9th NASS leadership: Can Lawan, Gbajabiamila stabilise polity?

Will the endorsement of Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila by the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the preferred party man for the speakership position of the House of Representatives as well as Senator Ahmad Lawan for the president of the Senate in the 9th Assembly stabilise the polity? TAIYE ODEWALE takes a look at the issues at play.

Like 2015, like 2019

The governing APC has unequivocally declared to Nigerians that the choices it made four years ago, precisely on Saturday, June 6, 2015, through the emergence of Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan (Yobe North) and Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila (Surulere Federal Constituency) from its straw polls as preferred party men for the positions of the president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives in the about-to-end 8th National Assembly, are the same choices it has made for the leadership of the in-coming 9th National Assembly.

OJune 9, 2015, at the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, both Lawan and Gbajabiamila failed in their bids to be president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, despite the party’s endorsements as other party men then, Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon Yakubu Dogara, clinched the positions with block supports from elected lawmakers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and even further support from some APC lawmakers-elect.

Perhaps, in compensating the duo of Lawan and Gbajabiamila for the disappointment of 2015 and their unshaken loyalty to the party ever since, the party without much ado anointed them for the positions. This is despite the backlash such endorsements have been attracting from among elected lawmakers within the party itself and Nigerians generally. Informed political analysts are of the view that a repeat of the 2015 scenarios may happen at both chambers if the matter is not well handled by the party’s national leaders.

For instance, on Lawan’s endorsement which was announced by the APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, on March 25, this year, at the Presidential Villa to the hearing of other APC senators-elect, there are dissenting voices from both senators-elect and various interest groups within the party.

Ndume, others kick

Specifically, aside from Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume (Borno South) that has been kicking against the endorsement of Ahmad Lawan by APC national leadership and has also vowed to contest against him on the day of inauguration, other interest groups within the party have also been kicking against such anointments citing Section 50(1a and b) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

The Section states that, “There shall be a President and Deputy President of the Senate who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves; and (b) a Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.”

On the strength of the constitutional provisions, Ndume and some groups within the party frowned upon the “endorsement of anybody by the party for any of the four presiding positions at both chambers of the National Assembly, that is, the President of the Senate, Deputy President of the Senate, speaker of the House of Representatives and Deputy Speaker, respectively.”

The latest of such objections was the one made by the zonal and state youth leaders of the APC on Tuesday, this week, in Abuja.

The youth leaders in a jointly signed communiqué issued at the end of their meeting not only called on the national leadership of the party to summon an emergency NEC meeting for proper zoning of the four available presiding officers’ positions across the four zones of North-east, North-central, South-south and South-east. This is because North-west and South-west already have the positions of president and vice-president of the country in their kitty.

The communiqué signed by Comrade Terver Aginde (North-central), Maigari Bello Kasimu (North-east), Abubakar Saadu (North-west), Odu Onyeka (South-east), Gabriel Iduseri (South-south) and Lawal Kolade (South-west), reads: “Following prior consultations and subsequent deliberations, we, the Forum of zonal/state youth leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the meeting that took place today on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, at the International Conference Centre (ICC) in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, hereby resolve as follows:

“(1) APC convene a meeting of NEC immediately. (ii) We call for  unity and reconciliation at all levels of the party. Therefore we demand the immediate rescission of all purported suspensions in the name of the party.

“(iii) Ensure that all positions in National Assembly are immediately zoned to accommodate the six geo-political zones for equity and fairness. No zone is 1ess important than the other. Zonal stakeholders should be allowed to own and determine the process.

“(iv) Ensure that the various organs of the party at zonal and state level are made functional in accordance with the laws governing the party and to reposition the party beyond President Muhammadu Buhari and 2023.

“(V) Finally, we appeal to Mr. President to consult the youth organs of the party in his next cabinet appointments especially those that affect the youth.”

However, on the same day, the APC youth leaders call for cancellation of any endorsement already given to any party man for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly, another Youth forum within the party threw its weight behind Senator Ahmad Lawan for the position of president of the 9th Senate as declared by the party’s leadership at the national level.

Speaking, on behalf of the Youth Forum in applauding the endorsement right at the campaign headquarters of Lawan in Transcorp Hilton, Ife Adebayo said “as far as the presidency of the 9th Senate is concerned, Senator Ahmad Lawan is the round peg that can perfectly fit into the round hole going by his track record of performance in the parliament within the last twenty years.”

According to him, aside from parliamentary experience that cannot be matched by any other contender for the position, Lawan also stands out in intellectual capacity, being a PhD holder in remote sensing.

“We, of the Progressive Youth Forum, identify with your highly welcome aspiration and appeal to all senators-elect across party lines to rally round you for development-driven leadership of the 9th Senate and by extension, 9th National Assembly devoid of unnecessary rancour with the executive,” he said.

In his response, Senator Lawan flanked by his fellow senators-elect, thanked the Youths for their support and promised not to let them and other Nigerians down if eventually emerged as president of the 9th Senate.

He disabused the minds of those insinuating that Senate under him as president would be a rubber stamp one, saying: “Separation of powers among the three arms of government is all about specialisation of functions and not acrimonious competition or rivalry in governance.

“If as president of the 9th Senate, leading the Senate and by extension, the National Assembly in constructive engagements with other arms of government particularly the executive, for beneficial and practical delivery of dividends of democracy to the Nigerian masses is what is called rubber stamp; so be it.”

Borno gov’s take

Earlier, before the youth endorsement, precisely on Monday, this week, the governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima, also threw his weight behind Lawan despite being the governor of the state where Ndume hails from.

Shettima, who declared his support for Lawan and the party for the endorsement right in the presence of Lawan support group among APC Senators-elect said: “I hail from the same state with the distinguished senator Ali Ndume and I appreciate the fact that politics is local. But politics is also national. And I believe the bond that binds us together supersedes whatever we might harbour.

“For the position of president of the 9th Senate, I fully align with the aspiration of my party and that of President Muhammadu Buhari and by the grace of God, we are going to mobilise all our goodwill to see that we are fully on board.

“We are for Senator Ahmad Lawan, we are for Hon Femi Gbajabiamila and all other senators and other Reps members endorsed by the party. We are for party discipline that allowed everyone to aspire for political offices. We believe that we must respect the party. All of us won under platforms. There is no provision for independent candidate. I am fully on board; I am for Senator Ahmad Lawan for Senate president.

“I am the first indigene of the state; I have made wide consultations with our leaders from Borno before resolving to back Senator Ahmed Lawan. And most importantly, let’s be brutally honest, Muhammadu Buhari is the single candidate in the country that most of us from the North won election by aligning with him.

“He has endorsed some of the best hands we have in the system and where we hail from; Senator Ahmed Lawan is one of the best hands we have. It is a reality. He has been in the national assembly since 1999 he has the experience, exposure, pedigree, intellect to redefine the process.

“He is the best amongst equals. He is level headed, calm, and mature and we need such quality of leadership to drive the 9th Senate.”

But in spite of such endorsement, interested party men like Senator Ndume in the Senate, Hon Umaru Bago Mohammed in the House of Representatives, etc, are still forging ahead with their aspirations of either becoming Senate president or Speaker of the House of Representatives which invariably is generating controversy on the mode of election to be adopted at inauguration of the 9th National Assembly on Monday, June 10, 2019, or Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

While those against endorsement within the APC fold  at both chambers and the entire PDP Senators- elect are insisting that the open secret balloting model used in 2015 for election of presiding officers should be adopted , those toeing party lines within the APC fold, are pushing for jettisoning of the model for full fledged open balloting.

However, in achieving that amendments will have to be carried out on the Rule Book used by both Chambers in 2015, the process of which used to be controversial as experienced with the 2015 Rule Book used by the Senate upon which forgery allegation were levelled against the current Senate president, Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, and former speaker to the National Assembly (CNA), Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa.

Realities

Going by the realities on ground, whatever process that will be adopted for election of the presiding officers for the 9th National Assembly, the endorsed Lawan and Gbajabiamila and APC as a party, definitely needs to go the extra mile within the fold of the APC lawmakers-elect in ensuring that what happened in 2015 does not repeat itself.

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