Interest Groups and the 9th N’Assembly Leadership

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It appears some nerve-racking surprises still lay-in-wait for some political actors as the jostle for the leadership of the ninth National Assembly heightens, Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo report

Ordinarily, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that produced more than two third members of the Ninth National Assembly should have no issues with the election of officers for both the Senate and House of Representatives upon inauguration in June. The reverse is however the case with various interest groups within the party now rooting for different candidates to lead the two chambers of the legislative arm of government.

No thanks to the National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole, who few weeks back, openly endorsed the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan as the next Senate President without consultation with other stakeholders especially, the Senators-elect. The said endorsement appears to be the undoing of the party now with different camps now coming up within the party and the legislators-elect over the choice of the presiding officer of the Senate.

Also, the recent vituperation of Governor Nasir El-rufai of Kaduna State, against the political influence being wielded by a former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is a pointer to things to come ahead of the election of presiding officers of the National Assembly.

Though some persons present at the May 4 event of the Bridge Club, a Pan-Nigeria association of professionals from diverse fields of endeavors, where Governor el-Rufai spoke against Tinubu’s “Godfather” status in Lagos and proffered how to defeat him, have maintained that his comments were fair, intellectual and not targeted at the Lagos politician, however, fact is that something is really wrong with the APC.

The indication is that efforts to arrive at a consensus candidate by the APC for the leadership of the Ninth Assembly are suffering a major setback. There are now Tinubu and el-Rufai factors ahead of the June inauguration of the ninth assembly.

Reliable sources told THISDAY that el-Rufai was not alone in the move to checkmate Tinubu’s influence on the next assembly. He is said to have on his side some governors and ministers. Their agenda, according to sources, is to reposition the APC ahead of 2023, particularly, ensuring that decisions are collectively reached and not imposed on the party by the duo of Tinubu and Oshiomhole.

Credible sources have hinted that anti-Tinubu/Oshiomhole forces in the APC are not leaving anything to chance in the 2023 journey, starting with the leadership of the ninth National Assembly. Not only are they working to whittle down his influence by disallowing his candidates for Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, they are equally vigorously canvassing to secure strategic positions for themselves in the coming government so as to effectively checkmate Tinubu.

Interestingly, President Muhammadu Buhari is believed not to be oblivious of the current moves by El-rufai and others. Members of the top hierarchy of the party have drawn his attention to the power game, which some consider inimical to the progress of the ruling party but that he has not said anything openly about the development.

However, the three ranking APC Senators eyeing the Ninth Senate Presidency have intensified their consultations and campaigns in the last few days.

While the duo of Senators Ahmad Lawan and Ali Ndume, last week took their campaigns to media houses in Lagos and Abuja, Senator Danjuma Goje, still remains at the background pressing necessary buttons and consulting with the high and mighty but yet to openly declare his interest.

Goje has though not made public his intention to vie for Senate Presidency, different groups and organisations have continued to clamour for his candidacy through rallies at the entrance of the National Assembly.

On his part, Ndume has reiterated his commitment towards service in the Ninth Senate adding that he was not the most qualified candidate for the Senate Presidency.

“Let me quickly add that is not to say that I think I am more qualified to be the Senate President. I am not better than them in any way. Most of them were born with silver spoons. I came from a very poor background. My father was not educated. I am the son of nobody that became somebody.

“I am a human being that has rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which I won’t compromise. Even before I threw my hat into the ring for the Senate Presidency seat, my people called on me to go for the position.”

Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, has also said he was encouraged by his colleagues to vie for the Senate President shortly after the parliamentary election in March. He stated that it was his colleagues, who approached him on the need for him to run for the coveted office based on his experience and ability to deliver.

In the House of Representatives, there are still conflicting signals from the various camps of candidates eyeing the speakership as regarding their chances. Top on the list is the Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. The Lagos lawmaker, who already has the backing of the APC leadership, is obviously unfazed by his challengers.

Even in the face of the unconfirmed news doing the rounds that a section of the APC leadership has dumped the Gbajabiamila speakership project, he and members of his camp have opted to keep sealed lips on the issue.

When asked to comment on the most recent position of the APC on the Gbajabiamila endorsement by the APC, the Director General (DG) of his campaign council, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, declined comment. He refused to comment on the possibility that the APC might be reconsidering its position on his candidate.

Though media-friendly and very outspoken, member of the House of Representatives representing Surulere/Ogo Oluwa federal constituency, Oyo state, Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi, who is another prominent South-west candidate in the race, said “I am off the media for now.” He has maintained that if the speakership was zoned to the South-west, other states in the region, including his state, should be allowed to join the race.

But Jibrin had earlier hinted on his twitter handle that Hon. Idris Wase (Plateau) is likely to emerge as the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives to Gbajabiamila.

Jibrin wrote on his twitter handle that: “Mr. Speaker and Mr. Deputy Speaker 9th Assembly. If you are an APC member and against the two, you are on collision course with the party; 2015 is not 2019 in so many ways. We are assuring our 360 colleagues, Femi and Wase will run an all-inclusive House.”

Apparently not bothered by the rumour that northern elements are considering him and Senator Ahmed Lawan as the choices of one man (Tinubu) imposed on them by the party and basically relying on the support he enjoys from the party, Gbajabiamila has continued to woo both the newly-elected and returning House members.

Gbajabiamila’s aspiration to become Speaker received a major boost recently when 178 newly-elected members openly declared support for him.

The new House members with a handful of older members, who are members of his campaign organization, converged on Abuja Thursday where they held a closed-door meeting and arrived at the decision to throw their weight behind Gbajabiamila.

The incumbent Speaker of the Akwa-Ibom State House of Assembly, Hon. Onofiuk Luke, who addressed the media after the meeting, said the incoming members, irrespective of their party affiliations, resolved to back Gbajabiamila after identifying him as the best candidate in the race.

“I am the Speaker of Akwa-Ibom State, and here with me are newly elected members of the House of Representatives, and this is a conglomeration of people of different parties. I am of the PDP. We have members of the APC here, we have members of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), we have people from Action Alliance (AA), we have people from Allied Congress Party (ACP) and we have people from African Democratic Congress (ADC). It’s a multi-party arrangement.

A prominent female APC lawmaker also eyeing the speakership, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, has however said the endorsement of Gbajabiamila could not stop her desire to lead the 9th House. She said last week that since the endorsements were not cast in iron, they posed no threat whatsoever to her ambition to succeed Hon. Yakubu Dogara.

“Endorsement or no endorsement, anybody can be endorsed, and there is still time. Change is constant. Somebody, who endorses today may change his mind tomorrow, so, I am not overwhelmed, because I am not going to be part of that, because I know that life is about change and people change their minds every time. Somebody can change his mind, even on the day of election.

Reacting to the insinuation that she was never interested in speakership but only using the ambition to negotiate for juicy position in the 9th assembly, she said: “Why would I want to bargain for something less than Speaker? Do people go to bargain with running from speakership?

“This is my first time of hearing that. If you know me very well, I am a very serious-minded person, I don’t give-in to frivolities and would I be playing anybody’s game or would I be a stooge for anybody? The answer is capital no! I am very much in the race as much as you can think of.”

Another speakership contender whose ambition is capable of upturning the game-plan of Oshiohmole is Hon. Mohammed Umaru Bago from Niger State. He is not favourably disposed to the earlier zoning arrangement that favoured the South-west and Gbajabiamila as the choice of the party for the position and as such, insisted that he would slug it out this time around to correct the “injustice” and inequality the North-central zone has continued to suffer in the country’s balance of power.

He is equally canvassing the APC leadership to adhere to the party’s constitution, saying “Imagine that it was the South-west that was short-changed. After the 1983 coup, Nigerians who were present at the Constitution amendment of 1999, made sure that the Constitution took care of agitation like this in a federal arrangement, where every part of this country is integral to the other, and that no people or section of this country should be marginalised either in the revenue allocation, political appointment, space or liberty. So, every Nigerian is at liberty to live anywhere they want to live and stay there without any form of intimidation.

“Every part of Nigeria must be seen in every office in Nigeria in manner that reflects federal character. It is a constitutional provision. And APC; even the drafters of the party’s constitution made it very clear that the constitutional provision of fair-hearing, justice, equity and federal character will be upheld.”

The inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly is about a month away and all interest groups both within the ruling APC and opposition PDP are hell bent on determining those to lead the legislative arm from June.

One thing is certain though. On the day of inauguration, only the 479 members of both the Senate and House of Representatives will be in the Chambers to elect the presiding and principal officers of their choice.