For the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and its federal lawmakers, the gloves are off in the ongoing scramble for principal offices of the incoming 10th National Assembly (NASS).
Members-elect on the party’s platform have indicated that they may treacherously change allegiance and renegade from the party’s zoning arrangement.
The crisis rocking the party over the leadership of the 10th NASS got to the point of highest tension yesterday when the party’s leadership officially confirmed the endorsement of former minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godwill Akpabio, as Senate president and Tajudeen Abbas as Speaker of House of Representatives for the 10th National Assembly by the party leaders.
The party made the announcement yesterday after a meeting of its National Working Committee (NWC) held the party’s national secretariat in Abuja.
The NWC also confirmed the endorsement of Senator Barau Jubrin (North West) as deputy Senate president and Ben Kalu (South East) as deputy Speaker of the House.
Announcing the zoning formula, a statement issued by national publicity secretary of the party, Barr Felix Morka, after the NWC meeting noted: “The National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) met today, Monday, May 8, 2023 to consider reports of consultations and meetings held with the President- Elect, His Excellency, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, other Party leaders and stakeholders on zoning arrangement for 10th National Assembly leadership positions.
“The NWC noted with respect the outcome of the meetings held between the President-Elect and the leadership of the NWC. The NWC called for further and better consultation with necessary stakeholders in order to assure the support of the aspirants to the National Assembly leadership positions and members of the Party nationwide.
“The zoning arrangement reported to the NWC is as follows: Senate: Senate President – South South Senator Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom). Deputy Senate President – North West- Senator Barau Jubrin (Kano).
“House of representative: Speaker. North West – Hon. Abass Tajudeen (Kaduna); Deputy Speaker South East-Hon. Ben Kalu (Abia)
“We urge our party leaders, members and all Nigerians to continue to work for peace and progress of our country during and beyond the current period of leadership transition.”
Our sister publication, LEADERSHIP Weekend had reported at the weekend that president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had last Friday met with the leadership of the APC in Abuja where the decision that led to the endorsement of the four lawmakers as presiding officers was taken.
But in what appeared to be a rebellion against the choice of Tajudeen Abass and Benjamin Kalu as Speaker and deputy Speaker respectively, six other aspirants seeking to be Speaker of the House have vowed to resist the party’s preference.
All other aspirants except Tajudeen and Kalu were present at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel yesterday where the chairman, House committee on Appropriation, formally declared his intention to contest the speaker’s seat.
Incumbent deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase; House leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa; chairman House committee on Water Resources, Soli Sada; chairman, House committee on Navy, Yussuf Gagdi; and chairman, committee on Internal Security and Intelligence in the 8th Assembly, Aminu Sani Jaji, were all present at the declaration.
It became obvious that the APC zoning arrangement has unsettled the party when the ranking lawmakers who took turns to speak at the event noted that election of presiding officers of the National Assembly was an exclusive business of the members-elect.
Speaking at the declaration, Wase faulted the choice of Tajudeen and called on lawmakers not to allow the parliament to be hijacked.
The deputy Speaker noted that while consensus requires discussion by critical stakeholders and wide consultations, none of that was done.
He said, “Again, I want to add that we are here to ensure the independence of the parliament. To ensure that we work together. Every Parliamentarian must rise to the occasion.
“We will work as a term. We will not allow this parliament to be hijacked. We will not allow this parliament to be made a lame duck. I believe we are loyal to our country first. Loyal to our party and loyal to our people.
“When you say you have a consensus candidate, the language for consensus is that there have been mass consultations, people go to the table for discussion. There is agreement. In this case, we just saw and we are hearing rumors, speculations that some people have been made consensus candidates.
“I don’t know whether that is the meaning of consensus. This place is very sacred. We must be Honourable in our action in defence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
On his part, Doguwa said the parliament must always be allowed to choose its leaders, noting that it is not for outsiders to decide who leads the House.
He said, “One message I want to get across is that the parliament is one institution that must always be allowed to choose its own leaders.
“The business of our leadership should be solely our business and no other person’s business. In a situation where you have some people in whatever guise trying to decide our leadership, to form our leadership from outside without consulting us I think that should be seen as a mere failure.
“I remain available for consultations until that is done , every one will answer his father’s name.”
But APC’s preferred candidate for the position of deputy Speaker, Kalu, argued that the party plays a key role in determining who emerges Speaker or deputy in a “democratic environment like” Nigeria.
According to him, cohesion would lead to consolidation of the House and by extension the National Assembly in order for the party and incoming administration to succeed.
Kalu stated: “A more consolidated House is better for the incoming administration if the objectives set by it are to be achieved. We must work as a formidable front towards confronting the hydra-headed problems confronting us as Nigerians.
“In a democratic clime like ours, the ruling party plays a key role in setting up the structure of government. For some of us who believe in the supremacy of the party, we will always tag along the position of the party. My ambition was to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It is the party that gave me the platform to come to the House of Representatives.
“Consider the reasons I advanced for wanting to be in that position which is the absence of a southerner in that position for 40 years and the fact that we have men of capacity and competence that will be able to handle the responsibility of that mandate effectively. But at the end of the day, the decision will be reached by the party that gave us a platform to be winners and be here.
“I heard that a decision has been taken by the party and we are waiting for that pronouncement. We are also ready to go along with what the party wants in the spirit of being a true party man. That is the only way we can have cohesion in our party, the only way our party will be respected”.
Kalu also emphasised the importance of lobbying and canvassing for votes from colleagues beyond the party’s endorsement, saying, “in a democratic system, people lobby for votes.
“It does not end with the party saying this is the direction we are going. You have to reach out to the minority parties and groups made up of people of different orientations. It is up to them to align with the philosophy that best captures their interest.
“So, we have work to do. To say the minority groups should be ignored will be living in fools’ paradise. To say they will remain as they are and not join the APC in the quest to produce the presiding officers will not be as expected in any democratic system where you have the majority…,” he added.
He expressed optimism that the APC will close ranks with key opposition members to ensure that the party’s position is realized and sustained in the life of the administration.
Opposition Lawmakers May Explore Loophole
Meanwhile, there are indications that the opposition camp in the House of Representatives would explore division within the APC to produce a Speaker and and deputy.
One of the spokesperson of the coalition of minority political parties elected into the House, Hon Dachung Musa Bagos, who gave the hint at the orientation organised for the lawmakers, said leaders and members of the minority were already looking at the strategy.
He said, “I will respond to you as the spokesperson for the PDP and the minorities in the sense that we have already agreed to contest for the presiding offices – the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker. So, as leaders and members of the minority, we are already looking at it. We have set up an 11-man committee to look into those that are interested; to screen interested candidates among the minority.
“We cannot just carry our numbers as the minority and go and put them in the basket for the ruling party. We have the capacity and we have the strength. So, we are continuing, not minding whatsoever the ruling party is doing. But as the minority caucus, we are still contesting for the presiding officers.
“Winning any of the positions is by a simple majority. We have 182 and they have 177. So, they need more than five votes to get to our number. This is politics”.
Wase, Doguwa, Jaji Reject Abbas As Speaker, Ministerial Offers
Meanwhile, House speakership front runners, Ahmed Idris Wase and Murktar Aliyu on Sunday evening rejected offers to be made ministers in exchange for their aspirations to lead the lower chamber of the National Assembly.
A credible source confided in our correspondent that Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, visited them separately and offered to intercede on their behalf for them to be appointed ministers if they accept the adoption of Tajudeen Abbas as Speaker.
It was not immediately clear if Gbajabiamila was acting on the instruction of the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who has remained silent since the controversial adoption of Abbas was made public through a text message sent out by an unknown person.
Barring last minute changes in plans, Tinubu was billed to travel out of Nigeria last night to an undisclosed country.
He added that the Speaker has engaged the services of an oil magnate from the South West to meet both Betara and Wase.
“Let us all wait for the 13th of June and see the result on the floor of the House because even when Adamu Abdulahi said President Muhammadu Buhari had endorsed Ahmad Lawan, Tinubu insisted on running”, he said.
Gbajabiamila Faces Impeachment Over Doctored Rules
But outgoing Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, may be removed from office ahead of the inauguration of the 10th Assembly for allegedly doctoring the House standing rules to favour his stooges as Speaker and deputy.
LEADERSHIP gathered that already, over 100 aggrieved members of the House have signed a notice of impeachment to be served on the Speaker at the resumption of plenary today.
Today’s session promises to be hot as members have vowed to raise the issue on the floor of the House for immediate retraction of the rigged and doctored document.
The doctored standing rules, referred to as the 10th edition cited by our correspondents, has a new, strange and obnoxious provision for electing the Speaker and deputy through an open ballot instead of the existing rule of secret ballot that has been in use since 1999.
Section 2 (f) (iii) of the controversial clause captioned “election of presiding officers” stated that ” every member voting shall name clearly and in the open the candidate of his choice.”
Speaking with our correspondent, a principal officer of the House said, “Yes, I can confirm that an alteration has been done and the document has been printed. But I want to tell you that even as a principal officer in the House I am not aware of this. No such amendment has been officially carried by the House.”
Another member said, “This is a strange departure from our traditional procedure of electing presiding officers in the House which has always produced speakers and deputy speakers through a secret ballot system. We have never discussed the issue of amending our rules in this respect in the last four years.
“It must be the grand work of somebody who is trying to be faster than the House. I assure you we will get to the root of the matter immediately so as to save the House from any embarrassment.”
Gbajabiamila is being accused by his colleagues of single-handedly manipulating the rules of the House to edge out more credible aspirants in favour of his preferred candidate Hon Abbas Tajudden who is unpopular with members.
Investigations by our reporter reveals that Gbajabiamila believes that this is the only way by which he can impose his candidate on members as Speaker of the 10th House of Representatives.
Another member of the House who confided in this paper said, “The goal is to create fear in members and open them up for victimisation by the new government and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which is believed to have been zoned to the North West geo-political zone ostensibly to pave way for the emergence of Abbas Tajuddeen.
“It is aimed at creating an impression of disloyalty against members who choose to vote their conscience as against the instruction of the ruling party. This is brazen and reckless by whoever chooses to do it.
“It is a slap on the faces of Hon members and an embarrassment to the constitution of the legislature. We will insist that Gbajabiamila should step aside for proper investigation to be carried out on how the rules were doctored. Where are the votes and proceedings of the session and the order paper of the day that the amendment was carried out.
“The House will have a speaker pro-tempore who will preside over this investigation until the issue is unearthed. It is unbelievable that our rules will be altered without recourse to the procedures. As I speak to you even the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives who chairs consideration of reports is not aware of this amendment.
“This is a serious breach and an unpardonable democratic offence. It is unfortunate that this is coming a few weeks to the end of Gbajabiamila’s tenure just because he wants to be controlling the House of Representatives after his tenure.
“The chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business and the Deputy Speaker of the House will be asked to explain their roles in this unfortunate and devastating development.
“It is equally instructive to note that whether Gbajabiamila is aware of it or not a serious branch has been established under his leadership which he must give account of,” he added.
South East Senators Kick As APC Unveils Akpabio for Senate President
Meanwhile, at the upper chamber of the National Assembly, South East Senators led by Senator Ifeanyi Ubah yesterday maintained that the region deserves the Senate presidency despite the fact that the governing APC has zoned the position to the South South.
Ubah contended that the South East deserves the office for fairness, and equity.
The lawmaker representing Anambra South argued that if the South East produces the next leader of the upper lawmaking body, it would help in strengthening the unity of the country.
“For me and our people from the South-East, we are still very strong in contesting for the office of the Senate President of Nigeria for the 10th Senate. That is our position for now,” he said on Channels Television’s Politics Today.
“So, in the course of consultation, we would continue to update Nigerians about our position. But for now, I am still in this studio, the position of the South-East caucus [of the Senate] is that we are going to contest for the Senate President of Nigeria,” Ubah added.
His comment comes hours after the APC officially announced that it had zoned the key leadership of the Senate and the House.
Despite the move, Senator Ubah maintained that South East Senators have unanimously agreed that the position should go to the region.
“That is our position for now,” he said, listing Orji Kalu and Osita Izunaso as capable of taking the post.
He said lawmakers from the region will, however, meet to finalise plans to pick a candidate.
While the South East gave the ruling APC the least votes in the 2023 presidential election, Senator Ubah argued that for the sake of fairness, there should be a “balance of the equation” in the distribution of key positions in Nigeria.
“I think after the presidential election, I think equity demands that we would sit down and look at every region because we are talking about Nigeria,” the lawmaker noted, adding that “Nigeria is not divided on who brings the vote and who does not bring the vote.
“Are we not part of Nigeria? We need it in order to balance the equation,” he concluded.