By Clifford Ndujihe, Dapo Akinrefon, Henry Umoru, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Omeiza Ajayi & John Alechenu, LAGOS
As the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, battles pressures from two sides on whether or not to revisit its zoning template, Vice President-elect, Senator Kashim Shettima, a South-South governor and some power brokers have moved in to ensure that the party’s choices prevail.
The APC National Working Committee, NWC, last week unveiled Senator Godswill Akpabio (South-South) as Senate president; Jibrin Barau (North-West) as Deputy Senate president; Tajudeen Abass (North-West) as speaker; and Benjamin Kalu (South-East) as Deputy Speaker of the 10th National Assembly
Apart from ensuring that the opposition parties did not realise their ambition of producing the speaker and deputy speaker of the 10th House, the power brokers have moved to dismantle the ranks of the opposition parties.
Meanwhile, the APC’s zoning template has continued to generate heat in the party and polity.
Members-elect of the House of Representatives from Cross River State has resolved to support the party’s choice of Abass and Kalu for Speaker and Deputy Speaker in the incoming 10th National Assembly because the party is supreme.
Indeed, a support group in the APC, the Progressives Foundational Movement, PFM, advised the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the Senator Abdullahi Adamu-led NWC not to kowtow to pressure to discard its current zoning formula for the leadership of the 10th House of Representatives.
However, a group of Northern businessmen and politicians, yesterday, warned the APC against ignoring the North-West’s demand to produce the Senate President with some former members of the National Assembly from the South-South kicking against the micro-zoning of the slots, arguing that the positions should have been thrown open to respective zones.
Also, Generation Next Collective, GNC, has urged the APC to steer clear of the election of presiding officers for the incoming 10th House of Representatives, saying that hand-picking anyone for the officers would undermine the integrity of the parliament.
In like manner, a group under the aegis of Citizens Advocacy Group, yesterday, rejected what it called the imposition of a candidate for the position of the Senate President for the 10th National Assembly, adding that it was an affront to the principle of separation of power.
We’ve a number to clinch Senate Presidency —Akpabio
Senator Akpabio, yesterday, expressed confidence in securing the required number of support across party affiliations from the Senators-elect to clinch the slot.
The former governor of Akwa Ibom said this when he led Senators-elect from various political parties on a courtesy call on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State at the State House Marina, to seek the support of the Lagos State Government for his emergence as the next Senate President.
Akpabio, however, promised that the Senators-elect would collaborate with others and Governor Sanwo-Olu to ensure Lagos succeeds.
He said: “This is a stability group of the 10th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We have the numbers; we have men and women of virtue across party affiliations on our side. We have come today to show ourselves to the Lagos State Governor and solicit his support to endorse Senator Akpabio and Senator Jibrin, as Senate President and deputy Senator President respectively.
“We are determined to express support for the incoming administration of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. We believe that his project, is a nationalistic project which will bring more goodies to Nigeria.”
In his response, Sanwo-Olu commended the Senators-elect for displaying a high sense of responsibility and threw his weight behind them.
APC govs meet as aggrieved aspirants reject Deputy Speakership
There are indications that the Progressives Governors’ Forum, PGF, may wade into the crisis rocking the zoning formula of the APC.
Multiple sources, who spoke with Vanguard in confidence, said the aggrieved aspirants were optimistic that the PGF’s intervention would douse the tension within the party.
This came as aggrieved Speakership aspirants, yesterday, rejected the position of Deputy Speakership position dangled before them by some power brokers.
The source said: “We are very confident that when the APC governors meet tomorrow (Monday), they will offer quality advice and proffer solutions to the lingering crisis. The party appears to have forgotten that at no time had any system at the level of the President of the ruling party leadership endorsed a particular speakership candidate successfully. Any step toward that has always failed and this won’t be different.
APC power brokers on the offensive
With the nomination of Abbas and Kalu as preferred candidates for the speakership and deputy speakership positions, some power brokers including the Vice President-elect, Senator Shettima and a powerful South-South governor have embarked on moves to break the ranks of the opposition.
Protests greeted the nomination of Abbas and Kalu with no fewer than seven speakership aspirants saying they were not consulted.
Those aggrieved are the Deputy Speaker, Idris-Wase; Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Muktar Betara; Yusuf Gagdi (Plateau); Princess Mariam Onuoha (Imo); Sada Soli (Katsina); Sani Jaji (Zamfara); and the leader of the House, Alhassan Ado Doguwa.
Those for the Senate Presidency are Abdullaziz Yari (Zamfara), Orji Kalu (Abia), Sani Musa (Niger) and Osita Izunaso (Imo).
Those aggrieved on both sides had since taken the protest to the APC national secretariat in Abuja, insisting on a reversal of the decision.
In the House of Representatives, the aspirants have gone into an alliance to form a group of seven (G7).
Meeting with the APC preferred candidates Friday night at the instance of the Joint Task Group of the 10th Assembly with over 100 members-elect across party lines, Shettima said that allowing a turbulent parliament will affect Tinubu’s government.
He said he had started meeting with the aggrieved people especially Wase and Betara to woo them back to the fold to support Abbas and Kalu.
He recalled that former Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari faced the challenge at a point in their administration, stressing that the consequences were loathsome.
Similarly, Vanguard gathered that a powerful South-South governor has also decided to work for Tinubu by splitting the ranks of the opposition parties/minority caucus to make the emergence of Abbas and Kalu possible.
The Minority caucus had said it would take advantage of its numerical strength of 183 members to contest for the speakership.
However, the governor Vanguard gathered was using his loyalists in the opposition to break their ranks in a bid to stop them from producing a speakership candidate to run against APC’s Abbas.
Parallel opposition group meets today
To this end, they have formed a parallel opposition group to counter the recognised one led by Mr. Fred Agbedi.
The parallel group is coordinated by Mr. Idu Igariwey from Ebonyi State with Mr. Alhassan Rurum as secretary.
The group has called for a meeting of the minority parties’ forum of PDP, LP, NNPP, APGA, YPP, SDP and ADC, on Monday (today) in Abuja to discuss strategies that would be of assistance to Abbas and Kalu.
In a related development, one of the aspirants and leader of the House, Alhassan Doguwa has withdrawn from the speakership race.
Doguwa, it was gathered, came under immense pressure from Kano State especially his governor, Abdullahi Ganduje and had no other option than to withdraw from the race.
It is, however, not known whether he would support the APC candidate even after he had said that they would not allow external forces to determine the leadership of the House.
G7 depleted to G6
Meanwhile, the G7 which has been depleted to G6 now has said they would look inwards to adopt one of them as a candidate to run for the speakership.
The group spoke Friday night at the Wase’s declaration in Abuja.
Speaking at the event, an aspirant, Betara said they would reach a consensus among themselves.
He said: “For us, we formed this group because we are opposed to the zoning arrangement of the party. We are not fighting and we would not fight. We are in support of a consensus candidate. We can pick the candidate from among ourselves. I assure you we are going to agree to support one of us as a speaker.”
Similarly, Sada Soli, another aspirant said: “Anything short of that, the consequences would be dire. We must drop all personal interest geared towards producing a Speaker who would not take directive for some personal aggrandisement, a speaker who would tell you as it is. Lawmaking is a very serious business. It is beyond personal interests.”
On his part, Gagdi warned against a rubber stamp assembly that would take direction from forces outside the National Assembly.
“We are determined to protect democracy. The House of Representatives is the House of the Nigerian people. By the time we are working, no leadership of the party would be there. Only we and we would be doing the serious business of lawmaking”, he said.
Similarly, Mariam Onuoha said she stood with the coalition.
“I stand with the coalition, indivisibility of Nigeria. The legislature is independent. Members-elect would rise up to the challenge to ensure the independence of the legislature,” she said.
The coalition, it was learned, was rooting for Betara and may publically present him as their consensus candidate soon.
Meanwhile, the one week given by the minority caucus to name its candidate for the speakership position will be expiring tomorrow, and the decision of the caucus is being awaited.
Hand-picking Speaker will hurt NASS integrity — GNC
In a joint statement by its co-conveners, Mrs Ruth Edehemon and Malam Rufiji Abdullahi, Generation Next Collective, said that hand-picking anyone for the lawmakers would undermine the integrity of the parliament.
It further stated that shutting out Mr Yusuf Gagdi and others from the speakership race was “akin to the APC shooting itself in the foot.”
Ex-NASS members kick against micro-zoning slots
In like manner, the Forum of former National Assembly members from the South-South geo-political zone criticised the APC for micro-zoning the position of Senate President to an individual.
The group, in a statement by former Edo State Deputy Governor, Pius Odubu; Samson Osagie; Eddie Ogon; Abdul Oroh; Patrick Ikhariale; Abubakar Momoh; Abass Braimoh; Egberibin Donald; Senator Clever Ikisipkpo; Ubong Etiebet; Alex Ukana; and Chris Eta among others, however, commended the NWC of the APC for zoning the office of the Senate President to the South-South and urged the party to sustain the zoning template.
Addressing Journalists, yesterday, in Abuja, the leader of the group, Halims Agoda, noted that zoning the Senate Presidency to South-South was a welcome development, however, urged the leadership of APC to review the process to give space for the former National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole and other six APC senators-elect from the zone, who may wish to exercise their rights to contest for the Office of the Senate President, to do so without encumbrances.
Of the seven senators-elect from the zone only Senator Akpabio is ranked, the rest including the former Governor of Edo State, Oshiomhole are all first-timers.
Oshiomhole happened to be one of the contenders for the race for the Senate Presidency before the party’s choice of Akpabio scuttled his ambition
Agoda who represented Ethiope Federal Constituency of Delta State said: “We, members of the above Forum, met on May 12, 2023, at the National Assembly Quarters Apo, Abuja, to review issues affecting the election of presiding officers of the 10th National Assembly.
“The Forum notes that it is the prerogative of Senators-elect of the National Assembly to choose their Presiding officers to wit: President of the Senate, Deputy President of the Senate, and other Principal Officers.
“The Forum further notes that unlike the House of Representatives where only ranking members can aspire to the Speakership and Deputy Speakership positions, all Senators-elect are qualified to contest for the offices of Senate President and Deputy Senate President.
“We strongly commend, appreciate and applaud the leadership for zoning the Office of the Senate President to the South-South and urge that this zoning be sustained.
“The Forum notes that the leadership of the Party recently clarified that her earlier zoning of respective offices to geo-political zones and individuals will be reviewed subject to wider consultation.
“This clarification has brought relief and succour to the people of the South-South zone as it has opened the democratic space for the APC senators-elect from the zone (seven number) who may wish to exercise their rights to contest for the Office of the Senate President, to do so without encumbrances.”
Ignore N-West at your own risk, group warns APC
Nevertheless, a group of northern businessmen and politicians under the aegis of the Northern Business Round Table has cautioned against presenting a Senate President outside the North-West because doing so will be considered as an act of ingratitude.
The group equally said voting for a candidate outside of the zone would put the party at risk of losing the support of the people of the North-West who gave the President-Elect, Asiwaju Tinubu the highest number of valid votes at the polls.
The association’s Head of Support Groups, Hajiya Larai Kolo, issued these words of caution at a press conference, in Abuja, yesterday.
Kolo said: “We in the North-West were taken aback and very surprised by the purported zoning announcement and the thought that such could be contemplated, knowing that we bring the highest number of votes to the table during elections.
“To whom much is given, much is also expected. The North-West in the current dispensation and the last presidential election gave the highest votes.
“Apart from this, it is noteworthy that the APC Governors from the North-West led the front to demand that the Presidency be zoned to the South.
“With this alone, common sense should prevail that after the presidency has been zoned and delivered to the South, the Vice-President to the North-East, the next position should go to the North-West.
“It will be a betrayal to the people of the North-West if the Senate President is not given to them.
“Nigeria is not occupied by religion, ethnicity or primordial sentiments. Just as the South insisted that they must have the presidency, that is how the North-West is insisting that they should have the Senate presidency and there is nothing wrong with that.
“The issue of religion should not be brought to play in this regard, as Nigerians are one, whether you are a Christian or a Muslim. We must not be denied what is ours on account of our faith and beliefs. Competence, character, and pedigree should determine positions, and Senator Abdulaziz Yari, Zamfara West Senator-elect has what it takes to be the country’s next Senate President, he is well known and has done very well.”
APC’s zoning formula, autocratic imposition—Group
The Citizens Advocacy Group, in a statement by its Convener and Secretary, Chris George and Haruna Kabir respectively, said the APC’s decision to choose National Assembly leaders by its zoning formula was an autocratic imposition.
“What the party has done is an autocratic imposition which has no place in a democracy as it poses serious danger to the independent legislature and an attack on the principle of separation of power.
“We in the Citizens Advocacy Group believe the concerned Senators-Elect should be allowed to make their choice based on the experience, competence and qualification of each aspirant.
“If you are zoning it to a particular zone of the country, you cannot say this is the person that should be the Senate President from that zone when you have other candidates from the same zone who have expressed interest in the position.
Defunct CPC bloc deserves speakership — APC Group
Also, a support group in the APC, the Progressives Foundational Movement, PFM, said the choice of Abbas for the House Speakership was novel, adding that apart from his history of academic excellence and a proven track record of leadership in public service and legislative excellence, the lawmaker was a member of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, one of the legacy parties that merged to form the APC.
In a statement by its National Coordinator, Mr. Aganaba Johnson, the group noted that “It would amount to injustice against the defunct CPC members in the APC if other defunct parties like the Action Congress of Nigeria ACN that produced the President-elect, the defunct All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP, which produced the Vice President-elect and the New Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) is allowed to Produce the Senate President, then Tajudeen Abbas should be given the opportunity to represent the defunct CPC as Speaker, House of Representatives.
“We also urge the President-elect and the party leadership to resist all forms of pressure and blackmail by allowing supremacy of the party decision to stand.”
We’ll vote Abbas, Kalu — C/River members-elect
Vowing to stand with the party, Members-elect of the House of Representatives from Cross River State has resolved to support the choice of Tajudeen Abbas and Benjamin Kalu for speaker and deputy speaker in the incoming 10th National Assembly.
The member elected to Obubra/Etung Federal Constituency of the State, Mike Etaba made the disclosure when he led the caucus on a solidarity visit to Abbas in Abuja, on Sunday.
Noting that Abass has the required experience to lead the House and his leadership would favour Cross River, they said: “Conversely, their decision must not only be ably guided by the desire to continuously put Cross River State in the national reckoning but to also elect those who would in the long run, be supportive of Federal Government programmes and projects in the state.
“It was with these factors in mind that the majority of the representatives from Cross River State irrespective of political party affiliations, have resolved that the party is supreme and they would continue to give their unalloyed loyalty and support to the ruling APC.”