Honourable Kingsley Chinda. A lot of things were said about him, how he stood by the party and what have you.

So, Honourable Chinda is truly Governor Wike’s preference?

There is this erroneous narrative out there that Governor Nyesom Wike was the one pushing for Chinda. The first person that proposed Chinda for us was former Minority Leader, Honourable Leo Ogor, and he met some of us. I, Teejay Yusuf, Ogor met me and others to canvass support for Chinda. Now, because Chinda is from Rivers State, a few think that he must be crucified. Go and check, in the history of the National Assembly since 1999, the Public Accounts Committee never submitted reports until Chinda became Chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts. He broke the jinx and submitted reports. Remember, this is the only committee listed in the Constitution and it is the committee to review the Auditor-General’s report. Chinda became Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts in 2015 and laid the reports for four years; that is the kind of person he is. So, naturally, members were drawn to him. The leadership election has left a very huge division amongst us because I cannot go without saying we were divided because a lot went the other way to negotiate for themselves while others stood with the party position and lost out; so there is that acrimony. Those who negotiated for themselves had this fear that the party will persecute them because of that; they were edgy, which is natural. In 2015, APC never gave any person who voted for Dogara leadership positions: go and check, they gave to all who answered the party’s call. In 2011, when Mulikat Akande lost to Tambuwal, the party insisted on Mulikat as House Leader. It has become the norm that those who stand with the party are rewarded. So, when people say the party has no say, they are wrong! Maybe there was this fear that Chinda being a very loyal (PDP) party member, who is very principled, may punish those (PDP members) who disobeyed the party.

So, it was not as if the APC orchestrated the differences or split among PDP members of the House…

Without APC that gulf wouldn’t have widened. Those who would have built skyscrapers on it wouldn’t have had the foundation to build on. So, you cannot exonerate APC. We now have a Speaker and he too would want to play politics.  Quote me, one person nominated Elumelu (at our meeting) but it was taken at that meeting that Chinda was Minority Leader. We left but later, we began to hear some things and we didn’t take it seriously. The party called us again and called other minority parties – APGA, Labour Party, PRP and others. Other minority parties put together have about 20 members; the PDP had 129 or so. At the next meeting, APGA being another majority among the minorities led by Honourable Prestige from Abia, led these other minority parties to the meeting. They now came together and said ‘what is in it for us’? The party (PDP) appealed and said we have 129 members, if we are going to vote you won’t get anything; it will be one vote per person. Let’s see what we can do. They met with the proposed Minority Leader, Chinda, there and then and agreed on certain concessions and we all left happily. The narrative out there is that PDP sat somewhere and wrote but it is not true. We heard some people say they were with Chinda but when the majority moved, they also moved. It’s not true. The majority of those who voted the other way were from the Southeast because they said they wanted somebody else as Deputy Minority Leader to protect them. These were the people who fear that if they aligned with the party, they will be punished. Ordinarily there should have been a meeting but I didn’t hear of any of such and all of a sudden, we heard of people taking signatures to endorse Elumelu.

Later, in the House, the Speaker read a letter which he said had “about” 90 members of minority parties who signed that those were their leaders. We moved a point of order referring him to a letter written by the PDP on the issue; what we expected him to have done is to say that since there were two lists, the minority should go and resolve among ourselves.

APC once had a similar scenario, people were already taking signatures when the party wrote to do the same thing, but they resolved it, they made sure it didn’t get to the floor of the House.

As for the new minority ones, they were going around collecting signatures with whatever inducement because there was no meeting. They still want to get that number even today. I have members they’ve approached; I have members they’ve even offered certain amounts of money to sign. I have some who have the money with them to testify.

You’ve had sittings since Honourable Elumelu was recognized as Minority leader…

It is by the leave of the Speaker. You must understand how these things are done.

What is the next step for those of you who towed the party’s line; are you going to court to seek redress against the Elumelu minority leadership or will you just get used to that?

The parliament has a way of purging itself; that is the truth. As civilized and law abiding members of the National Assembly, we’ve done what we ought to do; we’ve raised those fundamental issues and we have not been listened to. I will not go into snatching the mace, fighting on the House floor; we will continue to engage in intellectual discourse as to why my opinion is better. I have the conviction that the peace (in the House) is the peace of the graveyard. Anywhere you find injustice, peace is temporal, and it is for those who are involved to right the wrongs. The party has set up some committees to look into it. Just like APC did in 2015 and they refused to recognize Ndume, they recognised Adeyeye and others until Ahmed Lawan came on board as Senate Leader, go and find out.

Are the opposition political parties going to cooperate with the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila in spite of what has happened over minority leadership?

He (Gbajabiamila) is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. We must understand one thing, we were not elected by our people to be Speaker; we were elected to represent them. So, when we got here, it was for us to make law making conducive and we must have a leader. So, he (Speaker) is first among equals. Within the ambit of the responsibilities we have to carry out, we will work with the Speaker – that is the truth. I want to be on the floor to canvass things for my constituents and Nigerians as a whole. We must know that there are rules that guide our functions; I don’t have any doubt about that.

However, I know that the party is working round the clock to see how to nip this (minority rebellion) in the bud.

In view of APC’s determination to retain Kogi state, what are the chances of your party, the PDP in state’s coming gubernatorial next governorship election?

Definitely, it is only in Nigeria that a party like APC can think of winning Kogi State; in other climes, they will not think of it. It is too much daring for APC to hope for anything in the next governorship election.

Some have said that the problem we have in our polity today was caused by the fact that the PDP is not prepared for the role of an opposition party and that maybe the ruling APC has not had enough years and preparation to be the ruling party. Do you agree?

No! However, unfortunately for us as a nation with all due respect, we have a President who is only interested in becoming President to get the feeling of “I’m president.” He ought to understand that there is responsibility that goes with being president. In the build up to the 2019 elections, I used to tell people that I wish the president didn’t contest. Sincerely, if we had a younger, more competent person, I would have preferred him and the issue of platform doesn’t matter. I am a PDP person; we need someone who will lead this country in a positive direction. There is nowhere in the world where one party rules in perpetuity; we should not expect it here. However when you have the opportunity, build on one of two positives that you meet and introduce some measures that will improve the lives of citizens. In my opinion, the administration we have today will take us 20 years backwards at this rate. The leadership of this present government is not prepared and equipped to lead this country; it is only well prepared to lead a movement to agitate for power.

Yes, for the PDP, we still behave as if we are in government: that is exactly why what happened in the leadership election of the House happened.  In 2015, we had a retreat where we had people from Ghana who moved from being the ruling party to opposition and from opposition back to the party in government. We are not yet there, but I believe we will get there; I love the fact that we are in opposition right now but if we don’t learn the right lessons, the experience will be wasted.

Even though your party was the main beneficiary of the situation in Zamfara State, would you say you have learnt a lesson or two from it?

Let me tell you something, while we commend the judiciary for rising to the occasion, I can tell you if it does that with other states, the APC will lose more than half of the states they now control.

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