Sunday 9 April 2023

Tinubu May Return Monday, Race For National Assembly Seats Hots Up

As the jostle for the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly intensifies, some senators have commenced moves to prevent a crisis by conceding the Senate presidency to the ruling All Progressives Congress, which has majority of members in the Red chamber.

This is coming as indications emerged on Saturday that the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, might cut short his foreign trip and return to the country on Monday to take charge of things with regards to the National Assembly leadership tussle.

Similarly, aspirants jostling to succeed Femi Gbajabiamila as the Speaker of the House of Representatives are said to be employing conventional and unconventional methods to gain the support of their colleagues, especially those who are newly elected and will take their seats in June upon the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly.


The senator representing Benue-South in the upper chamber, Abba Moro, noted that although it was true that there was no stated rule that the party with the majority of members must lead the Senate, it had become a convention to leave the leadership to the party with the majority members.


The presiding officers in the Senate are produced by the majority caucus made up of the party with the highest members, and the minority caucus consisting members of the other parties.

According to results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission for the February 25 National Assembly election, the APC won 57 Senate seats, while the major opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, has 29 seats.

The All Progressives Grand Alliance has one seat; Labour Party, eight; New Nigeria People’s Party, two; Social Democratic Party, two; and the Young Progressive Party, one seat.

Some states like Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara will have supplementary elections before the June inauguration of the 10th Assembly for the remaining members of the Red chamber.

Having won the majority of the seats, according to parliamentary tradition and convention, the APC is expected to form the majority caucus and produce the presiding officers.

No fewer than eight senators in the APC have joined the race for the Senate presidency.

They include Jibrin Barau (Kano Central), Sani Musa (Niger East), Orji Kalu (Abia North) and Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom North West).

Others are Osita Izunaso (Imo West), Peter Ndubuze (Imo North), Abdul’Aziz Yari (Zamfara West) and the incumbent Senate President, Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North).

Despite the convention, the National Assembly experienced some ruckus last week when opposition members in the House of Representatives threatened to upset the ruling party over the seat of the Speaker.

The opposition lawmakers-elect met in Abuja on Tuesday where they fine-tuned strategies for using their number as a bargaining power in negotiations with the speakership aspirants.

It was gathered that the opposition lawmakers-elect resolved to work together to influence the election of the House leadership.

Speaking on the issue, Moro told Sunday PUNCH that the upper legislative chamber would likely not take the route of upstaging the party with the absolute majority in order to avoid acrimony.

He said, “It is not out of place for the House of Representatives to do that as there is no written rule on which party leads either chamber. But the members at a convention agreed to always let the ruling party take the leadership seats.

“As a member of the Peoples Democratic Party and having seen the crisis that zoning can cause, I will say we should let things remain the way they are.

“If I were to choose, I will go with staying with the convention that we all agreed to. So, I will say that the party with the majority members should take the leadership seats.”

The Benue Senator, however, emphasized that although the APC could have the leadership seats, it was important that it ran an administration that would be for all and sundry.

Moro said, “That being said, the leadership must be that which considers all; it must be an inclusive one that allows for the system to work.

“The current leadership of the ninth Senate is rather political than system-oriented. We will want things to be better for an all-inclusive leadership.”

Another lawmaker from Kebbi State, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was not unaware of plans by opposition senators to upstage the ruling party.

He said it was not necessary to cause chaos where there was none.

The lawmaker stated, “I am not aware of any such plans and I don’t think such is necessary. The nation is going through a lot and to cause another chaos in the National Assembly is obviously not needed.

“I believe that we can manage things amicably and we trust the ruling party to do what is right.”

An opposition lawmaker from the South-East told one of our correspondents that the House of Representatives comprised younger people who were vibrant and could take a certain risk.

He noted that because of the gap between the majority members in the House, such could be possible, but in the Senate, the APC already had a simple majority.

The lawmaker said, “You know that the House of Representatives is different; the Senate consists of more elder statesmen and people who are experienced. We won’t want to spend more time dragging issues.

“Nigeria is currently bleeding and the best we can do is to salvage the country. The APC already has the simple majority. So, it’s better to leave things as they are.

“We will just hope that the leadership of the APC will be fair to all, while we do our jobs as legislators.”

President-elect’s return

Reports emanating from the camp of the president-elect on Friday suggested that Tinubu might return to the country on Monday ahead of his May 29 inauguration.

A reliable source told one of our correspondents that Tinubu might have called off his scheduled trip to London and Saudi Arabia for Umrah to discuss with the leadership of the APC on the zoning of principal offices in the 10th National Assembly.

In the last three weeks, several aspirants in the Senate and House of Representatives had been lobbying their fellow lawmakers and members of the National Working Committee of the ruling party.

The source stated, “The camp of the president-elect is presently bubbling with excitement. We heard that Asiwaju has cancelled his Umrah trip and may return to Nigeria on Monday.

“Although we were not told the reason, I suspect that it must be in connection with the manner in which Kalu, Akpabio and (Jibrin) Barau are giving the APC sleepless nights with their lobbying campaigns.”

It was gathered that Tinubu was planning to meet with the leaders of the APC and the aspirants for the National Assembly leadership upon his return.

Tinubu had on March 18 jetted out of Nigeria to spend some time in Paris and London.

His sudden decision to travel out of the country one week after March 11 governorship and state assemblies’ polls raised eyebrows and fuelled speculations that he was flown abroad for medical attention.

Hours after the rumour gained ground, his media officer, Tunde Rahman, said in a statement that his principal embarked on the trip to rest and plan his transition programme ahead of his inauguration on May 29.

Rahman added that the president-elect would head for Saudi Arabia from Europe to partake in the lesser Hajj and Ramadan fasting.

A week after he left the country, the media was again awash with reports of a clandestine meeting in London between Tinubu and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola.

The report has since been denied by the media teams of both the president-elect and the CJN.

Reacting to the report of Tinubu’s imminent return, the Director of Media and Publicity for the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Bayo Onanuga, said there was a likelihood he might breeze into the country at the weekend or Monday.

“Yes, I understand that Asiwaju may not be attending the lesser Hajj again. He is likely to return this weekend or latest Monday,” Onanuga stated.

But the Special Adviser to the president-elect on Communication, Dele Alake, denied that Tinubu’s absence might be the reason for the delay in talks over the leadership of the 10th National Assembly.

This is even as he expressed reservation that his principal would return to the country as reported.

He said, “How does the leadership of the National Assembly affect his coming and going? It is a global world. You can conduct your meetings and business from anywhere. For instance, I can be in New York and have an interview with anybody across the world. How does Asiwaju’s absence affect discussion on the leadership of the National Assembly?

“I cannot really tell if he is returning this weekend. He has the freedom to decide when he will return. If he decides to come back tomorrow or next week, who am I to determine when he should?”

Dollar rain for Reps-elect

The leading contenders in the race for the seat of Speaker of the House of Representatives are doling out cash in foreign and local currencies to woo members-elect, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.

It was reliably gathered that some of the contestants were not only giving cash gifts to the various caucuses of the House, but were also providing accommodation for newly elected members of the parliament.

The number of returning members of the House is said to be far less than that of first timers, a situation that has made the new members attractive to the aspirants for bloc votes.

While the House has 360 members, those returning in the next Assembly are said to be less than 90.

Aspirants for the office of the Speaker in the 10th Assembly are now over 10.

Sunday PUNCH had reported that the aspirants included the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase; embattled Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; Chairman of the House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi; Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, Aliyu Betara; Chairman, House Committee on Science Research Institutes, Olaide Akinremi; and Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu.

Others are Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Land Transport, Tajudeen Abbas; Chairman, House Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, Abdulraheem Olawuyi; Chairman, House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli; and Sani Jaji.

Last Thursday, the National Vice Chairman (North-West) of the APC, Salihu Lukman, called on the leadership of the party to impose an ethical code of conduct that would automatically disqualify any lawmaker who attempted to bribe his way into becoming the next President of the Senate or Speaker of the House.

Lukman’s appeal came in the wake of reports that members of the National Assembly eyeing leadership seats had turned the national secretariat of the APC into a warehouse where several trucks were offloading bags of rice and sugar for party leaders and members of the NWC.

While stating that the unsolicited gesture reeked of corruption and a deliberate attempt to bribe decision makers in the party, the Kaduna politician described the act as “unethical and disrespectful.”

The NWC member stated that though they had watched some senators and House of Representatives members lobby colleagues and stakeholders with impunity, the ruling party had not zoned any of the principal offices to any region.

A lawmaker, who is campaigning for one of the top contenders, informed one of our correspondents about the donations being made by the aspirants, a situation which he said was now becoming another competition among them.

The lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being reprimanded by the House and the affected aspirants, also disclosed that the newly-elected lawmakers, many of who are now relocating to the Federal Capital Territory, were being lodged in hotels across the city.

“That is very true (gifts). They (aspirants) are meeting with the newly-elected members. In fact, they are the aspirants’ main target because of their number. They are more than the returning members by far. All of us who are returning are not up to 90,” the source stated.

Speaking about mobilisation, the lawmaker also said, “That is true. They (aspirants) are meeting them (new members) and making donations to them, and making all manner of financial offers.”

The lawmaker went ahead to name the biggest spenders among the aspirants.

The source named a particular aspirant whom he said “is banking on his financial muscle.”

The source disclosed that one of the contestants from the North-Central geopolitical zone gave the members-elect $200,000 (about N150m), while another aspirant from the North-West gave them N200m.

“What happened was that he (the lawmaker from the North-West) is challenging the one from the North-East. The first one went there before him and gave them $200,000, which was converted to about N150m. So, when he came after, he also announced N200m. They are about to bastardise the system,” the lawmaker said.

The source also confessed that his choice aspirant also donated to the new members-elect but disputed the N150m said to have been donated by the aspirant, adding, “He wouldn’t do up to that at all.”

When asked about accommodation, including at Transcorp Hilton, the lawmaker also confirmed our correspondent’s findings.

“I am not aware of Transcorp, but I know that there are pockets of hotels here and there that they have booked for them. I know that almost all the aspirants have one hotel or the other that they have booked in different parts – all for the first-timers,” the source said.

The incumbent Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, on Thursday met with those aspiring for his seat in the 10th House.

The media office of the Speaker released photos of Gbajabiamila with the aspirants and principal officers of the House on Friday.

Aspirants who met with the Speaker included Ahmed Wase, Makki Yalleman, Yusuf Gagdi, Benjamin Kalu, Peter Akpatason, Aliyu Betara, Sada Soli Jibia, Tunji Olawuyi, Abbas Tajuddeen and Sani Jaji.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Kalu, has stated that anybody who plans to be a leader in the House must negotiate with the minority caucus.

Kalu, a member of the APC from Abia State, argued that majority status was determined by the number of lawmakers a party had and not a coalition of parties.

The House spokesman was reacting to the formation of a coalition by members-elect from minority parties.

Members-elect on the platform of opposition parties had formed an alliance ahead of the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly with the aim of determining not only the leadership of the minority caucus but also the House.

The lawmakers-elect had met in Abuja on Tuesday night where they mooted using their number as a bargaining power in negotiations with the members seeking to be Speaker of the House in the coming Assembly.

The lawmakers had unanimously adopted the slogan, ‘10th Assembly: Greater Majority’, at the meeting.

Sources at the meeting, part of which was held behind closed doors, said the coalition of minority parties might wrestle power from the APC.

At the meeting were old and newly-elected members of the House on the platforms of seven opposition parties namely; the PDP, Labour Party, APGA, SDP, African Democratic Congress, YPP and NNPP.

While the Independent National Electoral Commission has scheduled supplementary 2023 general elections for April 15, from the results of the 325 seats in the House so far declared, the APC has won 162 seats, while the seven opposition parties have a total of 163 seats.

Kalu noted that the minority caucus could only adopt a candidate from among the aspirants in the APC.

According to him, majority status is determined by the number of a particular party and not a coalition of parties.

He said, “It does not mean that they cannot put themselves together and have a candidate they have in mind. Since it is about numbers, what they are going to do is to have a candidate within the majority party.

“I know they are now calling themselves ‘greater majority,’ which is the coming together of the various single minorities to become greater in number. The House rule is looking at the political party, not the caucus. It is looking at the political party that has the majority votes and, in this case, we qualify as the single political party that has the majority vote.”

Gagdi, one of the aspirants at the meeting with the Speaker, disclosed some of the details of their discussions to journalists.

The lawmaker said Gbajabiamila denied backing any of the aspirants, especially Abbas, the suspected candidate of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State.

He said, “The Speaker did not call us to ask anybody to step down as it is being speculated. One, there are insinuations and accusations that he is supporting one candidate; that is Tajudeen Abbas. He called that meeting first to know how we are campaigning as individuals and whether we have problems among us – the aspirants – to which we said, ‘No, we don’t have any problem’.

“Then, some of the aspirants raised an issue that the Speaker’s boys were using his name for that aspirant (Abbas); that the Speaker asked them to campaign for him and it was creating apprehension and tension.

“So, some people raised that observation for the Speaker to call the attention of one of his aides parading himself that he’s under the instruction of Mr Speaker to support one candidate. That was sorted out.”

Gagdi added, “Secondly, the Speaker emphasised to us that he is a party man; and being the Speaker, he has never done anti-party (activities). So, he assured us that any day and any time the party zoned the leadership positions, he would be supporting the zone that the party zoned (a position) to. This is the only thing that happened. So, anybody that tells you anything outside that, it is not true.”

Responding to a question whether the APC had communicated its zoning formula to the caucus, the lawmaker stated, “You can’t have any communication from the party at this time. The party chairman (Abdullahi Adamu) is out of the country on official assignment with some members of the National Working Committee. The president-elect is equally out of the country. Everybody knows that the president-elect is in France. So, how will the party sit and agree on zoning if the president-elect, who has a major stake in this thing, is not considered?”


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