He polled 18 votes to defeat his closest challenger and erstwhile favourite for the office, Delta State House Speaker, Rt. Honourable Victor Ochei, who polled 9 votes.
The dramatic turn of events which resulted in Ochei’s loss came about after the Speakers from the South West and the North West who had previously backed his bid, surprisingly reneged on their promise to him just before the vote was taken.
Ochei had already secured the support of the South South Speakers as their consensus candidate.
The remaining 8 votes was shared amongst two other candidates – the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Rt. Honourable Razak Bolaji Atunwa and Rt. Honourable Istafanus Gbana, the immediate past chairman of the Conference, who came 3rd and 4th respectively.
35 Speakers of State Assemblies took part in the voting exercise while the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly did not attend.
The choice of Garba for the office was a unanimous decision reached by members during the elections held on Thursday, April 12, 2012, at Sharon Ultimate Hotel in Garki, Abuja.
The election was preceded by a brief emergency meeting of the 35 speakers, who had earlier gathered at the Gwarimpa conference venue and Secretariat of the Conference, originally designated for the event, after which the election was suddenly shifted to the Sharon Ultimate Hotel, Garki, for undisclosed reasons.
Addressing newsmen shortly after the election, the Speaker of Osun State House of Assembly, Mr Najeem Salam, who served as the caretaker committee chairman said: “We have all agreed that the Speaker representing Gombe in the conference is to be the Speaker of the Conference. It is a unanimous decision by the members of the conference that the chairman of the conference remains Gombe State Speaker and he has been saddled with the responsibility of the conference”.
Garba, who spoke later said his election was the freest he had witnessed and participated in his life. He said: ”This is the freest and fairest election I have witnessed and participated in my life. I thank God and my colleagues for electing me.”
Speaking further Garba said: “It is going to be a regime of new beginning. It is going to be a regime of changes, a regime of development and growth. Positive decisions must be taken by this regime to realise its numerous goals. Dialogue, which has remained a time-tested tool in development pursuits will be employed by our administration.”
Political watchers who had followed the fortunes of the Speakers Conference will recall that the body had repeatedly been unable to elect a leader because its erstwhile Chairman, Rt. Honourable Istafanus Gbana of Taraba State purportedly blocked every move to conduct elections at the end of his tenure. Gbana had wanted to continue as Chairman and thus refused to conduct elections even after his tenure was extended by six months.
On September 22, 2011, the Speakers gathered in their new Gwarimpa Office in Abuja to elect a new chairman and others to fill the vacant offices. But for a couple of hours, the Speakers went in and got immersed into a marathon meeting behind closed doors but the election which was billed to commence by 10 am hadn’t gotten underway even by 12pm.
And when the meeting was finally over towards night fall, it became obvious that a compromise was reached by the Speakers to shift the election for another day. The body had however successfully sacked Istifanus Gbana from office and a caretaker committee headed by the Speaker of Kano State, Rt. Honourable Yusuf Falgore, was put in place with the mandate to conduct elections within 3 months.
Gombe State Speaker, Alhaji Inuwa Garba and his Kwara State counter-part, AbdulRazak Atunwa later briefed the Press on the outcome of the meeting.
According to Garba: “we formed a Care-taker Committee which will in three months organize free and fair election. It’s a six man committee which will take care of constitutional amendments of the constitution of the Conference so that all the unnecessary lacunas that have been depriving others from participating in the contest and similar issues will be addressed”.
Atunwa also said: “Fundamental issues were raised and it was well deliberated. We came to the conclusion that the right thing has been done and that is exactly what we have actually done. It was what led us to the constitution of the Care-taker Committee and the Constitution Review Committee and they have been given the mandate to come back with report”.
Falgore was however impeached by his colleagues in Kano before he could perform the assignment and in the wake of Falgore’s impeachment, the Speakers of Borno, Adamawa and Ebonyi were also removed from office within eight (8) weeks thereby forcing the conference back to the drawing board.
The conference,which had initially zoned the position of Chairman to the north,was equally now compelled,following the sacking of Northers Speakers, to jettison its initial zoning formula and threw the race wide open to enable it elect the best leadership.
Under Gbana, the conference failed to achieve its core objectives including actualizing independent funding for state legislatures via the fist line charge just like the National Assembly. He also failed to position the conference as an influential force in national politics.
The new Chairman of the Speakers Conference, Inuwa Garba onthe other hand is a successful businessman and accomplished politician whose aura in Gombe politics resonates with realinfluence. Garba was elected the Deputy Speaker in 2007, but 2011, the 24 members of the Assembly unanimously elected him the Speaker of the House. As the former Deputy Speaker, Garba was almost ubiquitous in all Legislatives assignments conducted in the country at the instance of the then Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Manga Musa Bojude.
If indeed there is any old hand technically immersed with Legislative businesses in its inestimable stance, it is the Gombe State Speaker. A young blood that obviously epitomizes generational change, he has been in the Gombe State House of Assembly since 2003.
Most people see him as a gadfly, who courts the right kinds of controversy. He has been known to display a passion for the Conference and was reported after the September meeting that sacked Istifanus and produced the caretaker committee, to have said that, “what inspired me to contest has been possibly achieved because I am a believer in democracy, a believer in sincerity where a level playing ground should be provided for whosoever has something very positive to produce”.
Garba, who was said to have enjoyed popular support and had the backing of majority of the Speakers even from the South, had been regarded as the next Chairman of the Speakers if the election had held in September 2011, especially given the zoning formular that had been adopted at that time which pitched him against the ineffectual former Chairman Istifanus Gbana. Both men had incidentally hailed from the same North-East Geo-political zone.
However, the removal of the zoning arrangement had enabled Victor Ochei to join the race and though, he had been naturally responded to the calls for him to contest and had even been adopted by his South South colleagues, many pundits were keen to point out that the DeltaSpeaker had not been seen making frantic moves for the office, which was a clear indication that he was aware of the political currents within the body and had been cautious having been Speaker for less than one year in Delta State as against Inuwa Garba who had been Deputy Speaker since 2007.
The pressing mandate of the new Chairman, Inuwa Garba, according to political watchers will now be to establish the Speakers Conference as an influential block just like the influential and powerful Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF),which incidentally is headed by RiversState governor Rotimi Amaechi, who himself was a former Chairman of the Speakers Conference and led the body with charisma and panache.