June 13, 2023

Inauguration: Power show as 10th NASS gets underway today


National Assembly

By Clifford Ndujihe, Henry Umoru, Johnbosco Agbakwuru,Levinus Nwabughiogu, Omeiza Ajayi, John Alechenu & Adeola Badru,, LAGOS

Except the unexpected happens, the National Assembly is primed for a battle royale as the 10th Assembly is inaugurated today.

After weeks of power play, horse-trading, alignments and realignments, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and former Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, will contest for the Senate presidency.

In the House of Representatives, Mr. Tajudeen Abass will slug it out with immediate past deputy speaker, Idris Wase, for the speakership.

Akpabio and Abass are the candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, National Working Committee, NWC, for the two top legislative slots. To deputise them are Senator Jibrin Barau and Rep Benjamin Kalu.

A host of aspirants kicked against the party’s choice, which has the backing of President Bola Tinubu. In the Senate, those who kicked included Senators Orji Uzor Kalu, Osita Izunaso and Yari. And in the House of Representatives, a group of lawmakers, known as G-7, opposed the move.

At press time, the bulk of the G-7 had made a U-turn to support Abass, leaving Wase as the last man standing.

At the valedictory session of the 9th House on Wednesday, Wase declared that his speakership ambition was premised on a prophetic utterance of his late political leader and former governor of Plateau State, Chief Solomon Lar.

“Of course, I want to appreciate my political leaders, among whom I would say was Solomon Lar who, when I was contesting in 2007, I went to him and he prophesied the number of times I will come to this Assembly and the number of leadership positions that I will attain, even the deputy speakership and he prophesied that when next I return, and I believe, I will be Speaker and I believe that Insha Allah, I will be the Speaker of the Green Chamber”, Wase declared.

At the moment, it is unknown if Wase had stepped down or will do so before the inauguration of the House today.

The power game raged as Vice-President Kashim Shettima, yesterday, raised the alarm that there are attempts to twist his recent utterances in support of Senator Akpabio to cause disaffection.

Meanwhile, all 55 members-elect from the South-South zone have thrown their weight behind Abass, with Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State saying governors had agreed to support President Tinubu’s choice.

Also, Rep Victor Ogene, leader of the Labour Party caucus and spokesman of the Greater Majority group said its members were left with no alternative but to support the Abass/Kalu ticket by the G-6 aspirants.

However, Yari’s support group has dismissed allegations of inducement against Yari as irresponsible and accused opponents of seeking the arrest of the former Zamfara governor, ahead of inauguration.

This was as the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said it had not taken a decision on its choice of Senate and House of Representatives minority leaders.

Heated battle in the Senate

At press time, Akpabio and Yari were locked in a tight race that had divided the senators-elect. Both camps are in a last-minute rat race for signatures of senators-elect. It is difficult to tell who would win the race between the two.

Currently, the Akpabio camp said it has the backing of 70 senators-elect. However, at his supporter’s group meeting at the Lagos Hall of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, only 52 senators-elect attended. Worried by the number, Vice-President Kashim Shettima promised to beg other senators, especially from the North, to support the aspiration of Akpabio and Senator Jibrin Barau.

A group, under the aegis of The Initiatives (an agenda-setting college of former and serving NASS members) and a Coalition of South-South Community for United Nigeria for Justice and Equity, yesterday, urged senators-elect to vote for Akpabio.

Addressing newsmen in Abuja, Dean of the Faculty, Eseme Eyibo, said with Akpabio as President of the Senate, the administration of President Bola Tinubu will deliver on its campaign promises because the 10th Senate, under the leadership of Akpabio, will initiate many reforms that will change the fortunes of the country.

In a counter-claim, Yari’s support group, led by former Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central), who spoke on behalf of Yari at a press briefing, said no fewer than 67 senators-elect were for Yari.

My power-balancing advocacy twisted by agents of division – Shettima

Vice-President Shettima, yesterday, decried attempts at twisting his recent utterances in support of the candidacy of Senator Akpabio as President of the 10th Senate to cause disaffection.

Shettima, in a statement by Abiola Sola, Director of Information in the Office of the Vice President, said his support for Akpabio was not to look down on anybody or a section of the country but to underline the importance of diversity and justice.

His words: “During an interactive session with senators campaigning for the emergence of Senator Godswill Akpabio and Senator Barau Jibrin to lead the 10th Senate, Vice President Kashim Shettima emphasized the nation’s current political structure and made a case for emergence of a Southern Christian and a Northern Muslim as the fairest balance to promote inclusivity at the centre.

“Senator Shettima’s statement was motivated by a profound awareness of the divisive factors within our great nation and was in harmony with the governing party’s pledge to ensure inclusivity across all regions and among all groups.”

Sola further stated that Shettima’s statement was “stripped of context and mischievously circulated as an attempt to minimize the suitability of Muslim contestants in the race for the Senate leadership.

According to him, the remarks have not only been taken out of context but also misinterpreted to suit an agenda that sabotages our collective bid for unity.

He said: “What Senator Shettima advocated during the meeting was that considering Nigeria’s President and Vice President are Muslims, it would not be ill-advised for the lawmakers to choose a non-Muslim contestant, even if against a more qualified Muslim option, in order to achieve balance.

“It is alarming that such an unambiguous plea has been unfairly misconstrued to imply that the Vice-President said the most incompetent Christian candidate is superior to a Muslim candidate. One can understand why this absurd interpretation would be found distressing and hijacked by those with a malicious agenda to push.”

Allegations of inducement irresponsible — Yari’s Group

Ahead of today’s inauguration of the National Assembly, some senators-elect loyal to Yari yesterday waved off allegations of financial inducement made against Yari by the Akpabio group.

Senator Clever Ikisikpo, a member of the 7th Senate, had on Monday alleged that the Yari group was trying to buy votes.

“All of us are politicians and we are all kicking against vote-buying. If you collect money to vote for somebody, the person you are voting for will never have regard for you. That is my advice to my colleagues, Senators-elect who will be voting on Tuesday, Ikisikpo who has been canvassing for Senator Akpabio, said at a news conference on Monday.

Countering, a member of the Yari camp, who would not want his name in print, described the allegation as “not only false and laughable but also unfortunate, irresponsible and a feeble resort to falsehood and smear campaign.”

He stressed that senators-elect “are already made, respected, contented, very responsible and independent-minded individuals who cannot be compromised or induced”.

On his part, Senator Abdul Ahmed Ningi said: “Those who are talking about money politics should remember how they won their party primaries about six months ago from top to bottom, using money.

“When Senator Ndume made that statement, I actually was taken aback because he is experienced to know that there is no politics that money is not involved but it is not the most critical. In this campaign, it is not about money, especially for our candidate”.
According to him, “Senators-elect across the camps see this allegation as a deliberate smear on our individual and collective reputation, integrity and image”.

Another senator-elect from the South-South who left Akpabio’s camp described the allegation as false while confirming that senators-elect are queuing behind Yari out of conviction and not influenced by any financial inducement.

Opponents seeking ex-Zamfara gov’s arrest

He also accused the Akpabio camp of engaging in premature celebration as a result of rumours in the nation’s capital, Abuja, that senator-elect, Yari would be whisked away by security agents before Tuesday morning.

Yari’s refusal to step down from the race amid speculations that he was being backed by some top elements in his ruling APC, has continued to cause ripples ahead of the inauguration of the National Assembly.

Yari had earlier obtained a court order which restrained security agencies from arresting him.

Specifically, Justice Donatus Okorowo of the Federal High Court in Abuja had restrained the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission ICPC and the Department of State Services DSS from detaining Yari until June 27, 2023 when they should appear to show cause.

Govs have agreed to support Tinubu’s choice — Makinde

Meanwhile Governor Makinde has disclosed that all governors across party lines in Nigeria had agreed to support the choice of the president on the leadership of the Senate.

The governor made the disclosure during the post-inauguration second term thanksgiving service held for him by the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Oyo State chapter in conjunction with fathers of faith in the state.

Held at the Orita-Mefa Baptist Church, Total Garden, Ibadan, Makinde opined that the country is surrounded by enemies, who believe in sowing seeds of discord.

The governor spoke against the backdrop of ongoing political intrigues among members of the Senate to elect a Muslim northerner to lead the Red Chamber against the choice of the President and all state governors for a Christian Senate President in the interest of religious balancing, having had the president and vice president as Muslims.

He said: “We have an assignment, and it is a big deal for this country. This time tomorrow, the leadership of the National Assembly will be known. But our reality is that there are enemies of this country. They believe in sowing seeds of discord.

“We already have a President that is of Islamic faith; we have a Vice President that is of Islamic faith, number three is going to be a Christian Senate President.

‘’What we are saying across party lines, all the governors in Nigeria, and I am saying it publicly, we came together and we said we will support the choice of the president who is a Christian from the South-South region of Nigeria.

“We are not playing religious politics, but what is fair is fair. We stood for the Southern presidency and will stand for justice. We stood for fairness and we are going to stand for equity as well.”

Why 55 S/South members-elect adopted Abbas, Kalu – Idem

Addressing Abass and Kalu, who the APC nominated as speaker and deputy speaker on May 8, 2023, one of the leaders of the South-South zone, Mr. Unyime Idem from Akwa Ibom a zonal coordinator of the Joint Task, a coalition of eight political parties that won seats in the 10th Assembly, assured them of the votes of all 55 members-elect from the zone.

He said: “I consider it a great privilege welcoming our incoming Speaker and Deputy by the grace of God. As a coordinator of the Joint Task, it gives me pleasure to announce to your Excellencies that we have 55 out 55 members of the South-South Caucus who have penned their signatures in support of the joint ticket.

“I, therefore, want to assure you that we will have the whole 55 as they are going to appear in the chamber on Tuesday to give you 55 votes from the South-South geopolitical zone”.

Also speaking, the Co-chairman of the Joint Task – 10th Assembly, Mr. Usman Bello Kumo (APC, Gombe) said the zone had paid its due.
“This 55-over-55 is something we are not surprised of given the level of support we have enjoyed from key members of the Caucus including yourself who have been with us in this journey right from the start.”

In his remarks, the deputy speaker nominee, Kalu expressed gratitude to the zonal caucus for keying into their efforts to enthrone inclusiveness in the parliament.

“What we started like a mustard seed has germinated and grown to this level of acceptance and support from our brothers and sisters across the regions of the country.

“I stand here also as part of the South and I said to myself that getting the South-East and South-West to endorse us, wasn’t going to be complete for me without having the South-South, and thank God the South-South has completed the circle by adopting us and we are so very grateful.”

S/South Caucus support won’t be in vain – Abass

On his part, the speaker nominee, Abbas appreciated the zone, saying that their support would not be taken for granted.

“I have come here tonight to say thank you, thank you to people that love me. I have been to many regions in the country where I’ve been shown love, but that which I have experienced from the South-South in the course of this journey has been something else. I want to assure you that I will not take this generosity and solidarity for granted,” he said.

Abass, Kalu’ve convinced us – Ogene

Speaking on the battle for the speakership, Mr Afam Ogene the Leader of the Labour Party caucus for the incoming House of Representatives and Spokesman of the minority caucus otherwise called “Greater Majority” said that Abbas and Kalu have shown reasons to earn their votes.

Asked if the minority cause had caved in and abandoned the cause of presenting a speakership candidate and is now endorsing Abass, he said: “Beyond mere endorsement, I think that the emergence of both men as leaders of the emergent 10th Assembly of the House of Representatives is already a fait accompli. Why? In spite of the wave of condemnations that attended their ‘adoption’, they remained focused and kept their eyes on the ball. In fact, I can say, with every emphasis at my disposal, that both men ran the most pragmatic campaigns, in terms of engagement with members-elect. They were neither laid-back nor sat in any comfort zone as anointed candidates. Besides Mr. Muktar Betara, whose aspiration attracted the most support from both returning and new members because of his own parsonage, the duo of T.J Abass and Benjamin Kalu, eventually earned their own stripes.”

We’re yet to decide on minority leadership — PDP

Meanwhile, the PDP has urged Nigerians to disregard speculations that certain persons had been picked for minority leadership positions for the 10th National Assembly.

According to the party, the disclaimer became necessary in the light of unfounded rumours and reports to the contrary.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Hon. Debo Ologunagba, said this in a statement, in Abuja, yesterday.
The party said: “Such rumours and reports do not represent the true position of affairs in our Party and among our National Assembly members-elect.

“For clarity, the PDP is on the same page with our lawmakers-elect in focusing, for now, on maximizing our numerical strength with other opposition parties to determine the emergence of the presiding officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly on Tuesday, June 13, 2023, and will not allow any distractions at this moment.”

“The interest of the PDP is to ensure that whoever emerges as the Speaker of the House of Representatives must be a person with long-standing relevant managerial and legislative experience, leadership capacity and past legislative achievements as a member of the House of Representatives.

“At the right time, the PDP together with our members in the National Assembly will speak with one voice on any issues with regard to other leadership positions in the federal legislature.

“The PDP, therefore, urges Nigerians to disregard the said rumour and reports as our Party and members-elect at the moment have our eyes on the ball on the election of the Presiding Officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly in the general interest of the people of Nigeria.”