Mr Dimeji Sabur Bankole was two years as speaker of the House of Representatives, November 2, 2009. In July, 2009, a plot to unseat him was revealed at the plenary session of the day, bringing the total attempts to remove his leadership to at least four since he assumed office. But, somehow, he survived.
On that July plenary, a distraught Abdul Ningi (PDP/Bauchi) , a charismatic figure and former Leader of the House, had complained that someone was impersonating him. According to him, the person had sent text messages to some members asking that the leadership of the House be removed.
Interestingly, the person sent the text to him too. Distancing himself from the plot, Ningi had said that he was very embarrassed by the message. The deputy speaker, Bayero Nafada, who presided over plenary that day, cleared Ningi from the conspiracy, vouching for his integrity.
He told the Green Chamber that a powerful committee had been set up to fish out the culprit(s). It was then clear why Bankole did not preside over proceedings that day, though he had led principal officers into the chamber, and had even said the opening prayers.
The speaker immediately after the prayers stepped down for Nafada. He then started going from seat to seat, chatting up members, while proceedings went on. Many observers said it was a move to consolidate his friendship with those he wasn’t so sure of their loyalty.
And that observation was correct, since he avoided going to the woman (Patricia Etteh) whom he had replaced amidst rancour. He also shunned Independence Ogunewe, the man who does not hide the fact that Bankole is not his man, as the speaker not only suspended him but also stripped him of standing committee membership. But Bankole as since managed to have a firm grip over the House as he marked his second year as speaker.
Budget implementation: Civil servants as enemies of state
Last Tuesday, as he presided over proceedings of the House, Bankole, for the umpteenth time, upbraided the civil service over unremitted revenue and poor budget implementation. His words: “Now, it is obvious that the civil service is the problem.
It is painfully obvious. The records are very clear that the question of output (release of funds) had been significantly solved but it is now a question of desired and expected outcomes of the budget. The engine room of government, which is the civil service, has not performed.
“How come monies amounting to about N500 billion approved for certain projects is still lying fallow at the CBN? We have information that some roads contracts that were awarded in this years’s budget have not been executed three months after the contractors were mobilized. We need to begin to push further to see that the civil service works and need to do this with all of us on the same side.”
He said that over N70 billion was generated by government agencies and squandered. Bankole was indeed in his element, and he had his facts and figures. And that has been his posture over this issue in the last two years.
Achievements: Keen watchers of the House believe that the insistence that Nigeria could be richer if ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government that generate revenue remit what they make to the Federation Account may be his biggest achievement since becoming speaker.
The Committee on Finance of the House which carried out investigations on revenues generated by MDAs submitted its report last month. According to the report, MDAs have generated at least N1 trillion in the last five years and squandered all.
Oversight functions: It is also believed that House Committees now take oversight duties more seriously. Bankole had purchased cars for members last year for that duty, though that action almost cost him his job. Last month, he threatened to sack any committee chairman that did not submit his third quarter report before November 7, 2009.
Faltering welfare: After an executive session, last July, members emerged grim-faced. Their remunerations had been slashed by almost half.
Reason given was that many new tax initiatives had crept into their take-home packages, thus eating up a good chunk. This clearly irked most of them, who, as politicians, pride themselves as belonging to the upper echelon of the “business”, and needed every kobo to meet up both personal and constituency demands.
Though it was explained that the problem was with the National Assembly Management, which did not explain beforehand how the deductions were made, many still believe that the leadership is lackadaisical to their welfare. But, somehow, the loyalty of members to their speaker keeps waxing stronger, invoking speculations that he must have devised a means of “settling” them.
Unspent billions: Unlike under the past regimes of the House when unspent funds of the two chambers of the National Assembly were shared among lawmakers on a formula based on rank, last year, the House returned N2.1 billion to the treasury. Though outwardly, members bragged that the House, which is the champion of returning unspent appropriation to the treasury, they still fumed in private. Those who have stayed long enough looked back with nostalgia to when such funds were shared.
Talking down on members: Some of the members said the speaker has penchant for talking down on members, both in and out of the chambers. And true, during plenary, reporters covering proceedings from the press gallery have been taken aback a few times by the manner an exasperated Bankole shouted down on recalcitrant colleagues. Most would sulk about their humiliation. At least one member had been suspended and stripped of committee membership when he refused to obey Bankole’s order to take his seat and remain silent.
The ghost of power probe: A monthly news magazine once published a story on the power probe instituted by the House which the leadership found unsettling. The magazine – The Lawmaker – , which the National Assembly subscribes to, was audacious to say Bankole should resign because of the way the power probe was handled.
The Lawmaker made many claims, saying that there were a lot of underhand dealings that led to the rubbishing of the power probe report. The magazine quoted members as swearing that that the truth about the power must be revealed. It turned out that it was mere wishful thinking. But, the power probe was the most inglorious project ever embarked upon by any chamber of the National Assembly since 1999. And, in view of that, Nigerians will forever hold the Reps in suspicion in whatever they do, no matter how noble and sincere. And that took place in the early days of Bankole assumption to power.
Dwindling image: At a press conference addressed by Dino Melaye and West Idahosa, both notable members of the House, on the eve of the failed attempt to remove the chief whip of the Reps, Emeka Ihedioha, and the House Leader, Tunde Akogun, last July, Idahosa, who was the chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources opened a slit for reporters, covering the House to take a peep into the storm waiting for Bankole to brave over.
Idahosa, a well respected Reps who has been there since 1999, said this at the briefing: “I have served under six speakers since coming to the House of Representatives in 1999, and we have had image problem with the public, But, today, our perception index is zero.
“We wish to apologise to the Nigerian people on the style of leadership that the House of Representatives has today. We are now serious about giving back the House the integrity and respect it deserves. We are now going to build a new House, based on strong moral strength, not this kind of House that is the boot of unkind, cruel cartoons.” Asked if the speaker was also a target, Idahosa said, “We are not dealing with that now. That situation has not arisen. We just want Nigerians to watch how we are going to remove the areas of complaint in the House for now. And these two principal officers must go tomorrow (June 23, 2009)”.
At that time, it was alleged that at least 250 members had signed for the removal of the two principal officers, just for the table to turn over on Melaye and his colleagues the following day. It was said that on the night of the eve of the “coup”, the speaker had personally reached out to members and begged them to sheath their swords. The two embattled principal officers were equally asked to go and “see” members that night. With that done, Dino and his men were left alone. And the plot failed.
Opposition not in 10:0 defeat now a myth
Ogunewe was one of the alleged architects of the plot to remove Bankole over the N2.3 billion car scam which the speaker scaled through. On February 26, 2009 after displaying what members agreed was rudeness to the speaker at that day’s plenary session, he was suspended summarily with not even a single voice of dissent.
But when the motion to suspend Dino was moved by Emmanuel Jime (PDP/Benue) on June 23, the House erupted. Those in support and those against the motion took on each other, until a compromise was reached, which led to Dino’s apology. The implication of that could be that the “enemies” of the leadership were regrouping.
It is was then established by many that there was a crack within the ranks of the Reps. Observers also posited that though it was decisive victory for the leadership of the House, the Dino incident was just another bullet in the arsenal of those waiting to unseat the leadership.
The defeat of the opposition, it appeared, was not a 10:0 win. But, today, it is very hard to imagine that another conspiracy to unseat the leadership of the House, will work based on the almost cult figure that Bankole seemed to have carved for himself among his colleagues.