Senators-elect loyal to the two major contenders for the Senate presidency of the 9th National Assembly are on the warpath over the voting pattern to be used for the election of the principal officers of the Upper House.
While the Senator Ahmed Lawan camp wants the open balloting method, the supporters of Senator Ali Ndume favour the secret balloting option.
The Lawan group says it is opposed to the secret voting system because it claimed it was forged by the principal officers of the outgoing National Assembly, which produced the Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara leadership of the two chambers of the legislature in 2015. Lawan’s loyalists warned that if the Senate fails to return to the 2011 Rule Book for the election, they would not guarantee a peaceful exercise and the inauguration of the National Assembly.
In their counter-argument, the followers of Ndume asserted that the 2015 Senate Standing Rule for the inauguration of the National Assembly remains the valid procedure because it had not been altered or invalidated by the Upper House.
They argued that any attempt to return to the 2011 process would amount to illegality, the outcome of which would not be accepted by them.
The Ndume supporters said that they would not resort to violence or allow the inauguration to be truncated because they are democrats and are confident of winning the election no matter which method was adopted.
The current Senate Standing Rule, copies of which have been distributed to all the senators-elect, provides that the method of voting shall be by secret balloting.
But, a returning All Progressives Congress (APC) senator from one of the southern states boasted to journalists that unless the open balloting method is adopted for the election, there would be serious problems which could truncate the inauguration of the next National Assembly.
He said: “We are going to adopt the open ballot system because that is the standard practice all over the world. The 2015 Rule Book which made provisions for the secret ballot was forged; we must revert to the 2011 version.
“I cannot guarantee that the event would be peaceful if the management of the National Assembly succumbed to pressure from the current presiding officers of the 8th National Assembly by conducting the election through a secret ballot arrangement,” he warned.
In a swift response to the threat, the spokesman for the Lawan Campaign Group, Senator Aliu Sabi Abdullahi said that it was not part of the plot to frustrate the inauguration.
Another APC senator-elect who is loyal to Senator Ndume said that the management of the National Assembly must sustain the secret voting method as provided in the current Senate Standing Rule to avoid any crisis on the inauguration day.
The senator-elect, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declared: “The Lawan group is jittery that its candidate would not win if the NASS management adopts the current Rule Book to conduct the election.
Before this opposing stance of the camps, Senator Kabiru Gaya (Kano South, APC) had said that the provisions of the Senate Standing Rule which stipulates secret balloting system for the election of the presiding officers shall be applied in the elections of the next National Assembly leadership.
While briefing the National Assembly correspondents last week, Gaya argued that with barely one month to the inauguration, it was practically impossible to change the standing rule but cautioned that any attempt to effect a change in the rule must be in strict compliance with parliamentary procedures.
Gaya’s comments came in reaction to recent protests and calls on the Senate to adopt the open ballot system in electing its presiding officers for the incoming Senate.
According to Gaya, the process of amending the Senate Rules is such that a motion to that effect would be sponsored on the Senate floor and would be considered thoroughly by the Red Chamber.
He said: “Such motion must be presented before the end of the lifespan of this Senate and processed and approved. Anything outside that is outside the due process. Between the 2011 Rule and the 2015 Rule, which one comes last? The second one supersedes the first one.
“I am a member of the National Assembly. And we were able to do these rules together. We cannot change it now unless a member of the Senate moves for that change. If he moves for the change and somebody seconds it, the motion will be debated and the same thing also in the House of Representatives. If there is a discrepancy between the Senate and the House, we will set up a Conference Committee. And they will bring it to us to find a date to sit down and pass it. Can you do that in one month?” Gaya asked.
Reacting to the threats, the spokesman of the Senator Ahmed Lawan Campaign, who incidentally is the spokesman for the Senate, Senator Aliu Sabi Abdullahi, said Lawan and his camp would never encourage anything relating to violence.
Also, the Senate deputy minority leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, said that the Senate Rule on secret voting remains valid, adding that “I am not aware that the Senate Rule has been changed.”
Last Tuesday, the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Ataba Sani Omolori, was invited to the headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and was made to answer questions relating to among others, the method of voting for the new Senate president.
Other officials of the National Assembly including the Senate and House of Representatives clerks had subsequently been invited by the EFCC on similar issues.
Sani-Omolori, it was learnt, was interrogated for six hours by the EFCC on issues relating to the finances of the National Assembly and asked to state which of the Senate Rules he would adopt for the 9th Senate leadership election, to which he purportedly said that it would be the prevailing secret balloting rule.
It was further gathered that it was at that point that his passport was seized by the EFCC.
The Lawan campaign team has, however, denied putting pressure on officials of the EFCC to harass the National Assembly management.
Sabi said: “This is news to me. I am just hearing that officials of the National Assembly were invited by the EFCC. But what I can tell you is that we are not aware and we have no hand in what you are alleging that we are using the EFCC to harass them to change the rules for us or to harass our colleagues.
“We have been working and our contact and mobilisation committee has reached out to our colleagues. We are taking our campaign and we are not taking anything for granted.
“We have no reason to harass anyone or do anything to scuttle the inauguration. We are solidly on ground and working round the clock to deliver our candidate on the day of inauguration. This is our pre-occupation and whatever you have been told is not true.
“We are selling Lawan’s strong points to our colleagues which are integrity, intelligence and capability. We are also selling our agenda to our colleagues to buy into what we intend to do for the 9th Senate.
“I know that I am part of the outgoing Senate. To be frank, there were so many things we didn’t do right. So, our plan is to ensure that Lawan’s presidency improves on that. These are the issues,” he said.
Sabi expressed optimism that Lawan would emerge as the next Senate president from the elections.
“With what we have done, on that day of the inauguration, by the grace of God, we shall carry the day and Lawan will emerge as president of the 9th Senate. No cause for alarm my brother. We are marching forward,” he said.
Recently, a ranking PDP senator and a principal officer was invited by the EFCC and would have been kept behind the bars until after the inauguration but for the timely intervention of a strong member of the APC who signed his bail conditions.
“The principal officer was actually invited over the same case that he had earlier defended before the EFCC. He later alleged that his ordeal was equally related to his stand against one of the candidates for the Senate presidency.
Protest Vote Rumour Unsettles Lawan’s Camp
Meanwhile, the APC Caucus in the Senate is overwhelmed with uncertainty and discomfort as news spread that some of its members may jump camp, disregard the party’s decision and work against Lawan.
But Lawan has ruled out such fears declaring that “everybody is committed to the cause.”
What gave credit to the rumour which gained ground around the National Assembly last week was the hurriedly organised dinner by Lawan’s campaign team towards the weekend which about 30 senators-elect attended.
Among the 30 senators-elect at the dinner organised by Lawan were Oluremi Tinubu, wife of former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, Abdulfatai Buhari, Robert Boroffice, Barau Jibrin, Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, Abdullahi Adamu, Francis Alimikhena, Ahmed Babba-Kaita, Dayo Adeyeye, Tijjani Kaura, Abdullahi Gumel, Adamu Bulkachuwa, Ovie Omo-Agege, and Ifeanyi Ubah.
Another worrisome and scary report emanating from the dinner had it that some of the senators-elect who attended the event were there to spy for an opponent of Lawan.
In a remark at the dinner, Lawan said that everybody in the camp was committed to the APC agenda.
He, however, prayed for God’s intervention to make his Senate presidency aspiration a reality.
Lawan said: “Our colleagues here, everybody has shown commitment. We are seeking the face of God, His blessings, His mercies in this enterprise once again. We are human beings. We can only see the physical. From the physical, we can see that there is a lot of success in what we are doing. The other thing that we don’t know is what God has kept to Himself. So, we will continue to pray for God’s intervention in this matter”
However, a strong anti-Lawan campaigner, who currently works for the emergence of another candidate, boasted on Saturday that some of the senators-elect at that meeting went there to work to the contrary.
He told LEADERSHIP that “I can confidently say that the number of returning senators and new senators they think they had in that dinner is fake. We have quite a number of our supporters in that meeting who simply went there to work for us.”
The reported protest vote plan originated from earlier reservations and concerns expressed by many stakeholders in the ruling party who had faulted the manner in which Lawan was announced as APC Senate president candidate.
It was learnt that on the day of election of Senate president, a sizeable number of APC senators mostly from the northern part of the country would vote for a candidate other than the one the APC leaders had endorsed.
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