By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Dirisu Yakubu and Ezra Ukanwa
•Choice of Lawan, Gbajabiamila shocking, unconstitutional, says Ali Ndume
•Lawan, Gbajabiamila chosen because they were never in PDP — Source
•Election of presiding officers open to all parties — PDP
•Don’t be like last NASS, Buhari counsels new leadership
ABUJA — The bid by the All Progressives Congress, APC, leadership to enthrone harmony between the next National Assembly and executive arm of government was threatened, upon dissent to the party’s nomination of Senator Ahmad Lawan and Mr Femi Gbajabiamila as presiding officers.
Dissent rose from within the party and outside. Senator Mohammed Ndume, a fellow contestant for the office of Senate President in a stern rebuke to the national chairman of the party, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, warned that the scenario that sparked crises between the 8th National Assembly and the Muhammadu Buhari presidency was again being repeated.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on its part warned that choice of presiding officers of the National Assembly was the internal affair of the National Assembly and not that of the party.
Meanwhile, APC sources yesterday, opened up on why Lawan and Gbajamiala were chosen to be Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives. One source cited consistency in party politics as it was noted that the two men had never been members of the PDP.
Vanguard also gathered that the position of Deputy Senate President had been zeroed down to the South-South, with Senator Francis Alimikhena (Edo North) and another senator from Delta State, being under consideration. It was further gathered that the South-East and the North-Central zones were being considered for the position of deputy speaker.
Ndume was first elected to the Senate on the platform of the PDP before defecting to win re-election on the platform of the APC in 2015. Senator Danjuma Goje was twice elected as governor of Gombe State on the platform of the PDP.
The touch of crisis nonetheless, President Buhari has urged party members elected to the National Assembly not to follow what he claimed as the uncooperative tendencies of the outgoing National Assembly, which he claimed formed a habit of passing the budget months into the year.
President Buhari had on December 19, 2018, presented an N8.83 trillion budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year to the National Assembly.
It’s shocking, unfortunate, says Ndume
Reacting to the endorsement of Lawan and Gbajabiamila as Senate President and Speaker respectively while speaking with reporters yesterday, Ndume described the endorsement as unconstitutional, shocking and unfortunate.
He said that there was no consultation before the decision was taken, noting that at least, the APC national chairman ought to have discussed with them, brainstorm with Senators from the North-East as a sign of honour, adding that such endorsements, run contrary to provisions of Section 50( 1A ) of the 1999 constitution as amended .
According to Ndume, the party which ought to be democratic was surprisingly toeing the path of the PDP which it hitherto accused of impunity.
Noting that Oshiomhole was causing the party to repeat the 2015 mistake that sparked the crisis between the executive and legislative branches, he said that Section 50(1A) of the Constitution put the duty of electing presiding officers of the National Assembly on its members.
He said that by the provisions of the constitution, “neither Oshiomhole nor President Buhari or even any party leader, has the right to force on elected senators or members of the House of Representatives, their presiding officers.
“What took place at the presidential dinner in Aso Rock on Monday night where Oshiomhole as party chairman, announced Senator Lawan and Gbajabiamila as President of the 9th Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively was very shocking to me and many of my colleagues.
“Oshiomhole, in making the announcement or endorsement did not even allow me or Senators Goje (Gombe Central) and Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West), widely known to be in the race for the position to say anything.
“More disturbing was the fact that even Senator Lawan endorsed for the position was not allowed to make any comment in the form of an acceptance speech or to solicit for support from other interested senators.”
Ndume who noted that since 1999, there was no time a leadership was imposed on any of the chambers of the National Assembly without a revolt said: “For the sake of cohesion and stability among party members as regards aspirations for such positions, what was expected from the party leadership was to zone the positions and allow contenders within each of the zones sort it out either through consensus or shadow election.
“The 109 elected senators and 360 House of Representatives members are the constitutional king-makers as far as emergence of presiding officers of both chambers are concerned and not national chairman of a ruling party or even the President.”
He, nevertheless, affirmed that his loyalty to the party and President Buhari would not be affected by what he described as the unfortunate decision of Oshiomhole.
“I don’t even believe that President Buhari was in the know of what Oshiomhole did because he didn’t make any comment on leadership of the 9th Assembly at the dinner.
“We all left the place in shock and disbelief, but my commitment and loyalty to the party remain.”
PDP aligns with Ndume
Senator Ndume’s disenchantment was also echoed by the PDP which in a reaction agreed with the senator that election of presiding officers of the National Assembly was the sole responsibility of the two chambers and not the preserve of any party.
The party in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, yesterday, while taking a swipe at Oshiomhole, said: “It is laughable and amounts to empty grandstanding and self-delusion for President Buhari and the national chairman of the APC, Oshiomhole, to posture as if the presiding offices and committees’ chairmanships in the National Assembly are exclusive rights of the APC.
“President Buhari and Oshiomhole should wake up to the fact that the National Assembly belongs to no political party but to all Nigerians, who exercise their control through their elected representatives.
“For emphasis, Section 50 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is clear in providing that ‘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. Section 92 (1) makes the same provision for the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of State House of Assembly.
“The PDP, therefore, does not only have a constitutional say in the process of the emergence of the leadership of the 9th National Assembly but will, as a matter of constitutional right, field candidates into presiding offices of both chambers, if need be.
“The PDP wishes to remind President Buhari and Oshiomhole that the APC had in the past benefited from the provisions of Section 50, with the defection of then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Aminu Tambuwal from the PDP to the APC, in October 2014, without relinquishing speakership of the House to the PDP; a development that was applauded by President Buhari, as then opposition leader as well as the APC, through it’s then National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed.
“The former Minority Leader of the House, Gbajabiamila echoed the Constitutional provision that “the constitution requires only that the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be elected by members of that House from among themselves.”
The statement also noted that “in June 2015, Terkimbi Ikyange and Peter Azi, both of APC, were elected Speakers of Benue and Plateau State Houses of Assembly respectively, though their party, the APC, was the minority in both Houses.
“The PDP notes that the party offices in the legislature are the Majority and Minority Leaders and Deputy Leaders as well as Majority and Minority Whips and Deputy Whips, and our party will take decisions on this in due course.”
‘Ndume must toe party line’
Meanwhile, APC party sources have given reasons why Lawan and Gbajabiamila were selected by the party to be Senate President and speaker.
A top party source also dismissed the objections of Ndume as he urged him to follow the party decision and not rock the boat.
Defending Oshiomhole’s endorsement, the party source observed that the two men were chosen on account of party loyalty as he observed that neither Lawan nor Gbajabiamila had been a member of the PDP.
He said: “Ndume has a right to run, but if the party speaks he has to follow the party’s direction.”
On why the party chose the duo, he said, “The party now wants to go back to the zoning which didn’t work before. The two of them believe in the party, and the party does not want those who will be influenced from outside negatively.
“We want people who have been consistent with the party, people who are ready to work with the party to realise its objectives. They (Lawan and Gbajabiamila) are tested and trusted. Ndume is also good, but when leaders decide, there is nothing anyone can do, and now everyone has to follow the guidelines and bury their ambitions within the purposes and plans of the party.”
Noting that the two men have steadfastly been with the party, he observed that neither of the two had belonged to the PDP.
“These people are people that the party can rely on and they have shown commitment and consistency to the party. The party has spoken, and everyone has to obey the decision of the party, it is not like the last time,” the source said.
Buhari advices Senators-Elect not to follow Saraki’s pattern
Meanwhile, President Buhari has advised senators-elect not to follow what he described as the confrontational example of the Bukola Sarak Senate.
Speaking during the dinner organised for the senators-elect on Monday night, he said: “This is my fifth and last time of standing for an election – for that reason, I’ll like to leave something behind and what I want to leave cannot be successfully done without your support.
“So, that is why I’m appealing for your support. What happened in the last Senate and so on is regrettable because I still feel it shouldn’t take seven months to pass a budget. You have a very, very serious job ahead of you.
“So, what I’m appealing is that any major decision you are going to take, please reflect more on the country than yourself as a person – what effect will it have on the country.”
In his remarks at the dinner, Oshiomhole boasted that the party would not share any of the presiding officer positions with the PDP as was the case in the 8th assembly.
Leave Saraki out of your schemes — PDP caucus
However, the PDP Senate caucus yesterday called on their counterparts in the APC to stop dragging the name of Senate President Bukola Saraki, into the schemes and plots by Senators-elect of the ruling party over who and who gets elected into the leadership of the Ninth Senate.
In a statement signed by Senate Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi, and Chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Sen. Dino Melaye, the PDP caucus stated that it had observed closely as the contenders for the various Senate leadership posts in the APC sponsor various publications in the media to make it appear that Dr. Saraki is seeking to play a role in who occupies the various leadership posts in the next Senate.
The PDP Senate caucus warned that such surreptitious attempts to drag Saraki into issues that do not concern him would not augur well for the smooth take-off of the next Senate and could only create suspicion and ill-will among the incumbent Senators and the incoming ones.
“We have noted with regret and surprise how some Senators who are interested in becoming the next Senate President and those seeking to occupy various leadership positions in the next Senate have been busy dragging the name of the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, into their schemes for fulfilling their ambitions. We believe those involved in this dirty game are only afraid of the shadow of the Senate President.
“It is obvious that many Senators and even Senators-elect still defer to Saraki. And this is understandable because he is a national leader of the PDP. He is a respected Senator who has also provided solid leadership for the Senate. So, those who are afraid of his influence should find a positive way to deal with that, not sponsoring falsehood in the media.
“Last week, PDP Senators paid Dr. Saraki a visit in his home as a way of encouraging him and in recognition of the personal sacrifice that he has had to make for providing strong and purposeful leadership to the National Assembly, for protecting the independence of the legislature and judiciary, separation of powers, inclusiveness in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Nigeria and working for the creation of a conducive environment for business to thrive. Those who are not sure of their grounds in their quest for Senate leadership are busy putting a spin on that visit.
“Let it be known that no matter the mischief being sponsored by these spineless people, Dr. Saraki knows that it is the duty of all Senators in the Ninth Senate to elect their Senate President and other leaders. Nobody from outside the Senate has such powers. It is also the right of every Senator to aspire to that position as stated by the constitution. He has benefitted from this practice of Senators within the chambers exercising the right. He is conscious of this fact and will not be a party to any plan to seize or interfere with the process of evolving the leadership of the Ninth Senate.”