Good Start in the National Assembly

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Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and Senator Ahmed Lawan

Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that yesterday’s election of principal officers of the 9th National Assembly was relatively free of rancour and offers fresh hope for a harmonious relationship between the executive and the legislature

With the conclusion yesterday of election of principal officers of the 9th National Assembly, a major phase of the next political tenure has been achieved. Arguably, what is left now for the last leg of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to take shape is the composition of the Federal Executive Council. The President is expected to send his list of nominees for ministerial offices to the federal legislature soon. The emergence of a new leadership in the National Assembly was a major milestone that many waited with baited breath for.

For the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the election of officers to run the affairs of the NASS was a crucial test to ascertain its cohesion and discipline. Following the conclusion of the 2019 national elections, focus shifted to who will pilot the legislature. Given that there was a no love lost relationship between the executive and the leadership of the federal legislature in the 8th National Assembly, there was palpable tension in the period leading to yesterday’s election.

Like it did in 2015, the APC had announced its preferred candidates for the offices, but the party was not able to get every member to fall in line. This time, the party hierarchy and the federal government had made it clear that their choice included Senator Ahmad Lawan (President of the Senate/Chairman of the National Assembly); Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Deputy President of the Senate); Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (Speaker, House of Representatives); and Hon. Idris Wase (Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives). In defiance of this arrangement, Senator Ali Ndume put up a stiff challenge for the senate presidency, while Hon. Umaru Bago indicated interest in the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Afraid that the 2015 scenario, in which Senator Bukola Saraki went against the party’s directive to clinch the leadership of the National Assembly, along with Hon. Yakubu Dogara as Speaker in the House of Representatives might repeat itself, the Presidency, leadership of the APC and the party’s anointed candidates went to work early. They left no stone unturned in their bid to build bridges across partisan boundaries. From the result of yesterday’s election, the APC did its homework well this time. The party carried out a thorough negotiation that really assured members of the opposition that their interest will be covered.

Senator Lawan scored 79 votes, while Senator Ndume had 28 votes recorded to his name. The number of senators who voted in the election stood at 107. The Nigerian senate comprises 109 senators. Two APC senators were absent. All the 47 PDP senators were present. The score sheet reflects that the winning APC team did well by securing compromises from their colleagues in other parties. A similar result was posted in the race for Deputy President of the Senate, in which the immediate past Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, an opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) legislator vied for the office. If he had won, Ekweremadu would have occupied that office for the fourth consecutive tenure, having worked with Senator David Mark for eight years and Senator Bukola Saraki for four years. However, he was defeated by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege who recorded 68 votes to emerge winner.

Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, National Publicity Secretary of the APC described the triumph of the party’s favoured candidates in yesterday’s contest for leadership of the NASS victory of democracy and party politics over the brazen lawlessness of anti-democratic forces who are nestled in the opposition party.

He said, “Our party has consistently maintained that the leadership of the National Assembly belongs to the party in the majority. The outcome of these elections have clearly validated our party’s efforts to institutionalize party discipline and loyalty. It is triumph of internal democracy, anchored on consensus building, to which we lay claim, over anti-democratic methods that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had foisted on our democracy over 16 years. We are deeply humbled by the honour bestowed on our great party. While members of our great Party are entitled to savour this victory, we call on all to avoid pettiness and to continue to stretch hands of fellowship to progressive forces in other political parties and groups to consolidate our democracy. On the strength of our overwhelming numerical strength in the just inaugurated 9th National Assembly and election of the party’s adopted candidates as presiding officers in its two chambers, we must recommit to cooperation between the executive and legislative arms of government.”

The APC spokesman’s concern for cooperation between the legislature and the executive may have been highlighted in the pattern of votes recorded in the NASS elections, which clearly shows the legislators have decided to consider the larger interest of building consensus and cooperation as against parochial party alliances. For instance, it is clear that all the PDP legislators did not vote for Ekweremadu. The former Deputy Senate President was accused of entering into a selfish arrangement with the APC in a bid to retain his position. His insistence on entering the race was believed to have split the votes and the cohesion in his party. Though Omo-Agege carries the blame for his alleged role in vandalizing the National Assembly, during which the mace was stolen by hoodlums, his colleagues still opted to vote for him against Ekweremadu who has been in that office for 12 years.

A similar victory was recorded in favour of Femi Gbajabiamila who is the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. In the days leading to the election, it looked like his ambition was going to be derailed by an unproven allegation that he had a criminal record. As this accusation could not be sustained, he remained in the race. Opponents have accused Gbajabiamila of being so desperate for the office of Speaker that he promised 60 PDP legislators juicy committee positions if they vote for him. Gbajabiamila was elected with 283 votes while Umar Bago got 76 votes.
The instructive note about the election of principal officers for the 9th NASS is that it was free of rancour. The federal legislators demonstrated that they could forget party affiliation to work for the greater interest of the country.