As the members-elect of the National Assembly gather on Tuesday June 13 for their inauguration, high on the agenda and in the minds of Nigerians, particularly President Bola Tinubu and the leadership of the ruling APC, would be the outcome of the election for the leadership of legislative arm.
In the past two months, everything about the assembly had centred on the future leadership of the 10th assembly after the party and it’s then president-elect, Tinubu, announced a zoning formula, which brought the party into sharp divisions, and threatens to reenact the travesty of 2015, when a renegade group usurped the position of the same APC, as majority party.
The zoning arrangements of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has been a very big issue since the inception and the formation of the party and it has stayed with the party up till today, and is causing disaffection over which of the zones occupy prominent positions in the National Assembly. Worried by the growing gulf in the party, President Tinubu had summoned a meeting with the members-elect to impress on them of his preference on Thursday last week, but it appears he failed to sway the protagonists, who have stuck to their guns.
The challenge seems to have been complicated by the two issues of religion and power. The party’s reason for zoning to the Christian South south is the avoid the top positions in government – the executive, legislature and judiciary – being dominated by same faith, Islam, thus relegating Christianity to the background. This has been further complicated by the viral video of former Kaduna state governor, Nasir El Rufai’s thoughtless and insensitive comment of Islamic agenda to control Nigeria, which has sparked strong reactions.
However, there is a resolute challenge from the Northwest, which claims to have delivered the presidency to Tinubu with almost three million votes out the eight million he garnered during the last election, and deserves one of the top positions in government, which is likely to produce a Moslem, and so achieve the el Rufai postulation. With the two sides delicately poised, the outcome will be as unpredictable as a June rain.
After the primary of the party, which saw the South West emerging as the presidential candidate, the North East as the running mate, the battle for where the Senate President, Deputy, Speaker, Deputy speaker and other key officers would come from became the issue in the party and it is still not yet resolved.
The point has been made by some people who believed that the South can’t take the number one position in the country and as well the number three and four positions.
According to the constitution, the President is expected under section 64 (3) to proclaim the National Assembly into existence following which the members of both legislative chambers under section 50 (a) and (b) would go into plenary and elect officers that would be at the helms of affairs of the Assembly.
It is however a common practice in most democracies, that the ruling party with the majority, always controls the legislative chambers, and the principal officers.
With the situation in APC over the National Assembly key positions, it is being envisaged that the country and the APC may be heading towards what happened in the 8th Assembly when some members with the opposition parties stage a coup to upturn the APC’s position that produced both Senator Bukola Saraki as the Senate President and Dogara as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Although, the party having learnt it lesson from that experience, was careful in the 9th Assembly with the choice of principal officers, the era of both Senator Ahmed Lawan as Senate President and Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker House of Representatives, has been ridiculed and described as a rubber stamp and a tooth less bulldog, that made the presidency Buhari escape many actions inimical to the people, which ought to have been checked by the legislature.
As the 10th Assembly is set for inauguration, it is believed that certain issues to bring good governance and to ensure that the country runs smoothly, should be sorted out with equitable distribution of key officers in the Assembly.
What is making the contest worrisome and cumbersome is the fact that those in the South East are not at home with the choice of the party, which comes from the South South.
At the moment, the table is turned in favour of Senator Godswill Akpabio as the preferred Senate President. But the likes of Senators Orji Kalu and Osita Izunaso from the South East, are insisting that the zone must produce the Senate President and not the South South and they are not ready to step down for anyone in the contest.
Also from the North, especially the North West, both Senator Abdulaziz Yari and others have insisted too, that they have the right to contest the position slated for Akpabio with the endorsed Deputy Senate President Senator Jubrin Barau from the North west.
What is going on in the Senate is equally happening at the House of Representatives, as the endorsement of Hon. Tajudeen Abbas from Kaduna, North West is being challenged by some interested persons from the North Central, who believed that they have not been fairly treated in the zoning of positions.
As it stands now, both the presidency and the National Working Committee of the APC want Akpabio (S-S) as Senate President, Jubri Barau (NW) as his Deputy, while Tajuddeen Abbas NW is endorsed as Speaker with Benjamin Kalu from Abia, South East as his Deputy.
Although there were several reports about the meeting Tinubu held with elected members, most of the reports favours the zoning arrangements of the APC. But the argument is that, though Tinubu endorsed the arrangement, he was said to have left the contest open to all interested candidates from the zones, an indication that his meeting with them did not actually resolve the matter over who takes what, after he must have inaugurated the Assembly.
What that means according to political analysts, is that the contest is now left open for all interested members in both chambers.
Meanwhile, intensive lobbying has been going on among the candidates as no one is ready to step down for the other. Yari, Ozita and Kalu are still much in the race for the Senate presidency while Abbass and Wase are determined to slug it out for the speakership position. What may also compound the situation at the plenary on Tuesday is the gang up by the opposition parties, led by the Peoples Democratic Party PDP and the Labour party, ready to use their numbers to turn the table.
The PDP spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, who stated their positions pointed out that the party is already in a working arrangement with other opposition parties ahead of the parliamentary inauguration on Tuesday and they are ready to leverage on their numbers to determine who rules at the National Assembly.
Already APC has 59 senators with opposition having 50 while in the House of Representatives APC has 177 and the opposition put together has 182. The stand of the opposition is that they want a vibrant Assembly that will work for the people and not the one that will be controlled by anti – democratic forces.
Although, it was learnt that the Labour party has not made any categorical statement on the National Assembly issues, sources hinted that the governor of Abia State Dr. Alex Otti met with those elected under the party after his meeting with President Tinubu but what he discussed with them was not made public.
Also, Nyesom wike, James Ibori and Chief Segun Osoba all former governors have thrown their weights behind Ahmed Idris Wase, from North Central, as they all claimed that he is an experienced person, who deserve to be the Speaker.
While reacting to the issue of a preferred candidate for the position of the Senate President, Alhaji Kehinde Olaosebikan, Media consultant to Osita Izunaso said, that his principal is not stepping down for anybody. He said that at the meeting held with President Tinubu, no one was asked to step down for the other. Also the spokesman of Orji Kalu, the outgoing whip in the Senate, Emeka Nwala, said Kalu is still much in the race.
Meanwhile, the North West Zonal Chairman of the APC and member of the NWC, Salihu Moh Lukman has said he was worried with the current development in the party over the leadership in the 10th National Assembly. He advised that all members of the party going into the 10th Assembly should be for the interest of Nigeria and the people, who elected them, and should toe the party line in the election of the leadership, at the Assembly.
However, whichever way the outcome that emerges, President Tinubu may be learning the first bitter lesson of governing Nigeria, as well as national politics where most decisions are reached by compromise, unlike his position in Lagos state, where his word is law.