Tambuwal’s Defection , By Mohammed Haruna

Mohd Haruna new pix 600His handlers have tried to cast him in the image of a meek lamb with little, if any, discouragement from the man himself. But, as many of those who have crossed his path would testify, he is as tough as nails. Ask former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, his estranged godfather who brought him to political limelight to begin with. Ask former Central Bank of Nigeria governor and now Emir of Kano, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Ask the Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi.

These three must have since come to feature prominently in what, metaphorically speaking at least, must be President Goodluck Jonathan’s Black Book tucked away somewhere in the inner recesses of the Presidential Villa, the first for openly writing a letter to his erstwhile godson which dripped with so much vitriol, the second for accusing the untouchable Minister of Petroleum and, by extension, the man himself, of incredible venality in the management of the country’s oil wealth, and the third for cultivating the cheeky habit of tweaking the president’s nose every now and then.

All three – and more – must have rued the day they may have thought the man would, meek as a lamb, simply roll over and absorb their punches, or even turn the other cheek. Instead, he has responded each time with as much vicious counter upper-cut as the heavy weight champion, Mike Tyson, could land on an opponent.

And now to this list of those who have been at the receiving end of the president’s unsparing anger must be added the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. His own offence? On October 28 the man finally confirmed speculations that he had for long harboured the treasonable intention of defecting from   ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), when he announced his defection on the floor of the House and then adjourned its sitting to December 3 – long enough to escape immediate impeachment.

The presidency’s response was swift even if predictable; the speaker’s security details were

withdrawn by the Inspector General of Police two days after, apparently on orders from “oga at the top”. Not only that, it seemed the leadership of the PDP in the House got their marching orders to defy the House rules and reconvene immediately in order to  remove the speaker, come hell, come high water. The party had, of course, asked him to step aside but he had dutifully declined.

Both moves have now become bones of contention, with both the Speaker and his new party heading for the courts to plead that PDP be stopped from reconvening the House before December 3. On Monday Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed, sitting in a Federal High Court in Abuja, granted them temporary respite when he ruled for the status quo to remain until the substantive hearing of the case on November 7.

The swift withdrawal of Tambuwal’s security details and the moves by the authorities to remove him would not be the first time the speaker would be the object of presidential ire. On June 22 he suffered an even more personal humiliation at the hands of soldiers when they insisted on searching his vehicle before he would be allowed into the venue of an international conference on the security and challenges of pastoralism held in Kaduna and organised by the office of the National Security Adviser.

Tambuwal was a special guest and speaker at the conference. Other VIPs arriving for the conference, governors especially, had been allowed into the venue without search. The insistent soldiers said they were acting on “orders from above”. In anger the Speaker disembarked from his vehicle and walked into the venue. His apparent offence at the time was that he had already been seen to be hobnobbing with key figures in the opposition party, not least of who was the governor of his state, Alhaji Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko.

The Speaker’s defection raises both moral and legal questions about his holding on to his position as the country’s No 4 Citizen. Only the courts can decide on the legal question. However, on this count, in withdrawing his security details so fast and moving just as fast to try and remove him as Speaker, the presidency and the PDP have, once again, demonstrated their impatience with, and total disregard for, the law as long as it does not accord with their whims and caprices.

On the moral question, it is pretty obvious that the positions of both sides rest on very shaky grounds, to put it mildly. Defections have been a two-way affair in this country going all the way back to even before that of the Bauchi State Governor, Alhaji Isa Yuguda, defected from the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party  (ANPP) on whose platform he had won the election for his first term in 2007, to the ruling PDP in 2009. In all cases, whereas the authorities sought to punish defectors to the opposition party, they have amply rewarded those who defected to it. This is clearly a classic case of double standards.

In more civilised climes politicians accept the fact that defections, like all decisions, have personal consequences, and therefore think twice before they defect. Take for example, the case of one, Douglas Carswell, a Conservative member of the British Parliament. Dissatisfied with the politics of his party he first resigned his seat in August which he had won in 2010 by a handy 53% and then joined the new United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) which, right now, is looking like the nemesis of the Conservative Party and, to a lesser extent, the Labour Party.

His resignation triggered a by-election which was held on October 1. He then contested the election as UKIP’s candidate. This time, he won even more handily than in 2010 by almost 60% of the votes, beating the Conservative candidate to a distant second place with 24.6% and Labour to third place, with an even more miserable 11%. Carswell has now made history as the first UKIP Member of Parliament.

In Nigeria it’s almost impossible to contemplate a Carswell’s honourable conduct whatever party he would have belonged to. Sadly, Tambuwal himself, with all the public sympathy he is likely to get because of PDP’s blatant inconsistency, is no exemplar. A 1991 law graduate of University of Sokoto, his home state, his first taste of national politics was in 1999 when he worked as a legislative aide of Senator Abdullahi Wali from Sokoto, then Senate leader.

In 2003 he contested and won the House seat for Kebbe/Tambuwal on the ticket of the ANPP, one of APC’s three major legacy parties. He then defected to the DPP, founded by the state governor, Attahiru Bafarawa, ahead of the 2007 elections when the governor left ANPP due to disagreements within the party’s leadership. However, when DPP denied ANPP defectors automatic tickets he returned to his old party. He then moved once again to PDP when the ANPP governorship candidate, Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko, who had been Bafarawa’s deputy on the ANPP ticket, was persuaded by the PDP through some intricate manoeuvres to defect to it, ahead of the 2007 elections. The future speaker won again on PDP ticket in the last elections in 2011.

His defection to the APC last month would not be the first time he would poke his finger in PDP’s eyes; he became speaker in June 2011 by defying the party’s zoning arrangement in the House when he contested and walloped the party’s candidate for the job, Mulikat Adeola-Akande, by 252 votes to 90 out of the 350 members that voted. Ten abstained from voting and another ten were absent.

Used to double standards, the same party which actively supported President Goodluck Jonathan to make nonsense of its zoning formula in the year’s presidential elections never forgave the speaker for defying its zoning arrangement. On one or two occasions it even tried to impeach him but failed because of his firm grip of the House.

His October 28 defection to the enemy camp must be the last straw for the PDP. It would be surprising if the presidency and the party do not pull every string possible to remove him as speaker ahead of next year’s general elections.

The APC House Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, has been boasting that no one, except the speaker, can reconvene the House, presumably as the prelude to removing him. “The President,” he is quoted as saying, “cannot do it, the deputy speaker lacks the powers and indeed it is beyond the signatures of 120, 150, 250 or 350 members. That power resides solely and exclusively with Mr. Speaker. We had hoped that the PDP and the Executive would at least this one time be decorous in their conduct and respect the rule of law and the legislature but we were wrong.”

On the other hand the Deputy Majority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor, apparently speaking for the PDP, has, in effect, been threatening to bring down the whole House on everybody’s head if that is what it would take to remove Tambuwal.

“I expect Gbajabiamila,” Ogor said, “to learn to use his head, else if heavens fall, all of us will bear the consequences.”

The consequences of removing the speaker because of his defection could indeed be dire for Nigeria. But then unfortunately for Nigerians, dire consequences have never been known to stop your typical Nigerian politician from using all means, fair and foul, to grab power and hang on to it for as long as he is alive.

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