•Vow to resist PDP’s interest
•Ndume writes APC, indicates interest in Senate presidency
Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Deji Elumoye, Omololu Ogunmade and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, yesterday in Abuja met with APC senators-elect to brainstorm on who becomes the next Senate president.
A major agenda of the meeting was to create a platform for a harmonious position among senators with a view to avoiding the pitfalls of 2015 when Senator Bukola Saraki emerged as the Senate president against the wish of the party and an opposition senator, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, became the deputy Senate president.
The senators-elect were hosted to a dinner in the Presidential Villa last night.
Speaking with journalists after the meeting, Oshiomhole, who vowed that with 65 senators-elect on the platform of APC and 230 members of the House of Representatives, the party was well positioned enough to produce leaders of both houses, threatening that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would not be allowed to have a share of leadership positions in both houses in this tenure.
The national chairman who tasked the lawmakers to reach a consensus on who will lead them to avoid giving any room for the opposition PDP to express interest in Senate leadership, said the essence of the meeting was to bring the senators-elect together and discuss how they would work effectively with the president.
Oshiomhole said: “We had the first meeting with the president who is also the leader of the party and also with serving senators, newly elected senators and ranking senators. The whole purpose of this is to bond the new and old members, to establish a new relationship between the executive and the legislature.
“The system talks about the separation of powers between the executive and legislature and the two must handshake for things to happen. And when you have a president that is determined to drive changes, fundamental changes that will affect our habits, our life style, review the economy, deal with the security situation, fight corruption as fiercely as he is trying to do, he will need a very supportive legislative arm of government. And happily, the Nigerian people have given us the number in the legislative arm of government.
“All we have agreed today is that we will use these numbers as a functioning whole to determine the leadership of the Senate in a way that we are not going to go to the floor of the Senate and allow the opposition dictate who becomes the Senate president. Because, we have comfortable majority to drive that, what we have to do is to manage that majority.
“We have discussed those specifics and because these are businesses that have to do with elections, as a caucus, this is more or less a meeting of the incoming caucus to discuss leadership question and to build consensus around individuals so that people don’t have to go trading, generating heat in a way that can weaken internal solidarity in the party.
“Of course, we are aware that the opposition is expecting that the APC senators are going to fight themselves, the House of Representatives members are going to fight themselves and then they will take advantage and pick who they will support.
“They will be disappointed because our senators are seasoned senators. We have a cream of ranking senators that are in their own right capable of providing leadership of the Senate. So, what we have to do is to weave all these together and arrive at a consensus of who leads and everybody follows so that we will have this time, a more cohesive National Assembly and I think it went extremely well.”
In the race for Senate presidency are Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, former governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje, and Senator Ali Ndume.
Those jostling to become deputy Senate president are: former Senate Leader, Senator Teslim Folarin, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, Senator Ajayi Borofice and Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.
Oshiomhole had earlier in the day met with newly elected members of the House of Representatives. He said the ruling party will ensure that all the leadership positions in the National Assembly, including chairmen of committees, except ones that are statutorily reserved for opposition, are occupied by APC members. Oshiomhole, who met the new members at the Musa Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja, said the APC was aware of the clandestine meetings already being held by the PDP to plot how to infiltrate APC ranks for pecuniary gains. He said the APC national leadership is determined to checkmate any such attempt by the PDP to apply the tactics it used in 2015 to pick up plume positions in the National Assembly. ”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 APC members. If the Nigeria people wanted them to be chairmen of committees they would have voted for them,” he said. Oshiomhole said that in the next edition of the National Assembly, APC will not allow disunity among its members, adding that “PDP and other minority parties can have their say but working together, APC must have its way in legislative agenda, in the leadership of the National Assembly and the leadership of the committees in the National Assembly.” He said the party’s administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari will require the full support of the legislature to ensure that it delivers on the fight against corruption, insecurity and other key promises made to Nigerians. He warned newly-elected APC members to avoid the PDP’s trap and work as a united team to ensure that all the government policies trust are given the necessary backing by the National Assembly. While responding to the chairman’s entreaties, one of the coordinators of the newly elected APC House of Representatives Forum and a member from Ondo State, Mr. Olubumi Tunde Ojo, assured the leadership of the party of the support of members. Also another member, Hon. Ugonna Ozuligbo, representing Nkwere Ideato, Isu Federal Constituency of Imo State, said he and his colleagues are going to ensure that the party remains supreme and that its decisions are upheld.
Ndume Writes APC Leadership on His Ambition
Meanwhile, a former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, yesterday formally wrote the national leadership of the APC about his intention to vie for the office of Senate president, when the 9th Senate is inaugurated in June.
Ndume in a two-page letter dated March 25 addressed to Oshiomhole, announced his intention to run for the office and sought the blessing of his party to contest for the position, saying he is throwing his hat into the ring believing that the Senate president position would be zoned to the North-east geo-political zone, where he hails from.
According to him, the decision to seek election into the exalted office was borne out of his desire to help accelerate socio-economic development of the nation.
The letter read, “Following the successful conduct of the 2019 general election and the overwhelming victory of our great party the APC at all levels, I hereby forward my letter of intent to contest for the office of the President of the Senate in the 9th National Assembly.
“I wish to emphasise that my decision to contest for the Senate Presidency is informed by my conviction to contribute my quota to nation building.”
Ndume, who was majority leader of the 8th Senate until February, 2017, assured of his capacity to deliver on party policies and programmes, saying, “My vast legislative experience and my deep desire to take Nigeria to the next level of development” are reasons for contesting.
Ndume, in the letter called on his colleagues, both within the North East and other parts of the country to encourage his aspiration.
He added, “For these reasons and more, I wish to forward myself for the blessings of the Party, my Colleagues in the Senate and fellow Nigerians for the post of the President of the Senate.”
He expressed optimism that the party leadership will see the desired wisdom in zoning the Senate Presidency to the North-East due to the sterling performance of the zone in the 2019 polls, giving the President the second highest votes cast.
Senators Oppose Consensus
Senators have, however, began to politick with some of them saying it might be very difficult to pick the leadership of the apex legislative arm through consensus as a result of the resistance of some of the senators of the ruling party, THISDAY’s investigation has revealed.
THISDAY had reported that APC said that it would ensure that the party’s decisions were respected by members in electing the principal officers, unlike what happened during its assumption of power in 2015, when the minority party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), interfered in choosing who emerged as the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Lanre Isa-Onilu, who spoke with THISDAY, had assured that the party would not allow a repeat of what led to the crisis within its caucus at the National Assembly at the onset of the out-going legislature, vowing to apply the principle of party supremacy in handling the emergence of new leadership of the incoming National Assembly.
“We will enforce party discipline. And you have seen what we have done to our very important and mighty party men. So, you could see that APC is instilling party discipline, bringing cohesion and harmony into our system and we expect everyone who now subscribe to the world view of the APC, to abide by the decision of the party’’, he stated.
But some of the senators elected under the platform of APC, who spoke with THISDAY in confidence yesterday in Abuja, said it will be very difficult for the leadership of the party to narrow down the choice of the Senate President, for example, to a particular person – as being planned.
“I am a disciplined-party man. I will abide by the zoning of the office of the Senate President by my party. But if it is zoned to my geo-political zone, I will surely contest the position. That is what democracy is about, and that is what our constitution recognises’’, a former governor and ranking APC senator told THISDAY in Abuja.
“Chapter I of our constitution says the constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And our constitution says the leadership of the Senate shall be through election and not selection.
“Our constitution does not recognise any selection or decision by any political party with respect to the election of the leaders of the National Assembly but that the leaders must be elected by the members of the National Assembly themselves. Our party, APC is a democratic party and I am sure the leadership will respect the provisions of our constitution, as they affect the election of the Senate’s leadership.’’
Also, a ranking senator, elected on the platform of the PDP, Senator Mathew Urhoghide (Edo South), told THISDAY that the office of the Senate President is not an exclusive right of the majority party, APC, adding that what the constitution recognises is competence in electing the leadership of the Senate.
He said unlike the position of APC, every elected senator will decide how the leadership of the Senate will emerge.
The APC’s spokesman had said that the national leadership of the party was expected to enforce its decisions on the zoning of offices in the National Assembly, but said, there were various options before the party, including retaining the existing zoning arrangement.
It was gathered that some stakeholders of the party are proposing that the Senate presidency goes to the North-east this time around instead of the North- central, while those with this line of thought are also pushing for the South-west to produce the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the South-east and North-central zones, being tipped for Deputy Senate president and Deputy Speaker, respectively.
There are yet other options being canvassed for the sharing of leadership positions in the incoming National Assembly.
It was also learnt that some party leaders, especially those from the South-east and South-south are lobbying that their zones be considered for the Senate presidency.
The South-east party leaders said that since the position eluded the zone in the eighth Senate because there was no senator elected on the party’s platform in 2015, it would be wise now to compensate them.
But the APC spokesman said the new leadership of the party is mindful of what is at stake and will do everything possible to thwart any move by the PDP to encroach on its interests.
Group Advocates Zoning National Assembly Offices
Also commenting on the National Assembly leadership discourse, a pressure and lobby group, Justice Advocacy Group, has advised the APC leadership to ensure the legislature’s helm reflect regional balancing. In a statement yesterday by the coordinator of the group, Mr. Akintunde Lawal, the body said Nigeria could not afford a repeat of the feud that characterized the 8th assembly where the leadership of the National Assembly and the executive could not work together in the interest of the nation. He said: “Now that APC has won the elections, the critical issues should be how the APC will deliver to the electorates the dividends of democracy. So what the party leaders need to do is to allocate key offices to respect geopolitical sensitivity and standing among geopolitical zones.”
Arguing further Lawal said: “We should guide against the crisis that characterized the 8th assembly. The incoming Nigerian legislature cannot afford any unnecessary feisty political relationship with the executive and to forestall this, the APC leadership must do what is right. “There must be justice and fairness as enshrined in the constitution of the party and Nigerian constitution. “As it is now, the North-west has the president while the South-west has the vice president and the national leader of the APC leaving four zones bare. “So it is incumbent on the party to reflect political balancing in considering the leadership of the 9th Assembly.
All the zones must be considered on the basis of equity as enshrined in the APC constitution. Doing otherwise would be courting crisis in the coming Assembly,” Lawal said. He noted that ceding the positions to the appropriate zones “would not amount to sacrificing competence but strengthening the foundation of democracy in the country. It is important that every geopolitical zone in the country has a sense of belonging,” stressing further that politics “also recognises the number of votes and therefore every zone must be recognized on the basis of their contributions to the party”.
In the just concluded presidential election the North-west APC comprising seven states produced 5,995,651 representing 72.45% of the votes cast; North-east comprising six states produced 3,238,783 votes representing 74.36%; North Central comprising six states produced 2,465,599 votes representing 54.92%; South-west comprising six states produced 2,036,450 votes representing 53.41%; South-east comprising five states produced 403,968 votes representing 19.26% and South-south comprising six states produced 1,051,396 votes representing 32.01%.
Lawal, however, warned: “If APC goes into the contest of principal officers in the National Assembly with a divided house, it will be detrimental not only to the party but the ninth Assembly.”