With the outcome of the National Assembly leadership elections, the All Progressives Congress-led government no longer have excuses for non-performance, writes Chuks Okocha
“Now that the APC has captured the National Assembly and the Judiciary, let’s hope that Buhari and his party will no longer blame PDP, Jonathan, Saraki, and Dogara, but find ways to positively move Nigeria to the next level.”
That was how a member of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP described the election of the presiding officers of the National Assembly won by the preferred candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Though it is true that the APC-led government is in control of the National Assembly, it is yet to be seen how it will completely dominate the affairs of the two chambers, as it does not have a majority or the two-thirds of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The APC-led government still needs to lobby the main opposition party, the PDP. The two-thirds majority needed to pass major bills from the executive arm of government is over 73 senators, whereas the APC has about 64 senators.
Key government policies from the executive arm expected to come very soon are the confirmation of ministerial nominees, ambassadorial appointments and key executive bills. Surely, there should be some negotiations for a fruitful senate, indeed the National Assembly.
That notwithstanding the road to the election of the senate president on Tuesday was full of daring but nearly impossible last-minute intrigues. Though a majority of the PDP senators had already keyed into the Ahmed Lawan senate presidency, there was no consensus for the office of the deputy senate president.
As some PDP senators had personally negotiated their interests, the party, in the twilight of the election came out with a position that Ali Ndume should be voted. This was seen as a face-saving and panic measure, it was not the real deal. Status quo was maintained.
This was because there were many unseen hands from the PDP already working for Lawan. One of such hands that worked in favour of Lawan was the influence of a former senate president for eight years, David Mark, who is very close to Lawan, when he was the Senate President and that relationship subsists till date.
This accounted for why all the three PDP senators from Benue state quickly announced their support for Lawan. But where the PDP had a direct problem was who would become Lawan’s deputy.
Ekweremadu as Alternative: Behind the story
When news filtered in late Monday night, June 11, that Senator Francis Alimikhena, might back out of the race for the office of the deputy senate president, it became imperative that the PDP Senate Caucus must get a quick alternative.
The alternative became necessary when the party’s senate caucus had reached a decision not to vote Senator Ovie Omo-Agege for the office of the deputy senate president. In a meeting Sunday night at the residence of the former deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, the PDP senators had agreed to vote Alimikhena.
The reason for the action was the ignoble role allegedly played by Omo-Agege in the 8thsenate with the stealing of the mace. According to the PDP senate caucus, to vote Omo Agege is to reward him for bad behaviour.
That also accounted for why the PDP members, Monday night, summoned a meeting at the Rivers State Governor’s Lodge to discuss the development of Alimikhena backing out from the contest due to pressure from his party, the APC.
The invitation to the meeting signed by one of Ekweremadu’s aides said, “Dear PDP Senator-elect, I have been directed by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu CFR, to invite you to a meeting with Governor Wike today.”
But the outcome was not what they wanted. Thus, to save the day and fill the gap, Ekweremadu was mandated to fill in the gap. As a result, they moved to the residence of the Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson to present Ekweremadu as the alternative to Alimikhena.
But when the PDP senators met at Dickson’s residence and the Ekweremadu option was mooted, it was rather too late for many of the members of the upper chamber of the National Assembly to support him. The meeting lasted barely 40 minutes as the PDP senators openly disagreed with the Ekweremadu option.
Those of them, who spoke to THISDAY in the early hours of Tuesday, reiterated that it was too late in the day to float a candidate in the person of Ekweremadu for the office of the deputy senate president. They argued that many of them had taken a committed position and that it would be difficult to get a consensus among members.
Though still unrelenting, the meeting was moved again to Ekweremadu’s residence in the Apo Legislators’ quarters. At the meeting, this time around, attended by many governors of the party, and it was agreed to mount pressure on the Edo North senator, assuring him of 8th PDP block votes, but Alimikhena did not want to toy with his political future and therefore resisted the PDP pressure.
However, before the meeting, some PDP members had taken a position. Peter Nwaoboshi from Delta State and former Minister of Interior, Abba Moro had openly endorsed the Ahmed Lawan and Omo-Agege campaigns.
It was at this stage, that the Ekweremadu alternative became inevitable. But the votes at the end of the day reflected the inability of the PDP senators to reach a consensus.
According to some PDP members in the senate, the Ekweremadu alternative was too sudden as some of them were already committed to both the Lawan and Omo-Agege project and indeed that reflected in the outcome of the two elections of the presiding officers.
But the decision to field Ekweremadu did not go down well with other members of the party in the Senate. Some of the PDP senators preferred another senator, like Chukwuka Utazi, also from Enugu. The argument was that Ekweremadu has had three straight runs as a deputy senate president.
The Drama at Proceeding
An Abuja High Court, just before the day of the inauguration of the legislature, had ordered the clerk of the National Assembly to use the open ballot system in the election of the president of the Senate.
Justice O.A. Musa, who gave the order, ruled that the Senate should not use the Senate Standing Orders 2015 (as amended) in the conduct of the election of presiding officers of the senate of the 9thAssembly, pending the determination of this suit.
The order has been received with excitement in the camp of Senator Ahmad Lawan, who was the APC-endorsed candidate for Senate Presidency. His main rival, Senator Ali Ndume had been banking on breaking the ranks of the supporters of Lawan in persuading them that the party would not know if they voted for him.
The Monday night order followed a motion brought by Senator Jibrin Barau, APC, Kano in the suit with case number FCT/HC/BW/CV/136/2019. The senator was however represented by his counsel, Ebere Nwanya.
The ex parte order was upon the argument by Senator Barau’s counsel that issues arising from 2015 amendment of the Senate Standing Order was still to be resolved.
The judge upon the argument ruled that the clerk of the National Assembly, clerk of the Senate and sergeant-at-arms enforce the use of the 2011 Standing Order, which requires the use of the open-ballot system in the choice of the presiding officers of the Senate.
But when the issue was brought on the floor of the Red Chamber, the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori told the senators-elect that the 2015 standing order would be used for the election.
Immediately, there was an uproar in the chambers. But Sani-Omolori maintained that “I only answered your question out of respect. I won’t entertain any further question”.
He added “I didn’t receive any court order” and asked the clerk of the senate, Nelson Oyewoh to go ahead with the roll call of Senators-elect present.
Oyewoh, therefore, read out the names of the Senators-elect in alphabetical order state by state and thereafter, Sani-Omolori, read the proclamation letter from President Muhammadu Buhari and the business of the day commenced.
Oshiomhole and APC Governors’ Last Straw
Sensing danger, the National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole, who led other APC NWC members and the party’s elected governors began what could be described as last minute campaigns for Lawan and Omo-Agege.
Oshiomhole literally stepped into the Red Chamber, moving from one senator to another reiterating why the party’s position must stand. Some of the APC governors followed up the same campaigns. According to some APC senators, “Oshiomhole and the governors were literally breathing down our necks”.
With the elections of the presiding officers of the National Assembly, the actors had withdrawn to decide the fate of other officers in the management of affairs in the senate like the majority leader and the whip. PDP will also meet this weekend to consider who among its senators will lead the party in the Senate as the minority leader, to which PDP senators are ripping the former deputy governor of Abia State, Enyinnaya Abaribe, who is the chairman of PDP National Assembly caucus. For strategic reasons, Ekweremadu may not fit in for the position, as it means descending the steps.
Interestingly, much as the APC has continued to celebrate this overwhelming victory in the election of the National Assembly leadership, this comes with huge responsibilities for the party and government. It is sad to note that the APC and the Muhammadu Buhari government had spent the last four years blaming two categories of people for its palpable failures in delivering the change they promised the electorate.
While the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan had become its natural excuse, it also found alibi in the frosty relationship between the executive and the legislature led by Senator Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara. Indeed, it is generally believed that this was why everything was done to eliminate Saraki from the current equation.
But as it is now, the APC and government now have at their beck and call, the totality of the legislature, which means there would be no more excuses for failure. While this would in no way stifle the PDP from playing the opposition as demanded in a democracy, it is also worthy of mention that the whole world is now watching the government and APC to see where next they plan to push their excuses of nonperformance, if it ever happened.
First, days are already counting in anticipation of the many appointments and the cabinet composition. This, of course, is to define the mark of the change that the Nigerian people truly seek in Buhari’s second term.