Politics, Intrigues That Shaped Selection of National Assembly’s Principal Officers

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Awa Ibrahim

The principal officers of the Ninth National Assembly have been named but not without theatrics and surprises, write Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

Three weeks after the inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly and the election of presiding officers, the two chambers of the Assembly, last week, named the principal officers that will assist the presiding officers in the performance of the enormous legislative assignments.

The process of naming the officers, however, was not without some surprises and high wire politicking, which played out both at the Senate and the House of Representatives. By the rules of the Assembly, the party with the majority seats and the main opposition party are expected to send in the names of those to occupy the principal offices.

So, it was not surprising upon the resumption of plenary last Tuesday, when the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, read out the names of the principal officers as sent in by the national leadership of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The new Senate principal officers include Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North), Majority Leader; Senator Ajayi Boroffice (Ondo North); Deputy Leader; former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia North), Chief Whip and Senator Sabi Abdullahi (Niger East), Deputy Whip.

Others are Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe, Minority Leader; Emmanuel Bwacha (Taraba South), Deputy Minority Leader; Philip Aduda (FCT), Minority Whip and Saibi Yau (Zamfara North), Deputy Minority Whip.

A lot of interests were at play in choosing the aforementioned officers. At the APC, several meetings were held between the party leadership and its Senate caucus with a view to taking a common position on the issue.

The party leadership had preferred Senator Abdullahi Adamu as Senate Majority Leader based on his experience as former Minister, ex governor and a ranking third time lawmaker. The party had also in the build-up to the election of Lawan as Senate President, asked Adamu who was also eyeing the Senate Presidency to step down with a promise to make him the Senate Leader.

This was the mindset of the party, which did not go down well with most APC Senators, who insisted on fielding Yahaya Abdullahi, the Director-General of Lawan for Ninth Senate President Campaign Group. For them, it was pay back time for Abdullahi, who was the arrow head of Lawan’s campaign group that engaged all Senators across party lines and which culminated in the election of Lawan as Senate President on June 11.

On the part of PDP, the party had about a fortnight ago met with its Senate caucus at the Maitama, Abuja residence of its Chairman, Uche Secondus and agreed on those to serve as principal officers in the 9th Senate.

The only change that was effected in the final list submitted was that of Deputy Minority Whip wherein Senator Clifford Ordia (Edo Central) was dropped for a fresh Senator Sahabi Yau. Although some members of the PDP Senate caucus resisted the change, the party leadership insisted and had its way by effecting the change to reflect national spread.

Yau, a fresh Senator emerging as a principal officer followed the precedent laid down by the choice of former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who as a first time Senator in the Eighth Assembly, emerged the Minority Leader.

At the House of Representatives, the process of selecting the principal officers was more intriguing, cumbersome and with a lot of theatrics.

The House was practically thrown into a rowdy session with some members of the opposition PDP expressing resentment after the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, had announced Minority Principal Officers of the House.

Relying on the provisions of Order 7 Rule 8(1), which stipulates that “members of the minority parties in the House shall nominate from among them, the Minority Leader, Minority Whip, Deputy Minority Leader and Deputy Minority Whip,” Gbajabiamila, who said 90 opposition lawmakers from nine different political parties signed for the nomination of the principal officers, named the principal officers.

He announced Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, as the Minority Leader; Deputy Minority leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu; Minority Whip, Hon. Gideon Goni; and the Deputy Minority Whip, Adesegun Adekoya.

Femi Gbajabiamila

There are nine other minority parties outside PDP that have representation in the House namely: All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), African Democratic Congress (ADC), Action Democratic Party (ADP), Action Alliance (AA), Allied Peoples’ Movement (APM), Labour Party (LP) and People’s Redemption Party (PRP), which according to Gbajabiamila, should decide on who leads them and not just PDP sending in names.

Aggrieved members of the main opposition PDP opposed the announcement. There was an attempt to remove the mace from where it was placed.

It took a timely intervention of some sergeant-at-arms to prevent the lawmakers from seizing the mace while some lawmakers were set for a show down.

Hon Kingsley Chinda, whose name had been forwarded to the House by the PDP moved a point of order, attempting to prevent the Speaker from reading a letter said to have been signed by more than 100 members of minority parties but he was ruled out of order on the grounds that only the PDP cannot not determine who leads the minority.

Arguing based on Order 6 Rule 1 of the House Rules, Chinda contended that members of minority parties should have chosen from among themselves someone with experience to lead them insisting that where the House rule was not clear on the procedure, the House ought to have followed precedent or through a resolution of the House.

A member of the House Ad-hoc Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Yusuf Gagdi, said the Speaker’s declaration was in conformity with the rules of the House. His words: “Mr. Speaker received a communication from members of the minority parties of the House of Representatives regarding the positions of the principal offices.

“Rule 8(1) says: ‘Members of the minority parties in the House of Representatives shall nominate from among them the Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Minority Whip and Deputy Minority Whip. This is what the House rule says.”

The announcement of the principal officers of the majority party was less rancorous. Order 7 Rule 4 (1), which states that the “Leader of the House shall be a member nominated from among members of the majority party in the House,” empowered the Speaker to pick from his party alone and that was exactly what he did.

Gbajabiamila went on to name former Chief Whip, Hon. Ado Doguwa as Majority Leader; Hon. Peter Akpatason, Deputy Leader; Hon. Mohammed Monguno, Chief Whip and Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Deputy Chief Whip.

Prior to the announcement, there had been mild drama in the House again, when Hon. Chinda representing Obio/Akpor federal constituency in Rivers State took the Minority Leader’s seat. Chinda had maintained that Hon. Chukwuka Onyema had been named Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Yakubu Bade as Minority Whip and Hon. Muraina Ajibola as Deputy Minority Whip by the PDP leadership.