9th NASS leaderships and endorsement galore

...Is APC heading for Evans versus Okadigbo saga?

Ever since the endorsement of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila by the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) there have been festival of endorsements.  Patrick Andrew highlights.

When the winner talks tough

Following the February 23 National Assembly election, the matter of those to lead the 9th National Assembly has been contentious. That was expected especially since the life of the present NASS leadership is due to expire this June and in fact a new leadership must emerge on June 9 when the Senate and House of Representatives are to be inaugurated- the 9th NASS.

However, the contentious issue was further ignited by the national leadership of the ruling party- the APC when its national chairman Adams Oshiomhole declared that it has enough numbers to decide those to assume the leadership positions devoid of the shenanigan that played out in 2015 following a gang up by some of its members to thwart the position and choice of the party in respect of NASS’ leadership structure.

Oshiomhole in no uncertain term said the ruling party had already about 65 senators-elect out of 109 and 223 House of Representatives members out of the 360 and could therefore not need the collaboration of the opposition to select its leadership or take key legislative decision at any time with recourse to other political parties.

It was at the thank you dinner organised in honour of the senators and Representatives-elect on the platform of the APC.

At the dinner, President Muhammadu  Buhari, APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, had made the position of the party on the 9th NASS leadership structure quite unambiguous by revealing that the current Senate Majority Leader  and his counterpart in the House of Representatives Senator Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila were the anointed or endorsed candidates for Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives, respectively.

 “President Buhari made it known that Lawan is his choice and begged the senators-elect to support him.

“He spoke about how the present leadership of the National Assembly slowed down his government, stressing that the last four years have not been good for his government because of the hostilities from the leadership of the national assembly.

“The president said that he spent 12 years aspiring for the presidency and that the first four years was almost ruined and frustrated by the leadership of the national assembly,” a senator-elect who attended the meeting said in a recent interview.

In fact, Oshiomhole’s confident outburst where he repeatedly maligned the PDP for conniving with alleged APC renegades to deprive the party of its right to elect and install the leadership of the 8th NASS, was clearly derived from the president’s conviction that a repeat of the 2015 episode must be prevented.

Of course, Mr President was somewhat lackadaisical about who becomes the president of the senate and speaker of the house and therefore could not allow himself to be engrossed in the politics of the selection of the national assembly leadership, then. How wrong he was!

Governors give nod

Since the return of democracy in 1999, governors, especially from 2003 had forged potent forces to confront, manipulate and control the reins of power and in the political arena practically determine who gets what and under what condition. As a bloc and as elected senators- which has become a trend, they form a formidable front against other elected senators and have always had their way.

Therefore their endorsement of the candidature of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila for the seats of Senate President and Speaker of the House carried no little weight.

Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno state and 12 others recently elected into the 9th NASS decision to publicly back the duo as decided by the party must have lent no little credence to their candidatures.

“All our governors including those coming to the senate are 100 per cent in support of our party’s stance as far as election of new leadership for the national assembly is concerned.

“As far as Borno is concern, we are in alignment with the aspirations of Mr President and that of our party.

“Whoever the party endorses for any position, we will solely stand behind such a person because party discipline is absolutely essential for the sustainability of our democratic experiment.

“If everyone is to vote according to his own free will surely that would be a recipe for disaster or confusion. So, we have to align ourselves with the aspirations of the president,’’ he said.

He, therefore, dismissed the insinuation that former governors in the national assembly were against the election of Lawan and Gbajabiamila as leaders of the two chambers of the national assembly.

Shettima said the only way APC governors can show appreciation to President Buhari is for them to support his programmes and political decisions, adding that ensuring the emergence of a leadership that would cooperate with the president was key to realizing a stable democracy and bringing the dividends of democracy to Nigerians.

Pro- democracy groups

As if on cue, several organisations have queued behind the party’s endorsement. One of such groups was the Sustainable Democracy Agenda (SUDA), which firstly acknowledged the APC’s swift endorsement of the duo of Lawan and Gbajabiamila and then thumbed up for former governors for throwing their weight behind the party’s choice of leaderships.

A statement by the convener of the group, Ibrahim Haruna Usman, said the endorsement by former and serving APC governors elected into the senate is a vindication that the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC did not impose Lawan on senators-elect as alleged by the camp of one of the contestants for the senate presidency.

“We commend the highly influential APC governors block for this support and by this endorsement the group confirmed that the choice of Lawan by the party leadership was a culmination of broad based consultations with various organs and levels of the party.

“This endorsement put to rest any remaining hope by the minority Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to infiltrate the majority APC for the purpose of hijacking the leadership of the national assembly as it did in 2015.”

Further, the statement said: “By this decision of the APC governors, the party has effectively moved away from the indecision of 2015, which led to the power tussle that affected the productivity of the present senate. We call on the APC leadership to sustain the ongoing dialogue with all its senators-elect to bring them on board towards actualization of this resolution.

“The APC should also monitor the activities of any member of the party that may be working to jeopardize its resolve at consolidating its majority in the legislature. SUDA is against any move at reenacting the 2015 scenario, which didn’t augur well for growth of democracy and development in the country.”

Counter endorsements

However, Lawan’s endorsement has not come without counter-endorsement. Some stakeholders from Borno state, under the aegis of Concerned Borno Citizens, assured the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari that their kinsman, Senator Ali Ndume, will not sabotage the government if elected the president of the 9th senate.

The group through its spokesman, Alhaji Yakubu Umar, appealed to the president to reward Ndume’s loyalty to the APC by supporting the senator’s aspiration. The group reminded Buhari of his endorsement of Ndume’s bid last December, and wondered why the party decided to zone the office to Senator Ahmad Lawan, instead of zoning it to the North-east.

“President Buhari in December last year unreservedly made an undertaking to handsomely reward any party member who works very hard for him to win his re-election bid.

“Our group, which boasts of former governors, former ministers and other leaders of the APC in Borno state, wants Ndume to be considered for the position because our state gave the party over 90 per cent of the votes from the state in the just-concluded election.

“President Buhari should not suffer further sabotage by allowing a wrong person to be elected as the 9th senate president.

“The President should personally subject antecedents of Senators Ndume and Lawan to scrutiny to determine who is more loyal, experienced or qualified to be Senate President.

“In terms of lawmaking administrative experience, Ndume was first a minority leader in the House of Representatives and later the majority leader in the senate before Lawan.

“Ndume was punished and removed as Senate Leader because he was seen to be too close to the presidency. He was suspended from plenary for defending President Buhari’s policy.

“Senate President, Bukola Saraki, replaced Ndume with Lawan who he considered as a willing partner, and under whom the presidency began to suffer sabotage.

“Ndume will be a more competent senate president because while he was the senate leader, Ndume had the highest number of bills passed and also topped the chart of bills sponsorship with 64 bills.

“Records also show that no bill passed was denied assent by the president, but under Lawan, more bills passed were rejected.”

In fact, Ndume himself had said the decision had taken some of them aback because they were neither consulted not allowed to even make comment, a development he said fuelled resentment for the party’s position. He, therefore, endorsed himself and vowed to traverse oceans to ensure his candidacy gets the desired nod among senators not outside interests.

“The decision by the party to settle for an individual instead of zoning the position to a particular geo-political zone and also consulting or allowing the senators from that zone to decide who among them they prefer as senate president, is a surprise.

“We were surprised on Monday when national chairman of our party told us a decision had been taken to adopt Ahmad Lawan as candidate from the North-east for the position of the president of the senate.

“The reason why I am shocked and I am sure that is the feeling of my colleagues, is that the constitutional provision for the emergence of the leadership of the Senate is clearly spelt out.

“Section 51 (a) of the constitution says that “there shall be a senate president and deputy senate president who shall be elected by members of the house. Section 1 of the constitution clearly states that “this constitution is binding on all Nigerians and government agencies.

“It went further to say that any other law that contravenes the provision of the constitution is null and void.  As a party that is supposed to be democratic and as a government that insists on allowing due process to prevail, this is strange. A candidate of APC normally emerges by one of three means, namely- consensus, indirect elections and direct primaries.

“As I said, such a decision was taken and we were not given the chance to ask questions. We were not allowed to make comments. The president made his remarks and after that, the national anthem was recited.

“Even the chosen candidate was not given the chance to thank us or say something about it. Those of us that have indicated interests were not consulted or given the chance to make any comments.

No to rubber stamp senate president-PDP

Some senators-elect from the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have envisaged that the 9th senate would be an appendage of the executive, if Senator Ahmed Lawan, who has been endorsed by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), becomes the senate president.

The senators-elect in separate interviews vowed to give block vote to any APC candidate who will not be seen as a “rubber stamp” of the executive and can protect the independence of the legislature.

The PDP senators-elect believed the endorsement of Lawan by the APC national chairman would easily compromise the independence of the legislature. However, they were silent on their preferred candidate for the senate president seat, even though Senator Danjuma Goje and former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume are in the race.

A senator-elect from the North-central who pleaded anonymity posited: “I have been a member in the House of Representatives before and I know what independence of the legislature means.

“Should our leaders be made outside? Should some people sit somewhere and decide our leadership?”

“As opposition, we will take decision on our own which aligns with the interest of Nigerians and which would further grow our democracy.”

Former governor of Benue state, Gabriel Suswam, had last week expressed similar concern, pointing out that the ruling All Progressives Congress might be in for another shocker.

APC agrees counter endorsement

Apparently surprised by the responses even from loyal party members that the external endorsement or anointment of the NASS leadership could represent an imposition of leadership and therefore a veiled subjugation of the independence of the legislature, the APC attempted a tacit withdrawal from the quest to install the 9th NASS leadership.

The party licensed its members that are interested in aspiring for the leadership positions of the incoming National Assembly to consult across board. Oshiomhole had earlier vowed the opposition would get nothing but the position of minority leader.

The APC in statement said it is not opposed to its members in the national assembly consulting with members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with regards to leadership of the 9th assembly.

A statement by its national publicity secretary, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, said that such consultations were normal in a democracy and dismissed alleged claim that it would sanction members of the APC that had been engaging in such consultations with members of the opposition had not contravened the party’s Constitution.

“We are inundated with reports of our members in the national assembly holding consultations with members of the opposition over the election of leaders into the 9th national assembly.

“Let me state that our party has no objection to such consultations, it is a normal democratic practice world over to stretch hands across the divides. And contrary to some media reports, the actions of our members do not contradict the party’s position.

“APC has comfortable majority in both chambers, therefore, we have the number to produce the leadership,” he said.

He noted that democracy recognised the importance of the opposition, especially when you do not have two-thirds which would be required at some very critical situations.

However, he said that the APC as the governing party understands that a stable and peaceful national assembly would enhance its capacity to deliver more to Nigerians.

He added that the party was particularly not averse to negotiation by Senator Lawan, and its other senators-elect working to fulfill the position taken by it.

“It is important to note that one of the key considerations for adopting Lawan as the party’s candidate for the Senate Presidency is his ability to carry everyone along.

“The party has confidence in him not to compromise the progressive ideology of APC, so clearly, Sen. Ahmed Lawan is capable of conducting his negotiations within the prism of APC’s objectives,” he said.

Evans vs Okadigbo

Contemporary observers say it is obvious that the APC might inadvertently be heading for a repeat of what had played out in June 1999, Senator Evan Ewerem was imposed on the senators as the preferred choice of the leadership of the dominant PDP and President Olusegun Obasanjo.

But the position of the party was strongly opposed by some members of the upper legislative lawmakers, who threw up Chief Chuba Okadigbo from the South-east where the position was zoned thus defying the party’s endorsement.

The majority of the senators were, however, arm-twisted to support Chief Evan Enwerem. Still, Okadigbo contested against Enwerem, and on the floor of the Senate on June 17, 1999 but was defeated.

However, Enwerem’s reign as the elected senate president was neither pleasant for him nor the government. He didn’t last.

The Okadigbo group did not give Enwerem, whom they perceived as a stooge to the executive, a breathing space, and on November 18, 1999 he was impeached and Okadigbo elected senate president.

The executive and other forces ganged up against Okadigbo, and he was subsequently impeached in August, 2000 and Anyim Pius Anyim elected as senate president.

The imposition did not cease as Senator Adolphus Wabara was anointed by the powers that be. He too didn’t last. Impunity had reigned supreme and the PDP and its government suffered not just the embarrassment but severely divided administration.

Then sanity sets in. In 2007, the PDP showed wisdom by zoning the position of senate president to North-central not to certain individuals although there were persons it had in mind and deployed tact to convince senators to support the preferred candidate.

That was what led to the contest between David Mark and George Akume. Because that happened, Mark served for two terms, in what remains the most peaceful senate ever. In fact, had the PDP won in the 2015 general elections, Mark would have served for another term.

The PDP evidently learnt hard lessons from crass impunity and took proactive steps to correct it. Will the APC draw from these lessons and act to avert needless regression to impunity and irritant grandstanding that will yield no useful dividends?

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