As the tussle for the leadership positions in the 9th National Assembly continues, MUDIAGA AFFEwrites on how a hitherto internal legislative affair has become a subject of national political horse-trading
From available records, the All Progressives Congress won 65 senatorial seats in the just concluded National Assembly election; clinched 211 seats in the House of Representatives.
And going by the standard composition of the National Assembly, with 109 senators and 360 Reps, the APC is eminently qualified to constitute the leadership team of the 9th Assembly. But the party may not have an easy ride as various interested parties, including the opposition groups, are presenting different candidates and hatching diverse strategies to ensure victory for their preferred candidates.
Analysts say the current leadership battle for the 9th Assembly is not any different from the situation in the 8th Assembly where, at the inauguration, the APC had the majority over the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. What eventually played out during the inaugural meeting of June 9, 2015 in both chambers of the National Assembly was an outcome that left the APC national leadership struggling to have control over its members that emerged as leaders till 2019.
The outcome of that internal election was an indication that members of the ruling APC in the National Assembly were not in the same boat, just in the same party.
The same scenario is playing out as the June date for the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly approaches. For instance, the APC leadership has endorsed the current Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan (from Yobe, North-East), to be the President of the Senate. But since the endorsement, several stakeholders, even within the APC, have kicked against the party choice.
The party has also picked Mr Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos, South-West) as its candidate as Speaker of the House of Representatives. The House Majority Leader has formally declared his ambition to occupy the position.
However, a former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, has ignored the endorsement by the APC (his party) by going ahead to write to the National Working Committee of the party of his intention to contest the position of the Senate President as well.
Others interested senators, who have yet to formally declare their intention for the same position, are Senators Danjuma Goje and Abdullahi Adamu.
The speakership aspirants, apart from Gbajabiamila, who was the preferred candidate of the APC in 2015, are the immediate past Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Reps) and former Majority Leader, Kawu Sumaila (APC, Kano); and the Deputy Majority Leader, Ahmed Wase (APC, Plateau).
There is also the leader of the North-East caucus, Mohammed Monguno (APC, Borno), a ranking member who has just been re-elected for the fifth term just as Gbajabiamila. In 2015, the APC had chosen him (Monguno) to be the deputy speaker.
Also, on the list is Olusegun Odebunmi from Oyo State, the only APC member to become Gbajabiamila’s opponent from the South-West; and Chairman, Committee on Aviation, Nkiruka Onyejeocha (Abia), the only female contestant who is coming for a fourth term.
The Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas (Adamawa), who is in the camp of the current Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, is also in the race, as well as the Chairman, Committee on NIMASA, Umar Bago (Niger), who has told the APC to zone the seat to the North-Central, arguing that the zone had yet to produce the speaker or deputy speaker since 1999.
There is also the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khajidat Bukar-Ibrahim (APC, Yobe), who had earlier served three terms in the House before becoming a minister and has been re-elected for a fourth term. Her husband, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, who was governor of Yobe State, is an outgoing three-term Senate member.
Also on the list is Yakub Buba (Adamawa) who is said to be the only Christian member of the House from the North-East. In 2015, Buba had backed Gbajabiamila.
Others are the Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa (Kano); Chairman, Committee on Finance, Babangida Ibrahim-Mahuta (Katsina); Chairman, Committee on Tertiary Education and Services, Mr Suleiman Aminu (Kano); Abubakar Lado (Niger); and Muhammed Kazaure (Jigawa).
The number of speakership aspirants, however, dropped last Sunday when four of them – Monguno, Sumaila, Ado-Doguwa and Bukar-Ibrahim – backed Gbajabiamila when he officially declared his ambition for the Speaker’s seat.
While some stakeholders maintain that the party’s position should be followed, others are of the view that the APC leadership might end up losing the track for the second time.
Outgoing Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, who are both members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, have advised political party leaders to allow elected federal lawmakers to choose their leaders on the day of inauguration without any interference in order to achieve stability in the 9th Assembly.
Other groups from various geo-political zones have also made claims that their regions be given the slot to produce either the leadership of the Senate or the House based on the number of votes they gave to the ruling party during the just concluded elections.
Senator-elect for the Kwara Central Senatorial District, Dr Ibrahim Oloriegbe, said party supremacy must be binding on all members for the Senate to have a smooth start in the 9th Assembly.
Oloriegbe, who scuttled Saraki’s ambition to return to the Senate for a third term, stated, “Following the recent trend of events that pervades the APC at the national level, concerning the endorsement of Ahmad Lawan as Senate President for the 9th Assembly by the party leadership and even President Muhammadu Buhari, I wish to call on my fellow colleagues in the ruling party to allow the supremacy of the party to be binding on all, if not for anything but the progress of the upcoming Senate.
“Party members should respect the party’s decision to make Ahmad Lawan, who happened to be the Majority Leader of the current 8th Assembly as the Senate President for the incoming 9th Assembly. Senator Ahmad Lawan has been vetted and found to be credible, experienced and more than capable to lead the National Assembly towards progressive democracy and governance.”
The Chairman of the Elders’ Forum of the APC in Lagos State, Alhaji Tajudeen Olusi, said member-elect had no option but to follow the decision of the party leadership, stressing that the party’s supremacy was sacrosanct.
Olusi added, “Everybody cannot be Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker or Deputy Speaker at the same time. We need to talk to one another. That is where the party comes in; it is consistent with the situation in other parts of the world. Members-elect should follow the dictates of the leadership of the party.”
But a former Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, said the ruling party might use money to secure whatever positions they wanted for their anointed members to become leaders of the National Assembly.
“The ruling party might use money to win whatever positions they want. Our politics these days has tilted towards money but I can assure you that what played out in the 8th Assembly might not be different from what will play out in the 9th Assembly. The power play between the executive and legislative arm has always been there and it will continue,” he added
The leader of the PDP South-East caucus in the Senate, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the opposition could take over the red chamber should the APC leadership insists on imposing a candidate.
He said, “Well, I can say that we are also consulting. It is not the APC only that is consulting; we are also consulting. We are talking among ourselves; we are talking also with the incoming APC members.
“This decision will be taken on the floor of the Senate. Like Senator Ali Ndume has earlier said, it is not constitutional for somebody to wake up and begin to talk to you from outside, saying he wants to determine what happens in an exclusive club that the person is not a member.”
A senator-elect, Ifeanyi Ubah, said he carried out extensive consultations with his constituents before deciding on who to support for the position of Senate President.
He said, “I am now in the same caucus with the APC despite being elected on the platform of the Young Peoples Party and I am supporting the candidacy of Senator Ahmad Lawan.”
Although the positions of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives are the most sought after, eligible lawmakers are also scrabbling for other available posts in the two chambers.
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the four presiding officers’ positions in the National Assembly were not exclusively meant for any political party, but a constitutional right of every elected lawmaker in both chambers.
“The PDP, therefore, does not only have a constitutional say in the process of the emergence of the leadership of the 9th National Assembly, but will, as a matter of constitutional right, field candidates for the presiding offices of both chambers, if need be,” he said.
However, a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Moruf Akinderu-Fatai, said what the party had done was mere recommendation, adding that it was left for the anointed candidates to convince their colleagues.
“But I must state that all these noise about the 9th assembly leadership is nothing. Nigerians should be patient to see how it turns out as we still have more than 60 days to the end of the 8th assembly,” he added.
As intrigues persist among the aspirants for the NASS leadership positions, Nigerians eagerly await the zoning arrangement being perfected by the APC and it hopes to have its way.
Additional reports by SUNDAY ABORISADE and LEKE BAIYEWU