BY CHIKA NWABUEZE and OLUSESAN LAOYE
The contest for the President of the 8th Senate is getting more intriguing as the leadership of the All Progressives Congress has again failed to arrive at a consensus candidate. Both the North Central and North East candidates want to go into the election. CHIKA NWABUEZE and OLUSESAN LAOYE reports
The crisis threatening the cohesion of the All Progressives Congress, APC, over the leadership of the National Assembly is far from being over as the party has been unable to resolve the issue of who would emerge as the new leaders of the National Assembly. When observers thought that the party was close to resolving the issue, the party sadly sank deeper into crisis following the failed attempt last weekend to adopt a consensus candidate for the Senate Presidency job.
Initially it was believed that the leadership of the Senate has been zoned to the North Central where two hot contenders emerged, while the leadership of the House of Representatives was arguably believed to have been zoned to the South West. But events which unfolded later changed the equation as more zones and contenders came up to declare their interests in the race for the Senate presidency and the speakership of the House of Representatives.
Right now the North East which in the last two weeks could boast that it has got the ticket to lead the Senate now appears to be losing out, due to what party members, political observers and people from other political parties described as the Senator Bukola Saraki’s factor which has succeeded in breaking the ranks of the leadership of the APC concerning the zoning formula which would have been adopted.
Hallmark gathered that an attempt by the leadership of the APC to elect a consensus candidate for the Senate Presidency at a retreat organised for Senators-elect in Abuja was frustrated on Saturday as two factions emerged with two candidates.
The party’s leadership had planned to conduct a shadow election for the 59 senators elected on the ticket of the party in a bid to produce a consensus candidate. But while the retreat was ongoing a group which identified itself as Senate Unity Forum, staged a walk out from the event and addressed a news conference. They said they had resolved to support the joint ticket of Senators Ahmad Lawan and George Akume for the senate leadership.
They group also distributed their resolution which was signed by Lawan (Yobe North), Akume (Benue North-West) and the group’s spokesperson, Senator Barnabas Gemade(Benue North-East).The resolution insist that the senators-elect decision was in the best interest of the party and Nigeria.
“We, the Senate Unity Forum, comprising senators-elect from various states and various zones of Nigeria, have met, held extensive discussions and resolved to support Senator Ahmad Lawan as Senate President and Senator George Akume, as the Deputy Senate President of the 8th Senate.”
However, another group later emerged to counter the Senate Unity Forum position. About 24 senators-elect, under the aegis of ‘The like minds’, surfaced from the retreat and announced that 35 members of the group had adopted Saraki (Kwara Central) as their next Senate president.
They also claimed that the 35 members of the group had signed a document, which indicated their commitment to the Saraki’s candidacy, and would present a joint letter to the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
The senators, in their resolution read by Dino Melaye (Kogi West), said, “Senators of the like minds are here today at the retreat organised by our dear party, the All Progressives Congress, which is meant to equip and empower Senators-elect of the 8th Assembly to prepare them toward the challenges ahead.
“We commend the leadership of our party for this timely and well-focused exercise. The issue of National Assembly leadership is about integrity, competence, discipline and leadership skills and not about fixing of candidates just for mere horse-trading.
“Our stand is about electing a senator, who eventually becomes the chairman of National Assembly and relates with the executive on behalf of Nigerians, fellow Senators and the National Assembly as an institution.
“Furthermore, leadership of National Assembly is about the Senator, who has the wherewithal to stabilise the legislative institution, working with the executive and judicial arm of government to be effective and perform to their optimal capacity.
“In addition, we are aware of the fact that all senators from the North-Central zone have taken a firm position that they are only interested in the office of the Senate President, which has been earlier zoned by the National Working Committee of our party to the zone.
“We are also aware that the North-Central Senators have resolved to abide by the resolution of the zone on a single candidate and anything short of this is an attempt to jeopardise the collective interest of the zone.
“Of the 59 Senators of the APC, 35 of us present here today hereby reaffirm our collective commitment and resolution to ensure the candidacy of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki as the Senate President of 8th Assembly. “We have also resolved that the office of the Deputy Senate President be zoned to the North-East.”
Hallmark reports that effectively the number of candidates aspiring for the office of senate presidency has been reduced. While Akume accepted to be Lawan’s deputy, Ali Ndume (Borno South) was among the senators that endorsed Saraki on Saturday.
With the situation of things now in the party, there were indications that the leadership may withdraw and allow the senators to sort them out over the leadership question. This decision was said to have informed the statement of the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari that he was no longer interested in the affairs of the National Assembly and the ways it would pick its leaders.
Buhari’s statement according to political observers was pregnant with meaning. It was being interpreted in some quarters that the current situation in the party which clearly shows a division may have forced him to take that position. It was also being interpreted as an indication that all is not well with the party on the issue and that in order to forestall what could lead to an early crisis in the party he had to let go and give members of the party in the coming 8th National Assembly the opportunity to choose their leadership without interference. The statement too was said to have buttressed the point that Buhari has transformed into a democrat who would not want to get involved in controversy at the beginning of his administration or seen to be favouring a particular candidate over the other.
It should be noted that Buhari might have decided to play safe in view of the fact that the various meetings called by the party to harmonise its position since its victory have been deadlocked. None of the groups or zones agreed to step down for the other.
Even the ones he was mandated to hold with zonal leaders and all contenders with the party’s Chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun failed to resolve the zonal arrangement for positions in the National Assembly. Hence Buhari was said to have mandated Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and other political leaders of the party to keep working with the elected legislators to resolve the matter, while he concentrates on other issues.
As the situation is now, it is dicey for anyone to predict who will get the position of the Senate president or the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The question now being asked is that since Buhari has thrown the whole thing about political matters to Tinubu, would he be able to handle the situation in a way that it would not cause any damage to the party. It is only Tinubu sources disclosed that could be trusted to convince the leaders from the two zone of the North East and the North Central to reach amicable settlement on where and who should be given the jobs in the two legislative chambers .
Whatever the case may be, intensive lobbying is currently going on among the contenders from the zones jostling for the National Assembly leadership. Although it was speculated that Tinubu was backing one of the aspirants from the North East, Senator Lawan, so that the South West would have the chance of clinching the speakership of the House of Representatives, the situation on ground presently has led him to retrace his steps so that it will not backfire.
Those who have also shown interest, especially in the North East which is bent on clinching the Senate presidency has increased. They are Senators Ahmed Lawan, (Yobe), who is said to be the most favoured; Ali Ndume (Borno), Dajuma Goje (Gombe), Buka Abba Ibrahim and the new Senator-elect, Hon Bunta Masi who is the Chairman of the APC in Adawawa.
Those contesting in the North Central have not change they are Senators Saraki (Kwara) and Akume (Benue). Few days back, the name of David Mark came up, but APC members have vowed that for whatever it would take, he would not be given another chance to lead the Senate.
Of all these aspirants, Saraki is believed to have gone far in his quest for the number one position in the 8th Senate. It was said that his insistent in the race was what threw spanners in the endorsement of the North East by the leadership of the party and the reason why the President-elect pulled out of any negotiation, in spite of the pressure on him to take a firm stand.
Hallmark gathered that Saraki has reached out to the outgoing governors who will be joining them in the Senate just as he is making wide consultations with the leadership of the party and all the re-elected Senators. What is making Saraki look confident was his role as the former Chairman of the Governors’ Forum in the country. It was also leant that the chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum and Senator-elect, Godswill Apabio has endorsed the candidature of Saraki as they believed that majority of them who had worked together with him as governors would be more at home with him.
Saraki it was said believes that if the governors who are joining the Senate especially from the South East and the South-South support his bid, then he is assured of victory. He is also banking on the South West because as one of the outgoing Senator said, he would be more at home with the people where he shares common route with his Yoruba line age and background. Although geographically Kwara and Kogi are regarded as part of the North, however majority of those in Kwara and many parts of Kogi especially the (Okun) has refused to see themselves as Northerners. It is this advantage that is going to strongly work in favour of Saraki.
However the North East is determined not to give up, but the crisis which they have now is how to present a common front to counter Saraki’s push. A leader of the APC in Adawawa had said that the leaders of the zone should come together to present a common candidate so that it would be easy for some of their colleagues in other parts of the North to back the zone, so that the Senate Presidency could come to them.
One of the leaders of the party in the zone and a presidential aspirant of the APC, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is bent on the zone producing the Senate President. His argument is that it was the North East of the entire zone that contested the presidential primary of the party that has not been given any slot in the coming political dispensation.
With the PDP wanting to be relevant in the coming political setup, it is banking on the South East and the South-South flanks to give APC a good challenge. The Deputy Leader of the House of Representatives, Leo Ogor said that no House rule says that only the majority party can produce the leadership of the House, adding that it is only conventional. The PDP is also saying that there is nothing special about the ranking members which some of the Senators are using as yardstick to determine who leads the NASS.