9th NASS: Senate Presidency, House Speakership take centre-stage of intense politicking
Haunted by its 2015 experience when its anointed candidates for certain principal positions of the Eighth Assembly lost out, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is going into Tuesday inauguration of the Ninth Assembly in an unnerving mood. Who wins the race for the office of Senate President between President Muhammadu Buhari’s anointed, Senator Ahmed Lawan; and his main rival, Ali Ndume? Will the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) give block votes? Senator Kabiru Gaya has threatened to create an upset in the race for Deputy Senate President. Will the party allow him to walk his talk? These are some of the issues Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, examines in this analysis.
In the Red Chamber, what is supposed to be a three-horse race for the Senate Presidency between three All Progressives Congress (APC) senators was, last Thursday, reduced to a straight fight between former Senate Majority Leader, Ali Ndume, and the choice of President Muhammadu Buhari, Senator Ahmed Lawan.
After a close-door meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, former Gombe State governor and immediate-past Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, announced his decision to withdraw from the contest and back the aspiration of the immediate-past Senate Majority Leader, Lawan.
The senator representing Gombe Central senatorial district said his decision was in deference to President Buhari and the APC stakeholders’ March endorsement of senator representing Yobe North.
He said: “I want to thank my supporters and associates across the country who have been calling me to declare for the Senate Presidency. I have listened to them and I thank them very well.
“I want to say that as an elder statesman in the Senate for a long time, at my age, I should be able to appreciate leadership coming from our elders. So, in spite of all these calls, in spite of all the supports I have among my colleagues in the Senate, I have decided, in deference to the loyalty I have for President Muhammadu Buhari, and in deference to the loyalty I have for my party, the APC, in the interest of our party and the development of this country, in other to assist Mr President to deliver on his promises, I have decided to respect his wish by not declaring to contest this Senate Presidency.
“Instead, I am supporting the party’s position, thereby endorsing the candidature of Senator Ahmed Lawan.”
He further dismissed the claim that his new stance was a recant of his earlier vow to reject imposition of leadership on the National Assembly from any quarter.
“I don’t think it is an imposition. I was not compelled to step down. I have the capacity to think well and respect my elders and respect my party. I am independent. I have been winning my elections from local government to House of Assembly, to National Assembly to governorship and I was also a minister.”
The EFCC angle
A party chieftain who was privy to the ongoing power game, however, told Sunday Tribune that the former Gombe State governor, in spite of his grandstanding to contest his election, was bullied to step down.
“The President has told his inner cabinet and some governors that he wasn’t going to work with anyone with tainted record or stewardship or any relationship with Senator Bukola Saraki.
“If you recall, Senator Goje has a pending case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged misappropriation during his administration as Gombe State governor. He served in the Eighth Senate as Chairman, Committee on Appropriation. So, he didn’t fit into Buhari’s choice,” he said.
Checks revealed that the party, at a dinner held at the Presidential Villa, unveiled its decision to zone the exalted office of Senate President to the North-East geopolitical zone and went further to zone it to its anointed, Lawan, from Yobe state. His main contender, Ndume, is equally from the North-East; he represents Borno South senatorial district at the upper legislative chamber.
Senator Ndume, in his reaction, less than 24 hours after Goje’s endorsement, kicked, as he noted that senators-elect were never consulted before the party’s national chairman made a formal pronouncement on it.
“What took place at the presidential dinner in Aso Rock on Monday night, where (Adams) Oshiomhole, as party chairman, announced Senator Ahmed Lawan and Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila as president of the Ninth Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, was very shocking to me and many of my colleagues.
“Oshiomhole, in making the announcement or endorsement, did not even allow myself or senators Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central) and Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West), widely known to be in the race for the position, to say anything.
“More disturbing was the fact that even Senator Lawan that was endorsed for the position, was not allowed to make any comment in form of acceptance speech or soliciting for support from other interested senators.”
He further submitted that the endorsement was at variance with the provisions of Section 50 (1a) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The provision of the constitution states: “There shall be a President and Deputy President of the Senate who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.”
Ndume adamant, trudges on
The senator representing Borno South appears not miffed by Senator Goje’s endorsement of Senator Lawan, as he has vowed to continue to seek for the electoral endorsement of his colleagues till Tuesday.
He told journalists that Goje’s withdrawal had presented “senators-elect with a choice between one that would serve the nation’s best interest and another.
“Let me assure you that I remain in the race and I am very optimistic. I have said my prayers. I have implicit faith in God. He is the giver of power. So, there is no cause for alarm.
“A school anthem says, once to every man and nation, comes a moment to decide. On Tuesday, my colleagues will decide. And we believe Allah is on our side.”
What are Ndume, Lawan’s chances?
Who emerges between Senators Ndume and Lawan? Investigation revealed that despite his claim of having the support of a sizeable number of his colleagues in the ruling party and the endorsement of senators from the main opposition party, the PDP, Senator Ndume is standing on feet of clay.
President Buhari’s inner cabinet and foot soldiers in the National Assembly may have succeeded in pulling the rug off his feet right from his Borno State home base.
Immediate-past Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, who has since won election to represent Borno Central in the Senate, had, two months ago, issued a disclaimer on Senator Ndume, as he declared that the latter’s aspirations did not enjoy the blessing of stakeholders in the state.
Shettima noted that it would amount to insubordination for him to endorse a candidate other than the president’s choice.
“Ndume said his people asked him to contest. But I am the number one citizen of the state. I am not one of the people that asked him to contest. All our governors, including those coming to the Senate, are 100 per cent in support of our party’s stance, as far as election of new leadership for the National Assembly is concerned.
“As far as Borno State is concerned, we are in alignment with the aspirations of Mr President and that of our party. Whoever the party endorses for any position, we will solidly stand behind such a person, because party discipline is absolutely essential for the sustainability of our democratic experiment.
“If everyone is to vote according to his own free will, surely that would be a recipe for disaster or confusion,” Shettima said.
Who gets PDP votes?
One hundred and seven senators will be voting to elect principal officers of the Ninth Senate. Sunday Tribune checks revealed that the ruling APC has 62 senators to the PDP’s 44, while oil magnate, Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, from Anambra State, is the lone voice from the Young Peoples Party (YPP). Two seats for Imo State are outstanding.
The PDP caucus in the National Assembly had rejected the endorsement of Senator Lawan for the office, citing provisions of the constitution which empower lawmakers to voluntarily elect their leaders. The PDP National Working Committee (NWC) had equally derided the national chairman of the APC, Comrade Oshiomhole, over his remarks that the ruling party would not need the votes of the lawmakers in the opposition party to secure principal positions in both chambers of the National Assembly, as he claimed that his party had comfortable majority in both chambers.
In his characteristic grandstanding, Comrade Oshiomhole also declared that the APC was not willing to engage in any trade off by conceding juicy committees to opposition lawmakers in order to secure their votes.
And the real politicking comes in…
Sunday Tribune findings revealed that conscious of the enormous damage that Comrade Oshiomhole’s vile contempt for the main opposition party could cause for his aspiration, Senator Lawan has since met with his colleagues in the main opposition party, secretly denouncing the claim of his party’s national chairman, while assuring them of his determination to run an administration that would inspire team spirit and be blind to party affiliations.
A party source told Sunday Tribune that “juicy committee positions are part of the bargain in our lobby to secure the positions that our chairman has claimed statutorily belongs to us.”
The party source further argued that Senator Lawan’s mobilisation appears to be yielding positive results, as some of the PDP governors in the South-South and South-East states are already talking their lawmakers into the deal to back Senator Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila for Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives, respectively.
He further recalled that Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, had expressed open endorsement of Gbajabiamila for the position of Speaker, House of Representatives, and that this was instructive, as it offered an illumination into what to expect on Tuesday.
Likely upset for Deputy Senate President?
In the race for the position of deputy Senate president are former Abia State governor, Orji Kalu; his colleagues from the South-South, Senators Ovie Omo-Agege and Francis Alimikhena, representing Delta Central and Edo North, respectively.
However, Senator Kabiru Gaya, representing Kano South Senatorial district, appears set to create an upset as, he declared interest in the position of deputy Senate president during the week.
Gaya told journalists that giving the position to the South would be an affront on the North-West which he noted gave the highest number of votes to the APC presidential candidate in the last general election, President Buhari.
Incidentally, President Buhari is from Katsina State, in the North-West geopolitical zone, just as Gaya.
The former Kano State governor told journalists that the North-West gave six million votes to the APC and should automatically be given the position of deputy Senate president, beating his chest that he was sure of emerging the deputy Senate president on Tuesday.
“My chances are very high. I am sure. I am not bragging, but definitely it is over 70 to 80 per cent,” he said.
Except the party’s leadership intercedes and prevails on him to withdraw from the race, his colleagues from the North, across party divides, may vote for him and ultimately alter the APC zoning arrangement.
House test for Gbajabiamila, Tinubu machinery
In the House of Representatives, the ruling APC and main opposition are engaging in hide and seek. Though Honourable Gbajabiamila remains a frontrunner, other contenders are promising a good fight. They are relying on support across board to create a major upset.
There are speculations that the PDP members-elect could spring a surprise because of the close-knit relationship which the national leadership of the party has encouraged after the elections. Besides, some stalwarts of the party have said nobody should rule out the possibility of the party giving a last-minute directive on where the members-elect on its ticket should tilt.
The PDP had moved back and forth over whether or not to field candidates for the office of the speaker. At one time, it said its members were eligible because it was an open contest regardless of political affiliation.
Other contestants for the position of speaker are Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (Abia), John Dyegh (Benue) Mohammed Bago (Niger), Olatunbosun Olajide (Oyo) and Segun Odebunmi (Oyo).
Odebunmi: mandate of a ranking member
He is a third timer representing Surulere/Ogoluwa Federal Constituency of Oyo State.
He recently spoke about his ambition, declaring that: “No matter the agenda you can be thinking of, your agenda as a legislator must be based on conformity with the law. What are the major functions or duties of the legislature? Good representation and we are here to represent our people and I will make sure that representation is elaborate so that Nigerians will know also that they have a representative representing them somewhere and there will be a periodic report on our proceedings.
“I want to base my agenda basically on oversight functions; we are making laws for the people and I want people also to be part of the process.”
Namdas without godfather
He is an APC member-elect who represents Jada/Ganye/Mayo Belwa/Toungo federal constituency of Adamawa State. He said his ambition was not tied to the apron string of any political godfather.
“I am the speaker of the people and I have decided to come out on my own to tell my colleagues that if they want to have the independence of the legislature, the person that will emerge at the end of the day to be speaker is going to be among us and you have to concentrate this discussion on the people you are going to lead. Of course, you will also speak with your party, but the thing is that once you emerge as speaker, everybody will leave you; it is how you are able to manage your colleagues and multi-task that will see you through.
“Whatever we want to do, the constitution guarantees the legislature to have its own rules and since there are rules guiding our activities, you can only work within the rules,” he said.
Bago’s executive/legislature rapport
He is also a third timer representing Chachanga Federal Constituency of Niger State. He has promised a robust relation between the executive and legislative arms of government.
“I have what I code-named the Bago plan, which covers virtually all the segments of government. My first strategy is to promote and deepen a robust relationship with all arms of government and stake holders.
“Secondly, there is going to be concerted effort to tangibly impact our constituents and constituencies. I will equally work towards an independent legislature free from rancour. I will promote an open and transparent legislature with legislative support for the fight against corruption, insecurity and revamping of economy,” he said.
Onyejeocha, a ranking female rep
Onyejeocha is a fourth timer from Isuikwuato/ Umunneochi Federal Constituency of Abia State. Part of her promises is to operate an inclusive, responsive and transparent leadership to foster harmony in the House.
She said of her plan to lead the House: “I will adopt a legislative agenda with clear framework for compliance and monitoring. Since the Seventh Assembly, we have adopted a legislative agenda to guide our work. I must say this has been a good initiative by the House and I hope to continue and improve on it.
Gbajabiamila and wealth of experience
He is from Lagos and got re-elected for the fifth time at the last election. He plans to bring tendencies together and unite the country.
He adds: “I seek the office of the speaker to bring governance even closer to the people. I seek the office of the speaker to mentor the next generation. I seek the office of the speaker so I can use the bully pulpit to galvanise honourable members to make life more abundant for every Nigerian irrespective of tribe, religious background or political persuasion.
“There is much work to be done by way of legislation in many areas of our life, including by not limited to education, health, power, infrastructure and alleviation of poverty.”