By Teddy Nwanunobi
“I am taking over the mantle of leadership at a very difficult time. But these are hard times. We need to build confidence again, and assure the populace that we are still their representatives. I want an independent house that Nigerians will be proud of – this is my first task.”
Those were the words of former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole, following the resignation of Mrs. Patricia Etteh from the post on October 30, 2007 after she was accused of spending N628 million on home renovation and automobiles.
In nine months’ time, Nigerians will file out to choose their next President through the ballot box. On February 25, 2023, Nigerians will file out to elect the man who will take over from President Muhammadu Buhari.
But choosing Buhari’s successor will begin from May 30, when the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, will embark on the journey to pick their respective candidates for the February 25 presidential election in 2023, through their (indirect) primary elections. Political parties have until June 3 to submit the name of their candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
For the APC, many presidential aspirants have emerged, despite the huge cost of the expression of interest and nomination forms. The APC fixed the forms at N100 million.
Despite the criticisms the cost of the forms had generated from many Nigerians, most of whom took to social media to voice their concerns, immediately it was announced, the forms have attracted a large number of aspirants who are jostling for the party’s ticket. This is unlike in 2019.
Observers have, however, expressed divergent views on the implications of the high number of presidential aspirants.
Some political watchers believe that some of the aspirants are not serious about their ambition, and are only in the race to negotiate their political future.
They also said that many of them would not even go into the contest, and would eventually bow out of the race at the last minute.
Bankole is one of the many aspirants that picked the forms. He obtained the forms through Aliyu Shinkafi, a former governor of Zamfara State, who led a delegation to the International Conference Centre, ICC, in Abuja where the forms were obtained.
“Right Honourable Dimeji Bankole is in the race, and he is contesting on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress. He has met with various stakeholders, and their support is overwhelming, especially across the North.
“Many see him as someone who ticked all the boxes as far as having a young, smart, competent, and patriotic President is concerned.
“Just like former military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, posited, Nigeria needs a young leader. I think there should be no debate over that, even though the Constitution did not stop old men from running for office.
“There are many northerners who believe Bankole is the right man to be supported, recalling how he handled the situation when then President Umaru Yar’Adua took ill while in office. He is a candidate the North, indeed Nigeria as whole, can trust,” a close ally of the former Speaker, Malam Abdullahi Bayero, said.
Last April, Bankole urged Nigerians to elect leaders, irrespective of age, who are responsible, and have an interest in the Nigerian project in 2023.
Bakole, who spoke in Kaduna State as the Special Guest of Honour during the 16th Annual Ramadan Lecture organised by the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN, and Voice of Nigeria, VON.
“What is more important for Nigeria is responsible leadership made up of people who are interested and committed to the Nigerian project, rather than the debate over the age of the candidates. We will continue to pray and take part in the process, and try as much as possible to have responsible people interested in the Nigerian project to lead irrespective of their age,” he said.
He also called for less emphasis on the age of the leaders to pilot the affairs of the country, and urged Nigerians to continue taking part in the electoral process to elect responsible leaders.
According to him, it was more important for the country to be led by leaders who were genuinely interested and committed to the Nigerian project, than to debate over the age of the candidates.
He said that morality and a sense of responsibility often start from the home, adding that there was the need to get things in the right order.
“It’s always from home. Sense of morality can be treated from primary schools, secondary schools – formative years of young people. Parents must get more involved in moulding the character of their children,” he said.
Tested stabilising factor Nigeria is currently going through a difficult moment. It, therefore, only needs a leader that would bring about stability and unity among the citizens.
Dimeji’s leadership scorecard of the House within a short time, when it was in crisis, is testimony to the fact that he can handle such national issues, if given the opportunity to do so as the President of the country. Besides, he is a young man, with vigour.
On June 22, 2010, Bankole braced the odds to suspend 11 members of the House indefinitely for disorderliness and fighting in the House.
Though a few House members may disagree with the fact that he remained a stabilising factor in the House, there was no doubt that he set a new template for the House of Representatives.
He was able to position the House to live up to its expectation, especially in the discharge of its role of law making, oversight and representation with minimal confrontation and conflict with the executive arms while achieving maximum and often unprecedented results in its core areas.
Taking over the mantle of leadership from his predecessor, Mrs. Etteh, Bankole ensured that there was need to drift away from what obtained in the past.
The first major indication of a paradigm shift of Bankole speakership in law making was the 2008 Appropriation Bill (Budget). For him, the era of the House, acceding to Appropriation Bills or any executive bill lapsed as the House took it upon itself to make proper inquiry as a way of ensuring good governance.
The Appropriation Bill is possibly the most important bill that the House usually passes. Nevertheless, it was not the only bill that engages the House as laws were molded to accommodate all and sundry in the polity.
Under Bankole’s watch, the House passed 136 bills affecting all sectors of the nation’s life in fundamental ways. Top among these bills are four appropriation bills which he reengineered to save the nation a large chunk from the nation’s treasury.
Its scrutiny of the 2008 Appropriation Bill led to the discovery of unspent funds of N450 billion from the 2007 Budget in sharp contrast to the about N25 billion presented in the Budget. This sum was captured for re-appropriation in the 2008 Budget. This issue of unspent funds was in the front burner of any legislative process on Appropriation Bill and in the 2009 Appropriation Bill, N350 billion was returned as unspent funds from the 2008 Budget. Hitherto, these unspent funds were pocketed through bogus end of year contracts that are not executed or some frivolous capacity building binge.
Altogether, the Bankole-led House saved the nation about N1 trillion in unspent funds through this. Besides, the Freedom of Information, FOI, Bill which the process of passage commenced in 1999, was eventually passed, despite stiff opposition. Having been passed, the FOI Bill is said not to only help the media but the legislature in its oversight functions.
The Constitutional Amendment Bill 2010 was also able to scale through. The amendment, which led to a qualitative development of the nation’s democracy, will, at the same time, ensure that the nation does not find itself in quandary in case of indisposition of a President or Governor for a certain period.
Not only did it achieve that feat, the House, under Bankole, was able to successfully pass the 2010 Electoral (amendment) Act which was instrumental to the success of the 2011 election. Besides, it ensured appropriation to fund the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, activities to implement the act that resulted in the widely acclaimed election.
In pursuance of actualising its oversight functions, Bankole ensured that House members did not leave any stone unturned in investigating the various ministries.
Furtherance to performing its oversight functions, the House Finance Committee’s investigation into the finance of government discovered an alleged startling fact that in the last five years prior to its investigation, over N5 trillion was not remitted to the federation account by MDAs as they should constitutionally.
Bankole is well-educated. His education saw him obtain BA Hons in Economics from the Reading University in UK, MTQ in Military Tactics from the Oxford University in UK, and MPA in Public Admin (Finance Negotiation and Crisis Management) in Harvard University in US.
In the public sector, he earned himself the ‘Youngest Speaker’ ever, with colleagues and associates in all the local government areas in Nigeria.
He is trusted by the Northern part of the country. He sacrificed his career as the Speaker by protecting former President, late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, when he was sick, by blocking all impeachment attempts against him until his death, thereby keeping the country united.
He had been accused and tried a number of times. But he has been cleared and discharged of all cases.
Among the issues that have dominated the agenda of aspirants in the APC are security, economic transformation, restructuring, and job creation. Of all the aspirants, Bankole, without corruption, stands taller than all the APC aspirants.
He may have laid down solid proof as the North and South bridge, when in January 2020 he wedded Aisha Shinkafi Saidu, the daughter of Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu