CHUKWU DAVID reports on the power play that might determine the outcome of today’s election of the President of the 9th Senate
The die is cast in the nation’s political theatre, as members of the 9th Senate, billed for inauguration today, elect presiding officers, who will pilot their affairs. The battle in the Red Chamber is between two political giants, Senators Ahmad Lawan and Ali Ndume, all of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Both are from the North East geopolitical zone, where the party zoned the Senate presidency to. While Lawan is the anointed candidate of the APC leadership and the presidency, Ndume is seemingly, defiantly running independently and in fact, against the wishes of the party and the presidency.
The stepping down of Senator Danjuma Goje from the race on Thursday last week, reduced the tension and complexity earlier generated in the jostle for the number three highest political office in the land. Although Goje never publicly declared intention to run, there were however, insinuations and unexpressed signs that he was interested and indeed being backed by senatorselect of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who were allegedly preparing him as the dark horse to spring surprises at election today. Now that the inclemency of the political atmosphere has been cleared, with Goje publicly announcing that he has stepped down from the race, the contest is strictly between Lawan and Ndume, a situation that makes the election much easier for the senators in choosing their leader.
It is pertinent to note that Lawan, who is also the outgoing Leader of the 8th Senate, is the most ranking among all the senators-elect that will be sworn in today. He has been in the National Assembly since the nation’s return to civil rule, beginning from the House of Representatives, where he served for two terms (1999-2007), before joining the Red Chamber after winning the Yobe North Senatorial seat in 2007. He sought to clinch the office of Senate President in 2015, but lost it in a controversial circumstance that saw Bukola Saraki emerging through an alliance with the opposition PDP, which produced Ike Ekweramadu as the Deputy President of the Senate.
Ndume, on his part, joined the National Assembly in 2003, where served two terms in the House of Representatives (2003-2011) before winning election to the Senate in 2011, where he just completed two terms and has been re-elected into the 9th Senate. He was nominated by the APC Senate Caucus of the 8th Senate as the Majority Leader of the apex legislative chamber, a position he held until January 2017, when he was removed and replaced with Lawan.
Ndume, who described the party’s adoption of Lawan as undemocratic, rolled out a nine-point agenda that he would implement if elected, among which is to make the office of the President of the Senate unattractive by reducing most of the unnecessary privileges attached to it.
He also promised to uphold the independence of the legislature, while at the same time working harmoniously and inter-dependently with the executive without undermining the principle of Separation of Powers. In the face of Ndume’s resilience towards the election today, Lawan appears to be more visibly mobile, meeting with relevant stakeholders, particularly the senators-elect across party lines, assuring them that he would run an inclusive leadership in the 9th Senate as well as ensure rancour-free executive/legislature relationship, while also upholding the upholding the independence of the parliament. Lawan and his Campaign Organisation addressed a press conference in Abuja at the weekend in Abuja, where it was revealed that Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central), who stepped down from the race and 60 other senators-elect had endorsed the former Senate leader for today’s 9th Senate presidential election.
The campaign organisation had earlier explained that out of the 62 APC senators-elect, 60 of them had endorsed Lawan by appending their signatures against their names on a list, which was presented to the press at the briefing. Ifeanyi Ubah, who was elected on platform of Young Progressives Party (YPP), had earlier declared his support for Lawan, making the number of senators supporting him to be 61. Lawan also said that about 35 to 38 senators-elect on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have endorsed him, noting that for obvious reasons, they did not sign the endorsement document signed by the 61 senators. However, in a swift reaction, Ndume said that he was not moved by the news of senators endorsing his opponent, expressing confidence that the purported endorsement notwithstanding, he would emerge the winner.
His words: “Well, I’ve said it before that I am not looking for endorsement. but looking for votes on election day. You know clearly that there is a difference between endorsement and election. You would recall too that in 2015, that story of endorsement was canvassed.
“He had the endorsement, but what happened on the floor of the Senate was different. This kind of thing has been there all along; we have seen endorsements against several elections. We are there already and shall become past in question of hours from now.” It was learnt that the two senators that didn’t endorse Lawan are Ndume and surprisingly, a supposed Lawan’s kinsman, Senator Ibrahim Mohammed Bomai (Yobe South). It will be recalled that the spokesperson of the 8th Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi, had on April 10, told journalists in Abuja that Senator Ahmad Lawan would emerge the president of the 9th Senate in June with two-third votes of members. According to him, negotiations were already on to garner support for Lawan to emerge president of the next Senate, assuring that Lawan’s leadership would be inclusive, in which all the lawmakers would be carried along irrespective of party affiliation.
He said that partisan politics among senators-elect, notwithstanding, the decision of the lawmakers would definitely be in favour of Ahmad Lawan, stating that from the track records of Lawan as an opposition member of the National Assembly for 16 years, he understood the feelings of the opposition and would not abuse the privilege if elected. Going by the turn of events in the Senate presidential contest so far, and if indeed that the PDP senators-elect truly endorsed Lawan and there is not going to be any betrayal of trust in the negotiations that have taken place between Lawan’s camp and other stakeholders, the election may be an easy victory for Lawan today. In the race for the office of the Deputy Senate President are former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia North); Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo North) and Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central). Kalu has severally stressed the need for the ruling party to allow the South-East a presiding officer’s slot in the 9th Senate in order to give the zone a sense of belonging in the nation’s political equation under the present administration.
On his part, Omo-Agege has expressed confidence that he would emerge as the Deputy President of the Senate in today’s election, claiming that he has the backing of the APC leadership and President Muhammadu Buhari. He also said the National Assembly would not use the 2015 Senate Standing Orders (as amended), stating that the document did not pass through the prescribed legislative process of amendment, and should therefore, not be used again in the coming elections. Senator Alimikhena, on his part, claims he is the candidate to best in today’s contest to the number two highest office in the Upper Chamber, insisting that he will not step down from the race.
Alimikhena was the Deputy Whip of the 8th Senate. As twhe various contenders file out today, the belief in APC quarters is that if at the end of the day, Lawan emerges, irrespective of whoever is going to be elected as his deputy, it is almost certain that the 9th Senate will experience stability and enjoy the cooperation and support of the presidency.
It is also expected that when there is harmony between the executive and the legislature, Nigerians will be better for it, provided that there is no attempt to make the parliament an appendage of the executive, to a point that the wishes of the people are subjugated to the whims and caprices of anti-people cum anti-democratic forces within the executive arm.
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