•The Ndume, Goje backlash
By Henry Umoru, Assistant Political Editor
With all but two of the results of the February 23 National Assembly elections, as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, now in the public domain, what is next in the Senate segment of the legislature is who emerges the next Senate President among other principal officers of the red chamber.
According to the Standing Orders, during the first sitting of a new Senate, pursuant to the Proclamation of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, senators-elect shall assemble at a time and place so appointed and the business of the day would be to elect the two presiding officers, the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President.
Following the results released by INEC after the National Assembly elections, the All Progressives Congress, APC, has the highest number of senators-elect, 64.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has 42 senators-elect while the Young Progressive Party, YPP, has one, making a total of 107.
Two results of the senatorial election are outstanding.
Ahead of the inauguration of the ninth Senate and the emergence of the presiding officers, some of the senators-elect, especially those returning as ranking senators and from the APC, have indicated interest to vie for the position of Senate President. They include Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, Yobe North; a former Senate Leader, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, Borno South; a former governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje, Gombe Central, and a former governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, Nasarawa West.
Lawan and Ndume have stepped up their campaigns to be Nigeria’s next number three citizen while Goje and Adamu are yet to publicly declare, but their body languages have shown clearly that they are interested in the position.
As gathered, for the position of Deputy Senate President, the APC has zoned it to South-South and further micro zoned to the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Francis Alimikhena, Edo North.
Alimikhena, a lawyer who graduated from University of Buckingham, United Kingdom before attending the Nigeria Law School, came into the Senate in 2015, and being the only APC senator from the South-South at the beginning of eighth Senate, he got the position of Deputy Chief Whip.
Barely 24 hours after Ndume submitted his letter of intent to be the next Senate President to the National Working Committee, NWC, of the APC, the party publicly endorsed Lawan as its preferred candidate for the position.
The development irked Ndume as he immediately took a swipe at the National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, describing the act as unconstitutional, unilateral, shocking and embarrassing.
According to him, such a decision without consultations with stakeholders could not have been the position of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Borno senator, who addressed journalists at his Apo Legislative residence, said that prior to the endorsement, the party leadership should have consulted with senators-elect from the North-East, adding that such endorsement runs contrary to the provisions of Section 50 (1a) of the 1999 Constitution as amended .
The APC, he pointed out, should be seen to be doing the right thing, saying the PDP, that was hitherto accused of impunity, will not do what the APC had done.
He said that the party was expected to have learnt her lessons from the 2015 experience when the battle for the Senate President was mismanaged, thus throwing up the unexpected number three citizen, and said that Oshiomhole was making the APC to tread a similar path that could boomerang.
The Ndume position obviously means crisis in the ruling party ahead of the inauguration of the ninth Senate.
But the Borno senator’s outburst has not been without a response.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC Niger North), said he lied as the adoption of Lawan by the party leadership for Senate President did not amount to imposition.
According to Abdullahi, Lawan emerged from the recommendation made to that effect and widely accepted by majority of APC senators-elect.
“At the dinner attended by many of the APC governors and most of the senators-elect on the platform of the party, the APC National Chairman, in a family affair tone, recommended Senator Ahmed Lawan for the position of President of the ninth Senate which was spontaneously and instantaneously applauded by the senators – elect without any dissenting voice. 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, Adams Oshiomhole, never made any announcement or submission that can be described by anybody as imposition”, the Senate spokesman said.
“He, in the spirit of avoiding what happened in 2015 ,along with the Presidency, gave the required direction for the party as regards the position of President of the ninth Senate by, in a very persuasive and convincing tone, recommended Senator Ahmed Lawan for the position. 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.”
In a related development, the APC National Chairman has also vowed that the ruling party will not share the House of Representatives leadership positions, notably the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Oshiomhole, who spoke when he addressed 164 members-elect of the APC at an interactive meeting in Abuja, insisted that apart from Minority Leader and the statutory Public Account Committee chairmanship positions, no member of the PDP would be allowed to hold any position.
Warning that the ruling party will do everything possible to forestall the occurrence of the mistake of the eighth Assembly in 2015, he said: “Somebody told me the opposition party people are already doing something, raising money to bribe people and I said no, we are promoters of anti-corruption, we cannot be corrupted. If they bring N1 billion to each member, no PDP person will be Speaker, no PDP person will be Deputy Speaker, no PDP person will be Whip, no PDP person will be Leader and no PDP person will take the chairmanship of any of the committees that is meant for the ruling party. We are determined to achieve that and be rest assured that the party will stand by you”, he told the APC Reps-elect.
“We have the number to produce the Speaker and we will produce the Speaker. We have the number to produce the Deputy Speaker and we will use the number to produce the Deputy Speaker. We have the number and we must use the number to elect a House Leader. We have the number and we will use the number to produce a Chief Whip and a Deputy Whip who must be members of the APC. I think the only position that we are not interested in is the Minority Leader. Let it remain minor in the hands of the minors in the opposition.
“If the Nigerian people wanted them to be chairmen of committees, they would have voted for them. So all the chairmen of committees, except one that is statutorily reserved for the opposition, which is Public Accounts, they can have that. So, we would not do the kind of thing that happened the last time in which some APC members, as members of the leading party, became distant spectators in the management of committees; when PDP had majority of the strategic committees in the House. That will not happen in the next Assembly.”
The APC National Chairman may have spoken very well, but analysts are wondering whether the statements are not injurious to the party, the contenders for principal offices, the National Assembly itself and lawmakers. The analysts equally wonder whether the statements promote the adopted candidate of the party for Senate President or have the potential to demarket Lawan and the APC before senators-elect against the backdrop that voting takes place at the hallowed chamber and purely the business of senators-elect. There is also the question of whether the statements are not already charging the atmosphere even when the ninth Senate has not been inaugurated.
As a quick reminder, Section 50(1a and b) of 1999 Constitution as amended reads: “There shall be: (a) a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves; and (b) a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.”
Also in determining who become the presiding officers, the Senate Rule allows only a ranking senator to be selected for this purpose and, according to the Standing Orders, “Nomination of Senators to serve as Presiding Officers and appointments of Principal Officers and other Officers of the Senate or on any Parliamentary delegations shall be in accordance with the ranking of Senators. In determining ranking, the following order shall apply- Senators returning based on number of times re- elected; Senators who had been members of the House of Representatives.”
Another determining factor for clinching the position of Senate President is that out of 109 senators, the person would require 55 votes.
Since the inception of the present democracy in 1999 and for a Senate President to enjoy the office and stay long, he must be a product of the parliament and not the party or the executive.
In 1999, then ruling-PDP had 69 senators before the election of the presiding officers out of which 60 had already endorsed the late Dr Chuba Okadigbo from Anambra State for Senate President.
With the large number, he was going to get the number three position but there were issues overnight following which then-senators-elect made a U- turn on the grounds that Okadigbo would be too hard for then-President Olusegun Obasanjo to manage.
At this point, the executive threw up the late Evan(s) Enwerem from Imo State for Senate President and the selling point was that he was a gentleman who will work harmoniously with then-Presidency. Enwerem actually took the number three office but he was eased out after only nine months in office because he was a product of the executive following which Okadigbo now emerged as Senate President.
The emergence irked the Obasanjo presidency which fought back by raking allegations of improper contracts award against the Senate leadership. The Okadigbo Senate leadership did not survive the onslaught.
After Okadigbo, an unlikely figure in the person of Anyim Pius Anyim, from Ebonyi State, emerged as Senate President, but then-Presidency wanted Adolphus Wabara, from Abia State.
In 2003, Wabara assumed office as Senate President even if he was seen by his colleagues as a sympathiser of the executive.
He did not enjoy the confidence of his colleagues and when he had issues with the Villa over alleged N55 million bribe-for-budget, he did not have the support of fellow senators and that was an ample opportunity for them to allow him to fall.
From the foregoing, presiding officers of the Senate survive more if they are products of the parliament. When Wabara fell in 2005, the Villa also wanted Senator Ike Ekweremadu, from Enugu State, but northern senators, led by the late Senator Idris Kuta, from Niger State, settled for Senator Ken Nnamani, from Enugu State, and the Villa agreed.
Nnamani had it smooth with his colleagues and the executive until the third term hullabaloo which was killed.
In 2007, during the late President Umaru Yar’Adua administration, the Senate President position was zoned to the North-Central and Deputy Senate President to the South-East, with Ekweremadu clinching the latter. At this time, then-governors forum wanted one of their former members, Senator George Akume, from Benue, as Senate President but other senators settled for Senator David Mark who won and stayed in office till 2015 when Senator Bukola Saraki, also from the North-Central, succeeded him.
In essence, ahead of the inauguration of the ninth Senate in June, it is not yet Uhuru for Lawan.
Analysts say the utterances of the APC National Chairman at last week’s meeting with senators-elect that make it look like the party leadership has the last word on who becomes the Senate President may work against the candidate. Even if he has been described as the best man for the job in some politically informed quarters, having been in the National Assembly since 1999 when he was first elected into the House of Representatives, he obviously needs the support of fellow senators-elect to lead the Senate.
On his part, Goje, being a former governor, cannot be wished away from the contest for Senate President.
PDP senators may nominate him for the number three office as one of their former members and give him the bloc vote of 42.
In addition, with close to 17 former governors in the ninth Senate, they may rally round Goje as one of their own.
In the case of Ndume, he is believed to have the support of his people in Borno to become Senate President.
The support of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babagana Kingibe, who is from the state and is believed to be influential in this administration, may count in his favour.
By and large, anybody who is serious about coming in as Senate President, especially Lawan, must recognize the fact that PDP senators-elect will play a vital role in who emerges as the next Senate President with their bloc vote. APC will do well to plead with other aspirants rather than forcing the candidature of Lawan on senators-elect. APC may also need to reach out to the PDP senators-elect for their support rather than the threats from the leadership of the party because, at the end of the day, the APC-led government would need a rancour-free National Assembly for it to get results on its programmes for the country.