BY ANDREW ESSIEN, CHIBUZO UKAIBE, SUNDAY ISUWA, AHURAKA ISAH, Abuja
Last-minute lobbying, meetings of critical stakeholders and trade-offs yesterday characterised the preparations for the election of the principal officers of the 9th National Assembly today.
Even President Muhammadu Buhari, the All Progressives Congress (APC) leadership, governors and lawmakers elected on the party’s platform joined in the consultations and restrategising to ensure that the party’s candidates carry the day.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its governors and members of the National Assembly in its fold also gathered in the nation’s capital to finalise their game plan for the NASS election.
The key contestants, Senator Ahmed Lawan, the APC “anointed” candidate and the indefatigable Senator Ali Ndume, also of the ruling party, for the Senate presidency continued their overtures to senators across blocs to secure a landslide victory.
President Buhari moved in last night to boost the APC candidates’ chances in the election as he held a meeting with the party’s governors and lawmakers-elect at the presidential villa, Abuja. The meeting, which started at 9pm had not ended when this report was filed.
It was learnt that the meeting was called to ensure that the APC work as a united house to ensure the success of its candidates in the NASS contest.
Ahead of the election, the APC National Working Committee (NWC) yesterday adopted the candidatures of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and Hon. Muhammed Idris Wase for the offices of deputy Senate president and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives respectively.
Before the NWC’s action, the South-South zonal chapter of the APC had endorsed Omo-Agege for the deputy Senate slot.
With Omo-Agege’s adoption, Senator Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo) and Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia) have been knocked out of the race by the party.
The ruling party’s national publicity secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement he issued yesterday Abuja, said that the NWC took the decision after emergency meetings between last Saturday and on Sunday.
He explained that NWC met with governors and members of the National Assembly elected on the platform of the APC yesterday in Abuja to endorse candidates for the positions of the Senate president, speaker and their deputies.
“The party formally adopts Senator Ovie Omo-Agege for the positions of deputy Senate president and Hon. Muhammed Idris Wase as deputy speaker. This is sequel to wide consultations with President Muhammadu Buhari, party stakeholders, including APC governors,” he said.
APC had earlier unveiled Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as its candidates for the positions of Senate president and speaker of the House Representatives respectively.
According to Issa-Onilu, “all elected APC members of the Senate and House of Representatives are hereby directed to fully mobilise as a united force behind the party’s candidates.”
We’re Still In The Race – Gaya, Kalu
In a swift reaction, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano) said that he remains in the race for the position of deputy Senate president despite the party’s adoption of Omo-Agege.
Gaya told journalists in Abuja yesterday that the endorsement of Omo-Agege by the APC leadership would not stop him from going ahead with his ambition.
He said: “This is not my first time of contesting elections. Tomorrow will make it the fourth time and by the grace of God, it will be peaceful. I’m still in the race. I will contest with whoever that would also contest the position of the DSP tomorrow.
“Democracy is actually a game of number. Whoever has the highest number would win,” he said.
Another contender in the race, Kalu debunked insinuations that he had withdrawn from the contest.
Kalu, who had some days ago met behind closed doors with President Buhari, said that the Nigerian leader only adopted Lawan and Gbajabiamila for the positions of Senate president and speaker of the Lower House. He said that anyone is free to contest for the other principal positions.
In a statement issued by his media office and signed by Ken Cole, Kalu stressed that as a staunch supporter of Buhari and a loyal member of the APC, he would always abide by the decisions of the president and the NWC.
He, however, said the speculations of the endorsement of Omo-Agege were the handiwork of selfish elements in the party who are desperate to cause disharmony among the stakeholders.
Kalu said: “Ahead of tomorrow’s inauguration of the 9th National Assembly and election of principal officers, politicians have started deploying different antics to satisfy their ambitions.
“One of such is a statement credited to the national publicity secretary of the APC, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu claiming that President Muhammadu Buhari and the NWC of the party have formally adopted Senator Ovie Omo-Agege as the party’s candidate for the position of deputy Senate president.
“I hold the president in high esteem as well as the national chairman of our great party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and other members of the NWC and as such, I will not disobey any formal pronouncement by them.
“However, I am still in the race to become deputy Senate president because the president and the NWC have not adopted any candidate and as such the contest is open to all members of the party, who have the capability,” he said.
Last night, PDP senators-elect held meetings to take a position on the NASS election. The meeting was at the instance of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who invited the party’s lawmakers-elect to a meeting with Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wikè.
In the invitation letter signed by Ekweremadu’s special assistant (Administration), Ndubuisi Nwigwe, and addressed to the PDP senators-elect, he said that the parley would begin at 8 pm at the Rivers State Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja.
Nwigwe said that a final meeting of the forum would be at Ekweremadu’s residence by 10 pm at Apo Legislative Quarters in Abuja.
He said: ‘’I have been directed by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, to invite you to a meeting with Governor Wikè today. Thereafter a final meeting of the forum will be at DSP’s residence.”
The 8th Senate deputy minority leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, who spoke ahead of the meeting, hinted that the PDP would speak in one voice at the end of the meetings scheduled to hold last night.
Responding to journalists’ questions on his party’s position on the National Assembly election, Bwacha stated that the PDP senators-elect “shall make their position known at the appropriate time.
“There is dignity in silence, and there is mischief in noise-making. So, we maintain a dignified silence because we want a 9th Assembly that shall be rancour-free. We speak as a family and as friends, that is our tradition, we are not divided,” Bwacha said.
At the time of filing this report last night, the PDP meeting was still ongpong.
Meanwhile, the PDP national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, has admonished Buhari and the APC against muzzling the legislature and the other arms of the government.
Secondus, who stated this against the backdrop of what he called obvious direct involvement of the president and his party in today’s election of principal officers of the 9th Assembly, said that the doctrine of the separation of powers must be respected and guided to avoid dictatorship.
The PDP boss, in a statement he issued on the matter, said the warning became absolutely germane given the dictatorial tendencies of the APC administration as seen in the last four years, and their continuous propensity to disregard the rule of law and other principles of democracy. The statement was signed by his media aide, Ike Abonyi.
Ndume, Kalu, Bago Absent At Caucus Parley
Also yesterday, the APC NWC met with its caucus in the National Assembly in the final push to rally support for its candidates for leadership positions in both chambers.
LEADERSHIP however learnt that Ndume and Hon. Umar Muhammed Bago who is contesting with Hon. Gbajabiamila for the speakership were absent at the meeting.
Kalu and Alimikheana were also not seen at the meeting.
However, Oshiomhole told journalists at the end of the meeting that the party was confident of a landslide win for its preferred candidates.
He said: “It is basically to firm up all the conversations and lobbying that have gone on and we have already had a meeting with specific conclusions.
“We have all agreed as a caucus to endorse distinguished Senator Ahmed Lawan as APC candidate for the presidency of the Senate and distinguished Senator Omo-Agege for the deputy presidency of the Senate,” he said.
On Senator Ndume’s refusal to step down, Oshiomhole said: “Well, for now we are still trying to talk to Ali Ndume. I believe that he is a democrat. He understands that in a democracy, it is important that he listens to the voice of the majority and accept the decisions of the majority. I mean it is all about sacrifice. Like I said, I do not know of anybody who has been elected who is not qualified to become the Senate president, and senators are equal.
“For those who have stepped down, they have done that in recognition of the fact that at a particular point in time, only one person will emerge and I believe that my dear friend Senator Ali Ndume will not be a lone ranger. He will abide by the spirit of the party and he will respect our overall leader who is the president of our country, who is also the leader of our party. I do not have any fear, I believe Ndume will accept the will of the majority.” he said.
Court Orders Open Ballot System For NASS Elections
Meanwhile, an Abuja High Court headed by Justice O. A. Musa has granted an interim injunction restraining the clerk of the National Assembly, the clerk of the Senate and the sergeant-at-arms to the Senate and others from relying or enforcing the Senate Standing Orders 2015 (as amended) in today’s election.
The court, however, ordered the Senate to apply the 2011 rules which prescribed the use of open ballot rather than secret ballot mode in the election of the presiding officers of the Senate.
The order in the suit number FCT/HC/BW/CV/136/2019 with motion No, M/266/2019, was given after the court read the motion on notice and the accompany affidavit of Senator Jibrin Barau filed by his counsel, Ebere Nwanya.