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Rumble In APC Over NASS Leadership

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The battle for the leadership of the forthcoming 9th National Assembly has, considerably, caused a rumble in the polity especially within the ruling APC. ANDREW ESSIEN in this piece, takes a look at the scheming and intrigues of the contending forces

Understandably, the race for who becomes what in the 9th National Assembly has been evoking highly-charged emotions that, again, is testing the delicate peace and overstretching the shock absorber of an overheated party. Coming out of a general election of which the primaries that threw up some of the party’s flagbearers for various positions in the country are still being contested in various courts  in the land, the struggle for and partition of the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly is one more test to the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) as it moves into a new and challenging phase.

Analysts aver that the issue that birthed the myriad of crises that plagued the party arguable began from the emergence of the of the leadership of the outgoing National Assembly.

Some even posit that the handling of the issue that arose therefrom, was in part, responsible for the fall of the Odigie-Oyegun era. Interestingly, the current Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) is again faced with a similar and even more challenging scenario. Several schools of argument subsist. In the first instance, the executive arm of government did promise, like in other elections, that it would be neutral in how the leadership of the legislature emerges, promising not to interfere. This did set the ground for a titanic battle between ranking members of the party that successfully made it back after the elections. The party on its part, insisted that it was determine to right the wrongs of the 8th Assembly by zoning the position of the principal officers.

Specifically, its choice of the North East narrowed down contention for the Senate Presidency. However, this is now having its own impact with different contending forces laying claim to it. The leadership went a step further to zero in on the current Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan even as other contenders kicked. Their argument was that the party was not supposed to micro-zone to an individual. They however agreed with the party position as to where the position should go but queried the wisdom behind going further to anoint a candidate when there where other ranking and interested members from the same zone who were, in their argument, are also eminently qualified for the said position.

The said endorsement of  Lawan not withstanding, Senator Ali Ndume, a ranking senator also from the North East, threw his hat in the ring.

In a letter of intent dated March 25, 2019 and addressed to the APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Senator Ndume asked for the blessings of his party, the APC, with the hindsight that the Senate President position would be zoned to the North East geo-political zone where he hails from, said in the letter that: “Following the successful conduct of the 2019 general election and the overwhelming victory of our great party, the APC, at all levels, I hereby forward my letter of intent to contest for the office of the President of the Senate in the 9th National Assembly.

“I wish to emphasize that my decision to contest for the Senate Presidency is informed by my conviction to contribute my quota to nation building.” Ndume who served as minority leader in the 6th House of Representatives and majority leader in the 8th Senate, said that he has the capacity and what it takes to be the Senate President and deliver on party policies and programmes. On why he is contesting, he said, “my vast legislative experience and my deep desire to take Nigeria to the next level of development.”

The lawmaker, who noted that calls from respected party (members) both within the North East and other parts of the country have encouraged his aspiration, said, “For these reasons and more, I wish to forward myself for the blessings of the Party, my Colleagues in the Senate and fellow Nigerians for the post of the President of the Senate.” The former Senate leader expressed optimism “that the Party leadership will see the desired wisdom in zoning the Senate Presidency to the North-East due to our sterling performance in the 2019 polls, giving the President the second highest votes cast.”

He also said the position would enable him to also fulfill the aspirations of the insurgency-ravaged people of the North East whose respite came with the coming of APC government in 2015.

The Choice Of Lawan

Senator Lawan was the way to go and all party formations and faithful were asked to queue behind this vision and bring it into fruition. In fact, the APC does not envisage any clog in the wheel for the actualization of this project as the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, succinctly puts it: “The party in its own judgment believes that we will not only zone, but we will also go as far as identifying who from a particular zone is fit and proper as the Senate President.

From every zone of this country, we have ranking members in the National Assembly, all eminently qualified to be Senate President but we cannot have two Senate presidents.

“So, in this case, considering other factors, the party, and when I say the party, I am not just referring to the NWC because there was a wide consultation across the country, the party leaders, governors and Mr. President. So, this is not just something coming from the Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole or NWC, it is the position of the ruling party. So, the idea of taking the thing to the zone is an option we had also considered before now arriving at a particular individual from the Northeast”.

Expectedly, there were positions and counter- positions to the party’s position on the subject matter.

Ndume Kicks

While addressing National Assembly correspondents last week after Lawan’s adoption, Ndume told journalists that: “ The decision by the party to settle for an individual instead of zoning the position to a particular geo-political zone, and consult or allow the senators from that zone to decide who among them they prefer as Senate President, is a surprise. We were surprised on Monday when the national chairman of our party told us a decision had been taken to adopt Ahmad Lawan as candidate from the North East for the position of the President of the Senate. The reason why I am shocked and I am sure that is the feeling of my colleagues, is that,  the constitutional provision for the emergence of the leadership of the Senate is clearly spelt out.

“Section 51 (a) of the Constitution says that “there shall be a Senate President and Deputy Senate President who shall be elected by members of the House”.

“Section 1 of the Constitution the clearly states that “this Constitution is binding on all Nigerians and government agencies”. It went further to say that any other law that contravenes the provision of the constitution is null and void. As a party that is supposed to be democratic and as a government that insists on allowing due process to prevail, this is strange. A candidate of APC normally emerges by one of three means,  namely- consensus, indirect elections and direct primaries. As I said, such a decision was taken and we were not given the chance to ask questions. We were not allowed to make comments.

“The President made his remarks and after that, the national anthem was recited.  Even the chosen candidate was not given the chance to thank us or say something about it. “Those of us that have indicated interest were not consulted or given the chance to make any comment. I left there with that shock, but I slept well notwithstanding. I am one among equal. I am just one among 109 senators. 

“I am not better than them, except for Lawan. I came back and slept well. My wife and children were worried about my feelings. I was even late for the prayers in the morning”. 

While speaking further, he stated that: “The constitution is clear. It says the Senate shall elect its president and deputy. Like I said, my decision to contest for the position of the Senate President is not personal. Even my colleagues encouraged me to run. Not just the elected ones. They said I should vie for the position. Even then, the party didn’t say it had elected Ahmad Lawan. It only said it has nominated Lawan. The way the leadership of the National Assembly should emerge is clearly stated. Anything contrary to that means it is illegal and it can’t stand. As I said, we wait on God”.

While speaking further, he noted that: “Someone has to nominate and second me. I can’t say that a candidate has been imposed on us. The decision is now left for colleagues. If you look at the history of the National Assembly,  such decisions have never gone down well.

“In 1999, Evans Ewerem was imposed.  He didn’t last. Wabara was also imposed. It didn’t last. After that, the PDP which we have accused of impunity didn’t do this. In 2007, the PDP showed wisdom by zoning the position to North Central.  That was what led to the contest between David Mark and George Akume. Because that happened, Mark served for two terms. Mark would have served for another term if PDP had won. He served his tenure peacefully.

Any leadership of the National Assembly that emerges through the support of members, it lasts.

In the same vein, leaders and elders from Borno state under the auspices of Borno Concerned Citizen while making their stance on the matter known, charged the incoming members of the 9th Senate to consider the experience and ranking of Senator Ali Ndume, and elect him as the next Senate President. This, they said, is grounded in the fact that at the point of risking his office as Senate Leader, he had shown loyalty to the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government.

Former Ambassador to Pakistan, Alh Dauda Danladi, who spoke the mind of the forum added that Sen. Ndume’s past records and experience at both chambers of the National Assembly will ensure that the executive-legislature relationship is devoid of the rancour as witnessed in the 8th Senate. He said: “There is no doubt that the 9th National Assembly has a critical role to play if Government is to actualize all its developmental projects, programs and policies that will propel Nigeria into the industrialised world in the near future. Hence a cooperative partnership driven National Assembly that will support, encourage and work with the executive to accelerate the achievement of socio economic objectives of the Government cannot be overemphasized. 

He stated that: “Our position on this is in line with the Senate. He has remained one of the most productive lawmakers since the beginning of the present dispensation in 1999.

“Our decision to drum support for the senator also followed painstaking investigation on his personal pedigree and integrity, both characteristics presently in short supply in our polity.

‘‘The distinguished senator is of highest academic qualification and has never been found wanting on the ground of fraud or breach of legislative processes,” the convener said.

Usman emphasised that Lawan deserved to lead the next Senate after what he described as his exemplary performance as leader of the present Senate.

‘‘As keen observers of the polity, we watched with admiration how the senator exhibited maturity in his dealings with Senate President Bukola Saraki, while marshalling support for the agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari by remaining loyal to the majority APC.

“We are therefore delighted to observe the composition of senators-elect that accompanied Sen. Lawan to his formal declaration.’’ Noting that the multi-party support currently enjoyed by Lawan was an indication that his leadership would bring about the much needed stability in the Senate, he posited that this will lead to the realisation of the overall ‘Next Level’ agenda of President Buhari.” Hence, he advised Lawan to reach out to all his colleagues including those aspiring for the same position, adding that national interest must be above all other considerations.

‘‘Sen. Lawan, as the front runner in the race, should close ranks with all other senators to ensure a smooth inaugural sitting of the 9th Senate, which would be crucial to the overall achievement of the incoming Senate.”

Sensing that the party was getting over-heated with the issue of the leadership of the National Assembly, Forum of Former Members of the House of Representatives sounded a note of advise the leadership of the APC to act urgently and tactfully in resolving the issues of the leadership of the 9th National Assembly and avoid a repeat of the 2015.

The group, which draws its membership from the APC, stressed that failure to do that will cost the party so much in terms of Executive/Legislative relationship, emerge if the varied interests in the leadership are not streamlined on time and individuals allowed to take position like it was in 2015.

Spokesman of the Forum, Idris Yahuza Yakubu said it was high time the party takes a decision on the zones where each of the principal officers should come from before it becomes too late.

While pledging to making themselves available to assist the party at all times, the former lawmakers believe that the party must be guided to toe the line of equity and fairness, suggesting that the cognate experience, party loyalty and acceptability among colleagues should be considered. He said further considering the fact that the North West and South already occupies the position of President and Vice President, while the north east has been given the position of Senate President, the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives to the North central zone.

The  Forum said “As the APC tries to consolidate on its recent successes, the party must not lose focus, but do all it can to stay on track by putting in place a structure that will support its programs for improving on the lot of the people.  The eye of the public and indeed the international community is on us to see if we can translate this victory into something tangible for the entire nation and more importantly, if we are able to put our acts together to create the enabling environment.

“The foundation for building a cohesive and united Nigeria stands on the tripod of equity, justice and fairness and this is where those of us who have been elected to the House of representatives in the past who have seen how the different arms of government are run have decided to advice our beloved party on how best it can go about addressing the current agitations for geopolitical balancing in allocating the remaining top positions that would determine the shape of the next administration and engender a harmonious executive – legislature relationship for the good of the nation.

“You will recall that in 2015, the APC made the mistake of not paying enough attention in the election of the leadership of the National Assembly and how the party nearly paid dearly for it by having to constantly battle with a hostile legislature since its leaders were not products of the party’s internal democratic arrangement.

“The APC as the ruling party cannot afford to make that mistake again by leaving the choice of those to assume leadership positions in the National assembly to chance. It is our strong view that the party must step forward to provide political direction to its elected members at the National Assembly by zoning all the leadership positions to the specific zones and where possible states.

“This we believe will douse the unnecessary tension being generated in the bid by individual members from the different geopolitical divides of the country to aspire to those positions and avoid further digging of trenches which the party cannot afford to allow at this stage. 

“It is high time the party takes a decision on this to make its stand known to the members of the party on time so as to prevent a repeat of the 2015 scenario where it was unable to stop vested interests who had gone too far in their campaigns by the time the party decided to step in.

“If the varied interests are not streamlined on time and individuals are allowed to take hard line positions it will be difficult for the party to make them reverse without causing further frictions. The former members of the House of Representatives, APC, are ready to support the APC in ways that could be considered fair and just by all within the party. “As a way of guiding the party to toe the line of equity and fairness, we suggest consideration be given to cognate experience, party loyalty and acceptability among colleagues But most importantly, consideration should be given to zones where the party performed well and where it is strategically important for the growth of the party.

“In taking a decision, the party must also take note that the Northwest and the Southwest already have the president and the vice president respectively and they need to give the other zones a sense of belonging to deepen its faith and commitment to the party.

“Going by pronouncement in the media that the senate presidency has been zoned to the north east, it then requires that the party goes the whole hog by doing same in respect of all other leadership positions, at the minimum the presiding officers of the two chambers. “Our considered opinion is that the deputy senate presidency be to zoned the south east/south south, the speaker to the north central and the deputy speakership to the south south/south west. Members-elect must be ready to see the intervention of the party as necessary whether it agrees with their aspirations or not because at the end of the day it is the party platform that matters.

“Major stakeholders in the party should also be prepared to guide their people on the principle of party supremacy and on the fine points about internal party democracy.  That way the APC would succeed in laying the foundation for a better Nigeria through the instrument of a well-structured party that has the interest of its people at heart.”  It is important to state that the disharmony witnessed between the outgoing Assembly and the Executive is, in part, traced to the disaffection within the party after their emergence.

The consequences that accompanied the feud had far reaching consequences on the party, the populace and the nation’s leadership at various levels. The APC must quickly resolve the naughty issues rearing its head because the party has a lot to deal with. Issues of the primaries, discipline and ensuring that its members who hold high offices, deliver on the much talked about dividends of democracy.

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