In an apparent bid to stave off the mounting opposition against the zoning arrangement adopted by the All Progressives Congress (APC) for principal offices of the 10th Assembly, president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, yesterday met with lawmakers-elect on the platform of opposition political parties.
This is just as crisis rocking the governing party over its zoning arrangement has become confrontational, with frontline speakership aspirants drawing the battle line against the party.
The House of Representatives members now known as the G7 group who stormed the party’s national secretariat, Abuja, in protest blatantly asked the party’s leadership to be prepared for a repeat of what happened in 2015 when those endorsed by the party could not emerge as presiding officers of the National Assembly.
They are deputy Speaker of the House, Ahmed Idris Wase; chairman, committee on Appropriation, Mukhtar Aliyu Betara; chairman, committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi; House leader, Hassan Doguwa; chairman, committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli; former chairman, committee on Internal Security and Intelligence in the 8th Assembly, Aminu Sani Jaji, and Hon Mariam Onuoha.
Meanwhile, LEADERSHIP gathered reliably that the president-elect conferred with the members-elect of the House of Representatives on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP) and New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), in Lagos.
It was learnt that the incoming federal lawmakers were led to Tinubu Lagos residence by the outgoing Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and the “anointed” aspirant of APC for the speakership slot, Tajudeen Abass.
Findings revealed that no fewer than 30 members-elect were randomly picked on the platform of the three major opposition parties by Gbajabiamila and Abass for the trip.
The trip was said to be partly designed to establish the level of acceptability of Abass across party divides and convince Tinubu about the popularity of his choice among his colleagues.
LEADERSHIP learnt that one of the lawmakers seeking to become the Speaker of the House, Mukhtar Betara, also met with Tinubu in Lagos yesterday before the president-elect embarked on his trip to Europe.
It was gathered that Betara, who is leading the opposition against the zoning of the leadership of the House by APC, met Tinubu moment after the session with the opposition lawmakers.
LEADERSHIP recalls APC had on Monday officially announced the endorsement of former minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio as president of the Senate, and Senator Barau Jubrin, Kano North Senatorial District (North West) as deputy Senate president.
The party also named Tajudeen Abbass, from Kaduna State (North West) as Speaker of the House and Benjamin Kalu from Abia State (South East) as deputy Speaker.
One of the lawmakers who was at the Lagos meeting with Tinubu told LEADERSHIP that the initiative was meant to serve dual purposes.
According to him, it was planned by Gbajabiamila to demonstrate and convince the president-elect about the extent and strength of mobilisation by the team rooting for Abbas and for Tinubu to openly canvass and throw his weight behind him.
Tinubu was reported to have explained the circumstances leading to the decision on zoning of the leadership of the House by APC and solicited for their support in ensuring that the anointed aspirants of the ruling party scale the hurdles in the House.
He told them that the zoning was purely the decision of the party, adding that he merely supported the initiative as a faithful party leader.
Meanwhile, findings by LEADERSHIP further showed that dissenting lawmakers, especially those from the North Central, have sought the support of the governors of the zone, to reverse the controversial zoning formulae.
It was gathered that Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, was coordinating the action of the governors of the six states in the geopolitical zone.
The lawmakers were said to have told the governors that their silence on the exclusion of the zone in the power sharing was undignifying.
Be Ready For Repeat Of 2015, Gagdi, Wase, Betara, Others Warn
Meanwhile, frontline aspirants for the speakership position, stormed the APC national secretariat in protest.
Blatantly, they asked the party’s leadership to be prepared for a repeat of what happened in 2015 when those endorsed by the party could not emerge as presiding officers of the National Assembly.
Hon Yusuf Gagdi, one of the frontline aspirants, told the APC leadership not to expect them to be loyal to the party if the current zoning arrangement is allowed to stand.
Gagdi, who spoke on behalf of the aspirants, said the APC should expect a repeat of 2015 scenario at the 10th National assembly.
Addressing the national chairman of the party, Gagdi insisted that the proposed arrangement by the NWC was wrong because the National Assembly is an independent body that cannot be turned to the presidency’s dederal executive council (FEC) where people are picked at will.
He said, “When we elect our leaders, all of you will not be there, it is we and our conscience and the covenant of the people of Nigeria that will be in the hallowed chamber. So it is better, it is not late, let the wrongs be righted.
“Unless this is done, sir, our party should not hope that our loyalty will be guaranteed at the detriment of justice, peace and fairness. We will respect justice, unity and equity in the chamber, but only if your instruction is in line with the principle of this party. Sir, do not hope that we have come here to succumb to any instruction and directive given to us,” he said.
The party had in 2015 endorsed Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila for the position of the Senate president and Speaker of House of Representatives respectively but the preferred candidates lost to Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara who clinged the positions.
The speakership aspirants known as G7 expressed their grievances and also presented a protest letter to the party’s national chairman, Abdullahi Adamu.
At a meeting with the APC NWC members, they told the party leaders to prepare for a repeat of the 2015 scenario should the party allow the endorsed candidates list to stand.
The G7 vowed to oppose any attempt by outside forces to impose a leadership on the 10th House of Representatives, even as they described the zoning arrangement as unjust, unfair and inequitable, adding that it was unacceptable.
Specifically, Wase noted that for such a decision to be arrived at, there was need for serious consultations with all members.
He reminded the party that it does not have the majority in the House, hence, the need to have everyone to agree with such a zoning template.
“We are here to protest and to appeal to you to go again to look into this matter. That what had been ushered out will not stand. And we are disciplined party people.
“I want to say too in 2019, Your Excellency, I was going in for speakership. I was pretty sure I was going to win. Leaders of the party called me including the president and appealed to me to step down for Hon. Femi. I did that and that was how I came in to take the position of the deputy speaker. I want to say that what has happened I think that they are taking us for granted.
“We do not want a repeat of what has happened in the past. We should not forget about the “Tambuwalisation” of what happened in the House of Representatives. We should not forget about the emergence of how Saraki became the senate president. The party as of today we do not have the majority to be that arrogant, and we should take people for granted.”
‘’Our party’s motto is Justice, Peace and Unity. Under your able leadership, you folded your arms and sat to allow aspirants contest elections under the supremacy of Nigerians through the delegates to choose whosoever they wanted to be the flagbearer of the party. The Vice President contested, he is the closest person to Mr. President and yet, because of democracy and because of justice in APC, delegates were allowed to choose whosoever they wanted to be the flagbearer of the party.
On his part, Betara said there was no time two presiding positions were zoned to the same zone and warned the party against the consequences of such decision.
Responding, the APC national chairman, Adamu, pleaded with the aggrieved aspirants, assuring the lawmakers that the party would embark on further consultations and would get back to them.
The chairman clarified that the statement issued by the party clearly stated that the party leadership would endeavour to do more consultations so that everyone would be carried along.
He said, “There is nothing we do that may not be challenged here and there. But let us be able to attend the best possible consultation with people giving them their right of fair hearing before we can say yes we are changing positions or we are not changing positions.
“I plead with you in good conscience to give us a little time to take a good and better look at your presentation and open our ears and our eyes the more to hear more and see more before we can come with finality of your submission and the outcome of it. I thank you for your approach.”
Akeredolu, Other Govs Back Aggrieved Lawmakers
Meanwhile, Governor of Ondo State and chairman of South West Governors’ Forum, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, has faulted the zoning arrangement of the APC, describing it as a “skewed arrangement that reinforces injustice and enhances inequity”.
Akeredolu, in a statement personally issued in Akure, the Ondo State capital on Wednesday, noted that the “intentions and motives of the zoning formula represent early signs of steps aimed at attempts to cabin the hard-earned Presidency for our Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu by a few individuals with eyes on Aso Rock Power Buttons.”
The governor said, “It is trite to aver, that, it stands logic on the head that one geo-political zone, Northwest in this regard, will be favoured with two presiding officers positions out of four while North Central suffers the consequences for its innocence and shrewd loyalty by having none.
I Won’t Quit Race For Senate President, Izunaso Vows
Meanwhile, an aspirant for the position of Senate president, Senator Osita Izunaso, yesterday vowed not to quit the race, saying his aspiration to lead the Senate of the 10th National Assembly is in the best interest of the nation.
He urged the APC leaders to douse the tension generated by the controversial zoning formula by producing a zoning arrangement that would ensure unity and national cohesion.
According to Izunaso, the president-elect, Tinubu; the outgoing president, Muhammadu Buhari, and APC under the leadership of Senator Adamu, should as a matter of importance come up with a new zoning arrangement.
Izunaso, who spoke during a parley with media executives in his campaign office in Abuja said the expectations of Nigeria and the entire world were high on the incoming administration and that no efforts should be spared by the present political leaders of the country in meeting the yearnings of the people.
The journalist cum lawyer and ranking senator-elect from Imo West Senatorial District, Imo State said he agreed with the position of the NWC on the need for “further and better consultations” by all the necessary stakeholders of the party in reaching a workable zoning formula for the principal offices of the National Assembly.
Allow Transparent Process, Joel-Onowakpo Cautions
Also, the Senator-elect for Delta South senatorial sistrict, Joel-Onowakpo Thomas, yesterday has said that the candidate that he will support for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly will emerge through a credible process that is backed by the majority of members.
Joel-Onowakpo who spoke with journalists in Warri on issues ranging from his humble beginning, his sojourn into politics, his election as Senator, expectations from NASS and how he intends to represent his district, assured Nigerians the 10th National Assembly will not be a rubber stamp.
Reacting to the on-going leadership tussle for the 10th Assembly, Joel-Onowakpo said he was not aware that any individual has been endorsed.
He said, “I am not aware, I have heard it just the way you said it. To me, like my name, ‘Thomas’, I consider this as mere speculation. And I want to beg the press not to give the President-Elect unnecessary baggage. The issue about the leadership of NASS is a sensitive one.
“I will expect that whoever emerges should be so from a process. It is the duty of the candidates to earn the respect and trust of their colleagues. These colleagues should be able to take ownership of the leadership. Doing anything to the contrary will amount to the president-elect taking side. So, if asked, I will say that the president-elect, Senator Ahmed Tinubu, has not endorsed anybody to my knowledge. The field is free for all who are qualified to aspire.
“The last thing that this NASS won’t want to be associated with is that “they are rubber stamp”. Even if we want to be a rubber stamp, I am pretty sure that we will do it with some level of dignity. Therefore, let the best man win.”