9th National Assembly: A Fluid, Difficult Leadership Battle

0

President Muhammadu Buhari, last Wednesday, returned to office after a low-key swearing-in ceremony held at the Eagle Square, Abuja, the nation’s capital. The battle has now shifted to the inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly, which comes up later this week. Thus, from yet a different angle, Chuks Okocha examines some the intrigues and high-wire politics that could shape the battle for the leadership of the new parliament and the emergence of the eventual winners

The stage is set for the emergence of the leadership of the 9th National Assembly. The 8th Assembly under the chairmanship of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki officially comes to an end this week, when it would conclude the parliamentary business of the day. However, the emergence of the leadership of the next assembly is not without the usual intrigues, maneuvering and backstabbing. 

The main character personas in both chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives are Senator Ahmed Lawan from Yobe, Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe) and Senator Ali Ndume (Borno) for the office of the Senate Presidency.  For the office of the Deputy Senate, the gladiators are Senator Francis Alimekana (Edo), Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos), Senator Omo Agege (Delta) and former governor Orji Kalu of Abia State. 

In the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba (Imo), Idris   Wase (Plateau), Umar Bago (Niger) and Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos) are the front runners for the speakership.  Though many believe that the outgoing Speaker, Yakubu Dogara is in the race, he is yet to make his aspiration known. That of course explains why he is yet to openly support any of the aspirants.  He is keeping his plans to his chest. 

Of all the aspirants in the jostle for the office of the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan stands out for many reasons. Lawan is by far the oldest parliamentarian, having been elected since 1999. He is from Yobe State. He was first elected into the House of Representatives on the platform of the All Peoples Party. Though the party has undergone several transformations, he has remained with the party through thick and thin.

Next in line is Senator Danjuma Goje from Gombe State.  He is a former governor of the state for eight years and also a former Minister of state under former President Olusegen Obasanjo. He is a former member of PDP before he defected to APC.  

The next aspirant is Senator Ali Ndume.  A former teacher in Ramat Polytechnic in Maidugiri, he was removed as senate leader and replaced by Lawan.

The national leadership of the APC is solidly behind Lawan’s aspiration. In fact, he is the adopted candidate of his party. The President, Mohammadu Buhari is yet to publicly adopt him even though presidency sources claimed President Buhari was willing to work with any person so elected as the number three citizen and chairman of the National Assembly. 

Now, the intrigues… 

As it is today, many of the returning senators and Senators-elect are pushing for the adoption of Standing Rules 2011 for the election of new principal officers. The 2011 senate rules prescribes an open balloting  to be used in the election of senate leadership, while other senators are championing for the secret ballots system contained in the 2015 senate rules. 

Those opposed to the 2015 Senate Standing rules claimed it was allegedly forged. But one intriguing problem is that nothing was done by the 8th senate to amend or re-adopt this aspect of the controversial senate rules. Even at this moment, the police report in the controversy is still hanging in balance after the suit challenging it was struck out by a Federal High Court, Abuja.

To compound issues, the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mallam Mohammed Sani-Omolori, during the recently concluded retreats for the incoming National Assembly distributed the 2015 Senate rules.

But some of the senators-elect had written to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation for legal advice on which of the Senate rules to be used for their inauguration in view of the controversy around the 2015 senate rules. The office of the Attorney General of the Federation is yet to reply their letter. 

In the letter, the senators said, “The Standing Rules 2015 was an illegal document, because all the procedures for amending the 2011 rules were not followed. The document was foisted on senators. There was nowhere that we sat to alter the Senate rules book.”

Accordingly, they claimed, “The Standing Rules was forged to pave the way for the election of principal officers by secret ballot. You will recall that the forgery of the 2015 rules is still the subject of an investigation by the police. The report of AIG Ali Amodu’s Investigative Committee is yet to be considered by the government, because some public officers were indicted.

“When the senators-elect met, we decided that the best option for the Ninth Senate is to adopt the 2011 Standing Rules to elect our new principal officers. The 2011 Standing Rules Policy allows open ballot system for the election of new officers.”

The report cited by THISDAY said, “Although the Clerk to the National Assembly, Omolori, has distributed the 2015 Standing Rules to senators-elect, we are not bound by it, because it is an illegal document”.

One of the contending senators told THISDAY that “If you look at the antecedents of 2015 Rules, it will create more division for the Ninth Senate. We do not want to start on a controversial note. As at press time, it was learnt that the report of the Police investigation into the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Rules 2015 was still pending.

The probe was carried out by a Special Investigation Panel (SIP), which was headed by AIG Ali Amodu (Rtd).

The panel was mandated to find out the following:

Whether or not, the 7th Senate at any time amended the Senate Standing Orders 2011.

If yes, what is the extent of amendment?

The name of the officer that authorised the amendment of the Senate Standing Orders 2015.

The name of the officer who ordered the printing of the Senate Standing Orders 2015.

The officer who distributed the printed copies of the Senate Standing Orders 2015 to senators-elect.

What did they do with the Senate Standing Order of 2011 at the induction”

Who conducted the induction?

“Obtain the complete Hansard of the 9th and 24th June, 2015 to see what transpired on the floor of the Senate.”

A police source said: “The SIP has submitted a comprehensive report in the last three and a half years but the government is yet to act on it.

“Definitely, a forgery was established. Also, some members of the National Assembly and top bureaucrats were indicted but action was suspended, because of alleged ‘political solution’ to the aftereffects of the investigation. If we are invited at any time, we will make the SIP report available.”

Powers of the Clerk

The big challenge now is which of the Senate rules would be used on the day of inauguration bearing in mind that the senators have no voice until inauguration. They remain senators-elect until the newly elected senate president swears them in.

As far as the 9th Senate is concerned, the most important person on the day of inauguration is the clerk. That explains his ordeals in the hands of the EFCC. 

Apart from the palpable challenges on the mode of election, sources said that there are elements of intimidations in the entire processes. For instance, Goje is yet to officially declare his aspiration for the office of the Senate presidency, because of a possible backstabbing from pending corruption charges against him by the EFCC. It was further gathered that despite the striking out of the corruption charges against him, the EFCC has appealed the order of the court, all in the bid to intimidate him and force him out of the race. 

The truth remains that many senators especially, the former governors that are over 15 in the Senate are championing his aspiration. But as at press time he is yet to speak out.  All about his aspiration is grapevine talks. Some of his aides claimed recently that in view of recent developments that the senator is comfortable retaining his position as the chairman of senate committee on appropriation, while others claim that he was still in the race. His very close aides claimed that his campaign would be reinvigorated once he is back from the lesser hajj, saying he would use the lesser hajj to sample opinions on his Aspiration. 

PDP’s Insidious Plot

In the incoming senate, the APC constitutes the majority with 61 senators, while the PDP now has 48. No thanks to the Supreme Court judgment on the Zamfara State election, where the PDP gained big.  Most PDP senators reliably inform both campaigners for Ndume and Goje to give them 15 APC senators that would dare the odds to openly support their aspirations. 

But up till this moment, none of the APC senators had gotten the balls to go against the adopted party position. This explains why some APC senators are clandestinely championing the use of the 2015 senate rules for their inauguration. 

The PDP plot is that they will vote en mass against any candidate perceived as an imposition.  But as things are,  none of the APC senators are  seen as willing to dare the party position, unless the 2015 senate rules is adopted. 

Why Goje is Still Silent

Though Goje is still non-committal, his aides say he want to hear directly from the President as a deal was struck between him and President Buhari, when the President visited him during the gale  of defections, urging him not to defect.

Inside sources said Goje, who has been nursing ambition of becoming the Senate President reached an understanding that Buhari would support him, when the occasion arise.  Within that period, Buhari personally visited Goje in his Asokoro residence to solicit for his support and urging him not to defect with Saraki to the PDP 

“Oga wants to hear from the President that Lawan is the preferred choice.  That’s all”, one of Goje’s aide said. 

From the Green Chamber

Almost at a time when Nigerians had concluded that the next Speaker of the House of Representatives would be Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos State, some northern cabals are bent on stopping the growing influence of the National leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, believed to be behind Gbajabiamila’s ambition. As a result, they have floated the candidacy of a member of the House from Ehime/Mbano Federal Constituency, Emeka Nwajiuba to contest against Gbajibiamila. 

Emeka Nwajiuba, who won defeated Hon. Chika in the pre-election matters, recently upstaged Chika, who was a front contestant in the race for the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. 

The El-Rufai Connection

The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, who was recently involved in a controversy on how to stop godfatherism in Lagos State politics was allegedly recruited to field Emeka Nwajiuba as the next Speaker.  

Nwajiuba’s relationship with President Buhari is said to date back to the Congress of Progressives Change (CPC) days, when he took Buhari as the then CPC presidential standard bearer round the South-east states. 

Though he later defected to Accord Party when through the influence of Rochas Okorocha, he was denied the House ticket. Nonetheless, he still instituted a pre-election suit against Hon. Chika and eventually won the election. But the court later resolved the suit in favour of Nwajiuba. It was reliably gathered that some APC chieftains, who were uncomfortable with the Tinubu camp producing the Senate President and the Speaker, connived to float the aspiration of Nwajiuba, who was a member of the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003 

Inside sources also claimed some northern elites were uncomfortable with one man producing the vice president, Prof Yemi Oshinbajo, the likelihood of producing Ahmed Lawan as the next senate president as well as the speaker of the House of Representatives.  The campaigns and funding of Nwajiuba’s electioneering is said to being headed by El-Rufai.  The problem is that both Osinbajo and Gbajabiamila are from Lagos State.

Although Osinbajo I quick to claim Ogun, he however does not have a vote in the gateway state as he has never voted there but Lagos. Even when he had transferred his voting unit to the state ahead of the last election, he later moved it back for personal reasons and voted in Lagos.   

Identifying the Tambuwal Factor

However, the northern cabals were said to be unhappy that a former Speaker and Sokoto State Governor, Hon. Aminu Tambawaal is the arrow head championing the election of the Niger State lawmaker, Umar Bago. Hitherto, Bago’s speakership aspiration was floated and funded by the Niger State Governor, Alhaji Sani Bello, but when pressure was mounted on the governor’s father, he convinced his son to stop supporting Bago for Speakership. 

It was at this stage that Tambuwal allegedly stepped in.  The governor, it was gathered, is using his contacts in the House to mobilise support for Bago and gradually, the support base of Gbajabiamila is believed to be waning  

With the balkanisation of the APC into three camps in the race for Speaker of the House of Representatives, there is growing concern that the speaker of the 8th House, Dogara may spring a surprise.  

This is because it is a settle matter that in line with the House rules, the race is going to be a secret ballot and the winner to emerge with a simple majority  

So far, Dogara has refused to endorse any of the speakership aspirants, in the thinking that he might contest. And with the division within the APC, he could stand a chance.

Another issue that may count against Gbajabiamila is religion.  He is a Muslim from Lagos State, while Hon.  Wase from Plateau State is also a Muslim. This, members-elect, who are Christians are not comfortable with, querying why would the Green chamber should be occupied by Muslim leaders with no regards to the other faith.

The outgoing speaker, Dogara is a Christian from Bauchi State, while his deputy, Lasun from Osun State is a Muslim.  

How the Rules Apply

The Senate rules or otherwise the standing order states clearly how the election of the Principal Officers of the National Assembly should be conducted, starting with the election of the President of the Senate, which shall be conducted in the following order: (a) “A Senator-elect, addressing the Clerk, shall propose another Senator-elect to the Senate to be President of the Senate and shall move that such Senator-elect ‘Do take the Chair of the Senate as President of the Senate.”

Order 3 (b) provides that “A senator-elect, when nominated and seconded shall inform the Senate whether he or she accepts the nomination. He may then proceed to address the Senate.” 

According to Order 3(c): “The Clerk shall then ask ‘Are there any further nominations?’ and if there are no further  nominations, the Clerk shall say ‘I declare the nominations closed’. The Clerk shall then declare the Senator-elect so proposed and seconded elected as President of the Senate. Such Senator-elect shall be conducted to the Chair by the proposer and seconder of the motion, and shall take the chair of the President of the Senate.”

Order 3(d) said, “If more than one Senator-elect is proposed as President of the Senate, the Clerk shall after the second nomination ask: ‘Are there any further nominations?’ and if there are no further nominations, the Clerk shall say, ‘I declare the nominations closed.”

In the same manner,  Order 3(3)(e) says, “When two or more Senators-elect are nominated and seconded as Senate President, the election shall be conducted as follows: (i) by electronic voting: or, (ii) voting by secret ballot, which shall be conducted by the Clerks-at-Table using the list of the Senators-elect of the Senate, who shall each be given a ballot paper to cast his vote, with the proposers and seconder as Teller.

According to the third step in (iii), “The Clerk of the Senate shall submit the result of the voting to the CAN, who shall then declare the Senator-elect who has received the highest number of votes as Senate President-elect. But Order 3(3)(f) provides that: “When more than two Senators-elect are nominated  and seconded to be Senate President, the division shall be conducted  in the manner prescribed  in Order 3(3)(e)(ii) herein and the  Senator-elect, who  received the highest number of votes  shall be declared the Senate President-elect.

“In the event of two or more Senators-elect receiving highest but equal number of votes, the name of the candidate having the smallest number of votes shall be excluded from subsequent divisions; a further division shall take place. 

This voting shall continue until one candidate receives a simple majority of votes of the Senators-elect. Such person will then be declared Senate President-elect.”

Interestingly, however, while the election of the Senate President or any other principal officer in the Senate is by simple majority, it is not the case in the House of Representatives, as it is much more complicated.  The House election procedure states that for any principal officer to be so elected, the officer must score 180 plus one votes out of the 360 members. 

And where the election did not produce an outright winner in the first ballot, there could be a second ballot between the first and second runner-up to produce the mandatory score of 180 plus one votes. 

So far, the difference between the ruling party, APC and the main opposition party, PDP has been reduced marginally from 220 members to 213, while the PDP has increased by seven to 127, courtesy the Zamfara judgment. 

If the APC members in the House stick to the party’s directive to vote Gbajabiamila, it would be a straight win for the Lagos State member. But, where there is an alliance between Hon. Nwajiuba from Imo and Hon. Bago from Niger, who reportedly said he would drop his Speakership ambition, if the office of the speaker is zoned to the South-east, then Nwajiuba may be coasting home to victory. 

Therefore, what is obtainable in the Senate is not quite different from the rules in the House of Representatives, except in a few areas. But the same powers of the Clerk of the National Assembly enunciated in the Senate standing rules are equally found in the Standing rules of the Green chambers. So, the Clerk of the National Assembly is the main character in the elections of the principal officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly. The buck stops at his table but he cannot afford to short-change or circumvent the rules. Here lies his dilemma.