Deji Elumoye, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has concluded arrangements to use the remaining leadership positions in the two chambers of the National Assembly to resolve the grievances arising from the zoning of the Senate president and the Speaker of House of Representatives.
The National Chairman of APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, and other top leaders of the party have, therefore, started meeting stakeholders from various zones to negotiate on the settlement deals.
The ruling party has zoned the Senate president and Speaker of the House of Representatives to the North-east and South-west zones respectively.
It followed-up by endorsing Senator Ahmed Lawan as its candidate for the Senate president and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for the speakership position.
Following the development, stakeholders of the party in the South-east have decided to lobby for the positions of the Deputy Speaker and Senate Chief Whip. The South-east stakeholders are said to be making a strong case for the choice of Hon. Nkiruka Onyeojocha as deputy speaker in the ninth National Assembly.
But some APC legislators have rejected the party’s move and have vowed to contest for the positions.
Some of the stakeholders from these zones have also voiced their discontent over the decision of the party to micro zone the affected positions.
Similarly, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has also criticised the APC’s move, insisting that only the elected National Assembly members will decide who will lead them.
THISDAY gathered that the delay in zoning the outstanding positions was to enable the party to work out details of the arrangement.
A reliable top leader of APC told THISDAY at the weekend that they had to explore the option of trading off some positions in return to sustaining the solidarity of its members in the National Assembly ahead of the formal inauguration of the new government.
He said the party had to resort to the new tactics when it became obvious that threats of sanctions and even use of governors to get ambitious members to toe party lines would not work.
“We are deliberately delaying the zoning of the remaining positions to allow room for further negotiations. We intend to use some of these positions for trade off in order to ensure that the party remained united on the inauguration day,” he said.
The remaining positions are the Deputy Senate President, Senate Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader, Chief Whip and Deputy, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader, Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip.
Although the Director General of the Campaign of Hon. Gbajabiamila was quoted in a news report at the weekend to have said that the party endorsed Alhaji Mohammed Idris Wase from Plateau State, the National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Isa-Onilu, said the National Working Committee has not met to decide on the remaining positions.
Onilu, who spoke to THISDAY on telephone yesterday, said that once the NWC has taken a decision on the matter, it will be communicated to the public.
Meanwhile, the stakeholders of APC in the South-east have resolved to lobby for the position of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate Chief Whip.
A leading member of APC from the South-east, who spoke to THISDAY but did not want his name mentioned, said the matter was part of the discussions at the recent meeting of the South-east leadership caucus held last week.
According to the source, the South-east caucus has resolved to support the lawmaker from Abia State, Hon. Nkiruka Onyeojocha, and to make a strong case for the position of Deputy Speaker.
He said the decision by the zone was as a result of the need to ensure balancing both for the zone and for gender.
“The leaders from the zone believe strongly that Hon. Onyeojocha is highly qualified and possesses the character to occupy the Deputy Speakership position,” he said.
Lawan Starts Fresh Consultations with Senators-elect
Meanwhile, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, has stepped up moves towards realising his ambition to become the ninth Senate president as he began another round of consultations with senators-elect at the weekend.
This is coming just as two other aspirants for the coveted position, Senators Ali Ndume and Danjuma Goje, are also oiling their campaign machineries towards realising their goals.
While Goje, who is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, is under intense pressure to make public his interest, Ndume, the immediate past Senate leader and Chairman, Senate Committee on Establishment, is ready to meet with some APC governors if the need arises over his ambition.
Lawan had last Friday attended the wedding of the daughter of Goje at his Asokoro, Abuja residence and used the opportunity to remind some of the senators-elect present about his vision for the ninth National Assembly.
A ranking senator who was at the Nikhai of Fatimah Goje and Ibrahim Numsa, told THISDAY that Lawan after the wedding met one on one with both returning and newly elected senators numbering about 22 and reminded them about the task ahead of them in the next assembly and the need for them to support his bid to become the ninth Senate president.
The senators-elect, who were drawn from the APC and the PDP, THISDAY further learnt, took their time to listen to Lawan, who expatiated on his vision and mission for the ninth assembly.
The consultative meeting between Lawan and the senators-elect, it was learnt, will continue this week as he is billed to meet personally with all the 44 returning senators across party lines from tomorrow.
“Lawan will from Tuesday intensify his discussions with re-elected senators drawn from both APC and PDP on the need to support his ambition while he will also continue to talk to the 63 newly elected senators through telephone calls and text messages on the same matter,” the re-elected senator added.
In the meantime, former two-time governor of Gombe State and three-time senator, Goje, is under intense pressure to formally throw his hat in the ring for the Senate presidency.
Sources told Thisday that some senators have thrown their weight behind Goje’s candidature while several meetings are reportedly being held to recruit more senators-elect for Goje ahead of the inauguration of the assembly in June.
Goje is believed to have the backing of most, if not all, the 43 PDP senators-elect while plans are said to be on to get more support for him from the 63 APC senators-elect.
Sources told THISDAY that in the last couple of weeks a lot of groups and individuals, including North-central Alliance, North-east Consultative Forum and Amalgamated Youths from the North-east had mounted pressure on Goje to run.
It was further learnt that Goje delayed his public declaration for the coveted position because of the task before him as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, which presented the 2019 budget to the lawmakers before its passage last week.
A serving senator told THISDAY that Goje did not want to combine his legislative works on the budget with the aspiration to vie for the Senate presidency.
He explained: “His priority was to get the budget passed, for the prompt assent of Mr. President. As a committed loyalist of the president and APC, he doesn’t want anything that would delay the passage of the budget. He is of the view and conviction that the success of the president is his and that of all Nigerians.
“This was why he worked tirelessly and religiously to ensure the victory of the president, the governorship candidate and all others who vied on the platform of APC in Gombe State.”
According to him, with the passage of the budget, Goje would heed the call of the stakeholders and other well meaning Nigerians and will in a matter of days make public declaration to run for Senate president.”
Ndume: North-east Deserves Articulate Representative as Senate President
A third contender for the Senate presidency, Ndume, has, however, said the North-east deserves an articulate representative as Senate president.
The senator said the North-east had suffered huge devastations with property worth over N2trillion destroyed by insurgents.
Ndume, who was in Lagos yesterday for a parley with the media, said there was need for an articulate candidate from the North-east geo-political zone as a Senate president to galvanise global support for the restoration of the North-east.
He said he was qualified to play that role, adding that his record in the National Assembly could attest to that.
Ndume said if given the opportunity, he would not compromise the independence of the legislature.
The lawmaker said his chances of becoming the next Senate president are bright, adding that he enjoys robust relationship with his colleagues (senators-elect).
Ndume said he had been engaging his colleagues, assuring them that he wants to be president of the Senate and senators’ president.
He maintained that God had been so kind to him as a “son of nobody that became somebody without knowing anybody,” adding that the onus is on him to reciprocate God’s favour by serving mankind.
“The ninth Senate will do things differently. And that’s why I set out my nine-point agenda of what I want to do to reposition the Senate,” he said.
On fears that the voting process could work against him if the secret ballot system is jettisoned, he said: “The Senate rules remains secret ballot and we will adhere strictly to that when we reconvene in June,” he said.
PDP: We Have Not Yet Taken Position on N’Assembly Leadership
Speaking on the same issue, the PDP has said the leadership of the party and elected federal legislators have not taken any official position on who to lend support for the position of presiding officers of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The party said it is still consulting with its members-elect and no official position has been taken on the issue, particularly as the positions of presiding officers are not exclusive preserve of the ruling party or any other party for that matter, but a constitutional right of every elected lawmaker in their respective chambers.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, disclosed this in a statement issued yesterday, where he explained that the party’s position was predicated on reports in a section of the media suggesting that its members-elect in the House of Representatives have settled for a particular aspirant as the new Speaker.
The main opposition party insisted that what is important to Nigerians is the emergence of a purposeful leadership that would ensure accountability and good governance in the polity.
Ologbondiyan said: “The PDP has an array of elected lawmakers, in both chambers, who are eminently qualified and equally popular among their colleagues, across the divide, to hold office as presiding officers of both chambers of the National Assembly, in line with Section 50 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“The PDP, as a party committed to the wellbeing of our nation, will remain focused in our determination to rescue our nation from incompetent system and therefore urges Nigerians to discountenance such reports suggesting that our lawmakers have settled for a particular aspirant for any presiding office in the National Assembly.”