Tambuwal Must Put His House In Order By Simon Kolawole


I like Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal for one thing: the way he “subverted” the zoning formula of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to emerge the Speaker of the House of Representatives last year. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not against zoning and power rotation. I support the two distinct principles because of the complex nature of Nigeria: you need to balance the equation, especially with our kind of under-developed politics. But there is nothing cast in stone about zoning and power rotation. If you believe you have what it takes to upset the applecart, why not? The Tambuwal case excited me because he proved that if you play your politics the right way, you can disrupt the status quo.

The PDP had zoned the speakership to the South-west. Tambuwal, from the North-west, did what deft politicians should do: he threw his hat in the ring, reached out to the critical mass of the House of Representatives and clinched the position with an overwhelming majority (252-90) over the “anointed candidate”, Hon. Mulikat Adeola-Akande. This is the same thing I was recommending to those who didn’t want President Goodluck Jonathan to run in 2011—why not defeat him on the field? Also, if you don’t want him in 2015, why not organise yourselves in a formidable manner to stop him convincingly? Tambuwal successfully did this in becoming Speaker; his legitimacy is not in question, no matter how angry the PDP was over the “subversion”.
Tambuwal obviously prepared for this position long ago. His campaign materials were impressive. He showed organisation and depth of legislative knowledge. He has managed to preside over the diversity, and even the rowdiness, in the House of Representatives in the last one year in a manner that suggests that he knows what he is doing. He is calm. He is not unduly confrontational. He goes about his job like someone who is well schooled in brinkmanship. Although the Senate still remains more stable than the House, the rivalry and confrontation that characterised the House/Senate relationship in the last dispensation is virtually gone. They now work more harmoniously.
Having said that, however, I think the real challenges for Tambuwal as the leader of 360 lawmakers in the lower chamber of the National Assembly are beginning to surface. The honeymoon is over. The time has come for him to demonstrate guts and gusto.  As scandals begin to emerge here and there, Tambuwal’s ultimate leadership ability is being put to the test. He needs to give a good account of himself to refurbish the credibility of the House of Representatives. For one, I would give him a good grade for the way he handled the capital market probe crisis which was marred by allegations of bribery. The Herman Hembe-led committee was dissolved and a new one set up to probe the crisis, while Hembe faced the ethics panel over allegations of bribery. The case is now a subject of prosecution by the EFCC.
The biggest test, yet, for Tambuwal is the outbreak of the Hon. Farouk Lawan affair. The reports we have been reading in recent times are very damning. When Lawan—a legislator whom I’ve come to love and respect in the last 13 years—was appointed as head of the ad-hoc committee to probe the fuel subsidy saga, the impression I got was that he was going to do a no-nonsense job. We knew him as “Mr. Integrity”. But when he turned in the report, I was not too impressed with certain aspects. For instance, without hearing from some marketers, the committee indicted them and then said, “OK, come forward now and we’ll listen to you”. Also, the way some names were appearing and disappearing on the list after the report had been submitted to the House raised some suspicion.
I was therefore not that surprised to learn that Lawan had been set up. In a video-taped sting that will surely find its way to national TV soon, he was said to have collected bales of marked dollars from business mogul, Mr. Femi Otedola, in order to exonerate his company, Zenon, from the probe report. To be exact, $620,000—supposedly an advance payment on an agreed $3 million bribe—was reportedly paid out. Lawan was said to have stuffed the packets of dollars into his pockets. At a stage, he reportedly removed his cap to accommodate the extra stuff. Everything was taped, we are told. Zenon was eventually removed from the indictment list by the House.
In my opinion, the security agents should have arrested Lawan immediately he allegedly collected the bribe; but perhaps the aim was to rubbish the entire probe, so there was no need to arrest him then. Lawan, after first denying the allegation and describing the video as a “caricature”, later admitted he actually collected the money as “evidence” to nail Otedola. His defence is increasingly looking like an afterthought, but let us give him the benefit of the doubt until he is proven guilty. However, the time has come for the leadership of the National Assembly to act fast to clean up the place. Nigerians do not have a good impression of them and scandals like this don’t help matters.
To his credit, Tambuwal is acting fast. At an emergency meeting of the House on Friday, the indicted persons were suspended pending the outcome of investigations. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the integrity of the probe subsidy report is in jeopardy and every effort must be made to salvage it, in spite of the several question marks now hanging over it. How Tambuwal eventually navigates the wreckage of the current crisis will determine to a large extent his legacy as a politician and political leader. I would score him a pass mark so far, but the tougher test for him (and Senate President David Mark) is how to clean up the reputation mess in the National Assembly so that Nigerians can begin to trust their lawmakers. This task is as urgent as yesterday.
By Simon Kolawole

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