The Raging Battle for Senate Presidency/House Speakership

by: Omololu Ogunmade The political horse-trading over the quest for presidency of the Senate and speakership of the House of Representatives continued last week in Abuja with gladiators for both offices intensifying their campaigns.

The intense battles for the offices albeit a game of desperation, has left the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the valley of indecision as the party looks confused about the possible ways of resolving the logjam created by the contests.

The APC recorded huge electoral fortunes at the 2015 polls. It did not only produce the president-elect and won highest number of states, it also secured 60 of the 109 seats in the Senate and about 240 of the 360 seats in the House of Representatives. Since then, the party has had to confront the acute challenge of managing success, thus underscoring the maxim - uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

APC in the Valley of Hope
Despite known inability yet to resolve the issue, two APC senators, Babajide Omoworare (Osun East) and Babafemi Ojudu (Ekiti Central), were confident during the week that their party would successfully resolve the zoning crisis rocking the party before the inauguration of the eighth National Assembly on June 6.

While Omoworare admitted that the move to resolve the logjam had been herculean, Ojudu was optimistic that consensus would be reached on the choice of candidate for the office of the Senate president to avoid imminent rancour which the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may exploit to further its nest.

According to him, the party will eventually present only one candidate for election in the Senate. When this is done, Ojudu believes that fears of splitting the votes of 60 APC senators as against hopes of PDP’s 49 bloc votes, in case the APC fails to reach a consensus, would have been largely averted. “There is no problem about that. The issue will be resolved on June 2. APC will present only one candidate on June 6,” Ojudu said, beaming with hopes.

However, the submission of Ojudu as optimistic as it might sound, had not been as simple as he had submitted. When ThisDay traversed different places searching for the true reality of events on the matter in Abuja last week, it found that each of the aspirants remained resolute about his aspiration without anyone willing to give up his quest for another.

The three main gladiators for the office of Senate President are Bukola Saraki, George Akume from the North-central and Ahmed Lawan from the North-east. 

Demand for Undertaking
A reliable source told ThisDay last week that the camp of Governors Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano) and Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers) that is pushing for the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki from North-central as the Senate president, had insisted that it would not surrender leadership to any move by the party to anoint a candidate for the office of the Senate president.

The source also said instead, the group insisted that the party should allow each of the aspirants for the office to sign an undertaking that he would support anyone who emerges as the Senate president in the end. The demand, the source said, was an expression of their confidence that once all the aspirants were allowed to stand for election on the floor of the Senate come June 6, their candidate, Saraki, would coast home to victory.

“The Kwankwaso group said they should sign an undertaking that whoever emerges as the Senate president would be supported by all. Saraki is still in the race. He has refused to back out. They see Lawan as an extension of David Mark,” the source said.
The Saraki group is said to have been strengthened by the purported rejection of Lawan by his kinsmen and fellow North-east senators penultimate weekend. Irked by the news circulating in the country that the leadership of the APC was favourably disposed to zoning the office to North-east with the intention to favour Lawan, 12 of 13 senators (excluding Lawan) from the region hurriedly addressed the press in Abuja on May 2, accusing Lawan of attempting to outsmart them by parading himself as the candidate for the office in the region.

Led by Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central), the North-east caucus in the Senate said no candidate had yet emerged from the region. Rather, it said all the caucus was pre-occupied with at the moment was the commitment to prevail on the party to zone the office to the North-east after which it will decide on the choice of the candidate.

“On Thursday night, at the Kaduna room of Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, 12 out of the 13 APC senators-elect from the North-east met and resolved as follows: that the North-east APC senators’ caucus for the eight Senate has been put on ground; that the zone is appealing to the APC highest hierarchy to zone the highest position in the National Assembly, that is, the position of Senate President to the zone in view of its peculiar circumstances; and that the caucus should be allowed in consultation with the party leadership to nominate whoever we want for the position.

“Therefore, in the light of the above resolutions, we call on all Nigerians to completely disregard any purported endorsement of any senator from the North-east by any zone for the position yet because any post zoned to us, must have our input.

‘’We don’t know anything about any endorsement of anybody from the North-east being touted around through the pages of newspapers. We disassociate ourselves from any endorsements from other zones because the party has not zoned any position to us yet and we don’t want to jump the gun,” Goje submitted.
But it was mixed fortunes for Lawan on Thursday when two senators, specifically from his home state, Yobe, pulled out of the caucus and declared their support for Lawan. 
“Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan has demonstrated a clear commitment to progressive values, he is energetic and hardworking and he has what it takes to lead this eight assembly,” Yobe caucus said in a statement by Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim.
Akume’s Re-emergence
In contrast to assumptions that Akume had cowardly dropped out of the race following withdrawal of support for his aspiration by a national leader of APC, Senator Bola Tinubu, penultimate week and a subsequent instruction from the party that he should step down for Lawan, ThisDay discovered during the week that Akume was still very much in the race.

One major factor believed to have oiled Akume’s persistence is the growing perception that the APC may be left without an option than to zone the Senate president’s office to the North-central. Thus, there was the perception that should this occur, Saraki who has been aggressive about his aspiration will effortlessly clinch the office unchallenged.

This permutation is the offshoot of information making the rounds in the National Assembly last week that the House of Representatives in its usual resilient manner would defy any attempt by the party to determine who emerges as its speaker. Members-elect were said last week to be massively routing for Hon. Yakubu Dogara, a member from Bauchi State in the North-east region.

Should Dogara of the North-east emerge as the speaker, his emergence has the potency to neutralise the possible emergence of Lawan from the same zone as the Senate president. Reason? A number of Nigerians believe that it will be extremely dangerous for the North to occupy four of the major five offices in the country, leaving the entire South consisting of three distinct regions with only the office of the vice president.

According to them, North cannot produce the president, Senate president, speaker of the House, chief justice of Nigeria and at the same time occupy the office of the president of Court of Appeal. This is aside the belief that the party had zoned the offices of the Senate president and deputy Senate president to the North-east and North-central respectively.

Therefore, promoters of Akume’s aspiration believe that it will be a political miscalculation for the party leadership to scare Akume out of the race when it may eventually be left with no option than to leave the office in North-central if it strives in vain to prevail on the House to respect its decision.

This development led to the emergence of a group, The League of Patriotic and Progressive Youth (Young Patriots), campaigning vigorously for Akume’s aspiration in Abuja last week. “This is no time to experiment with trial and error. No! It is time to elevate men and women of conviction, industry, national acceptability and proven track record to stand guard at critical organs of government. It is with pride that we recall Akume’s actions as Minority Leader in the seventh Senate,” the group submitted. 

Mark, Akpabio Disagree
As gladiators for the office of the Senate President were busy meeting senators-elect the previous week, Senate President David Mark was also busy meeting PDP senators-elect in his Apo mansion. Sources told ThisDay last week that both Mark and Akwa Ibom State’s Governor, Obong Godswill Akpabio, sharply disagreed on the choice of the next Senate President.

One of the sources, a senator, told ThisDay that while Mark was canvassing his colleagues’ support for Lawan on the basis of seniority, Akpabio disagreed. Lawan, like Mark, has been in the National Assembly since 1999. He was first elected into the House of Representatives in 1999 and re-elected in 2003 before switching over to the Senate in 2007. He has since been re-elected twice thereafter. In principle, he’s the next to Mark in National Assembly in terms of seniority.

Mark was therefore said to have believed that Lawan was the most qualified person to succeed him as the Senate president. But Akpabio, it was learnt, disagreed with Mark. According to the source, the governor, on the contrary, drummed support for Saraki, whom he said would be a better choice because he was once a member of PDP.

“Akpabio said it would be better to have Saraki as Senate president because he was one of them in the PDP. He said Saraki was the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and he did well. He believed it would be better for them to have someone who was in the PDP as Senate president than somebody who had never belonged,” the senator said.

Akpabio’s argument seemed to capture an ancient axiom, “the devil you know is better than an unknown angel.” Besides, his objection is said to imply that he was saying that when the chips are down, Saraki will remember where he’s coming from when compared to a pharaoh who may not know Joseph.

Nevertheless, Mark has been identified as a critical factor in the race who can only be ignored to the peril of any aspirant. ThisDay was reliably informed that each of the three aspirants had separately visited Mark in his residence to solicit his backing for their ambitions. While Saraki and Lawan led their teams, Akume’s team was said to have been led by Senator Barnabas Gemade, his kinsman from Benue State. 

Lawan, Saraki’s Meeting Points
One common factor driving the aspirations of both Saraki and Lawan is the crave for compensation. Four major political groups had dissolved into APC at inception. They are Congress for Progressive Change led by the president-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.); Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) led by Tinubu; All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) led by Chief Ogbonnaya Onu and the New PDP, led by Amaechi and consisted of five former PDP governors including Kwankwaso and Amaechi himself. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was also part of the New PDP at inception.

However, the New PDP believes that each of the four groups has been adequately compensated with juicy offices except itself. Members of the group claim that CPC has produced the president-elect; ACN has produced vice president-elect while ANPP has produced the national chairman of APC. They therefore argued that it would only be fair that the New PDP be allowed to produce the Senate president.

On the other hand, promoters of Lawan’s aspiration would argue that chairmanship of the party is not an elective office. Hence, it should be compensated with a prominent position such as Senate president’s office.

But some original members of APC from the three groups believe that members of the New PDP are asking for too much. According to them, unlike the three other groups, they were not foundation members of APC but were only “joiners” who dissolved into the party after it had gone through tough negotiation experience to midwife the party.

Some of them would further argue that the New PDP only came to join an already made platform not knowing the degrees of sacrifices and pains they put into it. Those in this school of thought therefore believe that the ANPP group has a better case than New PDP. But those sympathetic to the course of New PDP would remind them that they all maximally delivered their states to APC except Amaechi.

How the party will eventually sort out this range of controversies remains a matter of conjecture. 

The Speakership Contest
The House of Representatives is far more aggressive in nature than the Senate. Members of the House who are much younger than senators often display youthful exuberance in their dispositions and handling of issues. They take hard stance on issues and fail to change their minds no matter how odd.

This attitude led to the ouster of Hon. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh as Speaker of the House on October 31, 2007 and her subsequent replacement by Hon. Dimeji Bankole on November 1, 2007 against the ruling PDP’s wish.

The climax of this radical posture was the rejection of PDP’s zoning formula in June 2011 when the House rejected Hon. Mulikat Adeola-Akande, the party’s choice for the office from the South-west and overwhelmingly voted for Hon. Aminu Tambuwal from North-west.

The House is again set to re-enact this trend on June 6 as THISDAY’s findings last week showed that the House was not prepared to abide by the plan of some influential party men to zone the speakership of the House to the South-west. The three main gladiators for the office are Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos, South-west), Yakubu Dogara (Bauchi, North-east) and Abdulmumuni Jibrin (Kano, North-west).

The name of Dogara was in the air last week in the National Assembly with many members said to be routing for his emergence. A source even told THISDAY that Tambuwal, despite being Gbajabiamila’s friend appeared to have shown preference for Dogara while an unconfirmed source said a register had been open for Dogara’s supporters to append their signatures for the course.

It is against this background that some people have said the handling of the National Assembly leadership race would be APC’s first litmus test as a ruling party. Some have even said this is not the time for Buhari to be docile, saying his ability to ensure sanity in the scenario will show how much he can provide leadership for the country which believes strongly in him. 

Religion as a factor
Nigeria, with almost equal strength of the population of Christians and Muslims from both the South and North, is highly sensitive to religion. Little wonder that huge controversies trailed the struggle for Muslim-Muslim ticket in APC prior to the last elections.

Therefore, some individuals have expressed concerns about the religious affiliation of personalities running for the speakership of the House as well as the Senate presidency. There are concerns that unless the leadership of APC consciously bears the factor of religion in mind and consequently educates their members, the top echelon of APC government may be dominated by Muslims to the disgust of its large Christian followers who voted for it with liberal mind.

Such people have reasoned that should either of Saraki or Lawan emerge as Senate president and Dogara as House speaker, there will be only one Christian in the top echelon of the country hierarchy, a situation they said would be unhealthy for religious harmony.

Since 1999, Christians had always emerged as Senate presidents while Muslims became House speakers. The only time Christians headed both houses in 2007, one of them was quickly removed and replaced by a Muslim within six months.

Thus, it was even alleged that one of the major reasons for Etteh’s removal as the House speaker in 2007 was her religion as a Christian as against the allegation of N626 million scandal levelled against her. The House subsequently cleared her of the allegation at the end of the tenure.

At the time, some House members were said to have registered their displeasure with the emergence of a Christian as Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives simultaneously. The APC has since inception been accused of insensitivity to the issue of religion in allotting offices. But the party has vehemently denied it. Will the party prove cynics wrong this time?