Imo speakership race and making of a ‘Saraki’

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Just like President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 when he stayed aloof and allowed Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara to hijack the 8th National Assembly, Imo State governor-elect, Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic party (PDP), advertently or inadvertently, may be toeing the path of crowning another ‘Saraki’ in the Eastern Heartland. There is a likelihood that the speaker may emerge from the opposition political party.

In which case, the success or otherwise of Ihedioha’s first tenure may be well out of his hands, as he may be engaged in intense political horse-trading all the time to stave off possible impeachment or pander to the whims and caprices of the state’s ninth assembly.

Although he is familiar with the internal workings of the legislature, having served as deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Ihedioha may soon find himself in an unfamiliar terrain.

Strangely, he has the challenge to prevent a scenario where despite having the majority, loyalists and allies of the enemy’s camp may hijack the house. The consequences are too numerous to give a trial, taking into cognizance that it is the first time a governor is emanating from his Owerri zone.

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Having set up his transition committee, the politics of who gets what in the next administration is strongly taking shape in Imo.

The agitation is for the PDP governor to give his blessings to an Action Alliance (AA) or All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) speaker in the light of equity, balance of power and fairness.

Coincidentally, in the spirit of zoning that has always been adhered to in the state, the speakership should go to Okigwe, since the governor and his deputy are from Owerri and Orlu zones respectively.

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In 1999 when the governor, Achike Udenwa, came from Orlu, Okigwe zone produced the deputy, while Owerri had the speaker.

In 2007, Ikedi Ohakim from Okigwe was the governor, Owerri produced the deputy and Orlu had the speaker.

Also, in 2011 and under the current administration of Rochas Okorocha, while Orlu produced the governor, Owerri had the deputy, while the speaker went to Okigwe.

But in the incoming government, the PDP has no elected member from Okigwe. The zone, which did not vote for the governor or his party, may likely clinch the third position in the state. If the zoning must stand, the only option available is for Action Alliance (AA) and All Progressives grand Alliance (APGA) lawmakers in the zone to defect to the PDP.

Already, there are rumoured plans for defection by some members who are in the race for the plum position. Though not official yet, some have been seen attending functions of the incoming governor, a signal some observers note will be made manifest after the May 29 inauguration.

It is noteworthy that the ruling party does not have absolute control of the incoming government in the state. This is because the two opposition political parties, AA and APGA, collectively have 14 members – eight and six respectively, while the PDP has 13.

The All Progressives Congress (APC), which had over 20 members in the outgoing assembly headed by Acho Ihim, who contested as deputy to AA’s Uche Nwosu, has no single lawmaker in the incoming house, as Governor Rochas Okorocha had lobbied them into AA in support of his son-in-law.

Political observers, however, opine that the lawmakers in AA, despite the party’s loss at the governorship poll, owe their loyalty to Okorocha. It is also alleged that members of the outgoing assembly, including those angling to be speaker were taken to Rivers State to swear an oath of allegiance to Okorocha and Nwosu.

The members, who are said to be the most controversial since the existence of the legislature in the state, have been repeatedly accused of readily producing a handkerchief whenever Okorocha sneezes. They have so far impeached two deputy governors in favour of their commander, Okorocha. Jude Agbaso in the first tenure of the governor and recently, Eze Madumere, were the result of their excessive subservience. Madumere’s impeachment was later halted by the court.

Though despite the last-minute crisis in the state assembly following the alleged impeachment of the speaker over his involvement in the recall of the suspended 27 local government chairmen of the state, choosing any of them may rather be counterproductive.

Twenty-one out of the 27 lawmakers unanimously impeached the speaker and presented Chinedu Offor, representing Onuimo State Constituency, to oversee the affairs of the House pending the outcome of their investigation of Ihim’s misconduct and disregard to parliamentary procedures.

The aggrieved members also suspended the Majority Leader, Lugard Osuji (Owerri municipal) who, in alliance with the speaker, went away with the mace and replaced him with Chukwuemeka Lloyd (Owerri North).

Sources revealed that Okorocha was angry at the news of the suspension of the council chairmen and summoned the Speaker and ordered him to correct his mistakes. Ihim acted on Okorocha’s order without prior notice to his colleagues. Also, the APGA members are said to owe their allegiance to Sen. Ifeanyi Ararume, their guber candidate.

WILL Ihedioha be comfortable with a speaker from any of the opposition parties? Politics will never cease to be about interest and loyalty.

With 14 members, the opposition (AA and APGA) can form a quorum by lobbying some unfaithful or aggrieved PDP members against the executive, and constitute the two-third majority required to impeach the governor.

Also, there are revelations that the PDP members-elect are not ranking members, but first-timers. This further disqualifies them in accordance with the rule of the house. The ranking members, including Lawman Duruji, Kennedy Ibe, Innocent Egwim, Ngozi Obiefule, Uju Onwudiwe, Obinna Okwara, who are from Okigwe and Orlu, have to be considered before other new members.

Top contenders for the house leadership that would commence in June are AA’s Duruji who represents Ehime Mbano; Ibe, also of the AA, representing Obowo and APGA’s new-man, Michael Crown, from Ihitte Uboma.

In his summation titled ‘Thought of the next Imo Speaker’, Imo-based analyst, Greg Nwadike, noted that events at the national level had taught Nigerians that one does not reap from where he did not sow. This, he said, should also guide Ihedioha.

“The central government has today called the bluff of the Southeast, both in the office of the Senate President and that of the (House of Representatives) Speaker, just because they believe the region did not vote for the ruling party. Who will blame the Imo PDP or the Ihedioha-led incoming government if it elects to deny Okigwe zone the next speaker?

“I won’t be surprised if the next Imo speaker comes from the Orlu zone or even Owerri zone, but certainly not Okigwe zone, unless a PDP lawmaker is made today from that zone, and it must not be any lawmaker. But should the zone proffer better strategy other than the usual Facebook, then they would have been getting closer to considerations.”

Also, some party men who spoke to The Guardian warned of the dangers, describing it political suicide for the incoming government to have a speaker who is either part of the outgoing government or from the flank of the opposition.

One of them who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “The governor is no novice in politics having worked with Aminu Tambuwal, the then Speaker of the House of Reps. I believe he knows the implications of having a member of the opposition as the speaker of the House of Assembly. I, therefore, expect him to look them in the eye and tell them that someone from Okigwe zone may only emerge as the speaker, if the person will defect to the PDP, so that he is not served impeachment notice a few weeks after inauguration. This is possible because the two opposition parties are already the majority in the house.

“In fact, he should consider his party men in Orlu and Owerri because the dangers of trusting the opposition are enormous. Even at the National Assembly, Adams Oshiomhole of the APC has promised not to allow positions to other party members. Who has done anything to him? He should tread carefully to avoid regrets in the long run.

“I believe he has a blueprint of what he wants and I suggest he sticks to it and shun any side talks or agitations coming from anywhere, no matter who it is. I also trust he has good intention for Imolites.”

The Guardian learnt that Owerri zone producing the governor this time has nothing to do with Ihedioha’s popularity or political sagacity. The governor-elect who lost to Okorocha in 2015 had before now been accused of arrogance. He is said to have emerged because Ndimo collectively decided to let it happen this time. So, Ndimo are his godfathers.

However, a student union leader, Alex Nnaechetam, opined that what matters is how the governor meets the expectations of the people.

“It is our Imo,” he said, “and if the state is better today, it’s for the good of all of us. I advise the incoming governor to work with the best hands, especially technocrats. A lot of things need to be put aright and as such he should work with people of goodwill, who understand the essence of development.”

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