NIGERIA: Echoes From The Past As Scramble For NASS Leadership Hots Up

National Assembly photo via Leadership

MARCH 10, 2019

ABUJA (LEADERSHIP) -- In this report CHIBUZO UKAIBE captures the unfolding intrigues over the race for top seats in the National Assembly in light of legislature’s recent history. 

The tussle for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly is intense. The scramble by individuals as ensconced in the agitation of geo-political zones is palpable. 

While the indices for how the top seats should be allotted, especially zoning and ranking, have been a subject of immense permutation, the sub-plots have been quite intriguing. 

Besides the current lobbying, it was gathered that the evolving powerplay preceded the elections. 

Allegations of how powerful stakeholders within the ruling APC, masterminded the loss of those who they felt would undermine their influence over how the leadership of the National Assembly would be, gained traction.

So far, the ruling APC has 64 senators-elect, while the main opposition PDP has 41 as the nation awaits the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly on June 9 this year. INEC has declared 106 senators-elect so far. Three senate seats are yet to be concluded from Plateau, Kogi and Imo states. With a high turnover of lawmakers in the offing, it is reported that 64 serving senators and 151 members of the House of Representatives will not be in the 9th National Assembly. This is about the same numbers that did not return to the National Assembly after the 2015 elections.

Still, 45 senators and 209 members are returning to the legislative chambers according to the results of the elections released so far by INEC. However, with the elections won and lost, immense lobbying has remained the order of the day. High ranking senators and House of Representatives members of the North east and South west have been mobilising for a position just as some senators from the south east and south south have sounded a warning against such projections. Contenders for the office of Senate President are Ahmad Lawan (Yobe), Mohammed Ali Ndume (Borno), Mohammed Danjuma Goje (Gombe) and Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa). From the South east, former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu. Among the South west senators angling for deputy senate president seat are Senator (Professor) Ajayi Boroffice( Ondo State), Senator Oluremi Tinubu( Lagos State) and former senate leader, Senator Teslim Folarin (Oyo State). Senator (Governor) Gbenga Amosun was also a contender until the APC suspended him from the party recently.

From the South south, Sen Ovie Omo-Agege from Delta State is also angling for the seat. He is one of the only two returning senators from the South south zone, the other being Deputy Chief Whip Francis Alimekhena from Edo State. For Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos), Mohammed Tahir Monguno (Borno), Ahmed Idris Wase (Plateau), Babangida Ibrahim (Katsina) are among the early contenders. Also, Rep Garba Datti Muhammad, a ranking member is in the contest for the office of Deputy Speaker. Similarly, Rep Aminu Suleiman from Kano State is gunning for speaker. Hon Babangida Ibrahim from Katsina State in the North-west for the position of speaker even as Abdulrahman Kawu Sumaila also from Kano State has indicated interest to go for deputy speaker.

Another member, Rep Abubakar Lado Suleja from Niger State has reportedly joined the race for Deputy Speaker. The likes of Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas and Hon. Muhammed Tahir Monguno are trying to position themselves in such a way that should the position of the speaker be zoned to the North-east, they will throw in their hats on the ring. Pundits aver however that in spite of the projections, the speakership position is likely to be zoned in light of where the next Senate President emerges from. Missteps of the past…. While the schemings fuel uncertainty within the ranks of the ruling party, many pundits believe that a major undoing of the APC was it’s inability to promptly and strategically address the tussle for the leadership of the 8th National Assembly.

The party, smarting from it’s 2015 victory had dilly-dallied over the zoning of positions in the National Assembly. With members of the New PDP feeling left out in the sharing of offices and the president reportedly open to working with whomever emerged as leaders of the National Assembly, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, exploited the narrow majority the APC enjoyed in both Chambers. At this point the party’s decision to throw up Senators Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe North) and George Akume (APC, Benue northwest) in 2015 for the Senate President and its Deputy respectively; as well as electing Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker, was scuttled as it had created a gulf within the party. While the party raged over the outcome, the debate over whether or not lawmakers were independent enough to choose their leaders became a topical.

From thereon the APC lost the National Assembly to the opposition, PDP who in turn used the platform as its tool for opposing the ruling party. Attempts by the party leadership to remedy the situation through threats and peace-offerings did not yield much. As the debate over whether the turbulent relationship between the executive and the legislature was health for the country lingers, it nonetheless didn’t change the impact which culminated in late passage, defacing or padding of the budget, refusal to approve some key appointments like the EFCC chairman. But what happened in 2015 was almost like a deja vu of sorts. The scenario seemed to be a script from the handbook of the opposition in the aftermath of the 2011 general election. It would be recalled that PDP as ruling party under the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan was plunged into same dilemma of having to deal with stiff opposition within the federal legislature, even though it was only in the lower chamber.

Going forward… If reports coming out of the tussle is anything to go by, APC would need to be proactive. LEADERSHIP Sunday has reported how a first-time senator from south east who spoke on condition of anonymity said what happened to APC with the emergence of Saraki, Ekweremadu and Dogara may repeat itself in a more dastard and dirtier form this year; if the party also decides to repeat its mistakes. The senator said senators especially of the opposition party are already talking to one another and even grouping here and there with the sole aim to form block votes, and throw its weight behind pliable APC senator to emerge as senate president. ‘’The only way by which APC can avoid the repeat of Saraki-Ekweremadu phenomenon this year is to zone the senate president or Reps speaker to the south east.

‘’Although APC has suspended Rochas Okorocha, we still have Orji Uzo Kalu standing. We have Senator Benjamin Uwajomogu (APC, Imo north) who was named as member/Secretary of the APC convention committee. He was among the ten senators that staged a walk out of the senate plenary in protest against senate resolution reordering 2019 election sequence on February 14, 2018. His election was only declared inconclusive, but he will make it back to the senate. ‘’All I am saying, let APC zone senate president seat to the south east if it truly wants an all inclusive government or government of national unity. Defunct NPN zoned the speaker to the southeast during the second republic. Ume Ezeoke of NPP was presented and elected by NPN. A Cross River person, Senator Joseph Wayas was elected Senate president. This made Nigerians feel a sense of belonging’’. But a high ranking senator from northwest geopolitical zone told LEADERSHIP Sunday the senate president shall go to north east, but that the speaker’s seat can be zoned to south east if there are Reps members with experience.

‘’The north east have so many high ranking senators. We have Senators Ahmed Lawan, Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf (Taraba south), Danjuma Goje and Mohammed Ali Ndume, who was the APC Presidential Campaign Council Northeast Zonal Director. ‘’Besides, they deserve the seat as compensation for consistent high turnover of large votes cast for the APC. Ndume was suspended because he was defending President Buhari’s appointment and policies. He mobilised the north east to cast high votes for Buhari. ‘’The South south has Oshiomhole as the APC national chairman already. But the Deputy Senate President can be zoned to them (South south) because of Senator Omo-Agege or Senator Akpabio in case he secures his mandate later on. The deputy speaker can still remain in the south west. Of course, the north west and south west should be contended with the slots of President and Vice President of the country. ‘’Senate leader or house leaders seat can be given to the north central too. I think the north central can take a holiday for now over National Assembly leadership. They were deputy senate president through Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Senate President through Senator David Mark for eight years in addition to Senator Bukola Saraki’s four years’’, the senator stated. Although the major actors that worked against the interest of the APC appear to have left the scene, all eyes will be on actions and inactions of the other set of actors who played crucial roles in how events played out in 2015.

Besides the President, other critical actors in how the tussle will turn out include, the national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu, Sen Lawan, Sen Ali Ndume, Sen Abdullahi Adamu, Sen Danjuma Goje, Hon Gbajabiamila, Hon Abdulmumin Jibrin, among others. However it is also to be seen how firm the national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole will be in ensuring that members abide by the decision of the party. Although the party was accused in 2015 of not handling the sharing of political offices among the various political groups that made up the APC, its former national chairman was accused of not being firm enough in ensuring party discipline. For a party that is poised to ensure equity on many fronts, including reward for party loyalty and regional inclusion, it would require a healthy blend of political sagacity, ingenuity, firmness and swiftness. This is more so that the opposition PDP lurks in shadows, hoping expectedly to reenact the 2015 script. However, Sen Ovie Omo -Agege has said President Muhammadu Buhari will be actively involved in the process of selecting the next leader of the Senate. Omo -Agege said the President and the ruling APC would avoid the 2015 mistake that led to the emergence of Saraki as the President of the Senate. ‘‘Anybody who is going to be Senate President , in the 9th Senate , must be somebody who is loyal to Mr President , the party and the constitution. ‘‘The Senate President will be determined by Mr President . Mr President will indicate to us through the party who he wants to work with , ’’ Omo – Agege said. Asked if the APC has zoned the Senate presidency to any geopolitical zone, the lawmaker said ‘‘ I do not know . ’’ ‘‘ But what I can tell you is that we are going to have a Senate that will work with Mr President . ‘‘ The era of allowing renegades who rode on the back of Mr President , who rode on the back of the party to go in there and trade the party ’ s mandate , I think that era is gone . ‘‘ I am very hopeful that this time around , Mr President will step in and decide not only the zone that will produce the Senate president and the leadership but also who , it should be . ‘‘ We don’ t want to erect another opposition leader in the Senate, as we had in the 8th Assembly . ‘‘ There are a lot of us in the Senate who are returning to the next senate and fit into that position . We are so many but any decision the President makes , we will all fall in line and abide," he said.