Leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) have so far found it difficult to announce the zoning formula for the incoming ninth National Assembly, choosing instead a piecemeal approach to the issue. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, reports:
At the dinner table inside the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Tuesday, the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, again restated his bid to have the anointed candidates of the party elected as presiding officers of the incoming National Assembly. It won’t amount to a tall dream, though, because his party already commands majority of members in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
He had made a similar move weeks before, but it was not well received as lawmakers-elect from the party rebuffed what they perceived a plot to impose leaders on the ninth Assembly. This time, Oshiomhole presented Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila to President Muhammadu Buhari and his colleagues as the anointed candidate for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives in the incoming ninth session.
The APC chairman had taken a similar step when senators came for the same dinner on March 18, when he presented Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, as the candidate for the Senate Presidency in the ninth Assembly. The development rankled the lawmakers, some of whom protested the lack of consultations before the announcement was made.
Former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, who was the first to voice out dissent against the decision of the APC national chairman, said any attempt to impose a candidate on the Senate would not work, adding that the chambers have always resisted attempts to impose candidates on them.
Weeks after that outburst, it appears Oshiomhole did not take any notice of Ndume’s position, which has also been re-echoed by some members of the House of Representatives who have declared their intention to contest the position of Speaker, notwithstanding indications that the party would zone the position to the South-West.
Speaking at the session with Buhari and the Reps members-elect, Oshiomhole insisted that the APC must produce the Speaker of the House and all committee chairmen, adding that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was the devil which, he said, the APC must never share power with in the ninth National Assembly.
He insisted that the party had a comfortable majority in both chambers of the National Assembly and could decide on the choice of the presiding officers without depending on the PDP to succeed.
He said: “If you are elected, it means you are tested and trusted. The National Working Committee [of the APC] had a meeting with representatives-elect, three weeks ago and it was very revealing. Their intervention is a clear confirmation that Nigerians did not make a mistake by electing them. Their deep knowledge of the constitution would convince many that they were not first timers but seasoned lawmakers.
“On their own, speaker after speaker, across the zones, pledged to work together for Mr President to lay a landmark foundation for a new Nigeria. I am confident that this time around, they are very hungry Nigerians ready to deliver on the mandates at the campaigns.”
According to him, with APC’s majority of 223 members out of 360 members of the lower House, the party would not require the need of the PDP and would not share power with the opposition.
Oshiomhole further said: “In life, mistakes are permitted but it becomes a problem if the mistake is repeated twice. We are determined not to repeat the mistakes of 2015 in 2019, we have learnt our lesson.
“Out of 223 APC elected members, about 67 were re-elected, the rest are new members. In other climes, you don’t go into coalition when you are in the majority. You do so when you don’t have the numbers. We have the numbers; out of 360, Nigerians elected 223 APC members because they don’t want Mr President to face the trauma of 2015.
“Most of those who defected were rejected and even those who led it were uprooted. We cannot as a party, which has a comfortable majority, entrust critical committees in the hands of the PDP or the opposition.”
Who is afraid of zoning?
Despite presenting Honourable Gbajabiamila as the candidate of the APC for the position of Speaker in the ninth Assembly, thereby resolving one of the lingering controversies as to whether the Lagos lawmaker has actually been adopted for the position, it was observed that Oshiomhole still failed to address the zoning question and the arrangement to be adopted for the ninth National Assembly. There are six positions open to the majority APC to contest in the incoming National Assembly. Observers had hoped that the party should have little problems fixing the six positions to each of the geopolitical zones. Incidentally, the party has the six positions to play with in the Senate as well as in the House of Representatives, especially if it could keep its house in order.
But in all in all his vituperations against the opposition PDP on Tuesday, the APC national chairman failed to touch on the issues that directly relate to the running of any of the chambers of the National Assembly. For instance, he claimed that in the days of the PDP, opposition did not get committee positions and that the opposition party should not get any this time. He possibly has not been told that the Senate and the House operate rules that guide their actions and inactions in the chambers.
The Rule Books of each chamber are offshoots of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantee the chambers the power to regulate their procedures. The Rules provide for the Selection Committees to be composed of the presiding officers and principal officers who would determine the composition of Standing Committees in line with the Rule of Ranking, which guides the configuration of all parliamentary positions and delegations.
And the chairman’s actions by failing to announce the full zoning arrangement and micro-zoning the position of Senate President and Speaker is already bouncing off the wall. Stakeholders in the party are already raising their voices against the decision of the party to micro-zone. Their objections are not really targeted at the quality of the persons recommended but at the procedures adopted in arriving at the choices.
“Don’t forget that in the parliament, procedures are paramount. A law is not a law when the chamber refuses to follow the laid down procedures in its passage. That is the same thing the lawmakers are concerned about,” said a senator of the ruling party.
APC youths raise hell
Perhaps to help ginger the party into action, youths under the aegis of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Zonal and State Youth Leaders Forum, on Tuesday, demanded immediate zoning of all the leadership positions for the ninth National Assembly. The youths also called for the convening of the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the party.
The zonal youth raised questions about what they called highhandedness and lack of internal democracy in the party. In a communiqué released to newsmen in Abuja, the youths from 31 states of the federation said micro-zoning the office of Senate President and Speaker of the House could amount to recipe for chaos.
The group demanded that “all positions in National Assembly are immediately zoned to accommodate the six geo-political zones for equity and fairness,” adding that “no zone is less important than the other. Zonal stakeholders should be allowed to own and determine the process.”
The communiqué, which was signed by the six APC zonal youth leaders and read on their behalf by the North Central zonal youth leader, Comrade Terver Aginde, read in part: “We observed with great concern the recent suspension of some major stakeholders of the party, including two outgoing governors who are also senators-elect and a retinue of court cases with significant judgments against the party i.e. Rivers and Zamfara states.
“The mishandling of these issues by the National Working Committee and other crises led to our electoral loss in the affected states, particularly in Imo, Bauchi, Adamawa and Oyo.
“Whilst we agree with the initiative to determine National Assembly leadership within the parameters of zoning and ranking to ensure stability and discipline within the ranks of the party, we must do so without undermining the independence of the legislature. We consider the micro-zoning as a recipe for chaos mindful of the experience of 2015.
“It is anomalous to have made a pronouncement on the position of the Senate Presidency and Speakership of the House of Representatives to the exclusion of other positions and other zones.
“It is pertinent for members of our great party to note that the purported NWC decision is suspect. Not even the respected and revered National Caucus of the APC, comprising of major stakeholders such as President Muhammadu Buhari, APC governors, party stalwarts and BoT members addressed the issue.
“We are curious to ask, for instance, how the decision was arrived at? Who moved the motion for micro-zoning? Who seconded the motion? Who voted for micro-zoning and who was against micro-zoning. We dare ask, who is benefiting from this arrangement, an individual or the party? Party members will be glad to see the minutes of the meeting where such decision was taken.”
To further address the issue of inclusion in the decision making process, the youth leaders asked the APC to “ensure that the various organs of the party at the zonal and state levels are made functional in accordance with the laws governing the party and to reposition the party beyond President Buhari and 2023.”
Besides this group, however, some back and forth were also recorded among some youths, with a section endorsing Lawan and the other claiming otherwise.
More dissent from North-Central
Again, the North-Central Caucus of the House of Representatives, on Wednesday, rejected the endorsement of the House Majority Leader, Honourable Gbajabiamila, as Speaker of the incoming 9th National Assembly.
Honourable John Dyegh, (APC, Benue) who spoke on behalf of the zone declared that the North-Central caucus was not satisfied with the decision, adding that the caucus had asked the leadership of the party to reconsider the decision and zone the seat to the North-Central.
Dyegh told newsmen: “We are not fighting the party, we are not. We shall not, we are only giving the party an opportunity to come back and look at the zoning and look at what we are saying. Taking what the party says hook, line and sinker is not democratic. We are in a democracy. We have right to vie for position, there’s freedom of expression.”
The drama in the Senate
Just ahead of the endorsement of Gbajabiamila at the meeting with the president and elected members of the ninth Assembly, some form of drama started unfolding at the Senate wing of the Assembly. Some elders and stakeholders from Borno State, under the aegis of Concerned Borno Citizens, on Monday, asked President Buhari to support the aspiration of former Senate Leader Ndume, to enable him emerge the president of the ninth Assembly.
The elders, in a statement by their spokesman, Alhaji Yakubu Umar, which was made available in Abuja, said the choice of Ndume would guarantee a reliable Senate which would ensure development.
The Borno stakeholders expressed the fear that some dark forces were already seriously working on a plot to hijack the leadership of the ninth National Assembly for their selfish political gains adding that the president and the leadership of the party must be vigilant.
According to them, their support for Ndume was predicated upon the go-ahead he told them he had received from President Buhari when he consulted with the president on his desire to lead the National Assembly in December 2018.
The Borno elders said: “Before we decided to throw our support for Ndume to contest for the ninth Senate President’s position if it was zoned to the North-East geopolitical zone, we the Borno elders on the platform of Concerned Borno Citizens asked our son whether he conferred with President Buhari, the ultimate leader of the ruling party, of his intention. Ndume told us that he did that shortly after he won his primary election to contest for Borno South Senatorial District under the APC. President Buhari, our son said, endorsed him.
“Borno State gave President Buhari and the party over 90 per cent of the votes during the presidential election; over 300,000 votes from Ndume’s senatorial district alone. President Buhari won in the entire six states of the South-West by just 200,000 votes, which is far less than what Ndume’s constituency recorded.
“President Buhari should please revisit the promise he made shortly before the 2019 presidential election that he would reward those that work hard for his re-election bid. Ndume was appointed All Peoples Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council North-East Zonal Director and has so much to show for it,” the elders concluded
Governor Shettima breaks ranks with elders
Hours after the Borno elders delivered their support for Ndume, the gtovernor of the state, Kashim Shettima, himself a senator-elect, announced his backing for Senator Ahmad Lawan. Shettima, who is one of the three senators-elect from Borno State, declared his backing for Senator Lawan, saying he was supporting the choice of the APC. He also pledged that the other senator from the state, Abubakar Kyari, was also backing Lawan.
The governor said: “I hail from the same state with the distinguished Senator Ali Ndume and I appreciate the fact that politics is local. But politics is also national. And I believe the bond that binds us together supersedes whatever we might harbour.
“For the position of President of the ninth Senate, I fully aligned with the aspiration of my party and that of President Muhammadu Buhari and, by the grace of God, we are going to mobilise all our goodwill to see that we are fully on board.
“We are for Senator Ahmad Lawan; we are for Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila and all other senators and other Reps members endorsed by the party. We are for party discipline that allowed everyone to aspire for political offices. We believe that we must respect the party. All of us won under the platform. There is no provision for independent candidate. I am fully on board; I am for Senator Ahmad Lawan for Senate president.”
When reminded that Senator Ndume had told newsmen that he was in the race because of the support of his home base, the governor said: “Well, I am the first citizen of the state. I have made wide consultations with our leaders from Borno before resolving to back Senator Ahmed Lawan. And most importantly, let’s be brutally honest, Muhammadu Buhari is the single candidate in the country that most of us from the North won election by aligning with him. So, we have no basis to undermine him or to disrespect him. He has endorsed some of the best hands we have in the system and where we hail from, Senator Ahmed Lawan is one of the best hands we have.”
Will the micro-zoning war end?
Two persons hold the key to ending the ongoing war and they include President Buhari and the national chairman of the APC, Oshiomhole. The key words are processes and procedures, persuasion and consultations. In a democratic setting where votes are involved, nobody compels the other candidate to do his bidding without explaining his point of view. Without consulting the lawmakers and making them understand the feelings of the president and the party, the cookies could crumble just once again. And gathering the members to a public show is not the consultations required here.
Ndume, gave a hint of the recipe for truce at his first media conference where he denounced the adoption of Senator Lawan and stated clearly that he was not carried along. He said, having submitted a letter of intent to contest the position of Senate President, he deserves a reply from the party. He also said that, having consulted with the president in December on the same issue and allegedly received the go ahead, he deserves a word to indicate the change of mind from the president, if any.
With 12 National Assembly positions out there to share among six geopolitical zones (Senate President and deputy plus four principal officers in Senate and Speaker, deputy and four principal officers in the House of Representatives), you would think that the job has been made easy for the APC. Surprisingly, the party is struggling to walk through an easy route. Unless the party, especially the chairman, consults members directly, adopts the spirit of give and take, massages egos where needed, the national chairman would continue to shout himself hoarse, erroneously thinking that the ghost of PDP is the source of the problem.
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