Role Of Underdogs In The Ninth National Assembly Leadership Struggle in Nigeria

POLITICS

s the 9th National Assembly is set for inauguration on Tuesday, LEKE BAIYEWU examines how the aspirants to leadership positions in the next Assembly would influence the voting pattern

The Ninth Assembly will be inaugurated on Tuesday June 11, 2019. On that day, leaders of the two chambers – Senate and House of Representatives – will be elected by members of the chambers.

The elective positions, also known as presiding offices, are: Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker.

In 2015, the APC had chosen the current Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan (Yobe, North-East), to be President of the Senate; and the House Majority Leader, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos, South-West), to be the Speaker.

However, Senator Bukola Saraki (Kwara, North-Central) and Mr Yakubu Dogara (Bauchi, North-East), though APC members then, formed alliance with the opposition and minority Peoples Democratic Party to emerge as Senate President and Speaker, respectively.

While Senator Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu, South-East) of the PDP was elected Deputy Senate President as part of the deal, Mr Yusuff Lasun (Osun, South-West) of the APC emerged Deputy Speaker, against the wish of the ruling party.

However, the Eighth National Assembly ended on June 6 with a closing ceremony.

Perhaps, to avoid a repeat of that drama, shortly after the 2019 general elections were concluded, struggle for the leadership of the next Assembly began. To date, no fewer than six senators-elect had declared their interest to contest either Senate presidency or deputy Senate presidency.

In the House, the aspirants were over 20. Allocation of the presiding and principal offices to the various geopolitical zones by the ruling APC has, however, forced some of the aspirants out of the race while some are now lobbying for deputy speaker and majority leader positions.

Most significant among those who quit the speakership is Deputy Majority Leader, Mr Idris Wase (Plateau State), who is now the APC’s candidate for Deputy Speaker seat.

But some aspirants who are dissatisfied with the zoning plan of the ruling party have insisted on running for the offices.

Of the six geopolitical zones in the country, the APC has zoned the Senate presidency to the North-East and zoned the deputy Senate presidency to the South-South.

In the North-East, there were three major contenders for the Senate presidency, namely Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan (Yobe); former Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume (Borno); and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe).

The APC has endorsed Lawan as its candidate for the Senate President seat.

However, while Ndume has insisted on running for the position against party’s position, Goje on Thursday backtracked and announced his support for Lawan.

In a related development, the ruling party was said to have also picked Senator Ovie Omo-Agege of Delta State for Deputy Senate President.

For the House of Representatives, the APC has zoned the seat of Speaker to the South-West and adopted the Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, as its candidate, while the Deputy Speaker seat was given to the North-Central.

However, aspirants from the North-Central seem to be posing the biggest threat to Gbajabiamila’s ambition. From the zone, there are two other aspirants apart from Wase; Mohammed Bago from Niger State and John Dyegh from Benue State.

According to these lawmakers, their agitation for the speakership is to fight the cause of the zone which they claimed has never produced the speaker or deputy speaker since 1999.

There are also aspirants from the South-East who have alleged marginalisation in the manner the APC shared the leadership positions. They are Nkeiruka Onyejeocha and Chike Okafor. While the former once called on Gbajabiamila to step down for the sake of national interest having been Minority and Majority Leader before, the latter called on the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, to review the zoning formula.

There are also two aspirants from the South-West who have yet to quit the speakership race. They are Oladele Olatunbosun and Olugbenga Odebunmi, both from Oyo State. The lawmakers had separately argued that the slots zoned to the South-West should not be limited to Lagos State where Gbajabiamila is from.

In what appears to be a confirmation of the anti-APC/Gbajabiamila plot, a member of the House and senator-elect, Mr Emmanuel Orker-Jev, said the APC members in both chambers of the National Assembly had been disunited over the leadership of the next assembly, hinting that the PDP might determine the eventual winners of the leadership positions.

Oker-Jev said, “The APC has enough majority in the House of Representatives and in the Senate to put up the leadership of those houses without any contribution. Even if the PDP decides not to vote, they can still produce the Senate President and Speaker. Their problem however is that they cannot even agree among themselves. And since they cannot agree, we also have a role; the members of the opposition, the PDP in this case, have a role to play and we are going to play that role. We will look at the candidates and determine the best person for the job.”

No fewer than 170 lawmakers, including four co-aspirants and several PDP and opposition members attended Gbajabiamila’s official declaration ceremony, where they pledged their support for his bid.

Again, 178 newly-elected members across party lines have announced their endorsement of the House Majority Leader.

Last week, Gbajabiamila in company with over a hundred members-elect began a nationwide campaign tour, visiting states in the South-East and South-South geopolitical zones.

Although several aspirants to the Speaker’s seat have stepped down for Gbajabiamila, others who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity between Friday and Saturday, said they would go ahead to contest the seat.

The Director-General of the Gbajabiamila Speakership Campaign Council, Mr Abdulmumin Jibrin, had recently announced that Gbajabiamila was consulting the current Speaker, Mr Yakubu Dogara; former Speakers, current and former governors, opposition lawmakers and other speakership aspirants over his ambition.

The PUNCH had reported that Dogara was in talks with Gbajabiamila to protect the interest of his loyalists in the coming 9th National Assembly. It was reliably learnt that the Majority Leader and the Speaker had met on the matter at least twice.

Speaking with our correspondent, Gbajabiamila’s Senior Legislative Aide, Mr Olanrewaju Smart, also said his principal had contacted all other speakership aspirants.

“It is the same way that we are talking to the PDP members and other opposition members. Also, we are still talking to the Speaker,” he added.

A speakership aspirant, who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, however said he remained in the race.

The lawmaker, who dismissed the endorsements received by Gbajabiamila, stated that only members-elect would determine the next Speaker with their votes.

The aspirant said, “I don’t know about any consultations. I am running my race and I am focused on it. I don’t want to entertain any distractions. It is left for the members of the House of Representatives to determine; they are the ones that will vote.

“There are so many things going on behind the scene that members of the public do not know about. We know that some people are the ones trying to impose their interest on the party.”

A source in the camp of Bago also told our correspondent that the aspirant from Niger State was not in talks with Gbajabiamila.

“Bago is still very much in the race,” the source said, adding, “Bago is from the North-Central, a geopolitical zone that has not produced either a speaker or deputy speaker before. For the sake of justice, fairness and equity, the zone produced the third highest votes – more than the South-West – for President Muhammadu Buhari and should be considered.

However, it appears that Gbajabiamila and his loyalists are aware of the stealth plan by their opponents.

A source in his camp told our correspondent, “Go and watch all those who are campaigning against Gbajabiamila, they are those who voted for Dogara in 2015 and they still belong to that camp. And they held a meeting where it was planned that all of them should crowd the race; that they should run, spend money, do everything and not step down; so that at the end of the day, they will split the APC votes and nominate a candidate favourable to the PDP. Their candidate would now get a block vote from the opposition. That is what they have been doing.

“All those contesting against Gbajabiamila today are those who did anti-party in 2015, voted for Dogara and benefitted from the allocation of committees. They know that if Gbajabiamila comes, he will reform and restructure the system, and allocate the committees on merit. And there is no way it will be done on merit that some of them will retain their seats.”

Meanwhile, one determinant factor, which has divided lawmakers and Nigerians, is the voting method to be adopted in the selection of leaders of the Ninth Assembly.

While open ballot was adopted for the Seventh NASS leadership election in 2011, secret ballot was used in the Eighth Assembly poll in 2015.

In an interview with our correspondent, a speakership aspirant from Oyo State, Mr Oladele Olatunbosun, said the Standing Order of the House of Representatives states that the ballot should be secret.

“In the parliament – in this instance, the House of Representatives, will operate based on set rules. We have the Standing Order, which is where the rules for the conduct of our day-to-day business are taken from. Order 2, if you check, specifically mentions that in electing the presiding officers – Speaker and Deputy Speaker, voting shall be by electronic or secret. That is the Standing Order, its rules were approved in 2016 and those rules have not been changed. So, on the day of inauguration, it is the same rules that the Clerk to the National Assembly will apply in conducting the elections,” he said.

However, Omo-Agege has asked for a return to open ballot voting system used for the election of leaders of the Seventh National Assembly in 2011.

The lawmaker described as illegal the secret ballot used in 2015.

The lawmaker, who is the Secretary of the Parliamentary Support Group, a body of the APC lawmakers protecting Buhari’s interest in the Assembly, said, “It has to be open, because the last valid and subsisting Standing Order is the open ballot method used in 2011.

“In 2015, there was a purported amendment; which was done by the management led by the Clerk to the National Assembly (Mohammed Sani-Omolori). It was changed to secret ballot. Recall that in the Seventh Senate, Senator Ita Enang (now Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters – Senate) was the chairman of the Committee on Rules and Business.

“He said there was never a time when the said amendment was carried out by the Seventh Senate.”

Enang had said, “I can also tell you too that this Eighth Senate has not at any time adopted that amendment. That amendment was done by the management of the National Assembly, but Section 60 of the Constitution gives lawmakers, not NASS management, the power to make rules regarding the running of the National Assembly. And we, the Senators of the Eighth Senate, did not make this 2015 Standing Order.

“So, what it means is that the last valid and subsisting Standing Order is that of 2011. So, there is no way the Clerk to the National Assembly will come in here (into the chamber) on that day and attempt to use this 2015 Standing Order.”

Whichever method is adopted, Nigerians are waiting to see the outcome of the election of leaders of the Ninth Assembly.

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