On June 2, 2023, President Bola Tinubu appointed Femi Gbajabiamila, the 9th House of Representatives (HOR) Speaker, as his Chief of Staff (COS). 

A more pertinent issue to ponder is: having been reelected to the HOR by his Surulere constituents, what happens to his seat now that he’s taken up the COS role? And what are his new responsibilities?

Promotion or Demotion?

Gbajabiamila’s foray into Nigerian politics follows a similar pattern to that of other establishment politicians. Despite having a legal background, the lawmaker’s history of fraud is well known; a US court indicted him for fraud in February 2007. He has served in the HOR for 20 years and rose to his highest position when he contested for Speaker in 2019 and won. Gbajabiamila notably sponsored the Student Loan Act, which Tinubu recently signed into law. He ran again for office in the 2023 general elections and won a sixth term in the green chambers by polling 19,717 votes.

However, the 9th assembly dissolved on June 11. With his appointment as COS, opinions differ on whether it signifies a promotion to the President’s trusted confidante or a step down from being the fifth-ranking official in Nigeria. Regardless, zoning requirements for reconstituting the 10th assembly meant it was always unlikely he’d remain the speaker.

So what happens to Gbajabiamila’s seat?

[Femi Gbajabiamila / Punch]

Gbajabiamila can serve as both the speaker and the COS to the president without legal hindrance until he leaves his current position. However, it’s worth noting that the office of COS is not officially part of any constitutional body. Still, potential conflicts of interest could emerge. 

Gbajabiamila will ultimately resign his position in the HOR. This would make his seat as Surulere 1 constituency representative vacant, which the yet-to-be-elected Speaker of the HOR will announce. Once that happens, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will organise a bye-election for his constituency. The All Progressives Congress (APC), to which Gbajabiamila belongs, would have to nominate another candidate. It also means the candidates from opposition parties who initially lost out can reclaim the seat.

What does the Chief of Staff do?

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo created the COS position in 1999. It’s a high-ranking office whose occupant is selected at the discretion of the President. 

The Chief of Staff is the President’s buddy (sorry, Mr VP), overseeing the executive office and coordinating important programmes and agencies. The COS is the primary liaison between the President and key officials, including the Federal Executive Council. The COS manages the flow of information to the President and acts as an adviser. Additionally, they ensure seamless operations for the President’s engagements, including the presidential fleet. 

The COS has to be a highly skilled technocrat able to open their ears to happenings within the villa and without. They must also learn to be tough but diplomatic around the clock while looking out for political sharks. As the late political critic Obadiah Mailafia describes it, it’s not a job for the fainthearted.

Gbajabiamila will be the 7th COS in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. Time will tell how well he can transition into his new role. While congratulations are in order for him, he, more than anyone else, knows he has to hit the ground running.



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