IRRESPECTIVE of who eventually emerges Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on Saturday, June 6, endorsed Senator Ahmad Lawan (North East) and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (South West) as its candidates.
This consensus arrangement, however, didn’t go down well with APC leading candidate for Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker hopeful, Hon. Yakubu Dogbara.
In rejecting the APC consensus plot, some of its opponents especially the Like Minds Senators, claimed that the voting pattern the party leadership adopted had inherent flaws and unconstitutional undertone.
In fact, the group canvassing for the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as President of the Eighth Senate, on Sunday, June 6, insisted that the Senator from Kwara State (North Central) will contest the position despite the position of the APC.
The group, in a statement by two of its members, Senators-elect, Dino Melaye and Ahmed Rufai-Sani, argued that the APC primary election that produced Lawan as the party’s consensus candidate was manipulated by the leaders.
The senators-elect noted with regret that the leadership of the APC did not carry the Pro-Saraki’s group along, while the Lawan group was allegedly informed ahead of the meeting.
The group explained that they went to the International Conference Centre, venue of the meeting, with just five members to discuss the modalities for the conduct of the election.
“The Unity Forum (Lawan’s men) insisted on an open ballot voting which we discovered is different from the electoral process used to conduct the earlier election of the House of Representatives members-elect.
“To us, this open ballot voting is primitive, undemocratic and against universal electoral norms and practice. In the light of the above, we the Senators-elect of Like Minds hereby insist on our position of open ballot.
“Secret voting process, which we believe in, is in consonance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the universal electoral values.
“As responsible citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and leaders in our own right, we have resolved and hereby state that we shall not be part of a process that promotes undemocratic electoral process.
“Such undemocratic process may resort to rancorous and uncivilised situations which inhibits the rights of individuals to vote for the candidate of their choice, as this process will further divide us than unite members of our party.
“In conclusion, we the Senators-elect of Like Minds wish to state categorically that we will participate only in the Constitutional election scheduled for Tuesday, June 9, 2015, in line with the rules of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The group even boasted it has 65 senators-elect across the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who had already endorsed Saraki’s candidature for office of Senate President.
Not minding Saraki’s supporters, the APC declared Lawan and Gbajabiamila sole candidates for the Tuesday, June 9 National Assembly election.
Lawan defeated Senator George Akume who had to step down for him to run as his Deputy, while Saraki group boycotted the mock election sponsored by APC lawmakers under the auspices of the Unity Forum. Gbajabiamila also floored his main opponent (Dogbara) in the Saturday APC mock election.
The APC has 213 out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives. The meeting of its leadership with the members-elect started at 10am. Those who signed the attendance register at the meeting were 183, while the total number of votes cast was 161.
Gbajabiamila emerged victorious by polling 154 votes to defeat his opponent, Yakubu Dogara, who got three votes. (His supporters, however, claimed the three votes were fraudulently allocated to Dogara). Signs that the exercise would not be peaceful emerged when Dogara and 18 of his supporters walked out of the venue when it became apparent that the party was going ahead with the election despite the protest against it.
Dogara’s supporters had before the commencement of the day’s business distributed leaflets quoting the comments of President Buhari in which he promised to work with whoever emerged because he had no preferred candidate. As they stepped into the hall and settled down for business, the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, explained the need for the party to approach Tuesday’s election of the National Assembly leaders as a united house.
His explanation, which was designed to educate members about the party’s reason for getting involved, did not go down well with Dogara’s supporters who shouted, “No,” “No,” intermittently.
The party’s national chairman, in consultation with some members of the party’s NWC present, asked all the contenders to sign an undertaking that they would abide by the decision reached after the meeting. It was at this point that Dogara and his group walked out of the hall.
Some members of the Dogara group returned and tried to get the party’s leadership to concede the position of Deputy Speaker to their group, a proposal the party’s leadership said came too late.
However, a member of the Dogara group, Abdulmumuni Jibrin, was quoted as saying, after the walk out, the party failed to see reason with their argument that the election of Speaker was the business of the members of the House and not that of the party.
“Our position is that we are not a party to what they did and we maintain that the election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives cannot be conducted outside the chamber of the House and we are ready to participate in that process on Tuesday, June 9, 2015.”
The battle for principal offices in the National Assembly seems to be tearing the APC apart.
The election for the National Assembly leadership posts would be conducted by 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives. However, the election would be held separately in the respective chambers of the Assembly.
In the Senate, the two major candidates for the number three position in the country are a former Governor of Kwara State, Senator Bukola Saraki; and the immediate past Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Ahmad Lawan.
For weeks, the ruling party’s leadership has been meeting with the camps of the two senators but no compromise has been reached. On May 23, 2015, APC leaders held a retreat in Abuja to address the issue and stress the need for the party to remain united if it is to bring the needed change Nigerians are yearning for but the jostle for the leadership positions has taken a new dimension.
At the retreat, Senator George Akume, an aspirant for the Senate presidency reportedly, stepped down for Lawan. Akume accepted to step down for Lawan and opted to run for the position of Deputy Senate President.
Senator Banabas Gemade, who read out the statement on behalf of the pro-Lawan group at the Ibeto Hotel lobby in Abuja, said the decision was made in the collective best interest of the party and the country.
However, not long after the declaration by Gemade, the pro-Saraki group of senators led by Senator-elect, Dino Malaye, addressed journalists at the hotel, dismissing Lawan’s group as a minority. Melaye, who spoke alongside 24 senators and senators-elect, told journalists that 35 out of the 59 senators elected on the APC platform had decided to endorse the candidacy of Saraki for the office of the senate presidency.
As the crisis continued to deepen, the APC decided to meet the senators again with a view to putting an end to the friction since the election will hold on Tuesday (June 9) in order to settle things once and for all. So, the party, on Saturday, June 6, held a mock primary in Abuja to determine who would emerge as the party’s candidate but it again ended in a stalemate.
Supporters of Saraki declined all entreaties to attend the meeting organised by the National Working Committee of the party to select a consensus candidate. Saraki’s followers under the aegis of Like Minds Senators, boycotted the primaries, citing irreconcilable differences with the NWC over the method of voting.
Saraki’s supporters had requested that the secret ballot system be adopted for the election. The party’s NWC, however, said the open ballot system would be adopted for the process, a situation which was not accepted by the Like Mind Senators.
Saraki, who later spoke to journalists, said, “As result of the inability of the APC leadership to guarantee Like Mind Senators the rights of secret ballot system, we are not participating in the election and this we made clear to the national chairman of our party.
“Whatever they do in the name of consensus for the Senate presidency election, we are not part of it. Members of my group are still meeting to come out with a further action. But for now, we are not part of the consensus arrangement.”
When the National Secretary of the APC, Mala Buni, who was the presiding officer, called for nominations, Gemade nominated Lawan and his nomination was seconded by the senator representing Lagos-Central, Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu. Lawan emerged the winner with 32 votes while Akume got 31 votes as the deputy.
CHALLENGES AHEAD OF LAWAN
Though Lawan has emerged the party’s candidate, the struggle is far from over since the PDP, which has 48 senators, can still cause an upset. Should the PDP vote en masse for Saraki, the former governor could thwart his party’s plans.
Analysts, in this respect, predict a repeat of the revolt of PDP lawmakers that produced the immediate past Speaker and current Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal in defiance to the then ruling party’s preferred candidate (Hon. Mulikat Akande).
THE ODDS FAVOUR GBAJABIAMILA
In the House of Representatives, the battle is squarely between the Minority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, and Yakubu Dogara who represents Bogoro/Dass/Tafawa-Balewa federal constituency of Bauchi State.
Gbajabiamila has the open support of many key members of the House and is one of the longest serving members in the House. His chances have been boosted by the fact that many aspirants have stepped down for him. The party’s leaders, especially Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, also supports him because of the role he played in the House when the APC was in the minority.
However, Dogara, who is from the North-East, insists that the party cannot dictate who will emerge as Speaker since President Buhari has said he is not concerned about who emerges as the Speaker. Dogara, who is the Chairman, House Services Committee, has been backed by the majority of Reps in the North-East.
But Dogbara’s candidacy seems to be threatened by the fact that Lawan, who is also from the North-East, has been picked by the APC to be the next Senate President.
APC SPOKESMAN, LAI MOHAMMED REACTS
On Saturday, June 6, the APC sought to end the conflict in the House by conducting a mock primary. The APC National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who spoke to reporters before voting began, explained the party’s position.
“We are asking every member to sign an undertaking that they will support whoever emerges. I am absolutely sure that at the end, we will come to an agreement in the interest of the party and the nation.”
However, just like the senatorial primary, the primary for the APC Reps also failed.
When ENCOMIUM Weekly reminded the APC National Publicity Secretary of the crisis tearing the party apart (in a phone chat on Monday, June 8, 2015) he said, “It’s a party affair.”
CAN PDP CHANGE THE GAME IN SENATE?
Presently, the PDP has 48 senators while the APC has 60 senators (the seat of Borno-Central is vacant following the death of Senator Ahmed Zannah). At the House of Representatives, the PDP has 142 out of 360 Reps.
If the PDP decides to support Saraki and Dogara for Senate presidency and the speakership respectively, the APC might be sidelined in legislative affairs for the next four years.
WHY BUHARI’S NOT INVOLVED
Buhari doesn’t seem to be interested in the election of senate president and speaker. The President, while delivering his inaugural address, reiterated the autonomy of the legislative arm of government, said he could work with anyone that emerges Speaker or Senate president. This is a departure from the Olusegun Obasanjo era in which Nigeria had five senate presidents in eight years.
There are fears that this could, however, prove costly because if the opposition PDP installs its own candidates, Buhari could find it difficult getting the National Assembly to support his policies.
LAWAN, SARAKI HIGHLY FAVOURED
From the look of things the new Senate President would be Senator Lawan or Saraki.
Come June 9, 2015, don’t expect any other House member than Hon Gbajabiamila or Dogara to emerge the Speaker of the 8th National Assembly, all things being equal.
– UCHE OLEHI