The House of Representatives resumed plenary on a rancourous note on Tuesday after a one-month holiday.
Trouble started when the Minority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, sprung a surprise on the floor of the House by referring to the deputy majority leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, as “deputy minority leader.”
Gbajabiamila was contributing to a debate on a motion when he addressed Ogor as deputy minority leader.
This angered some Peoples Democratic Party lawmakers who rushed towards him in an apparent bid to attack him.
However, some APC members quickly protected Gbajabiamila by encircling him at the front row of the floor.
For over 20 minutes, proceedings were suspended as the PDP lawmakers and their APC counterparts shouted at one another.
But the intervention of the Speaker, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, prevented what would have been another free for all on the floor.
Referring to Gbajabiamila’s statement as “a very expensive New Year joke,” Tambuwal stated that he should not have said it in the way he did.
The speaker noted that while Gbajabiamila’s action was an attempt to pass the message that the APC wanted to effect a change in the leadership of the House, he should have first observed the rules of the House.
He also drew the attention of members to a subsisting court order, which had barred the House from changing its leadership.
Tambuwal said, “We are a parliament and we have our rules of procedure, derived from the 1999 Constitution.
“The issue of leadership change in this House is also the subject of a recent court order.
“I have the order here with me; I was taken aback when he (Gbajabiamila) made that statement.”
The speaker then asked Gbajabiamila to stand before members and clear his position.
The APC leader responded that while his comments might sound offensive, he was not at war with Ogor, but merely making “a statement of fact.”
According to him, it will be “breaching the collective privilege” of APC members, who are now in the majority, to be referred to as the minority in the House.
But, to calm his angry colleagues, he said, “In deference to your office (Speaker), I will now refer to Ogor as simply Hon. Leo Ogor.”
Gbajabiamila avoided either withdrawing the statement or apologising to the House, which was what the PDP members wanted him to do.
In his ruling, Tambuwal called for caution, saying that as a legislature, the House would be the last institution to disobey a court order.
He advised members to learn from what happened in 1993 when the late MKO Abiola was coasting to victory in the presidential election before a court order disrupted the process.
The speaker noted, “We have been served with a court order and as an institution, we should be the last to disobey a court order, no matter what disagreement we may have with that order.
“Let us continue as leaders to manage what is emerging as very interesting political developments in this country.
“Let us continue to work together for the common interest of Nigerians and the stability of our democracy.”
Gbajabiamila later told journalists outside the chamber of the House that the APC would defer to the court order pending when it had been vacated.
However, he clarified that complying with the order did not change the “statement of fact that the APC is now clearly in the majority in the House.”
Gbajabiamila described the House as the “only parliament in the world” where the party that had majority members continued to play the role of the minority.
When asked why he chose to address Ogor as deputy minority leader when the APC had resolved to comply with the court order, Gbajabiamila replied that he was “throwing a parliamentary jab.”
He added that the jab was intended to send the message to the PDP that it was no longer in the majority.
The lawmaker said, “The PDP shamelessly went to court to obtain a strange order not known to the annals of jurisprudence in this country.
“The APC stands for change; we want to change the culture of impunity in the PDP.
“We will abide by the decision of the court until we have studied it and two, to vacate the order. We have seen the handwriting on the wall that they are only trying to buy time.
“The reality on the ground is that the APC has a difference of almost 20 members over the PDP, though the media had reported 172 (APC) and 171 (PDP).
On his part, Ogor expressed surprise that Gbajabiamila,who is a lawyer, would behave the way he did on Tuesday.
He argued that the issue of change of leadership was not the subject of debate, but that Gbajabiamila changed course by referring to him as deputy minority leader.
Ogor said, “This is a matter that is pending before a competent court of jurisdiction and there is a subsisting order.
“As it stands, the 37 members who defected to the APC are still members of the PDP pending the determination of the case.
“That means that PDP remains the majority party; how would he refer to me as deputy minority leader?”
Before the row, a mild drama had earlier happened on the floor when two APC members from Adamawa State defected to the PDP.
The two are Mr. Francis Haske-Hannaniya and Mr. Ganama Titsi.
But the APC also gained two members when Emmanuel Jime (Benue State) and Mr. Yaya Kwambe (Plateau State) dumped the PDP.
Findings by The PUNCH showed that Gbajabiamila was under pressure from other APC lawmakers in the House to “devise an ingenious way” to pass a clear message to the PDP members that the APC was now in the majority.
A source close to the APC lawmakers said, “The issue(leadership change) was discussed elaborately and views expressed at meetings suggested that the court order should be obeyed.
“However, there were many members, who wanted the APC to pass a message at least.”
It was gathered that at an APC caucus meeting on Monday , Gbajabiamila tried to counsel his colleagues on the need to abide by the order until it was vacated.
“But, while saying this, some members started walking out on him. He was accused of playing a game with Speaker Tambuwal to buy more time for the PDP,” another source said.
Some members of the caucus were said to have reported Gbajabiamila and others to the national leadership of the APC.
The source added, “With the pressure mounted on him, Gbajabiamila had little option but to find a way to do what he did on Tuesday.
“He effectively complied with the wish of members to pass some message while complying with the court order.
“You could see that they were hailing him when he addressed Ogor as deputy minority leader.”