All is now set for today’s inauguration of the 9th National Assembly. The frontrunners have perfected their strategies, plans and plots to emerge as President of the 9th Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Before now, for the Senate presidency, three senators-elect from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) were in contention for the position. They are: Ahmed Lawan, Ali Ndume and Danjuma Goje. But as predicted in April in one of our reports, Goje finally caved in last week, leaving Lawan and Ndume in the race. But the party leadership has settled for Lawan for the position. In spite of the endorsement, Ndume is still in the race.
Before now, Daily Sun gathered that there are some people close to President Muhammadu Buhari who were working behind the scene to thwart Lawan’s ambition. How with the President’s decision to step in through Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, which culminated in Goje’s withdrawal from the race last week, about two of the president’s men who hitherto were with Ndume, appear to have retraced their steps.
However, the mere fact that Ndume is yet to be asked by either Buhari or any of the party leaders to withdraw from the race appears to indicate that the coast is not very clear for Lawan yet.
Sources close to the leadership of the APC also suggested that Buhari’s silence over Ndume’s aspiration was a clear indication that the president may not have fully endorsed Lawan for the position.
The former Senate 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. His group believed that it has the numbers to deliver Lawan as the next Senate President. As at the last count, the group claims it has at least 64 senators-elect who have endorsed its candidate.
The senators-elect, the group added, have appended their signatures in support of Lawan. The group gave the statistics as 62 APC, one from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and one from the Young Peoples Party (YPP).
Daily Sun can however confirm that four additional PDP senators-elect have joined the Lawan’s camp. It is doubtful, however, if indeed Lawan’s camp has up to 62 APC senators-elect.
Senator Yahaya Abdullahi from Kebbi, Chairman of Lawan Campaign Group, noted that the senators-elect decided to endorse Lawan to prevent a repeat of 2015. This is just as Secretary of the Campaign group, Senator Jibrin Barau, read out the names of the senators-elect who backed Lawan’s candidacy.
Regardless, the PDP, it was gathered, is also weighing its options as at the time of filing this report. The opposition party’s senators appear to have agreed that they must act in unison, to ensure that their 44 votes go to one candidate.
One of the sources close to the PDP’s camp further said: “We are waiting to take a formal decision. But for majority of us, Ndume is our preferred choice. We are not comfortable with Lawan; so we must work hard to get Ndume elected.”
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 and one from the South East. But one of them is our enemy based on what he did during the 8th Senate. So we will certainly not back him; that is if and when we decide we are not going for it.”
Meanwhile, as at close of work yesterday, three senators-elect were in the race for position of the Deputy President of the Senate. They are: Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta) and Francis Alimikhena (Edo).
The party is positioning Omo-Agege for the position, but his candidacy appears not to be enjoying support from the majority of the APC senators-elect, including the PDP senators-elect.
In the House of the Representatives, the contestants for the speakership are former House leader, Femi Gbajabiamila; Umar Bago and John Dyegh
Others are the former chairman; House Committee on Information, Segun Odebunmi; Emeka Nwajiuba and the latest entrant into the contest, Olajide Olatubosun. All of them are of the APC.
Like the Senate presidency, the APC has equally zoned the position of the speaker to the South West, with former House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila as its preferred candidate.
But the zoning had not gone down well with stakeholders, within and outside the National Assembly, with a lot of persons kicking against it.
Already, the North Central zone is making a strong case for the position. Bago and Dyegh are from the North Central. But Bago towers above him. Bago had said the endorsement of Gbajabiamila only reflects the opinion of the APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole.
The lawmaker, who spoke through the spokesman of his campaign organisation, Afam Ogene, said the various organs of the party did not meet at any point to agree on a candidate for the speakership.
Bago is of the opinion that the speakership should have been zoned to the North Central because of its contribution to the success of the APC in the last elections. More especially, he believes that since the South West already has the vice president, it will not be equitable for the zone to also produce the speaker.
Apart from Gbajabiamila, Olatunbosun is also being positioned from the South West. Those pushing his candidature are positioning him as an alternative to Gbajabiamila, since some lawmakers who genuinely wanted the South West to have the position appear wary of what they call Gbajabiamila’s “moral baggage.”
One of the ex-lawmakers who spoke on the development appealed to the South West lawmakers, especially and others from the North and South East, not to collude to deny the South West the position again on the excuse that the party’s preferred candidate is allegedly “tainted.” The Gbajabiamila camp is advocating that lawmakers should respect the position of the APC on the zoning of key offices in the National Assembly. Director General of the Gbajabiamila Campaign Organisation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, also denied every allegation against the former House Leader.
He said: “For the benefit of doubt, we wish to once again state emphatically clear that Femi Gbajabiamila has never been convicted for any crime in the United States of America, Nigeria or any other country around the world for that matter. He has never been accused of corruption and has no corruption case hanging on his neck in Nigeria or anywhere around the world. He has not committed perjury and has never committed perjury in Nigeria or any country of the world.”
Unlike in the Senate, in the House of House of Representatives, Gbajabiamila ran a joint campaign with his would be deputy, Idris Wase, from North Central.
The candidates, their weaknesses, strengths
Senator Ahmad Lawan
He is one of the longest serving members of the National Assembly. He is the immediate past Leader of the Senate and hails from Yobe State. In 2015, he was in the race for the position of the President of the Senate. However, last minute realignment denied him the position. Today, he is one of the frontrunners in the race to succeed Bukola Saraki as President of the Senate. Unlike in 2015, the major organs of the party appear to be forceful in pushing for his emergence. His greatest weakness is the process by which he emerged as the candidate of the party.
Senator Ali Ndume
Former Senate Leader, and one of the aspirants to the position of President of the Senate, Ndume, is Lawan’s predecessor. He defeated Lawan in 2015 at the North East caucus to emerge Senate Leader. He enjoys the support of the majority of the PDP. His greatest weakness is in the fact he did not get the endorsement of his party, the APC.
Senator Ovie Omo-Agege
He is the party’s candidate for the position of the Deputy Senate President. But his greatest weakness is the invasion of the Senate chambers by a gang, which took away the maze, in which he was fingered.
Orji Uzor Kalu
Former Abia State governor is seen as a strong APC member from the South East with the right contacts. A successful businessman cum politician, Kalu is a dogged fighter who believes in equity and justice. He is also seen as a bridge builder and stabiliser.
His backers believe that South East deserves a place in the presiding officers of the National Assembly, having done better for President Buhari and the APC in the last election, unlike in 2015. He has contact and strong associates in the PDP, which would help his candidacy. His only weakness is that the APC did not officially zone the post he is vying for to the South East.
He is the immediate past Leader of the House. He is the APC’s preferred candidate for the position of the speaker. He had at various times in the past worked against the decision of the majority party in the green chamber on who becomes speaker. In 2011, as the minority leader, he led opposition lawmakers to work against the emergence of Mulikat Akande as Speaker. Akande was the choice of the PDP for the position in the seventh Assembly. Like Lawan too, he was the party’s preferred choice in 2015. But a last minute political manoeuvring by the PDP caused him the seat. He lost by about seven votes. Again, like Lawan, his greatest weakness is the manner in which he emerged as the party’s preferred choice for today’s contest.
He is from Niger State in the North Central. He is seen as coming from the camp of the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara. He enjoys massive support from the PDP. His greatest weakness is that he is not the choice of the party.