The route to the Speakership of the 9th House of Representatives seems to be getting smoother for Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Surulere, Lagos State).
Four of his co-contestants for the position have pulled out of the race for him but two others are still in the contest with him.
The battle for the Senate Presidency remains a three-way affair for Dr. Ahmad Lawan, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Danjuma Goje and a former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume.
Sources said Idris Ahmed Wase (Plateau), Abdulrazak Namdas (Adamawa), Aliyu Betara Mukhtar (Borno), and Yusuf Yakubu Buba (Borno) have stood down their ambition for Gbajabiamila who is favoured by the APC hierarchy for the job.
Umar Mohammed Bago (Niger) and John Dyegh (Benue) are yet to withdraw from the race.
Although Wase has been adopted for the office of Deputy Speaker, he faces a fresh hurdle from the camp of outgoing Speaker Yakubu Dogara which is demanding the slot for a Christian candidate.
But some members-elect are insisting that religion should not be a factor for Wase because, according to them, there had been a Christian-Christian mandate in the House in the past.
They said merit and capacity, rather than religion, should be the overriding factor.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that the withdrawal of the four ranking Reps for Gbajabiamila is a fallout of ongoing negotiation between the Gbajabiamila camp and critical stakeholders in the chambers.
A source called it a major breakthrough in the quest to install Gbajabiamila as the next Speaker.
The four have also agreed to join forces to work for Gbajabiamila whose party (APC) has over 226 of the 360 members-elect.
Gbajabiamila, who also has associates in PDP, needs about 181 votes (if there is a full house of elected members) to emerge as Speaker.
A well-placed source said: “So far, the campaign for the office of the Speaker is taking a good shape for Gbajabiamila with the withdrawal of these four heavyweights from the race.
“We are however not taking things for granted. There is a little relief in the APC camp because the PDP appears not keen any more for the office of Speaker because of the intense lobbying from Gbajabiamila’s friends, associates and strategists.
“About three weeks to the election of principal officers, most PDP lawmakers-elect are still awaiting directive on who to vote for. Instead of losing out, some of them have decided to align with Gbajabiamila to be in good stead for the House politics.
“Notwithstanding, the campaign team of Gbajabiamila has sustained its outreach by paying more attention to his sterling legislative qualities than sentiments around his recommendation for the office by the party.
“We have spent quality time to clarify the godfather allegation being circulated to prove that Gbajabiamila is a cosmopolitan candidate.”
On Umar Mohammed Bago and John Dyegh who are still in the race, another source – a returning Rep – said: “The APC and its leaders at all levels are trying to prevail on these two candidates to step down. We will still take advantage of the next three weeks to lobby them accordingly.
“We are hopeful that they will defer to the APC and concede the slot to Gbajabiamila.
“Alternatively, if all entreaties fail, we will go ahead for outright election between Gbajabiamila and the two candidates. We know their limit but we are only appeasing them to have a united House.
“Take the case of Bago, he does not enjoy the backing of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello and all members-elect from Niger State. His best bet is to face the reality of the futility of his aspiration.
“In the case of John Dyegh, he is the only elected member of the House from Benue State. Where does he draw his electoral strength from? We cannot afford to ignore him but he has not come to terms with the pervasiveness of the ongoing intrigues in favour of Gbajabiamila.”
Responding to a question, the source admitted that although Wase has been adopted for the office of Deputy Speaker, he faces a fresh hurdle from the camp of outgoing Speaker, Yakubu Dogara which wants a Christian for the position.
“Some forces are trying to give religious colouration to the race for the office of Deputy Speaker to stop Wase but the parliament is not made for such sentiments,” he said.
“We are always broader in our perspectives. Of the 12 Speakers we have had six were Christians and six were Muslims. They all came on merit without religious imputations.
“The Deputy Speakers so far have been eight with five Muslims and three Christians without animosity. Many political factors, including zoning by parties, interplay more than ethno-religious indices. We hope those promoting religious division in the legislature will stop it.
“Wase has sacrificed by stepping down for Gbajabiamila despite the fact that he is also a strong candidate for the Speaker slot. We will not allow mischief-makers to whip up religious sentiments.”