With the recent orientation course organised for elected members of the ninth National Assembly over, those interested in leading both chambers have intensified consultations ahead of their inauguration this June even as the race for leadership gets tougher, writes Deji Elumoye

The management of the National Assembly recently organised a two-week orientation programme for all elected members of the Ninth Assembly to acquaint the legislators-elect with the workings of the legislative arm and what is expected of them once the two chambers are inaugurated in June. The turnout of the legislators made up of 60 per cent new intakes and 40 per cent returnees, who were divided into two batches was largely impressive.

Some of the legislators-elect during the orientation programme held at the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, bared their minds on the kind of leadership they looked forward to in the Ninth Assembly.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is a ranking member, Hon Yakubu Dogara, advised the political parties against imposing any candidate on the 9th National Assembly.

Dogara, a PDP member, who is also known to be interested in being re-elected Speaker emphasised that leadership is something that emerges from people.

In his words, “It is always better for the leadership of the legislature to emerge from members but where leadership has been forced on the people, it doesn’t usually endure. If you look at the history of the National Assembly, it (imposition) has never endured.

“The leadership selection process from outside the chamber has always been causing crisis in the Assembly. Parties should ensure that whoever they are supporting has the backing of the legislators so that they can accept such candidate, because they own the process and they own the leadership”.

On her part, a female Senator-elect, Akon Ejakenyi, “If the leaders chosen to lead the National Assembly do not have what it takes, it therefore means we are going to have a chaotic sessions. We have been told that it would be by secret ballot and the exercise would be properly conducted”.

For Taofeeq Ajilesoro, a fresh House member-elect, he sought the election of presiding officers that would protect the interest of all legislators and not leaders that would be an appendage of the Executive.

“I believe the party should not determine whoever that would be chosen as our officers. This is a matter of who is going to protect our interest. National Assembly is supposed to be an independent arm of government, meant to check the executive”.

A former governor of Abia State and Senator-elect, Orji Uzor Kalu, emphasised that as a loyal party man, he would abide by the party’s zoning arrangement for the election of presiding officers of the Senate. He, however, advised the ruling APC to zone the Deputy Senate President to the South-east “so that I can contest with whoever is contesting from the South-east or our caucus from the zone will go and meet in order to produce a consensus candidate”.

On the part of the outgoing governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun, he believed the executive and the legislative arm should work together without compromising the principles of separation of powers, adding that “I am ready to work with my colleagues all over Nigeria so that we can take our country to the next level”.

Former governor of Benue State, Hon Gabriel Suswan, was of the belief that the imposition of any candidate for the Ninth Senate will boomerang.

In his words, “When subterranean moves are made from outside and produced presiding officers, there is likelihood and tendencies that some members would stoutly object to it. There might likely be surprises even within the APC, because there are lots of resistances.

“We are talking to a lot of them. They are just keeping quiet, but what would happen on the floor, will be different because it is we that are going to vote. People who are bringing up names will not vote. So, you should expect anything but that is not to say that the people whose names have been bandied are not competent”.

The gladiators however took advantage of the orientation course to subtly campaign for the support of the legislators-elect. While some went as far as sharing souvenirs to the lawmakers, others went on one-on-one consultation with their colleagues.

In the last couple of days, the candidates have stepped up their consultations. Just last week, the leadership of the APC at a dinner for APC House members-elect by President Muhammadu Buhari formally announced the adoption of House Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, as the party’s candidate for Speakership of the Ninth Assembly.

But the adoption raised some dust with some members-elect from the North Central zone, who kicked against it, saying the zone should be allowed to produce the Speaker in the spirit of fairness and equity.

For the Ninth Senate, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan and his predecessor, Senator Ali Ndume, who have publicly declared their intention to vie for the Senate Presidency, are not leaving anything to chances.

Another Senator, Danjuma Goje, who is also said to be eyeing the seat, is however yet to make public his ambition but some groups in the North East have urged him to throw his hat into the ring for the coveted position.

Lawan, the favourite of the leadership of the ruling APC, has continued to reach out to all Senators-elect across party lines. A group of APC Youths also formally endorsed him for the position recently.

The All Progressives Congress Youth Forum led by its Chairman, Mr. Ife Adebayo while declaring their support for the aspiration of the Senate Leader, said Lawan possessed all the qualities for the number three position, having served as a legislator in the two chambers of the National Assembly in the last 20 years.

The group described Lawan’ s choice as the best for the next Senate “as he is the round peg that can perfectly fit into the round hole going by his track record of performance in the Parliament within the last twenty years.

Lawan used the opportunity of the group’s endorsement of him to say his leadership of the 9th Senate would not be an appendage of the Executive.

In his words, “For those saying I will be a rubber stamp Senate President, they should know that there will be clear separation of powers and we will stick to the rules and will definitely carry out our duties including constructive engagement of the Executive but if supporting the Executive towards delivering the dividends of democracy to the citizenry is what they term as rubber stamp, so be it “.

He expressed fears about the future of APC after President Buhari leaves office in 2023, saying the party revolves around his personality.

“I’m concerned about the future of our party, because right now everything revolves around President Buhari, because of his integrity that is why some of us at the legislative level want to give the necessary back up for the party to remain relevant even after President might have retired to his home town in Daura”.

The chances of Lawan were also boosted with the recent endorsement of his ambition by the governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima.

THISDAY gathered that Shettima threw his weight behind Lawan following the intervention of the National Leader of APC, Bola Tinubu, and other party leaders, who pleaded with the Borno governor to prevail on Ndume to drop his bid for the Senate presidency.

Before Shettima declared his public support for Lawan, the Borno governor was believed to be one of the major sponsors of Ndume. A group of 13 Pro-Lawan senators-elect and serving senators had travelled to Maiduguri, Borno State capital few weeks ago to meet Shettima, who is also a senator-elect, but the governor had travelled out of the country before their arrival.

It was gathered that the senators-elect met the deputy governor, who confirmed that Shettima had travelled to Saudi Arabia. The Senators, it was learnt, had used the opportunity to attend the wedding of Lawan’s niece and to condole with the family over the death of her father.

Ndume, who is Lawan’s main rival, hails from Borno, and his camp appears unperturbed about Shettima’s stand. To Ndume’s group, Shettima is just one out of 109 Senators-elect that would vote for the presiding officers of the Ninth Senate.

Come to think of it, between Senators Ndume and Lawan, who would President Buhari first pat on the back for loyalty, except that he chose to look the other way while former Governor Bola Tinubu nominated Senator Lawan for him and APC for the 9th senate presidency?

This was a question asked by Alhaji Yakubu Umar, one of the conveners of the Concerned Borno Citizens group over Senator Lawan’s recent endorsement by Oshiomhole. The Concerned Borno Citizens had drummed up support for Ndume for the 9th senate presidency.

According to Umar, Ndume is undoubtedly the senator, who sacrificed the most in defence of his party interest and policy in the 8th senate.

“He lost his senate leadership position in the defence of President Buhari administration, just as he went on 90 legislative-day suspension in the bid to shield the presidency from ridicule. Ndume was elected to represent Chibok/Damboa/Gwoza Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives on the platform of ANPP in 2003, a position he occupied from 2003 to 2011.

“On the inauguration of the sixth (6th) Assembly in 2007, he was unanimously elected as the Minority Leader. Of course, Ndume had toiled with President Buhari under the ANPP days. He was first a Minority Leader and Majority Leader before Lawan, in other words he has more ample legislative experience than Lawan.

“In terms of productivity and efficiency, Ndume has the highest number of bills passed and also topped the chart of bills sponsorship with 64 bills barely within the 2 years he was senate leader. This was just as no bill passed by the National Assembly was denied assent by the President within the period.”

Ndume, in justifying his ambition, said he consulted widely and was given the go-ahead by party leaders to vie for the position, insisting that the Constitution provides the procedure for the election of the Senate President

For him, the best the party could have done was to zone the slot of Senate President to a geo-political zone and allow the zone to choose their candidate

“As a party that is supposed to be democratic and as a government that insists on allowing due process to prevail, this is strange. A candidate of APC normally emerges by one of three means, namely consensus, indirect elections and direct primaries.

“If you look at the history of the National Assembly, such decisions have never gone down well. In 1999, Evan Ewerem was imposed. He didn’t last. Wabara was also imposed. It didn’t last. After that, the PDP we have accused of impunity didn’t do this.

“In 2007, the PDP showed wisdom by zoning the position to North Central. That was what led to the contest between David Mark and George Akume. Because that happened, Mark served for two terms. Mark would have served for another term if PDP had won. He served his tenure peacefully”, Ndume said.

The election of the presiding and principal officers of the Ninth National Assembly is still some few weeks away. It will not be out of place if the APC leadership has a rethink about imposing candidates for the two chambers.

The Oshiomhole-led Executive could revisit the issue by calling all legislators-elect from the zones to produce the leaders to a roundtable and resolve the matter once and for all. If this is not done, the main opposition party, PDP, is waiting in the wings and may spring surprises on the inauguration in June.