9Th NASS leadership: Buhari’s men split over lawan, Gbajabiamila

                         9Th NASS leadership: Buhari’s men split over lawan, Gbajabiamila

The saying by Josh Billings, an American 19th Century humourist, that “ambition is like hunger; it obeys no law except its own appetite,” is apt in describing what is currently playing out in the All Progressives Congress (APC) over the struggle for who gets what among its lawmakers in the 9th National Assembly.

For the Senate, three men are in the race for the Senate Presidency. They are: Senators Ahmad Lawan, Ali Ndume and Danjuma Goje, all from the Northeast geo-political zone. But the party leadership appears to have settled for Lawan for the position. In spite of the endorsement, the two other contenders have refused to withdraw from the race, with Ndume being more visible.

In the House of the Representatives, Saturday Sun investigations reveal that the APC as a party appears to be playing what one of the newly elected lawmakers described as “hide and seek,” with the members. While at the meeting the senators-elect had with President Muhammadu Buhari recently, National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, reportedly told the president that the party was recommending Senator Lawan for Senate Presidency, there was however no such recommendation for House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, who appears to be one of the front runners for the speakership race, when a similar meeting held with the members-elect.

Already, the North Central zone is making a strong case for the speakership position. This is against the initial thinking within the party that the position has been reserved for the South West. “It is true that Senator Oluremi Tinubu wants the position of the Deputy Senate President. But Asiwaju is not favourably disposed to it. He certainly would not back the wife’s ambition because of Gbajabiamila’s ambition. He will have to sacrifice the wife’s ambition to en- able him push for Gbajabiamila’s speakership,” a source disclosed.

But Saturday Sun gathered that there are some president’s men who are also working behind the scene to thwart Gbajabiamila’s ambition. It was also gathered that like the race for the speakership, the president’s men are also said to be divided over the choice of Lawan as the preferred candidate for Senate Presidency.

Sources close to the three camps and the presidency revealed that 2023 is at the heart of the struggle for the National Assembly leadership. And some President Buhari’s men have been fingered in the plot. Those who hold this view believe that Ndume may be enjoying the backing of some of the president’s men, including a serving minister from the South South and an- other serving governor from the North West. One of the sources insisted that they are the ones backing Ndume.

“You see, some of the president’s men are undermining the choice of Lawan. Otherwise, how will Mr. President show a preference for a candidate and his men will be working against the candidate? It is most unfortunate. But I pray and hope we are able to get it sorted out before the inauguration in June, else, I see 2015 repeating itself in a more dramatic way in June.

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“There are some people in the villa that are urging Ndume on. Apart from these people, there is a minister from the South South region of the country and a governor from the North West who are also part of the project. These two persons want to be either the presidential candidate or running mate in 2023, so 2023 is part of the reasons these president’s men are divided over Lawan’s choice,” the source added.

But Ndume has denied enjoying the backing of any member of the cabal in the presidency. Speaking through one of his associates, James Bathna, he noted that if he indeed he had the back- ing of the president’s men; he probably would have been the preferred choice.

“I don’t believe this is also true. The reason for my doubts was that if he enjoys the backing of Aso Rock, he would have been the preferred candidate. If he was being sponsored by the so called cabal, the cabal would have been able to persuade the party leader- ship to support him after the office was properly zoned to the Northeast. In this contest, Ndume is a man that stands on his own to defend democracy; and Nigerians, irrespective of their political persuasions and cultural backgrounds are unanimous in their convictions that he is someone who can ensure the in- dependence of the parliament working in harmony with the executive to move this country forward.”

He also suggested that Buhari’s silence over the matter was a clear indication that the president had not fully endorsed Lawan for the position.

“If one fully knows the pedigree and nature of President Muhammadu Buhari, it is very clear that he is somebody whose style of doing things is not to come out to fight a cause in the open. I believe the president is taking his time to look at the sentiments of Nigerians on this matter before taking a final decision. I don’t think the silence of the president in relation with the outburst of the party leadership, has so much to do with Ndume as a person,” he said.

Ndume is from Borno, while Lawan is from Yobe State. In the last four years, Yobe has only produced the Di- rector General of the National Emer- gency Management Agency (NEMA), another source said, adding “but the Chief of Staff to the president, National Security Adviser, Chief of Army Staff, Managing Director, FAAN and AMCON Managing Director are all from Borno. Is it too much to concede the position of the Senate President to Yobe? I don’t however blame Ndume, I blame some of the president’s men who appear blinded by 2023 ambition, a time none of us is sure if we will still be alive,” the source added.

Efforts to get Goje, his associates and Lawan and his associates to speak proved abortive. Calls placed to their phones were not returned. And text messages sent to their phone contacts were never replied as at press time.

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But the spokesman of Senator Ah- mad Lawan for Senate President campaign, who incidentally was one of those contacted by Saturday Sun but failed to respond, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, on Wednesday said no fewer than 73 senators-elect are backing Lawan to actualise his ambition, just as he said Lawan would operate an inclusive administration if elected in June. He spoke to journalists in Abuja.

“The 109 senators are individual senators representing the various senatorial districts in the Federal Repub- lic of Nigeria. They have inalienable rights to be heard and listened to for government to work for them no matter our differences and no matter the sentiments that we share.

“If we look at the record of Lawan as an opposition member of National Assembly for 16 years, he understands the feelings of the opposition and would not abuse the privilege if elected.

“I can confirm to you that on the day of inauguration, Senator Ahmad Lawan will garner more than two-thirds of the votes. Not less than 73 from both the APC and the PDP. It is a matter of engagement. We don’t need to flaunt those who are with us. We have to respect our colleagues. We are engaging them one-on-one. We want to work together with the executive, because we have just one Federal Government in Nigeria and we must move the country forward.

“The notion from the PDP side that they would be excluded should be withdrawn forthwith. What we are planning to do is to have a senate that will be for all senators,” he said.

But barely 24 hours after speaking with journalists, another lawmaker from the North, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, who incidentally is the chair- man of the Northern Senators’ Forum, debunked report credited to him to the effect that 82 senators are willing to back Senator Lawan’s quest to be the president of the 9th Senate. The former Sokoto State governor claimed that he was “erroneously and maliciously” quoted by an online publication, the Buharist Reporters.

Speaking through his Special Adviser on media, Bashir Mani, the law- maker said he never made such statement. The report had alleged that he made the claim when he visited La- wan’s campaign office on Wednesday in Abuja.

“It is not my responsibility to speak on behalf of the forum on this all important issue which affects all the 109 Senators. It is also noteworthy here that our great party, the APC, had since publicly made its stance known on the matter. All the senators, both new and old ones, are also positively disposed towards ensuring the smooth emergence of the new leadership of the ninth senate,” the lawmaker said.

Lawan, Ndume fight to finish

There seems to be no truce in efforts to get the APC to adopt a single candidate for the Senate President as the two leading candidates have refused to shift ground. Instead, the division has spread and gone deep in the camps of Lawan and Ndume. The former Sen- ate Leader has told his supporters that with the level of support he has gotten so far across party lines, only God can stop him from going ahead to win the contest. Meanwhile, the Yobe Chapter of APC on Friday advised Sen. Ali Ndume to respect supremacy of the party and avoid placing personal interest above collective interest.

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Alhaji Abubakar Bakabe, the state’s secretary of the party, disclosed this on Friday in Damaturu. “The interest of the party supersedes all other interests,” Bakabe said. He cautioned the lawmaker against working with the op- position to ridicule the party. “Ndume should avoid the pitfalls of the Bukola Saraki’s Senate presidency, this must not be repeated in the interest of the party, Nigeria and democracy,” he said.

He commended returning and newly elected senators for identifying with the position of the party and presidency on the proposed leadership of the National Assembly. “The state chapter of APC expresses optimism that the Borno senator will remain loyal to the party, its leadership and President Muhammadu Buhari.

“As a party, we can not afford to accommodate any sabotage and a divided house after the bitter experience of the last four years. The endorsement of Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, for Senate President will provide the required leadership and coordination for the APC led administration to effectively execute its policies and pro- grammes for the benefit of Nigerians.

“Lawan will run an inclusive leadership that will give every Nigerian a true sense of belonging and fulfillment, he has the required experience, knowledge and administrative skills for the senate to reclaim its glory as a progressive arm of government,” he said.

PDP weighs options

Regardless, the PDP, Saturday Sun gathered is also weighing its options. They appear to have agreed that they must act in unison, to ensure that its 43 votes must go to one candidate.

One of the sources close to the PDP’s camp further said “ordinarily, we would have gone for Goje. In fact he is our preferred choice. But some persons say he may not have the stamina to pull it through. So we are working on arrangement that will see him step down for Ndume. We don’t want three of them to go into the race so we don’t split our votes. If the three of them run, Lawan stands a better chance of making it. And since we are not comfortable with Lawan, we must work hard to get Goje and Ndume to work together.”

Asked who is likely to emerge as Deputy Senate President, the source further said “we are weighing the options. We have to decide whether we want the kind of the turbulence we experienced during the 8th Senate or not. For now, there are two APC candidates from the South South for the position. But one of them is our enemy. So we will certainly not back him; that is if and when we decide we are not going for it.”

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