The internal disagreement within the All Progressives Congress, APC on who emerges Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives is a new dimension to the end of impunity the party promised in its election campaign
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Senator Lawali Shuaibu, the Deputy National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC smiled wryly not too long ago when Vanguard sought his opinion on what it was like to be transformed from 16 years of playing opposition politics to inclusion in the camp of the ruling party.
“I have also asked myself and I remember telling my colleagues in the National Working Committee that we have to be a little careful this time because we are now the hunted and no more the hunters,” the former Senate Minority leader said in an interview.
His smile and reference to a transformation of roles from hunter to the hunted is now a matter of worry among the different contenders for prime position in the new government about to be formed by the APC.
Just as the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the APC National Working Committee had zoned many of the offices about to be shared among the zones. That zoning had projected the office of Senate President towards the North Central, but no sooner had the decision on the Speaker of the House of Representatives been made it was immediately engulfed in controversy over the real intentions of the NWC. Some reports had it that it was zoned to the Southwest while some others had it that it was zoned to the Northeast, but whatever, the decision on the speakership tore the party hierarchy into two, leading to the crisis that has just emerged.
Remarkably, an internal party retreat for senators-elect on the platform of the party last weekend ended in a fiasco after contenders for the office of Senate President broke the meeting into two. The senators-elect are divided into two camps, the Bukola Saraki bloc and the Ahmad Lawan/George Akume bloc.
Another meeting with members-elect of the House of Representatives that started last night to end today, it is now feared, may end up similarly in controversy.
Ahead of the meeting supporters of one of the popular candidates for speaker, Yakubu Dogara issued a statement announcing that 213 members-elect had endorsed their man for the post of speaker.
That was followed almost by the revelation by supporters of his main rival, Femi Gbajabiamila, who claimed to have garnered 179 members-elect in support of his aspiration. Their claim was also buttressed by the assertion that Gbajabiamila should ease into the position on the premise that as the outgoing minority leader, that he has paid the price.
Their point was, however, not much of a soothing comfort to supporters of Dogara, who are pointing at what they describe as his outstanding qualities in their support for him.
Remarkably, members of the APC are concerned about the development but reassure themselves that the unfolding development is all part of the internal democracy that many of them criticised was absent in the PDP.
It is thus significant that a number of the concerned party members have called for the unfolding democratic experience to be allowed to go the full hog without the intervention of party leaders.
Particularly, some are anxious that the president-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari may intervene into the process. However, sources disclosed that repeated efforts by interested stakeholders to get the president-elect to intervene into the issue have been rebuffed by Buhari who has insisted that the election of the principal officers of the legislature should be left in their hands.
In an interview with the Sunday Trust, Buhari had said as much.
“The National Assembly has its own standard of picking its leadership and it is not for me, the president-elect, to come and pretend that whatever happens it is I, the president-elect, who should determine it. I don’t want to start on the wrong footing with the National Assembly,” Buhari had been quoted as saying in an interview.
It is a development that has understandably gotten some members of the party on edge. Especially affected are those whose aspiration are being pushed on the patronage of party leaders who it is feared may come out worse in a competitive contest on the floor of the House or in an internal caucus of the party.
Noting his determination not to intervene into the emergence of the new National Assembly leadership, Buhari in the same interview said:
“Constitutionally, we are three separate arms of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. For example, I cannot say that once I am sworn-in I will change the set of the Supreme Court judges. It is not possible. Neither is it possible for me to come out, and I say I want this person for Senate President, or I want that person to lead the House of Representatives. I think it is wrong, and I cannot come out to support anybody for the leadership of the legislature because they have their ranking, as they call it.”
Buhari’s decision to stay aloof in the emergence of the new National Assembly leadership is undoubtedly a result of the experience of what happened in the relationship between his predecessors and the National Assembly.
All the presidents who sought to foist leadership on the National Assembly had problems with the legislators. Of particular mention were President Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan.
Indeed, in the House of Representatives members who are smarting from the way and manner they rebuffed Jonathan’s aspiration to foist Mulikat Akande on the House in 2011 are vowing to do a repeat with Dogara if the party leadership that they claimed is inclined towards Gbajabiamila decides to foist him without an internal competitive process.
Besides the reference to the Aminu Tambuwal uprising, party stakeholders are also drawing the attention of the party to the fact that President Jonathan’s problems within the PDP was exacerbated by his decision to recognise Governor Jonah Jang who polled 16 against the majority decision of 19 governors who supported Rotimi Amaechi in the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF leadership election.
The APC as it is now is pitched between the devil and the deep blue sea on how it resolves the issue of the leadership contest. On one hand, a number of stakeholders are calling on the party to adhere to the principle of zoning and implement the zoning policy articulated by the party’s NWC. On the other hand a number of stakeholders are in support of the claim by the interim national chairman of the party, Chief Bisi Akande who told newsmen in Lagos last week that there was nothing like zoning in the party.
Those who flay the claim say that the emergence of some of the party’s victorious candidates, notably, Akinwunmi Ambode as governor of Lagos State was on the basis of zoning.
Whether it is in the Senate or in the House of Representatives, positions have been taken by many members of the Eight National Assembly putting the party in a quandary on what to do should any of the losing contenders lose. Such worries are indeed reflective of a change that the party promised in the period leading to the election; to wit, that impunity would be brought an end.