Certainly the last is yet to be heard concerning the election into the speakership position of the House of Representatives as the G70 lawmakers who voted against the emergence of the Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has vowed to challenge the outcome in court over alleged vote buying and intimidation of the lawmakers on the inauguration day. In this interview, leader of the group, Mark Gbillah further told Politics Editor, Jude Opara that the Buhari administration has succeeded in creating a National Assembly that will at best be a lame duck for the next four years.
You have been at the forefront of the now popular G70 legislators kicking against the emergence of Femi Gbajabiamila as the Speaker of the 9th Assembly, why are you agitating?
Thank you very much, I will tell you expressly that our action was born out of a genuine concern to ensure that only credible people using credible and transparent means were given the opportunity to serve especially at the legislative arm which in our best understanding is nothing but the conscience of democracy everywhere in the world.
Yes there is also this talk that your group is contemplating a court action, can you confirm this?
Yes, it is true, in fact we are in the process of putting finishing touches with our lawyers to immediately seek a redress in court, because in our reckoning, Femi Gbajabiamila is an illegitimate Speaker due to the fact that he compromised the process by indulging in vote buying. I spoke to our lawyers last night, we are on it, and we are going to communicate to the Clerk formerly to preserve the ballot papers, so that he will not claim to have destroyed it. We have clear and documented evidence of vote buying and intimidation which forced many members to vote against their conscience. One member who serves as the ring leader was seen conspicuously directing members on how to vote. They even created the Gbaja Green Card with serial numbers. Some members even placed their National Assembly ID cards and snapped to go and show and collect thousands of dollars promised.
The way you are talking, are you saying that the federal government is aware of this alleged vote buying because since this accusation started, nothing has been heard from them?
The much talked about anti-corruption fight of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is nothing but a ruse, because he is more or less condoning instead of fighting corruption. It is appalling this is happening in the regime of a president and a party that boast of fighting corruption, they claim they are transparent but in actual fact they are endorsing corruption, so the question is why were honorable members forced to snap their ballots? It is unprecedented because the National Assembly has never been so desecrated the way we are seeing it today. It shows the illegitimacy of the Speaker because if he cannot win by simply convincing his colleagues to vote for him other than inducing them means he is not qualified to hold that position. People were captured on camera snapping their votes, some even placed their National Assembly ID Cards on the ballot before snapping for onward presentation to those who were top pay them thousands of dollars promised them. I can even forward to you the picture and videos of this charade.
In all this, what did the Clerk of the National Assembly, Sanni Omolori do as the man who was in charge of inaugurating the 9th Assembly when this alleged vote buying was taking place?
Unfortunately, the Clerk of the House seems to have endorsed what they were doing. He said something that day on the floor when we noticed this and I personally called his attention to it, he got up and said that his duty was to protect the sanctity of the voting system, but that if members were taking their cameras to take pictures, that it is their business if they chose to compromise their votes. What he did was like openly telling the lawmakers that they were free to go and compromise their votes. This has never been seen anywhere in the world before.
In your opinion, what is the likely impact of this on the nation’s growing democracy?
The negative impact of the vote for dollar as we saw on the floor of the House cannot be overemphasized. To say the least, it is a sad day for Nigerian democracy, and I dare say that it will only take the exit of the Buhari administration for the country to begin to rebuild its image which has already been battered by the actions and inactions of the administration. It is even more worrisome that under the present arrangement, what else should we expect from the National Assembly? There is nothing else but the fact that it is going to be a lame-duck legislature. I know that there are lacunas in our laws on how to conduct elections, but the morality of it is what we are talking about, how can you command legitimacy when you bribed your way to the office? You had to force them to snap their ballot to convince you they voted for you, so this is the intimidation that transpired and no sane society will accept this. I also know they are trying to blacklist me saying I am the one championing this cause, but I am not given to intimidation. Somebody has to stand up in this country and insist that the right things must be done. I am not alone on this struggle, but not everybody has the guts to come out art this time to speak out. We in the G70 are resolute and very soon we will begin to gather signatures of those who believe in the cause and when we are ready we will address the entire nation. That is why we are going to officially communicate the Clerk to preserve the ballot papers, it is one of the evidence we will tender in court to compel him to produce it and so he will now answer to the court, and we are doing it immediately.
Why do you say we are going to have a lame-duck legislature in the 9th Assembly?
It is very obvious, the whole scenario is very dangerous to our nascent democracy and it also shows that the government of Muhammadu Buhari appears not to be what he claims to be, he appears to be a dictator. It is only more words than action, under his watch; we have seen several acts of corruption but nothing has been done about them. Under his watch, we have seen the EFCC dropping cases against somebody they perceived was going to be an obstacle in their installing the senate president, you can see that for the first time in our history, the Deputy Senate President was kneeling down for the President and the President is okay with it. Doesn’t that tell what we are afraid of, that they have now succeeded in having a lame-duck legislature? This was further buttressed when a motion was moved to discuss the speech of the President at the democracy day celebration and the Senate President vehemently refused to take the motion. This is what we should be expecting in the next four years, that is if the leadership survives because at a certain point, those well meaning legislatures will rise up against impunity, also very soon, when they try to start sharing the spoils, all those who were made empty promises will start getting disgruntled, that is what to expect in the House of Representatives where most of the new members who do not know how the House operates were promised committees and they thought it is going to happen. It is a sad day for our democracy, the international community must be alarmed because we thought we were making progress but you can see the shameful conduct of the election by INEC and the flagrant rigging even in the selection of the leadership of the house. We will now have to salvage the country again after the end of this administration. It is a sad day because the institution that is supposed to salvage the situation and ensure a credible electoral process is itself indulged in vote buying, so what hope do we have for our democracy?
Are you not afraid that your position on this may expose you to all manners of attacks, where is your strength coming from?
As I said earlier, I am not the only lawmaker who is not happy with transpired, but speaking for myself, I will tell you that it is my disposition to follow my faith in the God that I serve. I uphold integrity and transparency, I am one politician who likes to tell Nigerians the truth all the time, I am an example that we must run elections transparently and righteously, so my intention is to ensure that the integrity of our institution was prevailed. I am not witch-hunting anybody but only to ensure that the rights were done.