In the history of Nigeria’s legislature, it is only the North Central geopolitical zone that has had the shortest stint of three months at the speakership of the House of Representatives, while all the other geo-political zones have held it for several years, with the exception being the South South.
The only time the North Central zone held it was in 1983 when the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) administration of President Shehu Shagari won a second term and Hon. Chaha Biam from Benue State was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. He served from October to December of that year, and suddenly, the military sacked the 2nd Republic.
In the 1st Republic, Chief Jaja Wachukwu from the region now known as South East became the first indigenous speaker. That was in 1959, shortly before independence. He handed over the baton to Ibrahim Jalo Waziri from the region now known as North East in 1960.
Chequered by so many military interruptions in Nigeria’s democracy, the history of the legislature has been a tale of vicissitudes, with so many ups and downs.
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At the return of democracy in 1979, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) from the South East had held sway as speaker from 1979 to 1983, in a marriage of convenience between the NPN and the NPP.
Prior to the current democratic dispensation, the Ibrahim Babangida administration had inaugurated a federal legislature that served under his military government. In that era, the South East took the slot of speaker when Agunwa Anaekwe, from Anambra State, served as Speaker of the House between 1992 and 1993.
Before the current dispensation, the North East has had it once while the South East held it thrice with Ume-Ezeoke and Anaekwe.
But the long haul of the current dispensation with the return to democracy in 1999, which has remained uninterrupted for almost 24 years, has given almost all the geopolitical zones in the country the opportunity to produce speakers of the House of Representatives for a reasonable number of years. However, the North Central, which apart from the three months’ stint by Chaha Biam in the 2nd Republic, has not had any opportunity to preside over the Green Chamber.
From 1999 to 2007, the position of speaker was zoned to the North West with Salisu Buhari, Ghali Umar Na’Abba and Aminu Bello Masari taking their turns. Between 2007 and 2011, the South West had it with Patricia Etteh and Dimeji Bankole presiding, while the position went back to the North West between 2011 and 2015, with Aminu Waziri Tambuwal presiding. And in 2015, the North East clinched the position again with Yakubu Dogara reigning as speaker.
By 2019, however, it returned to the South West with the current speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila.
As permutations have commenced over who will be the speaker in the 10th Assembly, it has become necessary to draw attention to the need to zone the position to the North Central, which is the zone that has the least representation on the seat.
So far, the North West has had more than a fair share, having taken the slot for 12 record years with Salisu Buhari, Na’Abba, Masari and later Tambuwal. This is followed by the North East with the 10 years of Jalo Waziri and Dogara combined. Then the South West, with the combined eight years of Etteh, Bankole and Gbajabiamila. The six years of Ume-Ezeoke and Anaekwe from the South East and the one year of Wachukwu equally make for fair shot by that geopolitical zone.
Apart from the historical factor, the likely configuration of the 10th Assembly, which would definitely take a cue from the composition of the executive arm of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government, which has already produced the next president and his vice, also makes it imperative for the North Central to be considered for the speakership.
With the current arrangement where the president-elect comes from the South West and the vice president-elect from the North East, it is expected that the Senate Presidency would go to the South East while the position of Deputy Senate President would go to the North West. Then, the positions of Speaker and Deputy Speaker should go to the North Central and South South geo-political zones respectively.
This will ensure fairness and equity and give all the zones a sense of belonging in the next administration.
Moreover, the North Central zone has contributed massively to the victory of the APC during the presidential and National Assembly elections that it should be given priority consideration in the allocation of political offices.
In the just concluded elections, the North Central has given the APC presidential candidate the third highest number of votes from the regions, pulling 1,670,091 of the votes cast.
All the states in the zone voted overwhelmingly for the APC such that even where it did not lead, it followed closely as second.
The number of votes polled by the APC in the North Central was even more than the 1,190,458 votes that the North East, where the vice president-elect hails from recorded.
Since the formation of the APC, the region has been overwhelmingly supportive of the party, with five of the governors being members of the party.
In 2015, states like Plateau and Benue, voted out the then ruling parties and gave their mandates to the APC and since then the love for the party in the zone has remained entrenched.
The zone also has ably qualified ranking members that can effectively handle the office of the speaker with thorough efficiency, if given the chance.
There are ranking lawmakers such as Ahmed Idris Wase, who is a fifth termer, representing Wase Federal Constituency of Plateau State, and a host of others from the zone, who are capable of leading the House.
But Wase stands out as he is currently the Deputy Speaker of the House, and a very loyal party man, who will use the experience and knowledge garnered serving in his current position to give the House efficient and effective leadership.
This would be the best way to compensate the North Central zone for both its shortfall in occupying the Office of Speaker and for its significant contributions to the success of the APC in the just concluded elections.
Agbese wrote from Wuse, Abuja