Members of the House of Representatives, on Thursday in Abuja, went several years back, throwing decorum overboard as loyalists of Speaker Yakubu Dogara and Femi Gbajabiamila, both of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) clashed openly during plenary.
Trouble started following the decision by Dogara to ignore a suggestion of APC leadership that certain individuals be given principal positions in the chamber.
The party’s National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, had in a letter to the Speaker, directed that leadership positions be shared as follows: House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila (South West); Deputy, Alhasan Ado Doguwa (North West); Chief Whip, Tahir Monguno (North East); and Deputy, Pally Iriase (South South).
Similar instructions passed to the Senate was rebuffed by the Senate President, Olusola Saraki who failed to read the letter from the party leadership, a situation that saw nominees of the APC losing out in the sharing of Principal Offices in the Senate.
Sensing that the same scenario was about to play out in the House, loyalists of Gbajabiamila made the first move to disrupt the day’s proceedings as soon as the sitting commenced.
The drama started immediately after the arrival of the Speaker who took the usual daily prayer at 11:13 am and immediately called on a member, Oker Jeff, from Benue, to move for an executive session.
This was truncated when lawmakers loyal to Gbajabamila, led by Abdullahi Salame from Sokoto, raised a point of order, drawing Dogara’s attention to the fact that the letter from the party leadership had not been read.
He was ignored.
The enraged Salame, joined by Ali Madaki from Kano moved in protest towards the mace, with the intent to grab it.
The mace signifies the authority of the Speaker, which if seized, means he no longer has authority to continue presiding over the parliament.
Men of the Sergeant-At-Arm quickly prevented the mace from being removed, resulting in a scuffle.
The crisis escalated when some APC members loyal to Dogara were joined by those of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), leading to uproar in the chamber.
Pushing and shoving ensued, as members tried to outdo one another in the struggle for the mace.
In the process, some members of the PDP quickly formed a shield round Dogara to protect him from being brutalised by the rampaging lawmakers who kept shouting: “Party loyalty… party discipline.”
The struggle in the chamber lasted for about 20 minutes, before the Sergeant-At-Arm, aided by Dogara’s loyalists, from both the APC and opposition lawmakers could take the mace to safety.
While the imbroglio lasted both Dogara and Gbajabiamila sat calmly on their seats without making any move, and instead looked on as their colleagues battled each other.
While the logjam lasted, the Gbajabiamila loyalists chanted slogans such as: ‘’All we are saying, give us Gbaja’’ ‘’APC’’, while their PDP counterparts responded saying ‘’shame’’ to every mention of APC.
As lawmakers pushed and wrestled one another to the ground, some others grabbed the law books neatly arranged on a table in front of the speaker’s table, and used them as weapons, which they threw at anyone considered an enemy.
With the mace removed but peace yet to return, Hassan Garba Ado-Doguwa from kano jumped on the table shouting and chanting APC at the top of his voice, but he was violently pushed down by opposing lawmakers.
To quell the riot, Gbajabiamila moved towards Dogara who was still sandwiched by the PDP members, and after conversing with him for sometime, moved round to pacify aggrieved lawmakers to sheath their swords.
When calmn returned after over 90 minutes, and members had taken their seats, Dogara ruled that the House should revert back to plenary.
In a short speech before adjourning the House to July 21, he expressed regrets over the crisis, insisting that the commotion was needless.
He urged members to note that their stay in the parliament is a privilege, which should be treated as such, promising that the issue at stake would be resolved before plenary resumes.
“Let me remind us of the fact that, we are a very, very fortunate people. In a nation of 170 million people, only 360 of us are selected or elected to represent the people and we should be grateful to our constituents for sending us here.
“To be candid, we have promised so much in the course of our elections and even the very party I belong to… the APC… we have promised change and Nigerians expect us to really talk about those matters, those issues that bother them most. They want to hear us talk about unemployment, poverty, in my region they want us to address insecurity and as long as this House is divided and not united, we cannot achieve that.
“We have been down this tedious road before, so I plead of us honourable members, as leaders, all hands must be on the deck to enable us achieve the desired unity that we need in other to move this house forward. That is the responsibility we owe.
“As to the issues that led to the fracas today, we will sit down as leaders and resolve whatever the fight we have, to ensure that this matter as quickly as possible be resolved and that is what we will do by the Grace of God.”
Reacting, the APC and PDP caucuses in the House differed on the issue.
While the APC faulted Dogara for trying to override the position of the party, the PDP supported him, saying his position was pan-Nigeria and should therefore be supported.
The APC “loyal party members,”in a statement by Nasiru Sani Zangon Daura (Katsina), said the moves by Dogara and his supporters were uncalled for.”
They insisted that having achieved his aim of becoming the Speaker, Dogara should have some respect for the party and allow its wish of the party in terms of selecting Principal Officers.
His words: “The action that occurred inside the chamber of the House of Representatives was in reaction to the illegal and unconstitutional action taken by Speaker Yakubu Dogara of the House of Representatives, an action in his usual tradition of total disregard to the wishes of the majority members of the (APC) caucus, the party itself and the spirit of the party.”
However, the PDP at a press conference addressed by Leo Ogor, immediate past Deputy leader of the House, said Dogara should be commended for taking a decision against his party.
For him, “something unparliamentary happened today and I think it’s important from the minority point we should put the facts before the public
“Today became like a wasted day, because motions that were supposed to have been taken that border on matters of national urgent importance that affect our constituencies, a host of other issues we were unable to take them due to unacceptable action that you saw on the floor of the house.”
Ogor appealed that such should not happen again, while urging President Muhammadu Buhari to “call this group of rioters to order.
“As a speaker he is no more a speaker of APC he is a speaker of the house of representatives, he is guided by the 1999 constitution and our oath of allegiance stipulates very clearly that we will respect the constitution of the fed republic of nig without fear nor favour.”