By Clifford Ndujihe, Henry Umoru, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Joseph Erunke & Dirisu Yakubu
ABUJA—TWENTY-FOUR hours to the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, contenders for the various leadership positions were locked in last-minute horse-trading, last night, to get the upper hand at the election on the floors of the two chambers.
The two candidates for the Senate Presidency, Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North), and Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) have focused their attention on wooing senators-elect individually. There are also promises of chairmanship of strategic committees, among others.
Currently, there are 107 senators-elect as two are still being expected from Imo State. The APC has 62 senators-elect, PDP 44 and YPP, one. If the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC gives former Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha his certificate of return for Imo West Senatorial District as ordered by the court, APC will have 63 senators.-elect
The APC endorsed Ahmad Lawan for the senate presidency; Senator Ovie Omo-Agege for deputy senate presidency; and Femi Gbajabiamila for the House of representatives speaker.
Ndume insists that he has the support of President Muhammadu Buhari and assurances of most of his colleagues. He pooh-poohed reports of 61 senators-elect endorsing Lawan, adding that he would get the ‘’real endorsement’’ on the floor of the Senate tomorrow.
PDP Senators in marathon meeting, vow to fight Oshiomhole
To ensure they played decisive role in the election, some senators-elect on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, met last night in Abuja.
At the meeting, the Senators are taking a position collectively on how their votes would go and also brainstormed on the way forward the Ninth National Assembly.
Vanguard gathered that the meeting was to ensure that the candidates of APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, did not emerge as leaders of the National Assembly.
Recently, Oshiomhole drew the ire of the PDP lawmakers when he said the APC as the ruling party would not share leadership and chairmanship positions with the PDP except statutory slots meant for the opposition.
A source at the PDP senators-elect meeting told Vanguard that the time has come for them to reply Oshiomhole over his stand that the APC would not share positions with the PDP except the statutory Public Accounts which is traditionally for the opposition in the Senate and House of Representatives.
The source said further that the move is to show to the APC National Chairman that as Senators, they are men and women who have occupied various positions in the society and should not be addressed the way and manner Oshiomhole did.
Gbajabiamila’s camp threatens new members-elect with sanctions if
In what appears like a last-minute strategic fight to win the speakership election, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the political camp of its adopted candidate for the office, Femi Gbajabiamila, have devised fresh plans to get new members-elect to vote for him.
This is a response to the National Assembly management’s adoption of secret balloting for the election as opposed to open-balloting canvassed by some leaders of the APC.
The plan, Vanguard gathered last night, is to issue what is called a green card to all the members on the day of inauguration.
The plan, according to a new member-elect from the North-East who craved anonymity, is for the members to pen down the serial number of the ballot papers with which they vote on the card.
The essence, the member said, is to keep track of the number and voting behaviour of the freshers and restrain them from voting any other candidate during the election.
There are indications that the measures are aimed at reining in new members who may be tempted into voting for candidates of their choice.
The card would eventually be submitted to designated party leaders for scrutiny and proper sanctions.
The two camps reportedly devised the plan following their inability to get the national assembly management to change the voting system from secret to open balloting.
It will be recalled that the National Assembly management had last Friday said that it would be sticking with the standing rules of the House, which stipulate secret balloting.
As it stands presently, the APC has a total of 119 new members-elect, with the North-West leading the table with 39 members, while the South-West follows closely with 33.
Others are the North-Central 22, South-South, six, and South-East, one.
However, some of the members-elect have vowed to vote for the candidates of their choice, insisting that no amount of intimidation will cow them into going against their conscience.
Gbajabiamila has consistently remarked that the new members were his backbone.
At a meeting with a section of the freshers on Saturday in Abuja, Gbajabiamila re-echoed his confidence in them for victory.
He said: “Thank you new members. If you know me very well, you know my heart is with the new members. Let me quickly say, I have never seen such love, such support inside one group. God bless you.’’
Also, a host of the speakership candidates were up beat about their chances, yesterday, with some of them insisting on running to the finish line. The candidates were Jide Olatunbosun (Oyo), John Dyegh (Benue) and Mohammed Bago (Niger).
However, Nkiru Onyejeocha (Abia), stepped down for Gbajabiamila, last night.
Akume canvasses support for APC candidates, says party supremacy not negotiable
Former Governor of Benue State and ex-Minority Leader of the Senate, Senator George Akume, has appealed to members of the 9th National Assembly to elect the trio of Ahmad Lawan, Ovie Omo-Agege and Femi Gbajabiamila as Senate President, Deputy Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively.
Akume, who made the plea in a letter addressed to members-elect, called on the federal lawmakers to respect the position of the APC on the leadership of the legislature billed for inauguration tomorrow.
The letter, which was made available to journalists, read: “Party supremacy prevents the kind of rancour that bedeviled the 8th Assembly when the supremacy of the party was ignored.
“In line with the recommendation of our great party, I am appealing to members to vote for Senator Ahmed Lawan as Senate President and Senator Omo Agege as Deputy Senate President and Femi Gbajabiamila as House Speaker and Rt. Hon Wase as Deputy Speaker.”
He called on the lawmakers to be guided by historical precedents in their choice of the principal officers, saying: “It is in the interest of the nation that you vote wisely and are guided by the traditions and practices of the legislature world-wide. You should remember that you stood for election on the platform of your political parties and the parties must have a say on who becomes a leader. We can recall two specific instances during which the party prevailed: NPN’s Benjamin Chaha during President Shagari’s tenure in 1983, and Senator David Mark of the PDP in the 6th and 7th assemblies.
“The Nigerian 1999 Constitution does not recognize independent candidature. Therefore, those elected into the Senate or the House of Representatives must endeavour to tow the party line. I expect to see a Senate President, Deputy Senate President and Speaker House of Representatives and the Deputy House Speaker all from our party, the APC.”
Deputy Senate Presidency: I will not step down – Alimikhena
However, Deputy Chief Whip in the Eight Senate, Senator Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo North), yesterday said that he is still in the race for the position of the Deputy Senate President, and dismissed insinuations tat he had stepped down.
Answering questions from journalists yesterday in Abuja, Alimikhena said it was not true that he had withdrawn from the race as that will not happen.
While calling on his teeming supporters and colleagues in the Senate to completely disregard the information that he had stepped down, which he described as ‘’unimaginable, unthinkable and machinations of some very over zealous and too ambitious persons who will go extra mile to bring down others.’’
Alimikhena said that his decision to contest for the position was with the blessings and permission of the entire people of his constituency which he was not willing to relinquish or betray for anything.
He therefore wants everyone to know that his ambition remains intact and unshaken while expressing confidence that he will emerge victorious when his colleagues vote in the chamber tomorrow.
He said: “My attention has been drawn to speculations in some quarters claiming that I, Francis Alimikhena has stepped down from the race for the position of Deputy Senate President which is making the rounds that I have stepped down.
“I am still in the race. I have not stepped down for anybody. How will I step and who will I step down for? I am a ranking Senator, a Principal officer on the 8th Senate, an experienced personality who had served on various Ad-hoc committees in the just concluded Senate.
“I want to assure my colleagues of purposeful leadership, I want them to support and vote for me as the Deputy Senate President as I promise to provide purposeful leadership, i have the humility, the experience and temperament that is required for the office. I have been a very loyal party member, my relationship also cuts across party divide.”
Owie backs Kalu for deputy senate president as Abia leaders kick
Meanwhile, former Senate Chief Whip, Senator Rowland Owie, yesterday, backed the ambition of former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu for deputy senate presidency. According to him, the move will ensure inclusiveness, boost the robustness of the National Assembly and improve national unity.
However, some Abia leaders and human rights lawyers from the state have described Kalu’s ambition to occupy the office of Deputy Senate President as a joke taken too far.
They also said those who endorsed the former Abia State governor last week as reported in the media, were “faceless Arewa youths” rented for that purpose by the senator-elect.
Speaking at a news conference in Abuja, yesterday, the co-ordinator of the group under the aegis of Abia Leaders and Human Right Lawyers, Uche Okoroafor, asked senators-elect to reject Kalu for the position of Deputy Senate President given that he lacks experience for the office.
“Our attention has been drawing to the ambition of the former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu and his purported endorsement by some faceless and rented groups for the office of Deputy Senate President of the 9th Senate. We see his ambition as another joke taken too far and we make bold to ask our most respected senators-elect to reject this former governor’s ambition in order to save the 9th Senate from another controversial beginning,”he said in a prepared text read before newsmen.”
Backing Onyejeocha’s ambition, he said: “Rather than the former governor to support the quest for a South East speaker in the 9th House of Representatives , he is busy embarking on desperate ambition of becoming the next Deputy Senate President. Between speaker and Deputy Senate President,which one will do the Igbo more favour?”
Buhari urges Omolori to stick to the Rules on National Assembly Leadership election
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari was said to have directed the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Ataba Sani Omolori, to ensure that the elections were conducted in strict compliance with existing rules of the two chambers.
According to sources close to the Presidency, Omolori was at the Aso Presidential Villa on Friday to brief the President on preparations for the the elections which has been scheduled to hold on Tuesday.
A source said that Omolori’s visit to the Villa was to honor a presidential invitation to that effect.
It would be recalled that the method of voting has been a source of serious disagreement between the two main contenders for the seat of the Senate President, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, APC, Yobe North and former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, APC, Borno South.
On Saturday, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, APC, Delta Central, an aspirant to the office of the Deputy Senate President, told journalists in Abuja that he was sure that Secret balloting as contained in the Senate Standing Rule of 2011 would be used for the election.
Two aides to the President were said to have influenced Omolori’s invitation to the Presidency.
When asked about the preparations for Tuesday’s election, Omolori was said to have told the President that there was the need to ensure that the image of the National Assembly is not endangered in conducting the elections.
He was said to have also drawn the attention of the President to the existing rules of both chambers.
Buhari, in a brief remark appreciated the fact that Omolori expressed readiness to stick to the rule to avoid chaos and disorderliness.
A source said: “The Clerk briefed Mr. President on the procedure for the election of presiding officers and what the rule says. Right there, the President directed the Clerk to ensure that the right thing is done by sticking to the rules of both chambers. In fact the President was impressed that the Clerk did not show any sign of compromising the rule.”