Fred Itua, Abuja
The newly-elected president of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, has pledged to be fair to everyone irrespective of political, ethnic or religious affiliation and to always put Nigeria first during his tenure.
He assured that the Senate under his watch would do justice to all and perform its role for the benefit of Nigerians.
“Elections are over. It shows that we voted for a united senate and it is clear that the outcome is bipartisan. All parties including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) voted for me and with this outcome, the ninth Senate is ready to take off as a united senate.
“Today means so many things. It is the commencement of another decade of our democracy and we will work to ensure best global parliamentary practice among other things,” he said in his remark after the inauguration.
Lawan also promised to ensure a secure and prosperous future for all Nigerians and run a Senate that would be responsive to the needs of the masses whose mandate he said, they held on the Senate.
“We will not settle for anything less than the best. We will dream big, aim high and take good initiatives.”
He allayed fears that the Senate under him would be subservient to the executive.
“The senate will be independent while working with the executive. We will choose unity of purpose instead of conflict.”
He also promised to ensure that Senate’s relationship with stakeholders, including civil society organisations and the media is strengthened.
“We must drive a transformative senate dedicated to serving the people with confidence courage and patriotism. In doing so, we are convinced that our past was only a story told while our future can yet be written in gold.”
The immediate past leader of the Senate, polled 79 votes to defeat Ali Ndume who secured 28 votes, while Ovie Omo-Agege thwarted the fourth term bid of Ike Ekweremadu for the position of the deputy president of the Senate. Omo-Agege scored 68 while Ekweremadu got 37 votes.
The election of the two new presiding officers did not come without schisms.
As soon as the Clerk to the Senate, Mohammed Sani Omolori, announced that the secret open ballot system would be adopted, APC senators protested. Bamidele Opeyemi led the charge from the APC side while Dino Melaye replied from the PDP side. APC senators had advocated that the 2011 Standing Order of the Senate be used, which makes room for the open ballot system. Despite the protests, the Clerk adopted the 2015 Standing Order of the Senate.
The day’s business started at exactly 10 am, with chieftains of the ruling APC and opposition PDP in attendance. Former ministers and governors were also on ground. Fifteen governors elected on the platform of the ruling APC led by chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Kayode Fayemi, attended the inauguration.
As early as 7 am, Ndume arrived at the chamber. He was followed by an erstwhile candidate for the position of the deputy president position, Kabiru Gaya.
Though Daily Sun had earlier reported that the PDP had concluded plan to field a candidate for the position of the deputy president of the Senate, it was gathered that the decision to field a candidate was consolidated on Monday night in Abuja, at an emergency meeting summoned at the behest of the leadership of the opposition party.
It was learnt that as soon as the PDP got wind of plans that APC contenders for the position of the deputy president of the Senate were going to step down for Omo-Agege, the party decided to field a candidate.
But a source revealed that many APC lawmakers were against the candidacy of Ekweremadu and argued that a fresh face be fielded.
“We left the meeting without a concrete agreement on who to support for the position of the deputy president of the Senate.”
From the APC flank, it was learnt that APC National Chairman, Adam Oshiomhole, who was around during the inauguration, prevailed on Francis Alimekhena to drop his bid and support Omo-Agege.
Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Gandoje, who also attended the ceremony, with support from some northern governors also persuaded Kabiru Gaya to step down for Omo-Agege, barely 30 minutes to the commencement of the day’s event.
Addressing newsmen on the outcome of his election, Ekweremadu said he did not contest to win, but to make a statement that they were not party to the election of a man who allegedly led thugs to the Senate.
“For over 20 years, I have been very busy with politics and governance. So, I think I can have a rest and reflect on other things.
“I believe there must be a referendum. Look at what happened on a day I was presiding and chambers invaded. It is embarrassing that someone who led that operation will take a bow and endorsed, and we all walk home like it doesn’t matter. I wanted a situation where we could present a referendum in respect of what transpired.
“Early this morning (yesterday), we were not ready to run for any office. We thought that our friends in APC had a consensus candidate and we had to have someone that we can all be proud of.
“We don’t want a situation where we will say what happened here and then you came and endorsed same person as deputy president of the Senate. We needed to exonerate ourselves. It was not a contest to win or lose.”
Meanwhile, senators have called on the newly-elected presiding officers to always put the interest of the country first.
In separate interviews, they promised to work with Lawan and Omo-Agege in bringing the dividends of democracy to Nigerians.
Immediate-past deputy president of the Senate who lost his re-election bid, said the new leadership and the entire Assembly must work assiduously to ensure that the country succeeds.
“It is now for us all to join hands across all divides to work for the success of the ninth Senate and National Assembly as well as the peace and prosperity of our nation.”
Ndume also pledged to work with Lawan in the interest of the country.
“I will give him all the necessary supports. I insisted on contesting against him in order to deepen democracy. I hope the party would agree with me that what I did was in the interest of democracy and I do know that power belongs to God. It’s God’s will that my colleague becomes the President. I will do all I can with others for him to succeed because his success is our success,” he said.
He described Lawan as an experienced lawmaker, adding that he happily contested the election, which he believed was in tandem with democracy.