Will 9th N’Assembly Sidestep Pitfalls of the Past?

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On Tuesday, when plenary resumes at the National Assembly, also resuming with it is intense lobbying by members for potential leadership of the 9th Assembly, ahead of its inauguration in June, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

All is now set for the resumption of plenary on Tuesday by both the Senate and House of Representatives after an extended recess to allow Senators and House members to actively participate in the gubernatorial election held yesterday in 29 states of the federation.

In all, seven Senators and six House members contested to become governors in their respective states and the final results of the election are still being collated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which will be made public as soon as they are ready in the state capitals.

As the leadership of the National Assembly is putting everything in place towards a hitch-free resumption of plenary on Tuesday, the ambitious federal legislators, who were re-elected during the February, 23 National Assembly polls and are interested in the leadership of the 9th National Assembly have already begun to lobby their colleagues as legislative business begins.

Although the gladiators had spoken to their colleagues about their ambition on phone, they still believe in having face-to-face dialogues with them and the resumption of plenary will provide that golden opportunity.

Apart from discussing the issue as an aside during plenary, the gladiators will also meet with their colleagues in their offices as well as outside the premises of the national assembly with a view to convincing them about their desire to lead the 9th National Assembly at different levels come June.

In the Senate, with the All Progressives Congress (APC) winning 65 seats as against 41 seats by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last national assembly election, it is glaring that APC may produce the next Senate President if the party manages its success well.

Already, many ranking APC Senators are being touted as likely successor to outgoing Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and this has been sufficiently dealt with in the Cicero section of this edition on the major frontrunners for the office of the Senate President and how they all stand in the emerging equation.

For the record, however, they include Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North); former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume (Borno Central); Chairman, Senate committee on Appropriation, Danjuma Goje; former Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin (Oyo Central) who is returning to the Senate for the third time having served during the fifth and sixth Senate (2003-2011) and Chairman of the Senate committee on Agriculture, Adamu Abdullahi (Nasarawa West).

Although APC has not zoned the Senate Presidency to a particular area, there are indications that the North East may be highly favoured, which means the trio of Lawan, Ndume and Goje may be on the right track.

The APC leadership, sources said is to convene a meeting of all stakeholders including re-elected and fresh Senators on how the six presiding and principal offices of the 9th Senate, namely Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Senate Leader, Deputy Senate Leader, Senate Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip will be shared on zonal basis.

Already, the national leadership of the APC had commenced consultations with returnee and other Senators on the matter as it met last Monday night with 18 APC Senators at the Aso Drive, Abuja residence of the national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.

The meeting, which lasted till 2am on Tuesday had in attendance Senators Lawan, Ndume, Goje, Gbenga Ashafa, Sola Adeyeye, Remi Tinubu, Ajayi Boroffice, Francis Alimhekena, Ahmed Baba-Kaita and Abubakar Kyari.

Sources told THISDAY that Oshiomhole, at the meeting, stressed the need for APC Senators to be focused and not be distracted in choosing the leadership of the 9th Senate having in mind what transpired at the inauguration of the 8th Senate on June 9, 2015 that produced Bukola Saraki as Senate President.

The APC Chairman claimed that with the party having majority number of seats at the Senate it should be easy for it to have a hitch-free transition of leadership when the 9th Senate is inaugurated in June.

One major undoing of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration after coming into power in May, 2015 was its lackluster attitude to the issue of the leadership of the National Assembly. When he said in his statement of May 29, 2015 that “I belong to nobody, I am for everybody,” a lot of Nigerians were easily carried away thinking that there was a new sheriff in town.

Therefore, when he vowed to work with any leadership that emerged from the National Assembly, it was assumed that he had a magic wand with which he would handle the polity holistically. Ironically, it was extremely late by the time the National Assembly and the executive ended up as cat and mouse.

Therefore, reliable feelers within the ruling party are saying precisely that the APC has learnt from its mistakes and would not want what made it waste unnecessary time, resources and energy into legislators-Buhari tussle.

At the House of Representatives, some names are currently flying around as potential candidates for speakership and they include the incumbent Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara; the Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila; the chairman, House Committee on Agricultural Production and Services, Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno; the chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas and the chairman, Women in Parliament committee, Hon. Nkiru Onyejeosha.

For these individuals and many others, who may eventually throw their hats into the ring for the speakership race, many factors, including but not limited to zoning arrangements, positions taken by the parties, character of the candidates and the preference of the lawmakers will determine the next Speaker.

At any rate, while each of the aforementioned lawmakers has one or two factors going well for them, there are also those issues that may work against their ambitions.

Mohammed MONGUNO

Though still quiet about his ambition to become the next Speaker, Monguno representing Marte/Monguno/Nganzai federal constituency of Borno State will surely come in among top contenders for the seat, when the whistle for the race is eventually blown. Elected in 1992 into the House of Representatives, he served briefly before the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which ended their tenure abruptly. Monguno is currently a fourth term member in the present dispensation, so he is equipped with requisite knowledge and the know-how in managing the affairs of the House.

The soft-spoken lawmaker enjoys cordial relationship with his colleagues across board. He chaired several committees in the House, including Committee on Agriculture, which he headed in the seventh assembly. He is also the chairman, North-east caucus of the House.

Among what he has going for him is his unrivalled commitment to legislative duties. He recorded very high plenary attendance. Both Speaker Dogara and Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yussuf Lasun once attested to this and it earned him accolades from the duo. He is simple – not arrogant and easy to relate with.

As a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Borno State, he has a good grasp of laws and procedures. So, to his admirers, this coupled with his experience and the affinity he enjoys among his colleagues is enough reason to give him the job. He would have clinched the deputy speakership seat but he was defeated by Lasun, because Dogara, who is also from the North-east, emerged the Speaker.

Sources close to Monguno say he is prepared to go all out for the Speaker job this time around. He is also hopeful that considering the contributions of the North-east to the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari, the region could be favoured by the APC zoning arrangement.

Yakubu DOGARA

Available information has it that the incumbent Speaker Dogara is not out of the equation in the calculations for the next speakership. Though he recently dissociated himself from issues related to considerations for the leadership of the ninth assembly, close watchers are of the views that he is working behind the scene to retain the seat despite the fact that his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is coming in as minority in the next House.

Tested and trusted by his colleagues, Dogara who is serving as the 14th Speaker of the House stands a great chance but many bookmakers will not give it to him and this is not because the lawyer-turned politician, who has been representing Bogoro/Dass, Nigeria/Tafawa Balewa federal constituency of Bauchi State since 2007 is not qualified to seek re-election but because it is obvious that the powers that be will surely work against his candidacy.

There is no need asking what his sin is. Dogara, a former APC lawmaker defected to the opposition PDP and in the executive quarters, the change of alliances by the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly did not only disallow coordination between the presidency and the lawmakers, it also disrupted governance. So, they wouldn’t want a repetition of that scenario and as such they would do everything possible to prevent it.

Considering that Dogara is not an underdog, it may be foolhardy to write him off. He boasted that “nobody can retire me politically,” in the build up to the National Assembly elections and true to his words he won his re-election even when he was frontally antagonised by Governor Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar of Bauchi State and was not in the good book of the presidency. So, Dogara is equally one of those to watch out for in the speakership race.

Though some sources close to the APC leadership are hinting that the party is considering zoning the senate presidency to the North-east, but where this does not happen, the most appropriate position for the North-east region in the views of lawmakers from that zone is speakership and if peradventure it goes that way, Dogara and others from that area will easily become the biggest contenders for the post.

Femi GBAJABIAMILA

The antecedents of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila in the House are legendary. He is the lawmaker representing Surulere I federal constituency of Lagos State and he is one of the few longest serving legislators in the green chambers. He has been there since 2003. So, it will not be wrong to refer to him as a living encyclopedia of legislative rules and businesses.

As the House Leader, he has established cordial working relationship with lawmakers across party lines and he stands a good chance to emerge as the Speaker, particularly considering that he was the party’s choice back in 2015.

Already, reliable sources said the APC is moving to zone speakership to South-west, and that is a move that would better position Gbajabiamila for the top job but one major challenge he would face is the belief that he is being imposed on the House by a former Lagos State governor and one of the national leaders of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu.

No doubt, Gbajabiamila is perfectly qualified for the position but his candidacy will be confronted with intrigues that will come from PDP lawmakers. Opposition lawmakers are likely to throw their weights behind another speakership candidate in the APC as a way to remain relevant and to reduce external influence on their leader.

Nkiruka ONYEJEOCHA

Another name being touted for speakership is that of a female lawmaker, Hon. Nkiruka Onyejeocha, who represents Umunneochi/Isuikwuato federal constituency of Abia State. Experienced, Onyejeocha who is the chairman, Women in Parliament Committee, secured the mandate of the people of her constituency for a fourth term in office after she dumped the PDP and pitched tent with the APC.

An Amazon, who has shown that she has what it takes to win elections even in the midst of stiff opposition from male contenders, Onyejeocha will enjoy massive support from her colleagues in the South-south and the South-east regions.

Two things will however stand in her way. One, the South-east is not considered as a major contributor to the fortunes of the APC in the last election. Two, being a woman, she is not likely to get widespread support from her northern colleagues, who may be averse to female leadership.

Abdulrazak NAMDAS

Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas representing Jada/Ganye/Mayo Belwa/Toungo federal constituency of Adamawa State on the APC platform is also a prospective contender for speakership in the ninth assembly. Unlike others, he is not shy about making his intention public. He has told whoever cares to listen that he desires to be Speaker when the next assembly is constituted.

Elected into the House in 2015 and having served as its spokesman since then, Namdas has acquired needed experience for the job. He once said the APC has a full grip on the next speakership and that members are all willing to abide by any position taken by the party.

He said if elected, he would bring in vibrancy as well as key into the programmes of the federal government and across party lines to ensure that Nigerians feel better impacts of the legislative assembly. Though he claims to be a party man, who would work strictly in the interest of the party and overall interest of Nigerians, what may likely be an impediment to his ambition is his ranking among other contenders.

Whereas the likes of Monguno and Gbajabiamila are fifth timers, while Dogara and Onyejeocha are coming for the fourth time, he is just coming for the second term. Also, if the Senate President goes to the North-east, his ambition will not likely see the light of the day as it is impossible to zone the two seats to the same zone.

Thus, as the June 11 date for the inauguration of the ninth assembly draws near, political parties, individual lawmakers and caucuses are already calculating where the pendulum is likely to swing as regards speakership. In fact, THISDAY can reliable confirm that every zone in the country is lobbying for the speakership.

Banking on victories recorded by its members in House of Representatives and Senate elections, the ruling APC is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that it builds on its expected majority control of the National Assembly membership to ensure that the party produces consensus candidates as principal officers for both chambers.

On the other hand, opposition PDP members will be lurking around the corner to turn the table against the APC by supporting a different candidate.

The APC will do well to embrace the culture of party supremacy in the selection of the Senate President and Speaker but where the choice does not meet the yearnings and aspirations of lawmakers, the independence of the legislative arm may assume control. However, one of the most prominent lawmakers from the northern part of Nigeria, who is considered as one of the leading contenders for the post, who spoke with THISDAY strictly on the condition of anonymity sees no reason for jostling for the speakership.

He expressed optimism that the APC which would have the majority membership in the ninth assembly is expected to zone the position based on various factors, part of which should include what the zone has brought into the party.

He is also hopeful that after zoning the speakership, the party would allow lawmakers elect their preferred candidate, saying “We expect that the party will zone the speakership. We wish that the party will then allow members to vote for their preferred candidates from the zone to which it is zoned.”

Though the lawmaker’s name has come up among as a potential candidate for the speakership, he said, “Those who are elected to offices are predestined by God. So, everything is in the hand of God.”