Trouble is brewing in the coming ninth National Assembly as law makers get set to assert their independence
The stage is set for a battle royale for the leadership of the ninth National assembly. To avoid a repeat of what happened in the eight National Assembly where independent candidates emerged as senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives, the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, have zeroed their choice to two candidates – Ahmed Lawan, currently the Senate leader, as Senate President, and Femi Gbajabiamila, now House leader, as speaker.
These two were the party’s favourites in the eight senate but they were out maneuvered by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, lawmakers and dissident APC lawmakers who elected independent candidates. Bukola Saraki emerged senate president against the wish of the party; while Yakubu Dogara emerged as speaker of the House of Representatives. Both were members of the ruling APC, who then just dislodged PDP from power at the centre. In the Senate where PDP had about 50 senators they struck a deal with the Saraki group and produced Ike Ekweremadu, PDP senator from, as deputy senate president. A similar deal failed in the House of Representatives as the Dogara group bowed to pressure from the party and allowed Gbajabiamila to become House leader as part of a reconciliation package with the party
In the Senate where Ali Ndume, Borno South, had been elected Senate leader but he was later replaced by Ahmed Lawan, Yobe North, from the same Northeast. Lawan was seen as a Senate president in the waiting but every attempt to unseat Saraki and Ekwerenadu by hook or crook failed.
Ahead of the ninth Assembly, an anxious APC has moved to select principal leaders for the National Assembly. In his characteristics abrasive style, Adams Oshomhole, national chairman of the party, appears to have endorsed Lawan and Gbajamilia. This development has created an uproar that may not augur well for the next National Assembly.
Last week, to begin the process, a meeting of the APC National Working Committee members, returning and newly-elected senators was chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa. Oshiomhole said it was “to establish a new relationship between the executive and the legislature… Happily, the Nigerian people have given us the number in the legislative arm of government. All we have agreed to today is that we will use these numbers as a functioning whole to determine the leadership of the Senate.”
At the meeting, Buhari urged the lawmakers to be patriotic: “This is my fifth and last time of standing for an election. For that reason, I’ll like to leave something behind. And what I want to leave cannot be successfully done without your support. That is why I’m seeking your support. What happened in the last Senate and so on is regrettable because I still feel it shouldn’t take seven months to pass a budget. You have a very serious job ahead of you. So, what I’m appealing for is that any major decision you are going to take, please reflect more on the country than on yourself ; what effect will it have on the country?’’
Riding on the crest of this fair tide, Lawan is vigorously campaigning for the top seat in the Red Chamber. He says he will shelve his ambition if the party decides otherwise. “I am a party man. I will respect the decision of the party.”
He is also wooing PDP senators, many of whom like him and his level headed politics. “We need the support of other groups. I always believe that if we should work well with the executive arm of government, first, we must have unity.”
The endorsement has angered some other APC senators aspiring to the Senate presidency. Ali Ndume, a ranking senator from the Northeast, Borno South, has thrown his hat in the ring. Ndume has always found himself at the wrong end of the APC stick. He won the position of Majority leader in the Eight Senate in the election that produced Saraki and Ekweremadu as president and deputy president. But he was hurled off the seat and replaced with Lawan on the insistence of the party for peace to reign.
“My ambition to be the next Senate president is still intact because I have the qualities,” he insisted Tuesday in Abuja. For you to contest for the office of the Senate president, you must have been supported by your people. The elders are in support and most of my colleagues and senators-elect are in support of my ambition.”
He feels that what the party should have done was to zone the position to the Northeast and allow all interested senators from the zone to slug it out on the floor of the Senate. He frowns at the imposition of Lawan arguing that such endorsements run contrary to the provisions of section 50(1a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which states that “there shall be a President and Deputy President of the Senate who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.’’
He frowned at APC’s coarse style: “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 Ahmed Lawan who the party endorsed for the position was not allowed to make any comment in form of an acceptance speech or soliciting for support from other interested senators.”
Oshiomhole said it was in the interest of Nigeria: “We are now talking about Nigeria first. The President requested that we all work for the betterment of Nigeria. As regards the leadership, the president requested that we work hand-in-hand to ensure that we come out as one family so that what belongs to the majority goes to the majority and what belongs to minority goes to the minority.”
He counseled the old and new lawmakers: “This time around, we must ensure that we have a leadership of the National Assembly that shares the vision of the executive. Although we will adhere to the principle of separation of powers but there is only one government and unless the various arms pursue the same agenda, it is difficult for the executive to realize its vision because legislative backing is often required for executive actions.”
On the House of Representatives, Oshiomohle waxed even more militant. He admonished the representatives to run a-winner-takes all Ninth Assembly: “We have the numbers to produce the Speaker and we will produce the Speaker who must be a member of APC. We have the numbers to produce the deputy speaker and we will use the numbers to produce the deputy speaker, who must be a member of the APC. We have the numbers and we must use the numbers to elect a House Leader who must be a member of the APC. We have the numbers and we will use the numbers to produce a chief whip and a deputy whip who must be members of the APC. I think the only position that we are not interested in is the minority leader. Let it remain minor in the hands of the minors in the opposition.”
He said all committees must be chaired by APC: “We will not share power in the House of the Representatives and the leadership must ensure that critical committees that drive government are chaired only by the APC members. If the Nigeria people wanted them to be chairmen of committees they would have voted for them. So, all the chairmen of committees, except the one that is statutorily reserved for the opposition, which is Public Accounts, they can have that. So, we would not do the kind of thing that happened the last time in which some APC members became distant spectators in the management of committees when the PDP had majority of the strategic committees in the House; that will not happen in the next Assembly.”
This position of the party is another setback for the independence the legislature has attained since 1999. Coming from his background as a state governor where the legislature is a rubber stamp of the governor, the APC Chairman appears to be gunning for a similar National Assembly. To this end, the party will decide everything and the APC law makers are just expected to concur. “We will work out a sensible zoning formula that sees to carry everybody along and give people chances to demonstrate their capacities and their capabilities. We are working on that.”
Critics are wondering, what will be left for the lawmakers to do?
Abdulaziz Yari, governor of Zamfara State, agrees with APC’s hard stance: “We took a step back to 2015 and reviewed what happened in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Now, we want to go as one APC family notwithstanding our brothers from the other party.”
Understandably, the Southeast APC lawmakers are feeling hard done shouting foul. Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State and a senator-elect has thrown his hat in the ring. He has indicated interest to run for the position of deputy Senate president. He said that Southeast must be given a sense of belonging by retaining the position, presently occupied by PDP’s Ike Ekweremadu, in the zone.
In the House of Representatives, two Southeast members have declared to contest for the position of speaker – Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, chairperson Aviation Committee, representing Isiukwuato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency of Abia State and Chike Okafor chairman, House Committee on Health Care Services, who represents Ehime Mbano/Ihitte Uboma/Obowo Federal Constituency of Imo State.
The third aspirant is Abdulrazak Namdas, chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs. He is representing Jada/Ganye/Mayo Belwa/Toungo Federal Constituency of Adamawa State. Coming from the same Northeast as Lawan, it is highly unlikely that the APC hierarchy would endorse both Senate president and Speaker coming from the same geo-political zone.
North Central is also making a case for a principal officer to come from the zone. Abdulahi Adamu’s quiet aspiration to the Senate presidency appears dead on arrival.
On Wednesday, APC tried civilizing its abrasive tone, Lanre Issa-Onilu, national publicity secretary, who had on Monday reprimanded Ndume for daring to opt into the race for Senate presidency back pedaled. “It is not the party that will determine whether there will be election or not, and that’s what I said; but by the time we announce one person standing in, with a clear majority on the floor, and anybody says that he objects to that, then that person has to come up with a candidate and back it with his number. So there will be only one person being put forward and what do you have, a consensus.”
Lawan says he is a “unifying factor for the 9th Assembly” but the manner of his imposition may yet cost him the Senate presidency again. The opposition PDP may still use their number to bargain for a fair deal from Ndume and upstage him. Ndume has his supporters too among APC lawmakers but the Presidency clearly prefers Lawan. On the other hand, the law makers do not trust Lawan to uphold the independence of the Red Chamber. But Lawan has a conciliatory mein that appeal to some PDP senators, who feel Ndume cannot be trusted.
So nothing is certain yet. APC may have its say but the lawmakers may have their way on the floors of the National Assembly.