Five days to the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly, President Bola Tinubu’s meetings with lawmakers-elect failed to resolve the crisis over the All Progressives Congress zoning arrangement.
The APC National Working Committee had micro-zoned the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President seats to Senator Godswill Akpabio from South-South and Senator Jibrin Barau from North-West, respectively.
But other aspirants like Senators Abdulaziz Yari, (Zamfara West); Osita Izunaso (Imo West) and Orji Kalu (Abia North) have insisted that they would not step down for the party’s consensus candidate.
In the House, the APC leadership had also endorsed the member-elect representing Kaduna (North-West), Tajudeen Abbas, as speakership candidate, while the member-elect from Abia State (South-East), Benjamin Kalu, clinched the Deputy Speaker slot.
The aspirants, who were among the lawmakers who held a meeting with the President at the Aso Villa, Abuja, on Wednesday night, were still lobbying their colleagues and strategising to upturn the APC’s zoning arrangement for the NASSS principal positions as of Thursday.
This is happening as the Peoples Democratic Party and the Labour Party have concluded plans to frustrate the APC’s plan for the NASS leadership offices.
The PDP confirmed on Thursday it had entered an agreement with other opposition parties to leverage on their numbers in influencing the election of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Findings by The PUNCH indicated that at least two members of the G-7, a group of anti-zoning aspirants for the speaker position, might contest against Abbas.
The group has, however, not officially declared its consensus candidate to run against Abbas.
While Abbas is from Kaduna State in the North-West, members of the G-7 who are from the same geopolitical zone with the APC candidate are Sani Jaji from Zamfara State and Sada Soli from Katsina State.
The PUNCH learnt on Thursday that despite his interventions, aspirants were capitalising on the fact that the President during his meetings with the aspirants and the members-elect did not directly ask for support for Abbas and Kalu.
Member-elect for the Ningi/Warji Federal Constituency in Bauchi State, Adamu Ranga, told one of our correspondents that the President did not voice support for any of the candidates vying for the senate or House leadership, but he simply called for a united front.
Ranga said, “Mr President spoke to the general assembly, both Senate and the House of Representatives, in order to ensure that we have a solid government. Secondly, he emphasised that he will perform an open-door policy for everybody.
“Whoever wants to see him can see him without any hindrance. And whatever you want to discuss with him, he will give you that privilege to discuss. Thirdly, he said we should put our constituency first since we are here to represent them. He mentioned that he wants the Senate and the House to cooperate to elect good leaders.”
A member-elect for Enugu East/Isiuzo Federal Constituency, Prof Paul Nnamchi, told The PUNCH that Tinubu appealed to lawmakers to uphold national interest.
“He appealed that we should forget about party politics and face national interest. That was the major part of his speech. He didn’t mention anybody’s name to be voted for. Maybe he is appealing, but I didn’t hear anybody’s name,” Nnamchi said.
Sources in the G-7 also confirmed that Tinubu asked members-elect to work with the zoning plan of the APC, clearing the way for aspirants for a position allocated to a particular zone to contest against themselves.
A source close to Jaji and Wase said, “Prior to yesterday (Wednesday meeting), there was a meeting of the aspirants with Tinubu at the State House. He was not categorical. What he told them there and then was that the zoning stands.
‘’But he did not say ‘support Abbas’ but he said ‘zoning of the party stands.’ So, invariably, what he was trying to tell them, based on our interpretation, is that those aspirants from that zone can go ahead and contest.”
When asked about Wase who has said he would be the next Speaker of the House despite being from Plateau State in the North-Central, where no leadership position was zoned to, the source admitted that “it does not favour him.”
However, the source stated, “That is what Tinubu told members-elect on that day. I can confirm that one,” adding that, “It leaves Jaji, Soli and Abbas – the three of them – to slug it out.”
When asked to be categorical if Jaji was going ahead to contest against Abbas, the source said, ‘Yes, he is.” The source, however, could not say the same about Wase.
The source further disclosed that Jaji held a meeting with some members-elect at his Abuja office on Thursday afternoon, as part of his continued lobbying for votes.
While the source faulted the reports that Wase and Jaji shunned the Wednesday night meeting with Tinubu, he could not confirm if they were at the general meeting which was held on Thursday.
The source also confirmed the meeting between the G-7 and members-elect scheduled for Saturday.
The PUNCH had reported on Thursday that the group of aggrieved aspirants might declare its consensus candidate at the meeting, ahead of the inauguration of the 10th Assembly.
A member-elect also confirmed that the President urged the incoming lawmakers across party lines to work with the APC.
The opposition PDP member said, “He (Tinubu) spoke very well, frankly. He stressed on the importance of nation-building and working together. He said politics is over, it is time now to focus on governance, in building confidence and ensuring that we focus on delivering service to the people.’’
When asked if the issue of zoning Tinubu mentioned was in the context of the 10th Assembly leadership, the lawmaker said, “Yes, he enjoined everybody to support the choice they have made and work together.”
The member-elect added, “Before then, the Vice-President (Kashim Shettima) had stressed the need not to push too far the issue of Muslim-Muslim ticket by allowing a third person – the Senate President – to also have an Islamic background. You know that Yari is contesting for President of the Senate.”
According to him, the senators-elect will decide Akpabio’s fate.
“Let me tell you: many people don’t understand how the parliament works. There is a role for the party. Immediately a party has won the election and it is the majority in the parliament, the party has a decision to make and who to support. And if they zone their way to the leadership position, that is their prerogative. It is not really about zoning, it is about nomination and a party has the duty to nominate and support someone. And they have done that,’’ the lawmaker declared.
Vice President Kashim Shettima, outgoing Senate President Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, were present at the meeting.
Others were former Governor of Akwa Ibom and Senate Presidency aspirant, Godswill Akpabio, former governors of Ebonyi, Dave Umahi and Edo, Adams Oshiomhole.
Osita Izunaso, Sani Bello, Aliyu Wammako and speakership contender Abbas also attended the parley.
However, former Zamfara State Governor, Abdul’Aziz Yari and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Wase, were not spotted at the meeting.
Speaking with The PUNCH, Kehinde Olaosebikan, the media consultant speaking for the senator-elect representing Imo West, senator Osita Izunaso stated that his principal was not stepping down for anyone.
He noted that the president never told anyone to step down for anyone, rather, he demanded a Christian as the Senate President.
He said, “ The President never told anyone to step down for anyone. He only made a case for a Christian as the Senate President, and this makes my boss more qualified.”
Olaosebikan further noted that the boss would be Senate President.
He said, “ Senator Izunazo would be Senate President by God’s grace and he isn’t stepping down for anyone. “
Similarly, Emeka Nwala, the Chief Press Secretary to the Senate Whip, Orji Kalu, stated that nothing had changed as his boss was still in the race.
He said, “It’s too early to determine a thong. Senator Kalu is still in the race.”
Efforts to get the Director-General of Wase Campaign and DG of Jaji Campaign, Messrs Olufemi Bamisile and Olaide Akinremi, respectively, proved abortive on Thursday.
A text message was sent to them asking them to confirm if their candidates would go ahead to contest against Abbas or if they are under pressure to back out of the race. They had yet to reply to it as of press time on Thursday night.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja on Thursday, the PDP spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, said the opposition party had entered into a working agreement with other opposition parties ahead of the inauguration of the parliament.
Although the publicity scribe did not disclose if the PDP would field candidates for both positions, he noted that the situation would be clearer on Tuesday when the 10th Assembly would be inaugurated.
According to him, lawmakers elected on the platform of the PDP are united, stressing that opposition parties are ready to leverage on their numbers to have a say on who becomes the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
At the conclusion of the February 25 parliamentary elections, the APC produced 59 Senators leaving the opposition parties with 50. In the House of Representatives, the ruling party boasts of 177 members while opposition parties have 182.
But Ologunagba said the parliament, being the symbol of democracy, must be protected from anti-democratic forces, adding that the party is working in collaboration with its members-elect in both houses to forge a common front ahead of Tuesday’s inauguration.
“With regard to the current race for the Presiding Officers of the National Assembly, it is instructive to note that the opposition parties put together form a strong majority in the National Assembly and we are very mindful of that. The PDP leadership is working together with our members-elect and opposition parties in the two chambers.
Meanwhile, the Abbas/Kalu Campaign secretariat has said the President is firm on the zoning plan of the APC for the coming 10th National Assembly during his meeting with Senators-elect.
According to the campaign in a statement issued on Thursday, the President did not have plans to dump the candidates adopted by the APC for 10th Assembly leadership.
The statement was titled, ‘10th Assembly: Tinubu remains firm on APC’s endorsed candidates…Appeals to governors, lawmakers-elect to work for party’s candidates…as Wase, Jaji boycott meeting with President.’
However, the Abbas/Kalu campaign claimed that most of the G-7 members stepped down after Tinubu’s intervention in the matter.
The statement read, “Tinubu spoke firmly on the need to work for the victory of the APC’s candidates for the 10th NASS leadership. He begged them to work for Akpabio, Abbas, Barau and Kalu.
“He said the success of his administration largely depends on whether or not he gets it right with the leadership of the National Assembly. He urged them to see reason with him. He said the candidates were chosen for the stability of the nation.”
“Wase had said during the House valedictory session on Wednesday that he would go ahead to contest for the Speaker’s seat because it has been prophesied that he would become Speaker. There is a likelihood that only Wase would go to the floor to contest, while others may step down after the President’s appeal.”
LP unfolds plan
Speaking on the election, a member-elect, Victor Ogene, said the Labour Party lawmakers had yet to decide on the aspirant to support, noting however, that once a decision was made on that, it would be a bloc vote.
“The LP has yet to decide on a particular candidate, but I can assure you that we are going to vote en bloc, the consultation is on. I do not know those we will vote for yet, but I know those we will not vote for. I just want to tell you that we will not be railroad in choosing anybody; it will be a conscious decision,’’ he told the News Agency of Nigeria on Thursday.
The Governor of Abia State, Alex Otti, on Thursday, met members-elect of the coming 10th National Assembly on the platform of the Labour Party over the leadership aspirants to adopt as candidates of the opposition party.
Otti, in his brief comment at the meeting, said he chose to meet with the lawmakers-elect after meeting with President Ahmed Bola Tinubu.
Ahead of the inauguration, 35 members-elect from the South-East geopolitical zone have endorsed Abbas and Kalu as Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the coming 10th House of Representatives, respectively.
After a meeting of the caucus in Abuja on Thursday, 35 of the 43 members-elect from the South-East across party lines, signed for the APC’s consensus candidates.
The outgoing Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, Iduma Igariwey, made the announcement during the meeting with Abbas, Kalu and their campaign team, noting that more endorsements were still coming.
Igariwey said other members of the caucus who were not in Abuja would sign when they return.
In a related development, a pro-democracy group under the aegis of The Natives on Thursday pleaded with the former governor of Zamfara State, Yari, to step down for the joint ticket of Akpabio and Barau.
Addressing a world press conference in Abuja on Thursday, Convener of The Natives, Smart Edward, argued that for the sake of equity and fairness, only a Christian and a unifier like Akpabio should be allowed to lead the 10th Senate.
While noting that Nigeria is a secular state, Edward further urged other lawmakers to respect the choice of President Bola Tinubu and the ruling APC on the need to balance the religious representation in the new government.
He said, “We say ‘No’ to Senator Yari’s ambition and in the name of the country, we appeal to him in the name of our dear country to please shelve this ambition for all and become the hero. What the average Nigerian is looking for now is strong institutions not strong individuals, sustainable development in all facets of our nation, and policies that uplift the poor and promote economic prosperity.
“We cannot toy with the expensive portrayal of acts that can widen the divide of the people post elections, while it is politically permissible, we persuade the 10th Assembly to dissociate themselves from any political, financial and insensitive approach or act that will promote a Muslim for the office of the Senate President for this is a display of national sabotage.
“While the ruling party may have presented these candidates, we appreciate its efforts to assuage other regions and make sacrifices to see a pan-Nigerian, nationalistic, equitable and fair balance of the spirit and letters of our constitution.’’ Punch