The group loyal to Femi Gbajabiamila in the House of Representatives has faulted the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara over his claim that federal character involves selection of principal officers in the National Assembly.
The Gbajabiamila camp known as the Loyalists Group specifically told the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Chief John Odegie-Oyegun to ignore the Speaker’s reply to the directives of the APC leadership where he (the Speaker) claimed that the House has the tradition of respecting the spirit of federal character in the distribution of principal officers positions.
In a letter to the APC Chairman, yesterday, signed by Hon. Nasiru Sani Zangon-Daura, the group alleged that Dogara’s reply to Oyegun’s directives was fraught with fundamental flaws and that going by the House Standing Rules, the South East that had only two APC members who are first time members were not qualified to occupy any principal officers positions.
“Our attention has been drawn to the letter written to you by the Speaker Hon. Yakubu Dogara in response to your letter to him almost a month prior. We find Hon. Dogara’s letter fraught with several fundamental flaws in his analysis and interpretation of the Constitution and House rules. This is to set the records straight,” the letter read in part.
“We stand on our earlier position that whilst we accept and agree with the principle of Federal Character, the Constitutional provisions in that regard are strictly in reference to the appointment to the Federal Executive and its agencies.
“The principle of Federal Character is not intended to be given such elasticity to the extent that it would extend to the running and internal workings of the House which is not a government agency and whose members are not appointed but elected.
“Assuming Federal Character was meant to be applicable to the National Assembly, then certainly one of the Houses of the National Assembly must be headed by a Southerner.
“Remember, sir, that in the run-up to the election of the Senate President and Speaker, our party made a deliberate choice, to apply this same principle of Federal Character such that all qualified zones will be represented in the spirit of national unity, which we embrace, but we all know how that ended.
“Furthermore to accept the Speaker’s arrangement would mean the two most powerful positions in the Senate and House after the presiding officers would be occupied by the North.
“Whilst we maintain that our party’s mantra of ‘Change’ for the growth and development of our dear nation requires that merit should not be sacrificed on the altar of zoning, we have painstakingly ensured that in the selection of our leaders in the House, all zones are represented, except the South East, which unfortunately, are currently excluded from holding leadership positions because the House Rules disqualifies ‘inexperienced’ members from holding leadership position.
“Unfortunately, all our party members from the South East are first term legislators. The South East can be adequately compensated through other means without violating our rule on appointment of principal officers.
“Hon. Dogara, in paragraph 7 of his letter quotes the provision of section 147 of the constitution which specifically requires that the President in appointing Ministers, shall observe the Federal Character principle as provided in section 14.
“He has inadvertently made our point that Federal Character is applicable only to the executive and its agencies. If the framers of our constitution had intended same to apply to the running of the legislature Houses, similar provisions which mandated the president specifically, would have been included in the case of the National Assembly.”
“This is how laws are interpreted and all lawyers know this including the Speaker. This legal principle of interpretation is known as the “exclusion unis “rule of interpretation
“Again the Speaker referred to the Third Schedule Part 1c of the constitution which he quotes in part, leaving out vital provisions which would not support the position of zoning in the National Assembly. We encourage the party to read this provision closely, particularly section 8 which lists the bodies over, which the Federal Character commission has jurisdiction.
“Indeed, section 8 of the third schedule sets up the Federal Character commission and it provides as follows: “In giving effect to the provisions of section 14(3) and (4) of this constitution, the commission shall have the power to:
“Work out an equitable formula subject to the approval of the National Assembly for the distribution of all cadres of posts in the public service of the federation and of the states, the armed forces of the federation, the Nigerian police force and other government security agencies, government owned companies and parastatals of the states…..”
The group also questioned the speaker’s morality in the letter. “Hon Dogara rejected the idea of zoning at that time insisting that zoning did not matter, which is why he went against our party’s recommendation, and contested for Speaker. Right now, the Senate President and the Speaker are both from the North.
“We find it highly immoral, disingenuous, insincere and downright hypocritical, that someone who rejected and was anti zoning will now be the person waiving the zoning card when it serves his purpose. We cannot pick and choose or flip-flop on the application of zoning based on our whims and caprices and he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.
“The Constitution is to be read as a whole. To this end, the provisions of section 42 of the constitution is very relevant as it strengthens the argument that Federal Character is only applicable to appointments in the executive and not to legislative elective offices.
“That section clearly prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity. However, it adds a proviso that such discrimination can be valid if based on Federal Character. The proviso reads:
“Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes restrictions with respect to the appointment of any person to any office under the State or as a member of the armed forces of the Federation or a member of the Nigerian police force or to an office in the service of a body corporate established by any law in force in Nigeria”
“The above proviso Mr. Chairman recognizes Federal Character only as it relates to the executive and government agencies. The National Assembly is not so recognized for that purpose.”
On the House Standing Rules, the Loyalists camp noted that the rules derive their legitimacy from Section 60 of the Constitution which states that, “Subject to the provisions of this constitution, the Senate or the House shall have power to regulate its own procedure.
“We are surprised that in copiously quoting our House Rules, the Speaker’s letter did not address the most important Rule of all as it relates to appointment of Principal Officers. Order 7 Rule 37 of the House Rules states:
“Only members with cognate legislative experience as members of the National Assembly shall be eligible for appointment as Principal Officers”
“This rule goes to the very heart of the issue of the South East not being represented in the majority party positions. This rule is relevant because the thrust of the Speakers argument is that 1 zone cannot have 2 slots out of 6 slots open to the Party.
“However before we can even begin to talk of zoning, one must first qualify for the office. Unfortunately under the above rules the south east is disqualified. There are 2 members of APC from the zone and they are both new members and so by operation of law they are automatically disqualified.
“The rule was put in place years ago, not in anticipation of disqualifying any zone, but to strengthen the institution. As stated, this rule is universal and exists in all parliaments world over and is not peculiar to Nigeria.
“Ranking is a legislative tradition. There is a reason for this. Experience in legislative work, its nuances and complexities are acquired over time. This is why a new member with little or no prior legislative experience is not permitted to provide leadership to members with 4, 8, 12 or even 16 years’ experience.
“We must begin to conduct our business as much as possible in line with international best practices. We believe and expect that our members from the South East will be given the opportunity to build their legislative experience during this Assembly, to enable them participate more in the next, by God’s grace.
“From the above, it follows that the 6 positions can only be occupied by 5 zones which means 1 zone will as of necessity have 2 slots whether North West, North East, South West, South South or North Central.”
“The Body of Principal Officers of the House of Representatives is one body with 10 members. The Majority Party contributes 6 and the Minority Party contributes 4. The added advantage of two that the majority has is because it is able to produce the Speaker and Deputy because of numerical strength.
“This body makes decisions together and leads the House together. We believe that the South East is already represented in the body of Principal Officers by way of its new Deputy Min We believe that the South East is already represented in the body of Principal Officers by way of its new Deputy Minority Leader.
“Worthy of note is that the minority party also complied with Order 7 rule 37 in electing their leaders. Otherwise they could have selected from their large pool of many gifted and brilliant new members from the South East.”
The group called on the National Chairman to insist on party supremacy even as it accused Dogara of disobeying the party’s directives and the admonition from President Muhammadu Buhari.
The letter to the APC Chairman was copied to President Buhari, Governor Rochas Okorocha, Chairman, Progressive Governors’ Forum, and Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal Progressive Governors’ Forum Mediator.