As the 9th National Assembly is inaugurated today, SUNDAY ISUWA and KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL write on the underlying intrigues, lobbying and schemings of the gladiators that may determine those that will emerge leaders of both the Senate and House of Representatives today
Soon after the victory of the All Progressives Congress at the 2019 general elections, the ruling party, as expected, set the ball rolling to ensure that only those with its backing will occupy leadership positions i.e. President and deputy of the Senate and Speaker and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives in the 9th National Assembly.
This it did through its in-house zoning arrangements and consequent endorsements of the its preferred candidates, Senator Ahmed Lawan (Northeast) and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (Southwest). Predictably. the endorsement, particularly that of Gbajabiamila, has been met with criticism as it is seen as undue interference and because, the southwest has already has in its kitty, the position of the vice president.
Top amongst those opposed to the endorsements are members from the North-central and the South-east zones of the country, who premised their opposition on equity and fairness. Those from the North-central have argued that the zone has never produced a speaker and pointed out that it was instrumental in ensuring President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory at the polls therefore, should be considered, the Southeast’s is on the basis of marginalization.
Despite the outcry and the fact that it has bred acrimony between its members, the party has remained adamant in its decision and even issued a warning to rebelling members. But this of course, would not be the first time a ruling party will impose or attempt to impose candidates on the members of the legislature as this was also witnessed during the era of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
And while the constitution does not restrain minority parties from vying for leadership positions in the parliament, it has however, become a tradition for the majority party to produce the leadership given that it has the numbers. But this appears to have become a nagging problem for the legislature since the country’s return to democracy.
An independent arm of government, the legislature over the years, has had to contend with the issue of external interference and party imposition when time comes for its leaders to emerge. It has had cause to either assert its independence or succumb to pressures from ruling parties and the executive arm who think it their duties to determine who heads the parliament.
The 8th Assembly ended in a dramatic way. Having faced with series of crises, mainly coming from the external forces, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki was able to complete his tenure as Senate President despite leaving the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Against his former political party’s permutation, the former Kwara State governor, Saraki, who was also the chairman of the Nigeria’s Governors Forum (NGF), manuver his way to become the Senate president and chairman of the National Assembly in 2015.
That singular act made him pay dearly by moving from one court to another on either forgery allegation or corruption charges.
Not only that, the national assembly under his chairmanship in the history of Nigeria was invaded security personnel as a result of crisis that later consumed the them Director General of the Department of State Security Services (DSS), Maman Daura.
Determined to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2015 in the 9th Assembly, shortly after the general election, APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole ‘picked’ the 8th Assembly’s Senate leader, Ahmed Lawan and the House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila as the choice of the party for the 9th Assembly leadership.
He presented them to president Muhammadu Buhari, State governors and some party leaders who bought the idea.
Senators Danjuma Goje (Gombe) and Ali Ndume (Borno) said they would contest for the office of the senate president since it was zoned to their zone (North East) .
Goje’s campaign until his withdrawal last week was based on proxies outside the National Assembly while Ndume reached out to lawmakers including visiting some media houses.
Then Senate leader, Lawan also reached out to lawmakers-elect and media houses.
Since he was the choice of the party, many senators-elect openly declared their support for him and went ahead to organise campaign events, including launching a legislative agenda.
In the build up to today’s election, 99 Senators-elect were said to have endorsed Ahmed Lawan while the other aspirant, Ndume, said he would fight to the end, adding that he does not care about any open endorsement.
LEADERSHIP reports that 62 Senators-elect from the APC had on Saturday endorsed Lawan. That endorsement also followed another one by 37 Senators-elect from the opposition PDP.
Ahmed Lawan, Ali Ndume and Danjuma Goje all from the Northeastern states of the country were the three vying for the office of the Senate president and the chairman of the National Assembly until the former governor of Gombe state stepped down and openly endorsed Lawan.
With Goje’s withrawal from the race, the battle for the seat today is between Lawan and Ndume who were both Senate leaders at different times in the 8th Assembly.
The decision by the PDP lawmakers to back Lawan, it was gathered, was reached following a meeting at the residence of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu in the early hours of Sunday.
Prominent among PDP lawmakers that met with Lawan included: Senators Ike Ekeweremadu, Eyinnaya Abaribe, Emmanuel Bwacha, Dino Melaye, Theordore Orji, Philip Aduda, and James Manager.
The spokesman of the Senator Ahmad Lawan Camgain group, Senator
Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi told journalists that the endorsement was part of the desire of Senators to serve Nigerians.
According to him, the ninth Senate “is poised to deliver on the expectations of Nigerians, without taking them for granted”.
He added that come Tuesday, Senator Ahmad Lawan will emerge unopposed to clinch the Senate Presidency position.
Another lawmaker who was present at the meeting, and spoke on condition of anonymity said told the decision by PDP Senators-elect to throw their weight behind Lawan stemmed from the “urgent need to bring stability to the National Assembly.”
According to the lawmaker, a total number of 99 Senators have agreed to vote in favour of Lawan on June 11, 2019 as Senate President of the ninth National Assembly.
But the former senate leader, Ali Ndume dismissed speculations that he might be considering to opt out from contesting the election for the position of senate president of the 9th senate billed for today
Ndume said nobody has ever invited him from the Villa ostensibly to ask him to drop his aspiration or step down for anybody.
The senator who impliedly referred to the report that Senator Danjuma Goje has stepped down for Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, said that there won’t be any cause at this hour to drop his aspiration, meaning the die is cast already or it is too late in the day to consider such a thought.
Whoever that emerges the chairman of the national assembly today must respect the Senate, the lawmakers elect and Nigerians since the game was full of intrigues.
For the office of the deputy Senate president which will also be contested on the floor, LEADERSHIP gathered that an endorsement have not been done by the Lawmakers-elect on who should emerged.
It was gathered that five contenders are all working hard, pleading with colleagues for their votes today.
They are: Francis Alimikhena, Kabiru Gaya, Orji Uzor Kalu, Ovie Omo-Agege and Robert Ajayi Boroffice.
Meanwhile, the office of the clerk of the National Assembly headed by Mr Mohammed Sani-Omolori said it is ready for today’s task.
LEADERSHIP reports that the clerk will call the house to order, take a roll call of the senators-elect, presided over of the election of the National Assembly leadership and swear them in.
“That will be the major assignment of the clerk of which we are ready. After he call the house to order, he will take a roll call of the members of the National Assembly elect and conduct the Election. After the election, he will swear in the new leaders that will also presided over other lawmakers to take their oath of office,” a source at the CNA office said.
The Contest And Party Supremacy
It will be recalled that during its reign, then ruling party, PDP persistently but often times, unsuccessfully, tried to impose on the House, candidates for the position of the speaker of the House each time there was a vacuum to be filled as was witnessed during the Salisu Buhari era.
A more notable case was that of Patricia Etteh. The Obasanjo-led PDP back then in 2007, adopted Etteh as its preferred candidate for the position. While she emerged speaker, those opposed to the party’s imposition, set to work by picking at any and everything they could find to fight her and her sponsors. And five months into what turned out to be a tumultuous reign, Etteh, the first female speaker, was forced to resign the position over allegations of misappropriation of funds. Undeterred by the actions of the members, it attempted to force albeit, unsuccessfully, another person on them but again, members resisted it and chose Dimeji Bankole.
Again, in 2011, the party unsuccessfully attempted to foist Mulikat Akande-Adeola on the House following its endorsement after members once again kicked against the interference and asserted their independence by presenting their preferred candidate, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who defeated Akande-Adeola. Tambuwal’s emergence as speaker, it would be also recalled was not without drama as he and his deputy, Emeka Ihedioha, were penned to be arrested and prevented from gaining access to the chamber, but the duo with help of their colleagues, beat the security agents and found their way to the green chamber.
Upon wrestling power from the PDP in 2015, APC towed the same path by not just zoning the position to the Southwest but anointed Gbajabiamila for the seat. but like the rebels they have come to be known as, the lawmakers kicked against this by fielding and electing a candidate of their own choosing, Yakubu Dogara.
Obviously not a good student of history, the ruling party once more, ruffled the feathers of legislator by foisting a candidate on the 9th House under the guise of party supremacy. Expectedly, this was met with criticism both within and outside the party as well as the green chamber and has resulted in a contest between a section of the APC lawmakers that stand for the supremacy of the party and those who promote the independence of the legislature.
Critics have chided the leaders of the party over its meddlesome nature in the affairs of the legislature. They are of the view that such external interference will only reduce the legislature to an appendage of the executive which not augur well for the country’s nascent democracy.
Those opposed to the party’s endorsements opine that while it is understandable for the ruling party to aspire to hold leadership positions in the National Assembly, as obtained in other climes, the party should play an advisory role by urging its members to vote individuals who are right for the position, instead of imposing candidates on them.
Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center, (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, who noted that the 9th Assembly may be plagued by crises due to the party’s insistence to foist candidates on and, control the National Assembly leadership, warned that the legislature must not be thrown into an impasse over leadership appointments neither should power struggle be given priority over the institution’s constitutional functions.
Similarly, Senator-elect, Emmanuel Orker-Jev, lamented such situations whereby parties and the executive arm of government impose a leadership on the legislature saying, “I don’t think it is right to have a group of lawmakers elected in their own right, supported by the constitution as an arm of government, and you begin to start maneuvering to force a leadership on them.
Orker-Jev who argued that the Section 50 of the constitution states that both President and Deputy President of the Senate as well as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House shall be elected from amongst members, feared that if not handled properly, events of the past will repeat itself “because once people feel that the leader is forced on them, they will not work harmoniously”.
In the same vein, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, cautioned political parties and those at the corridors of power against imposing candidates on the legislature.
Ndume, who is contesting for Senate President against the party’s anointed candidate, Sen. Ahmed Lawan, noted that everyone ever imposed on legislators by past presidents and powerful politicians has never completed their tenure. “Imposition has never worked in the National Assembly; candidates imposed never last, that is if he or she wins”.
Its loss in 2015 regardless, the party continues to defend its decision by also arguing that the frosty relationship that existed between the executive and the legislature in the 8th Assembly was due to the fact that it didn’t have members who shared and believed in its ideology and agenda as leaders of the National Assembly hence, its decision to adopt its preferred candidate.
But this argument has been faulted by critics who are of the view that the party seems oblivious of the fact that the constitutional duties of the legislature surpasses party structure and that members of the opposition also have a role to play in the emergence of leaders given that the institution is made up of lawmakers across party lines working for the same purpose.
It is known fact that the opposition was instrumental in the emergence of Speakers Tambuwal and Dogara during the 7th and 8th House of Representatives. Members of the ruling party who kicked against impositions at during those periods formed alliances with the opposition parties to clinch victory.
In the current race, the PDP like it or not, will also be instrumental in who emerges speaker of the 9th House. The 128-member opposition is the beautiful bride that that has to be coveted by aspirants particularly, the endorsed candidate, as it will most definitely play spoiler.
While the Gbajabiamila camp has consistently laid claim to a block of PDP members on its side, it has asserted that the 223 votes from members of the APC is sufficient to coast it to victory and may not necessarily need votes from the main opposition. It However, informed that it offered a faction of the party, headship of 60 committees adding that it will continue to engage in talks with the “other faction”.
Making the declaration at the weekend, the director-general of the Gbajabiamila/Wase campaign organization, Hon. Abdulmumuni Jibrin, said Gbajabiamila will appoint them as chairmen and deputy chairmen of committees if he emerged speaker adding that the said PDP lawmakers have accepted the offer and are working with their colleagues in the APC to ensure the former House leader’s victory.
Jibrin who also acknowledged that the party was responsible for Gbajabiamila’s loss in 2015, informed that discussions are ongoing with the “other faction” of the PDP in the House. He added that the votes of APC members and the opposition had been secured unlike the mistake that that was “Before Femi’s endorsement by the party, the President, the governors and others, majority of us lawmakers have agreed that he is the speaker that we want.
“As it is today, he has massive support across party lines. In 2015, APC was just only guarding its votes because we believed then that we had the numbers to win the election and we didn’t bother about anything but the PDP concentrated on how to poach the APC members and that was how the election was won. But this time around, the APC is more comfortable because we have more numbers with our 223. But even at that, our campaign is more aggressive towards poaching the PDP members trying to poach our members.
As admirable as Jibrin’s optimism is, history has also shown that endorsement of a candidate by a party leadership, does not necessarily mean the individual does will clinch the position for which he was endorsed at the end of the day.
With the clock ticking and barring any last minute changes, Nigerians are eager to see the outcome of what promises to be a feisty contest that will mainly be between members of the APC, Femi Gbajabiamila (its preferred candidate) and Mohammed Bago, who is agitating for equity and balance.
One of two things will surely happen. History will either be repeated if Bago’s quest for justice, balance and fairness triumphs, or party supremacy will prevail if Gbajabiamila wins.