…zones intensify battle for NASS leadership
There are fears that the All Progressives Congress might face internal divisions arising from the sharing of political offices as the geopolitical zones want the best slot. CHIKA NWABUEZE and OLUSESAN LAOYE report
Except the President-elect, Gen. MuhammaduBuhari (retd) intervenes immediately; the All Progressives Congress (APC) may be heading toward crisis as the May 29 handover date beckons. Reason: The APC has failed to agree on the zoning of political offices among the six geopolitical zones of the country.
While the race for the principal officers of the National Assembly is becoming intense, intensive lobbying and political alignment of forces is now the order of the day. In the event that the party fails to reach a consensus on the candidates and zones to produce the leadership of the National Assembly, there might be a repeat of the 2011 incident that threw up Speaker AminuTambuwal and Deputy Speaker, EmekaIhedioha against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) zoning.
The present political development in the APC ahead of the inauguration of the new government is now a source of concern to the leadership and fears are being expressed by stakeholders that the situation if not handled properly may cause internal divisions in the party and discontent in the regions affected.
Already the party’s National Executive Council, the stakeholders and leaders of the APC are now in dilemma as to how to resolve the zoning issue which is heating up the party. The most important to the party is the National Assembly leadership and despite the fact that three meetings were held to resolve the issue, the party leaders have found it difficult to reach a consensus on who gets what and where it should come from. All the meetings held so far ended in stalemate because of agitations from different zones on the need to be accorded certain positions.
Also, lobbying for top ministerial position in the new cabinet to be formed is currently ongoing with party leaders making efforts to influence the choice of candidates for ministerial jobs. Former President OlusegunObasanjo, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and AlhajiAtikuAbubakar are some of the leaders who have their candidates to be nominated as minister. The President-elect has promised that he would not waste time after inauguration to compose his cabinet. However, the South East region is trailing behind in terms of consideration and is likely to make do with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
Hallmark was reliably informed that right now three geopolitical zones of the North East, North Central and the South-South is bent on producing the Senate President which is the coveted seat in the Senate and the number three position in the order of protocol. They have advanced reasons why they are each qualified to occupy the seat.
South East also could have been in contention but for the facts that it failed to produce members in both arms of the National Assembly on the platform of APC, which forecloses the zone producing any principal officer of the NASS.
Though intensive lobbying and power play are going amongst members of the APC for the key positions in the House of Representatives, the Senate President office appears to be hotly contested among the actors and zones. Out of the three zones of North Central, North East and the South-South only the North East and the North Central are favoured by the political exigencies and calculations in the country today.
In the North Central two people, Senators OlusolaSaraki from Kwara state and George Akume from Benue State are the most favoured, while the Noth East has two contenders of Ahmed Lawan and Ali Ndume. The only person whose interest came up at the weekend is Senator Francis Alimikhenman from Edo state who is being alleged to be the candidate of Edo state governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. Alimikhenman is also being supported by the APC South-South youth forum which claimed that since the zone had lost the presidency, they should be considered for the number three citizen.
From what is on ground, there is the likelihood of the North Central being considered at the end of the day for the position of the Senate President and if this happens, then the North East and the South West would have to fight for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. However, it appears the APC leadership has decided to cede the Speakership of the Green Chambers to South West. The zone lost it to North East in 2011 following the alliance between then ACN, CPC and some PDP lawmakers who decided to vote against the PDP zoning the seat to South West.
What is giving the leadership of the APC serious concern is the argument being advanced by the North East for the Senate Presidency being that they have been the most maginalised despite their contributions to the formation and success of the APC.
With the focus strongly on the North Central for the position of the senate president, the question now being asked is who among the two, Saraki or Akume would clinch the position. It will however be pertinent to take a critical look at the two top aspirants from the North Central and their pedigree. Akume has been a formidable force in the APC. He went into the Senate with the ticket of the ACN and is currently the Minority leader. He was a two term governor of Benue state, and he is also spending his second term in the Senate. As it has been the norm in the National Assembly for ‘’a ranking officer’’ to lead, he is qualified being a two term Senator and the minority leader.
But what is strongly going against him is the fact that other members of the party believed that the person presently occupying the seat for eight years is from Benue the same state with Akume. The argument therefore is that if Akume gets the position, Benue would have served as the Senate President for 12 years.
The leader of the APC youth forum, Mohammed Aruna said that Saraki deserves the post because he would galvanise the National Assembly for the growth of the country.
What is also curious to members of the APC was the secret meeting David Mark held with Buhari. It is being speculated that it could be either for his joining the party to retain his position at the Senate, or to lobby for Akume to be his successor. But the outcome of the meeting was still not made clear from both sides.
As for the positions in the House of Representatives, it is being speculated that the South West is being considered and the person tipped is the present Minority Leader, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila. The North East group was said to have kicked against this because of the calculation that they could make do with Speaker in the event they fail to get the Senate President office.
When contacted for comments on the development, one of Saraki’s personal aides told Hallmark that they have been very busy meeting those that matter in the party, adding that Saraki has made bold his intention to lead the Senate. He said that since he was not mandated to speak, he would not want to be quoted but he was sure that everything is in favour of saraki.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed told Hallmark that the party is not in any crisis concerning the zoning arrangement. He said the wise thing that the leadership of the party did was to suspend deliberations on it to be able to make very wide consultations that would help the country, and the party to achieve the best result.
It would be recalled that the APC leadership held three meetings the latest was last Thursday but could not arrive at any conclusion on the zoning of political offices. The party leaders therefore threw the matter back to the President-elect, Buhari and the party Chairman, Chief John OdigieOyegun. Meanwhile Buhari during a recent interview said that he would not comment on the zoning arrangement and political appointments until the party has reached strong and concrete decisions on them.