After months of political intrigues, it promises to be a hot contest for the leadership of both houses of the 9th National Assembly, which would be inaugurated today, FELIX NWANERI reports
The build-up to today’s inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, which will herald the election of the leadership of its both houses – Senate and House of Representatives – has not been a tea party. From subtle moves to alignment and re-alignment of the 469 federal lawmakers-elect – 109 members of the Senator and 360 members of the House of Representatives – for the exalted positions, the intrigues have been fierce in the past few days.
For the office of Senate President, the contest is a two-horse race between Senators Ahmed Lawan and Ali Ndume. Both are of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the North-East zone, where the party zoned the Senate presidency to. On the contrary, the race for the speakership of the House of Assembly seems more interesting given the vast number of candidates in the contest though there is no doubt that only a few are contenders, while majority are pretenders, who are in the race to make up the number.
The speakership hopefuls are Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos), Umar Mohammed Bago (APC, Niger), John Dyegh (APC, Benue), Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia), Emeka Nwajiuba (Accord, Imo) and Olajide Olatunbosun (APC, Oyo). Gbajabiamila and Olatunbosun are from the South-West, where the APC has zoned the speakership position to, while Bago and Dyegh are from the North Central, which incidentally has been allocated the slot of deputy speaker by the ruling party.
Onyejeocha and Nwajiuba are from the South-East, which is insisting that the ruling party should reconsider its zoning arrangement for equity and fairness. Besides the battle for the prime positions in the Senate and House of Representatives, there are also intriguing contests for the positions of Deputy Senate President as well as Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.In the race for the office of Deputy Senate President are former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia); Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta) and Senator Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo). Interestingly, only one candidate – Idris Wase (APC, Plateau), has so far openly declared for the position of deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.
The ruling party, apparently, not only embraced zoning, but adopted candidates for the various leadership positions in both chambers of the federal legislature to avoid the 2015 experience that ruptured its pre-inauguration arrangement of the 8th National Assembly and led to the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as president and speaker of the 8th Senate and House of Representatives, respectively. Saraki and Dogara had then emerged against the choice of the APC leadership through an alleged power deal they struck with their colleagues elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The duo were former members of the PDP until they pitched tent with the APC in 2013. Saraki, a former governor of Kwara State emerged unopposed through the support of about 60 senators, who were present during the inauguration, while Dogara polled 182 votes against Gbajabiamila’s 174. Ironically, Saraki’s main challenger, Lawan and other 50 APC senators were at the International Conference Centre (ICC), where they were billed to hold a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, when the election took place in the Red Chamber.
No doubt, the development then humbled the leadership of the ruling party, which had opted for Lawan and Gbajabiamiala, respectively as heads of the upper and lower legislative chambers, but it offered the opposition PDP, the opportunity to clinch the position of Deputy Senate President through Senator Ike Ekweremadu. The APC leadership initially threatened sanctions against the “rebels” but later made a detour.
The issue, however, got to a head, when Saraki announced names of principal officers of the Senate on June 25. The names were different from those submitted by the leadership of the party. Those who emerged had earlier won the mock elections conducted by the zonal caucuses of the party.
They include Ndume (Majority Leader), Bala Ibn Na’Allah (Deputy Senate Leader) and Alimikhena (Deputy Chief Whip). Expectedly, the Lawan group, which was backed by the leadership of the party, rejected the list. A similar attempt to adopt the Saraki model in the House of Representatives resulted to a free-for-all between members of the two factions in the chamber.
The cold war, which ensued afterwards, cut short the euphoria that ushered in the APC government; led to a frosty relationship between the executive and legislature and culminated to the return of Saraki, Dogara and others elected on the platform of the APC to the PDP. For Lawan, who is the preferred choice of most APC stakeholders for the position Senate President, he comes with a rich legislative profile, having been in the National Assembly since the nation’s return to civil rule in 1999. He began from the House of Representatives, where he served for two terms (1999-2007) before moving to the Senate Chamber after winning the Yobe North Senatorial District seat in 2007.
Besides experience, Lawan is also said to be a loyal party man given the way he stood in defence of President Buhari on the various occasions the 8th Senate flexed muscle with the executive under Saraki’s leadership. The seeming overwhelming support for his ambition, notwithstanding, the immediate past Senate Leader has to scale the hurdle posed by Ndume (also a former Senate leader), who also has a rich legislative profile having been in the National Assembly since 2003 as well as enjoys a cordial relationship with the presidency.
Despite Ndume’s dissent to the party’s position, one thing that is likely to be certain after today’s election in the Senate is that the position of president of the Red Chamber will go to the North-East in line with the APC’s zoning arrangement. Lawan hails from Yobe State, while Ndume is from Borno State.
For the speakership of the House of Representatives, it is a hazy picture. Despite the party’s support for Gbajabiamila, other contenders for the speakership from the North Central and South-East are not leaving anything to chance. No doubt, the APC’s distribution of leadership positions in the National Assembly has not gone down well with the various tendencies in the party, but stakeholders have advised that all the ruling party needs to do no matter what plays out today, is to bring the various interest groups on the same page as Nigerians cannot afford to go through the experience of 8th National Assembly, which many believe, was responsible for the executive-legislative rift that impeded governance.
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