•Lawan, our only choice for Senate President — APC
•Adds: No sharing power with PDP; vows to deal with betrayers
•Ndume lied; we had consensus on Lawan, says Aliyu Sabi
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru & Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA — The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, yesterday, explained that its choice of Senator Ahmad Lawan as the next president of the Senate was binding on its senators, even as the decision on Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, as Speaker has sparked a crisis in unexpected quarters within the party.
The party’s position on Lawan was also further buttressed by Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, who, yesterday, dismissed Senator Ali Ndume’s claim that he, Lawan was being imposed.
Explaining its decision on the emergence of the next presiding officers, the APC insisted that it would not share any offices with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, saying it would be a winner-takes-all affair.
This came as Senator Matthew Uhroghide (PDP, Edo South), yesterday, warned that the PDP could again determine the configuration of the National Assembly leadership if the ruling party repeats the mistakes it made in 2015.
The apparent resistance to Gbajabiamila nonetheless, Vanguard has learned that the party has obtained the commitment of 166 new members-elect to push forward the party’s decision on the issue.
The resistance to Gbajabiamila, Vanguard gathered is coming from some members of his immediate political family in Lagos, who believe that his emergence as Speaker would disrupt the popular agitation to position a female senator-elect from the same political family as deputy Senate President.
However, competent sources yesterday, affirmed that Gbajabiamila has the support of the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu despite his closeness to the senator-elect being canvassed for the office of Deputy Senate President.
Vanguard further gathered yesterday, that Gbajabiamila and Lawan have met with the President in a ‘get to know you’ basis ahead of their possible enthronement.
Crisis looms over Gbaja
The prospects for Gbajabiamila became ensnared after some members of the APC from the South West started canvassing for a popular female senator-elect from the region as Deputy Senate President.
However, that campaign was directly threatened by the fact that the office of Speaker and DSP which follow sequentially in the order of protocol cannot be taken by the same zone.
Vanguard could not confirm if the alleged aspiration of Olusegun Odebunmi from Oyo State was a fallout of the agitation for the DSP for the South West.
Besides the threat from Odebunmi, who would be going to the House of Representatives for a third term, Gbajabiamila who is going for the fifth term was also being accused by some members as being arrogant and proud.
Vanguard gathered that the national leadership of the party was determined to use the forthcoming leadership contest to test the loyalty of new members.
“APC will use the situation to test the loyalty of members. But as it is now, the new members are very loyal, and we are only having issues with the old members.
“But I pity those that will be disloyal to the party this time; they will have a rough deal in the hands of the party,” a source told Vanguard.
While acknowledging mutterings concerning Gbajabiamila’s personal relations with members, the high-level source said: “Yes, there are complaints about him being arrogant and proud, but he has explained that he is not that way. The party will use the new members who are more loyal to deliver him. They have all pledged loyalty to the party.”
The source was quick to dismiss insinuations of Tinubu backing away from Gbajabiamila, saying yesterday: “It is Tinubu’s project, it cannot be otherwise.”
It’s party business, says Issa-Onilu
Meanwhile, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu also gave credence to the party’s determination to stamp party discipline on its legislators in the choice of Lawan and Gbajabiamila.
“The party in its judgment believes that we will not only zone, we will go as far as identifying who from a particular zone is fit and proper as the Senate President. From every zone of this country, we have ranking members in the National Assembly all eminently qualified to be Senate President, but we cannot have two Senate presidents.
So, in this case, considering other factors, the party, and when I say the party, I am not just referring to the NWC because there was a wide consultation across the country, the party leaders, governors, and Mr. President. So, this is not just something coming from the Chairman, Mr Adams Oshiomhole or NWC; it is the position of the ruling party. So, the idea of taking the thing to the zone is an option we had also considered before now arriving at a particular individual from the North-East,” Issa-Onilu said.
‘Winner-takes-all season is here’
He added that the position of the party on taking charge of the leadership of the National Assembly was not a threat, but in line with democratic norms as obtained in advanced democracies.
“I have listened to the PDP react to this, and in their usual style, they exhibited gross ignorance. What we practise in Nigeria is called the Presidential System of Government, and in such a system, it is winner-takes-all. Once you win, you take whatever you won. There is no room for power sharing. We do not need it because we do not need them (PDP) to run this government. We have enough number to run this government, and in any case, when we were campaigning, we never told Nigerians that we were going to share power with any other party. We told them, ‘please, entrust power to us fully.’ And Nigerians have graciously assented to that. It would be a betrayal of that trust to go ahead and start sharing power with a party, particularly the PDP that has been rejected by Nigerians.
“We are smarting from the experience of the last four years, precisely what happened in 2015 when some traitors in the APC fold sold our birthright to an opposition party and some people now considered that to be the new normal. It is not. That was undemocratic. It was treachery, and we thank God also that Nigerians have punished the people that were involved. They were rejected. Many of them are now on compulsory retirement from politics. That is the verdict of the people of this country for those who dared to compromise basic democratic principles which say that in a presidential system of government when you have the majority, you have the trust of the people to form a government without conceding anything to the people they have rejected.
“If they wanted PDP, they would have voted for the PDP. We patterned our Presidential system of government after the United States of America USA. When last did you see them go to the floor to elect the Speaker? Any party that has the majority automatically has the speaker. If you remember, Pelosi was the Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Immediately, the Republicans got the majority; she became the Minority Leader. It is automatic except where you have traitors; people who do not have a commitment to values whose only interest is to fester their selfish desires. In the last election in the US, when Democrats became the majority, Pelosi reverted and became the Speaker,” he explained.
We don’t envisage an election
“All the Principal Officers are determined by simple majority, and because Nigerians have given us more than what we had even in the outgoing dispensation, we have enough to elect all our officers. So, we do not need a single vote from the PDP and in any case, we don’t actually envisage any election on that day because we are going to present to our members to occupy these positions and it is the collective position of the party and all our members are very experienced politicians who understand what this means. When they get to the floor, they are going to read out the names, and if the PDP so desire, they can bring a candidate and follow that candidate with the number they have got. So, it will be an exercise in futility for PDP to nurse the ambition to share from what Nigerians have taken from them.
“It is not the party that will determine whether there will be an election or not. By the time we announce these names, having a clear majority on the floor, anyone that wants to oppose would have to present his candidates, backing them up with numbers. So, there is only one person being put forward, and then you have a consensus. So, even if there is going to be an election, it would just be a mere formality. We do not envisage a situation where two APC senators would stand as candidates for a position. That would only happen if this party has not done its homework,” Issa-Onilu added.
‘Ndume knows what to do’
He said Sen. Ali Ndume who has been reported as expressing interest in contesting against Lawan was merely expressing his democratic rights, but “the day he subscribed to be a member of the APC, he signed off to abide by the dictates of the party, and we take what has happened in the last 24 hours as an expression of how badly the news hit him, but we are also conscious of the fact that Sen. Ali Ndume is a respected member of the APC. He is a leader in this party and we know he knows the right thing to do and on whose side he rightly belongs and that also includes any other person who has such grievances.”
Okorocha remained suspended
Noting that the party was helpless in intervening on behalf of Governor Rochas Okorocha over the refusal of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to issue him a certificate of return, he said: “This party cannot take any action. Do not forget that Okorocha is on suspension. So, as far as this party is concerned, that situation remains. In any case, he also has not come forward to say this is the problem he has because he also realises that he is on suspension. So, until that is vacated before the party can now step in and say we have a dull member who has issues that we need to resolve.”
Ndume lied, says Sabi Abdulahi
Dismissing Senator Ndume’s claim that Lawan was being imposed, Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi said, that on the contrary, that senators-elect warmly welcomed the proposal of Oshiomhole to have Lawan as Senate President when the issue came up at their dinner with the president on Monday.
Fielding questions from journalists in Abuja, Senator Abdullahi said: “It is not good for people to peddle lies, I was at the dinner along with other APC senators-elect, the national chairman of our party, Oshiomhole, never made any announcement or submission that can be described by anybody as an imposition.
“The recommendation was spontaneously and instantaneously, applauded by all the APC senators-elect in attendance without anybody dissenting.
“So for Senator Ndume to later tell a story of imposition and shock to Nigerians through his media briefing, is nothing but being economical with the truth.”
Urhoghide warns APC leaders
However, Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo South) yesterday, warned the APC leadership against making the same mistakes of 2015 that led to the strained relationship between the legislative and executive branches of government.
He said that no party, not even the APC should tell senators what to do.
“I am just afraid that the statements can lay the foundation of hatred and lack of co-operation between the executive and the legislators.
“I want to say that whoever becomes the presiding officer as we have in the provision of the Constitution (Section 50 of the Constitution, is very clear that Section 50 (1a, b) is very clear who becomes the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President). This section does not have the majority of any party, but the party that has the highest number of senators that has been elected or members of the House of Representatives.
“It is for the members of the House or the Senate to decide who becomes the Senate President and the Speaker or the Deputy Presiding Officer. If they are not careful, by the time they put premium on one of their members or one of us who is elected on the platform of the APC, you will be surprised that the support will go the other way; that will be the beginning of trouble again.
“On this pronouncement that we are not going to share power, which power are we sharing? Every senator has equal status, and if anybody wants to be the presiding officer, that will be determined by the membership on the day you are elected.
“No party should tell us what to do, and they should please allow us to make our careful choice of who becomes the Senate President.
“If the party decides, you will be surprised that what happened in 2015 will also happen. We want to say that this issue of chairmanship of committees, in National Assembly is not given to parties, it is given to people that have relative experiences to chair these committees.”