Barely one week in office as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole may have been presented with his own political baptism.
Some unnamed members are alleging that the new Speaker evaded the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme.
The scheme is mandatory for Nigerian graduates of universities and polytechnics but those who are 30 years or above on completion of their studies are exempted.
Also exempted are those who have served in Nigerian military and police.
Section 13 of the NYSC Act (amended in 1993) makes it criminal for anyone to dodge the service, under-declare educational qualifications or work in either public or private sector without undergoing national service.
Some House members, rattled by the way and manner the former Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, fell from the office, are insisting Bankole dodged the scheme.
The new Speaker will be 38 today.
Going by his CV, Bankole was 26 years old when he started working in 1995 at Freight Agencies, Lagos.
Efforts to get the response of the Speaker to the allegation last night were unsuccessful.
But THISDAY learnt that Bankole will address a news conference on the issue at 12 noon today, two hours before the House resumes sitting.
As if responding to the issue, however, the Speaker’s father, Chief Alani Bankole, said yesterday in Ibadan, Oyo State, that the banana peel, the political phrase used to describe the fall of politicians from exalted positions, was not for his son in his new position.
It was gathered that the seeming banana peel may not be unconnected with the short message service (SMS) that went round the House last Thursday before Bankole eventually emerged as the Speaker.
In the SMS, members were told not to vote for Bankole, saying he was a chronic bachelor and that rather than serve Nigeria through the NYSC programme, he served the British Army.
Those against Bankole then also said he swore to an oath of allegiance to the British Government before he was enlisted into the British Army.
But a member of the Integrity Group and a close friend of the new Speaker told THISDAY last night that since Bankole was honourably discharged from the British Army, whatever allegiance he had to that country subsisted while he was in active service and not after his discharge.
On the NYSC programme, the source also said that may not be necessary since Bankole received military training and also graduated from a military academy like Sandhurst where many Nigerian senior military officers were trained.
He said what he would need was an exemption, if he chose to work in public service.
Bankole, who represents Abeokuta Federal Constituency, of Ogun State, holds a Masters Degree in military techniques from Oxford University, England and was an Oxford Officer Trainee in 1991.
He also passed selection to Sandhurst and was in the Royal Artillery Corps for a Short Service Fast Track Officers Course.
From 1995 to 1998, he was a Director of Freight Agencies and later moved to become the Executive Director of Operation at the West African Aluminium Products Limited, Ikeja, Lagos owned by his father.
The new Speaker is spending his second term in the House. He was first elected to represent his constituency in 2003 and was the former Deputy Chairman House committee on Finance.
The elder Bankole spoke with newsmen in Ibadan at a symposium organised as part of the funeral rites of late Chief Adisa Akinloye, former National Chairman of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
He noted that with his education and moral training, the new Speaker would be too conscious to avoid banana peel which had sounded the death-knell of many presiding officers in the National Assembly.
Bankole, the substituted gubernatorial candidate of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the 1983 election in Ogun State, said his son had surpassed his political achievements with his emergence as Speaker.
"My son will not be removed in the name of the Almighty God because he won't do anything to warrant that. He has got all the qualities he needs to be a good leader and to retain such an important position. I was never removed in any position I occupied in my life and I know with the support of God, his colleagues and the prayers of Nigerians, he will not be disgraced out of office,” the elder Bankole said.
The Egba traditional title holder urged Nigerians not to mistake his son’s youthfulness for weakness or soft mindedness.
He said: "My son will be 38 years of age tomorrow (today). When General Yakubu Gowon became the Head of State in Nigeria, he was 33 years and a bachelor and he had nine years of peaceful and progressive reign in this country; when Murtala Muhammad became Head of State in 1976, he was only 37 and when Olusegun Obasanjo became a military Head of State, he was 37 years. So if these former leaders did excellently well as leaders 30 years ago, and did not falter in spite of their age, then my son will perform excellently well and not falter.”
He said Dimeji would not be a stooge to anybody as he has an independent mind, "he can't be pushed around by anybody and he won't pander to the influence of powerful caucus within the ruling party."
The elder Bankole solicited for prayers from Nigerians for the lower chamber and for his son as Speaker.
On likelihood of his son’s position affecting the position of Chairman Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BOT) occupied by former President Olusegun Obasanjo from the same Ogun State, Bankole said he was not conversant with the arrangement for sharing offices in the ruling party.
"I do not know about the constitutional set up in PDP. I do not know whether the position in the party hierarchy, especially those of advisory capacities, will affect that of parliamentary or executive positions. I will not be in good position to comment on that,” he said.
But he said it would be diabolical to trade his son’s position considering his popular support from his colleagues for that of an advisory one within the party.
He said his son’s accomplishment was brought about by many factors which included devotion and belief in God, self discipline, forthrightness and sincerity of purpose, pointing out that with his educational upbringing, Dimeji would make the difference.