Fred Itua, Abuja
The battle to succeed Bukola Saraki as President of the Senate has gained momentum. Already, key contenders for the top legislative job, are traversing every nook and cranny of the country, soliciting for support.
The three top contenders are the current Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, former Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume and chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Danjuma Goje. Former Governor of Abia State and senator-elect, Orji Uzor Kalu who until recently was among the top candidates for the job, has now settled for the position of the Deputy President of the Senate.
Though the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has endorsed the candidacy of Lawan, Ndume, who was sacked in 2017 as Leader of the Senate, has however vowed not to throw in the towel. He said the open endorsement of Lawan by the national chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole, was unconstitutional and an affront on the parliament, which he said must be independent.
“First of all, let me say that the decision by the party to settle for an individual instead of zoning the position to a particular geopolitical zone and also consulting or allowing the senators from that zone to decide who among them they prefer as Sen- ate President, is a surprise. We were surprised on Monday when national chairman of our party told us a decision had been taken to adopt Ahmad Lawan as candidate from the North East for the position of the President of the Senate.
“At the meeting, Oshiomhole just threw it to us that Lawan will be the Senate President. I don’t believe that it is thenposition of Mr. President. Before I joined this race, I consulted with Mr. President. He gave me the go ahead. I consulted with Tinubu and he gave me the go ahead. That was immediately after the primaries, before the elections. I did that to avoid what hapened in the past when Tinubu told me that I came late. I have respect for the President and Tinubu. But I am 60 years old. I stand for truth and do what is right,” Ndume had told newsmen in Abuja.
Saturday Sun has learnt that there is a gang up against the candidacy of Lawan. It was gathered that Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators-elect, are plotting to scuttle Lawan’s emergence. The PDP, which currently has 43 senators-elect, wants a repeat of 2015, when it pitched its tent with Saraki to emerge as Senate President.
A ranking PDP senator who spoke to our correspondent in confidence, said opposition lawmakers will resist any plans by the ruling APC to foist its stooge on the parliament. He insisted that only a candidate ready to protect the independence of the Senate will get their votes.
He said: “I am a senator and I don’t need the permission of a party chairman who has no respect for a parliament to determine who should lead us. If the APC thinks it can decide for us, let them wait and see what we are planning. As they are meeting and strategising, we are also doing it.
“We have the number and there are APC senators who are not comfortable with the hard stance of APC. The election will be by secret ballot and no one will know who each senator will vote for. The outcome of that day will shock many people. We will have a vibrant Senate and those thinking that they can control us will be disappointed.”
Giving credence to the claim, chairman of South East Caucus in the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, told Saturday Sun that APC will not be allowed to impose a stooge on the 9th Senate. He berated Oshiomhole and accused him of misleading the public.
Abaribe said Oshiomhole’s utterances are demarketing Lawan. He said no Senate President will posses any absolute powers to behave like a sole administrator. He said PDP senators were meeting and may likely come up with a candidate to challenge the APC. He insisted that the Standing Rules of the Senate and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria make it clear on how presiding officers of the Senate will emerge.
“Oshiomhole is ignorant. When we are going to vote on that day, Oshiomhole or APC leaders will not be on the floor. Only senators will vote. I also pity Lawan. I think Oshiomhole is demarketing Lawan. His statement that only APC senators will be appointed chairmen of committees is foolish. Not even the Sen- ate President can unilaterally pick committee chairmen. There is a selection committee that handles that.
“The law doesn’t forbid PDP senators from contesting. The constitution is clear on that. We will see howAPC will foist its stooge on us. It is an insult to tell senators who are accomplished people what to do. There are former governors, ex-ministers and business people here. How can he tell this calibre of people what to do as if they are babies?
“Some of us have been here for a long time and we know how things work here. The problem is that, Oshiomhole has never been in the parliament. He doesn’t take advice from people. He thinks he knows everything and doesn’t know when to stop talking. That is his greatest problem.”
Vice chairman of the Senate committee on Works and a member the PDP who recently won re-election, Clifford Ordia, told Saturday Sun that some leaders should should under- stand the workings of the various institutions of government, ignorantly peddle half truths. Ordia, apparently referring to Oshiomhole, said the Senate is a sacred institution strangers have no business with.
He said: “I have been following developments and I feel sad when people express their ignorance publicly. Those plotting to install a stooge they can manipulate, have left out the PDP. They think they can just do what they like and everybody will stop talking. That will not happen.
“Unfortunately, only senators can vote on that day. We will see how they will force us to do what they want. Senators were elected by the their various constituents. We were not sent to Abuja to take instructions from some- one who doesn’t know how we got here in the first place. The PDP in the Senate will wait and see.”
Senator Chukwuka Utazi, who heads the committee on Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes, said he will not indulge people who have no business with parliamentary under- standing. He told Saturday Sun that on the day presiding officers of the Senate will be elected, those issuing threats will not be on ground to vote.
“I don’t want to join issues with anybody. How can I join issues with people who can only talk, but can’t vote? On the day of elec- tion, visitors will stay in their place and we will vote in those that we want. They will not have a say. If that is the case, why should we join issues with them?
“Those who are contesting are talking to us. We know ourselves and we know those who are competent. On that day, we will vote for a competent President of the Senate. We shall see on that day who will have the final say. Those expressing their ignorance should wait until we elect those we want,” said.
Although Goje is yet to officially join the race, it was gathered that he may get the sup- port of former governors. When the 9th Sen- ate is inaugurated, it will have over 30 former governors and deputies. As a former gover- nor, minister and a PDP member, Goje may get the blessing of his former colleagues. The PDP may also throw its weight behind him if he eventually joins the race in the coming days.
In the flipside, the South East, South West and South South, may slug it out to clinch the position of the Deputy President of the Senate though APC is yet to formally zone it to any geopolitical zone.
Kalu, Francis Alimikhena, Ovie Omo-Agege and Remi Tinubu, have indicated interest to run for the position. Kalu is from the South East, while Alimikhena and Omo- Agege hail from the South South. Mrs Tinubu is from the South West. The four contend- ers are ranking lawmakers. With the national chairman of the APC already from the South South, Alimikhena and Omo-Agege may not get the support of the party. The Vice President hails from the same geopolitical zone with Mrs Tinubu. If the party opts for Federal Character principles, the South East is therefore the most deserving and may get the position.
2015 trick won’t work in NASS again—APC
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has said that it has no regret over the actions and utterances made in the build up to the election of the principal officers of the National Assembly, arguing that the party leadership did not violate any rule in the way it is going about it.
The party equally dismisses the claims in some quarters that the utterances of the party’s national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, over the anointed candidates especially for the positions of Senate President, Deputy, House of Representatives Speaker and Deputy, have done more damage to the ruling party.
Reacting to the trend of the build-up to the activities towards emergence of the party’s anointed candidates, National Publicity Sec- retary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, said that the opposition can say or plan anything, the ruling party will certainly have its way, leaving them as minority to complain and nurse their wound.
“As far as we are concerned, our national chairman has not made any unguarded utterance concerning our plan to ensure that we pick the right choice for senate president. There was nothing he said that is contrary to what is obtainable in advanced democracy elsewhere in Europe and America. What is the unguarded utterance in telling the minority to remain in minority? Whatever he said was geared towards ensuring that there is no recurrence of what happened during the 8th Assembly when impostors hijacked the leadership of the Assembly,” he said. The party’s spokesperson equally dispelled the speculations that the actions and inactions of the leadership of the ruling party have deepened the crisis within the party, ex- plaining that internal resolution mechanism has been deployed to bring every protesting legislator under one roof.
“The Ali Ndume, you cited as example, when last did you hear him complain again? We have used resolution mechanism within the party to pacify the agitated party members. They know the implications of going against the decision of the party leadership. I can assure you that going forward, you will not hear any of the APC legislators complaining especially against our zoning arrangement.
“As for the PDP threatening that they will not allow imposition of NASS leadership, we can only remind them that the minority will have their say, while the majority will have their way. Nigerians have rejected them and they should accept the decision of Nigerians. It will no longer be business as usual,” he emphasised.