Senate leadership crisis: How Senate dumped Ndume for Lawan
‘Why I was removed’ We‘re not bothered – PDP caucus
Reconciliation yielding results – APC ‘Akpabio may go’
By Ezrel Tabiowo, Taiye Odewale and Bode Olagoke, Abuja
Senator Ali Ndume, an All Progressives Congress lawmaker representing Borno South, yesterday became the first major casualty of the leadership tussle within the party in the New Year, with the Senate suddenly giving him the boot as its Majority Leader.
In his place, the lawmakers announced a former contender to the Senate Presidency under the current dispensation, Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC Yobe North), who until yesterday was the Chairman, Senate Committee on Defence, as replacement.
All the moves were at the instance of the Senate caucus of the APC which has the majority in the Upper Chamber.
Lawan was the party’s preferred candidate for the position after losing to the incumbent Senate President Bukola Saraki, but the Senate North East caucus rejected his choice and settled for Ndume, who also lost his bid for the Deputy Senate President’s seat to the incumbent, Ike Ekweremadu.
A twist, however, ensued yesterday when Senate President Saraki read a letter from the Senate APC caucus on the floor announcing Lawan as the new majority leader of the 8th Senate.
The letter dated January 10, 2016, reads: “His Excellency, the President of the Senate, notice of change of leadership. This is to inform your Excellency and the Senate that after several meetings held on Monday, the 9th of January, 2017.
“Upon due deliberation and consultation, the APC caucus of the Senate, herby wishes to notify you of the change in the leadership of the Senate and the new Senate Leader, and is now Senator Ahmed Lawan representing Yobe North Senatorial District, Yobe state”
Sources within the APC caucus who are Saraki’s loyalists, confirmed to our correspondents that at the said meeting on Monday night, many of the APC senators were not happy with Ndume’s ‘antagonistic posture’ against Senate’s decisions in recent time.
Citing Senate’s rejection of the embattled acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu as an example, one of the sources said, Ndume’s contradictory remarks on the resolution to State House reporters few days after, “was totally in bad taste, hence, the need for his removal.”
It was also gathered that Ndume was fingered to be in the know of the alleged financial impropriety in the North-east Development Fund involving the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, upon which the Senate called for the latter’s immediate removal by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Again, Ndume defended the SGF, saying the Senate did not indict him as widely reported. This forced out a response from the Senate’s spokesman, Abdullahi Aliyu Sabi, who reiterated the collective position of the upper chamber on both Magu and the SGF.
‘His removal not discussed’
But another source who spoke to our correspondents under anonymity to one of our correspondents , disclosed that “at no point did APC lawmakers resolve to have Ndume removed as majority leader during Monday’s meeting of the caucus.
“In fact, Ndume was in attendance at the meeting where only matters concerning the party were discussed. During the meeting, no move was made to have an election among APC Senators, not to mention of having Ndume removed and replaced by Senator Lawan as Majority Leader of the upper chamber.”
It was further gathered that the letter read by the Senate President had only the imprimatur and support of a handful of APC Senators loyal to Saraki.
Ndume explains self
But briefing journalists after plenary, Ndume, who was not in the Senate chamber when the letter was read, said he was shocked by the sudden development.
He said as Senate Leader, he led the business of the Senate from the beginning of the session yesterday before he went to pray at about 12:45pm, only to be confronted with the ‘bizarre’ development by journalists.
He said: “Let me say I don’t have much to say because actually I was leading the business of the Senate and when it was like quarter to one as usual, I asked my deputy to sit in for me while I go to pray.
“On coming back, I discovered that the session is over and one of your colleagues approached me and said leader what happened, and I said what happened, and he said there has been announcement in the change of leadership. I said I didn’t know.
“At this point, that is the position. I didn’t know that there was change of leadership because I was not there, I went for prayers and I didn’t know what actually happened and I cannot say much for now”.
However, after pulling himself together, Ndume explained that his removal was as a result of his position on Magu’s failure to scale the screening hurdle at the Senate.
“What I said was that for us (Senate) to claim to have rejected a nominee sent to us by the president, we have to follow the right procedure, and observe our rules. The nominee should have been called into the chamber and presented before senators who will then openly vote on whether to accept or reject his or her nomination.
“In the case of Magu, that was not done. We only had a closed-door session and when we emerged the Senate spokesperson claimed that he had been rejected. I had to set the record straight by saying we never rejected the nominee. This is because you don’t accept or reject a nominee at a closed session. Our votes and proceedings are there as evidence of my claims,” the embattled lawmaker said.
Continuing, he said: “Ï was surprised that such a simple and harmless clarification could
rattle and anger some of my colleagues. I thought it wasn’t a big deal to disagree over issues. I didn’t realise that that simple matter would snowball into a plot to remove me.
“The other day, somebody mentioned to me that the Senate President had commissioned Dino Melaye to collect signatures to remove me. I didn’t pay much attention to the information because I actually thought it was a joke or a rumour.
“I didn’t feel that disagreeing with colleagues, and sharing my understanding of what transpired at our closed session was an offence, grievous enough to cause my removal.”
Meanwhile, Kabiru Marafa, an ally of Lawan, the new majority leader, has lauded the leadership change as “victory for APC”, saying the party had long wanted Lawan to serve as Senate Leader after losing to Saraki.
According to him, the decision to sack Ndume was reached at the APC Senate caucus meeting on Monday.
Reacting to the development, some ranking Senators belonging to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, expressed indifference, saying the minority party was not in any way bothered by Ndume’s ouster.
Drawing a line to the alliance between the governing APC and the opposition PDP in the leadership composition of the upper chamber, the lawmakers described the removal of the majority leader and his replacement as an all APC affair.
The senators, however, cautioned that should the PDP decide in future to have the leadership of its caucus changed, the ruling party should avoid the meddling in its affairs of the minority party.
One of them who spoke to Blueprint said: “Let it be clearly said that we are not bothered by what has happened because it is an APC affair. It is the ruling party in the upper chamber, so
whatever they choose to do is up to them and none we should concern ourselves with.
“During the elections for the leadership position of the upper chamber, the agreement between APC and PDP stopped at the positions of Senate President and Deputy Senate President. We have no interest in the others since emergence is strictly determined at the caucus level.
“As such, if PDP senators decide tomorrow to do theirs, the APC should not interfere.”
Asked if the party had plans of changing its leadership composition, the lawmakers dismissed same saying “members of the party in the upper chamber presently have full confidence in the present leadership of Senator Godswill Akpabio”.
Akpabio too risks sack
However, upon further investigations, it was gathered that Akpabio, the Senate Minority Leader, may be the next on the line.
This, it was further revealed, “is because of his failure to live up to expectations by challenging the position of the ruling party in the upper chamber when and where necessary. For instance, the walkout staged by the caucus November last year, during plenary following the defection of one of its members, Senator Yele Omogunwa, to the ruling party (APC), was not well handled by our leader.”
Akpabio, it was learnt, was forced to object Saraki’s ruling on the matter, following mounting pressures on him by PDP Senators to act or be shown the way out to allow for a more vibrant leader to emerge.
Right step – APC
Reacting to the development, the APC expressed satisfaction with the choice of Lawan as the new leader of the Senate, describing it as a fruit of its reconciliatory effort.
In a statement by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Malam Bolaji Abdullahi, yesterday in Abuja, the APC thanked the former Senate Leader, Ndume for his service and sacrifice.
Abdullahi said: “The party views this as concrete expression of faith by the APC Senate Caucus in our efforts to resolve the lingering issues that have trailed the election of Senate leadership. We believe this is a major step forward in our efforts to reunite the various interest groups in that Senate election, thereby presenting a common legislative front for our great party.
“We are particularly delighted that the consultations that were initiated towards the end of 2015 between the Party caucuses in the National Assembly and the party executives as well as other leading stakeholders of our party has yielded these results and the Senate, has
demonstrated its willingness to finally submit to the will of the Party in this regard.
“Recall that soon after the issue of election in the Senate occurred, the Party leadership had resolved that Senator Lawan be compensated with the position of the Senate Leader. Sadly, that directive was not fully complied with at the time. But we are happy to see this change
effected, which represents a significant progress in our efforts to build a strong and united Party.
“With this development therefore, we are confident that the issues arising from the elections in the Senate in 2015 have been put to rest. We thank Senator Ndume for his service and sacrifice to our party, which would not be forgotten.
“We also congratulate Senator Lawan, the new Senate Leader on his election by the APC caucus in the Senate. We hope he will use his vast experience and knowledge to enhance
legislative works to further our party’s agenda of change.”
APC, therefore, assured Nigerians, saying, “However, with this latest development, APC has demonstrated its resilience and capacity to resolve its internal differences in order to realise the true change and transformation that we promised Nigerians.”