- Again, Lawan meets with PDP senators-elect
- North-west moves to take deputy Senate president, Gaya, Aliero join race
- Kukah cautions against imbalance in N’Assembly leadership
Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Sumaina Kassim in Abuja
Determined to present a united front in the race for the Senate presidency of the Ninth National Assembly, one of the main contenders, Senator Ali Ndume, has come under intense pressure from the Presidency and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to drop out of the contest.
Ndume is the main challenger to APC’s choice for the post, Senator Ahmad Lawan, after another aspirant, Senator Danjuma Goje, pulled out of the race last week following a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.
The National Assembly will be inaugurated tomorrow and the election of the Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives will kick-start the ceremonies.
THISDAY checks revealed at the weekend that party leaders and top presidency officials intensified pressure on Ndume for him to defer to APC and Buhari by backing Lawan.
On his part, Lawan stepped up his lobbying of senators elected on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to lock in their votes.
Also, APC favourite for the speakership, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, also intensified moves at the weekend to secure his position.
His chances and those of Lawan got boosted at the weekend as a national leader of the ruling party, Senator Bola Tinubu, mobilised support for the duo.
However, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Hassan Kukah, at the weekend, warned against a situation in the National Assembly where the leadership of the legislature could be skewed against one religion.
Last week, such similar pressure being piled on Ndume paid off as Goje, a former Gombe State governor and Chairman, Committee on Appropriation in the last Senate, withdrew from the race and immediately declared support for Lawan.
But Ndume had rebuffed pleas then that he should emulate Goje, saying he was in the race to win.
Sources, who gave THISDAY updates on the manoeuvrings to ensure that APC is not made to lose face as it did four years ago when Senator Bukola Saraki defeated Lawan, who was the APC candidate for the Senate presidency then, said the party and some top presidency officials sent different emissaries to Ndume to forgo his ambition.
It was learnt that three meetings were held from Friday to yesterday between elders of the APC and Ndume.
Another set of meetings also took place at the Maitama, Abuja residence of a Northern traditional ruler where Ndume was also prevailed upon to step down for Lawan.
In addition, several calls were reportedly made by top presidency officials at the weekend to Ndume; all in a bid to get him not to run tomorrow.
Sources also said that at every of these meetings, Ndume never budged but rather remained resolute to pursue his ambition to the end.
He was said to have told those at the meetings that he has the votes of both returning and fresh senators and was just waiting till tomorrow for his ambition to come to reality.
Lawan, on his part, intensified his lobbying of PDP senators-elect to get them to vote for him tomorrow.
The erstwhile Senate leader, who had earlier claimed 38 out of the 44 PDP senators-elect had endorsed him, met on Saturday evening with some 20 PDP lawmakers at the Apo, Abuja residence of former deputy Senate president, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
The consultative meeting was said to have been attended by ranking Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe and Dino Melaye as well as the only Young Peoples Party (YPP) senator-elect, Chief Ifeanyi Uba and senator-elect Abba Moro.
The meeting was said to have lasted for about two hours with Lawan and the PDP senators agreeing to continue discussion on how to make the ninth Senate vibrant and responsive to Nigeria’s needs.
Sources said Lawan would today meet with different zonal caucuses of the ninth Senate ahead of tomorrow’s inauguration.
THISDAY also learnt that Tinubu arrived Abuja yesterday to mobilise support for both Lawan and Gbajabiamila.
Tinubu was said to have held private meetings at his Abuja residence with both returning and fresh APC federal legislators on the need for them to support the duo.
Meanwhile, former Senate deputy chief whip, Senator Francis Alimikhena, yesterday said he was still in the race for the position of the deputy Senate president.
He told newsmen in Abuja that he had not withdrawn from the race and that his decision to contest was backed by his constituency.
He expressed confidence that he would emerge victorious tomorrow.
“I am still in the race. I have not stepped down for anybody,” he said.
Alimikhena promised to provide what he called “purposeful leadership” if elected.
Election to be by Electronic Voting/Secret Ballot
In the meantime, the election of the presiding officers will be by electronic voting or secret ballot voting system in line with the 2015 rules of the legislative body.
Sources told THISDAY yesterday evening that this was the fall out of the meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Mohammed Sani-Omolori.
The meeting reportedly held last Friday at the Presidential Villa in Abuja was said to be at the instance of the president.
Buhari during the brief meeting was said to have directed the Clerk to the National Assembly to conduct the elections in strict compliance with existing rules of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Sani-Omolori, according to sources, was at the Aso Presidential Villa to brief Buhari on preparations for tomorrow’s elections.
Omolori was reported to have told Buhari that there was the need to ensure that the image of the National Assembly is not endangered in conducting the election and drew attention to the existing rules of both chambers.
Buhari was said to have appreciated the fact that Omolori expressed readiness to stick to the rule to avoid chaos and disorderliness.
Article 3 of the 2015 Rules of the National Assembly deals with the election of presiding and principal officers.
Article 3(3)(e) states: “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.”
The mode of voting at tomorrow’s inauguration for some time now had been a bone of contention between two main contenders for the Senate presidency.
While the supporters of Lawan are canvassing for the open secret mode of voting as contained in the 2011 Rules, the camp of Ndume are comfortable with the retention of secret voting system as adopted in 2015.
The House of Representatives rules are the same with the Senate’s. 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 chamber.
House of Representatives Rules
However, while the election of the Senate president or any other principal officer in the Senate looks straight forward, this 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 APC and PDP has been reduced marginally. While APC has 213 members, the PDP has 127.
If the APC members in the House abide by the party’s directive to vote Gbajabiamila, it would be a straight win for the Lagos State lawmaker.
But where there is an alliance between Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba from Imo State and Hon. Mohammed Bago from Niger State, victory would become uncertain for the party’s favourite.
Kukah, APGA Warn Against Imbalance
In a related development, APGA and Bishop Kukah have warned against the possibility of the leadership of the National Assembly being skewed in favour of one religion.
Reacting on the issue yesterday, APGA said any attempt to install two Muslims as the speaker and the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives would not bode well for the nation.
The party said it opposed the move by Gbajabiamila to endorse Hon. Idris Wase as his deputy.
The National Chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Oye, who spoke in an exclusive interview with THISDAY at the weekend, said the party was making smart moves and was aligning forces so its members could secure juicy committee positions in the legislature.
He said: “We have 10 House of Representatives members and we have been interacting with them on the way forward. For the House of Representatives, we are looking at two candidates, one from North-central and the other from South-west.
‘’For me, the problem I have with Femi Gbajabiamila is that he is picking Wase from Plateau State as his deputy who is a Muslim. Femi used to be a Christian but now he is a Muslim, he has even gone to Mecca so you can’t have speaker and deputy speaker as Muslims, it won’t work in a country that is secular.”
But he said the arrangement being put forward by the APC in the Senate was balanced with the Lawan, a Muslim from the North-east, while the deputy Senate president is to go to a Christian from the South-south zone.
When asked if he was not worried that the country might be saddled with Muslims as president, Senate president, House speaker and chief justice, Oye said the issue had become inevitable and nothing could be done to redress the situation.
He said the country might have to live with such lop-sidedness for now since the vice-president is a Christian.
But Kukah expressed fears that Nigeria’s quest for economic and social advancement might suffer a serious setback if the people fail to reflect its diversity in its leadership structures.
According to him, what has now become a source of concern to many Nigerians, which is the likelihood of the dominance of the country’s leadership hierarchy by persons of a particular religious faith, did not start overnight.
Referring to the jostle for the various leadership positions in the ninth National Assembly and the concerns over the likely dominance of candidates of Muslim faith over their Christian colleagues, Kukah said the situation did not come as a surprise to many discerning Nigerians.
Kukah, while addressing members of the Catholic Lawyers Association during their inauguration ceremony in Abuja at the weekend, said the build-up to the present lopsided power structure took time to come.
He said: “I hear Nigerians are nervous and saying that, you know, this new Assembly now, president is Muslim, Senate president would be a Muslim, and speaker is going to be a Muslim. In fact, one of my friends who has just been elected to the House told me two weeks ago that ‘they are telling us that even deputy speaker we won’t get ooh’ and of course, lo and behold, we are not likely going to get.”
He added the point he was making was that the precarious situation the Christians found themselves now did not come as a surprise, adding: “Many of us contributed by labour, by carrying blocks, by watering, by building the structure of imprisonment that we are all living in now. And I can tell you the worst is still to come.
“I am just laughing inside me because, a leper was passing by and saw a poor man scratching his rashes and the leper was laughing and the poor man asked why he was laughing, and the leper said, that’s how we started. ‘Leprosy started like rashes before it became leprosy.
“We can just go back to December 31,1983 when the coup happened and we saw Buhari and Idiagbon, Nigerians were excited about the fact that a government has come to clean up the mess in our country, which was okay. But our voices were muffled because you dare not point out the fact that, how can two Muslims from northern Nigeria govern this country; so, we clapped. And then, Babangida’s coup, then; Abiola and Kingibe came and we shamelessly clapped for ourselves and we said we voted Muslim-Muslim ticket.”
He said that another attempt at a Muslim-Muslim presidency would have pulled through in 2015, when Buhari planned to run with Tinubu but was prevented by an ambitious Saraki.