BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA
Barring any unforeseen circumstance, the 10th National Assembly will be inaugurated on Tuesday, June 13, 2023, two days after the expiration date of the lifespan of the current 9th National Assembly on Sunday, June 11.
The current National Assembly was inaugurated on June 11, 2019. Its lifespan will end on June 11, 2023, which is Sunday, a non-working day, Monday being the first working day which is June 12 is a Democracy Day public holiday and therefore, the inauguration cannot take place on that day.
The would-be members of the 10th National Assembly (Senators-elect and Members-elect) received their Certificates of Return on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 7 and 8 respectively, after their declaration as winners in the February 25 National Assembly elections.
They have since begun induction ahead of the inauguration on June 13.
While these plans and programmes are ongoing, the ruling All Progressives Congress which has more senators-elect and members-elect than individual opposition parties and whose constitutional rights it is to produce the National Assembly leadership is battling with its zoning formula.
The party in its eight years in power under the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari-led government ignored its zoning principles in this regard with both the President and Senate President from the North.
With the incoming President from the South West, the party is at crossroads over where the Senate President should be zoned to.
“How many votes did we get from the South, especially the South South and the South East? The votes from North Central alone surpassed all the votes from South South and South East, so what are we talking about?”
However, the APC National working Committee and the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, later zoned the position to the South South and announced the former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio as the party’s choice consensus candidate.
Other principal officers as chosen by the party were also announced for the Senate and House of Representatives.
The pronouncement by the party’s hierarchy has thrown it in crisis.
Senators-elect and Reps-elect aspiring or supporting candidates other than the anointed party candidates have besieged the party headquarters in Abuja to register their objections.
The fierce reactions that have led the aggrieved lawmakers to hold serious meetings almost on a daily basis with threats to bury APC should the party fail to reverse its decision and withdraw the support from their colleagues who have been named party’s candidates was climaxed last Thursday when the National Chairman, Abdullai Adamu, owned up that the party made some mistakes but promised to correct them.
He assured them that the party would definitely review the zoning formula before the inauguration on June 13.
This assurance may have quelled the fire in the house but just on Saturday, a political analyst, Professor Ussuu Medena, while speaking on a television programme said the demand of the north from the incoming Tinubu’s administration is to give them the Senate President.
Medena said the demand is from community leaders who ensure that the party wins elections in their areas. He maintained that it has gone beyond political parties affairs.
“North has demanded to have the Senate President and some other principal officers of the 10th National Assembly. This demand has nothing to do with politicians, it is community leaders and traditional rulers who control the people that give parties their votes. They have argued that the majority votes that gave the APC victory in the just concluded elections came from the north. If you have been following the arguments of the agitators, it is clear that the aggrieved aspirants are making the same claims and even threatening the APC of making sure it does not exist any longer in the north if they are not considered for the positions they have demanded for.
“Like I said earlier, it’s a party election, it’s those elected into the Senate and House of Representatives that will vote for their leaders. It will be beyond the decisions of the political parties. Alliances among the Senators-elect and Reps-elect will play major roles irrespective of the political parties they belong to. It happened in 1960 when NPC and NCNC formed an alliance that produced Tafawa Balewa (NPC) the first Prime Minister, in 1979 NPN and NPP also had an alliance that produced Edwin Ume-Ezeoke (NPP) as Speaker. The alliance of ACN, ANPP, CPC and some PDP members made Aminu Tambuwal the Speaker even when his party didn’t want him for the position.
The most recent is 2015 which produced Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker from different political parties. The ruling party could not stop it. If care is not taken, the 2015 experience will repeat itself.”
Already the lawmakers have warned the APC to prepare for a repeat of the 2015 leadership takeover at the National Assembly should the party stand with its zoning formula.
Former governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State emphatically said any attempt to zone the Senate Presidency out of Northern Nigeria will spell doom for the ruling party, threatening that the party will become history if the North is not allowed to produce the next Senate President.
Another party stalwart, Abdulgafar Mohammed corroborated Yari and other northerners who have spoken in the same vein.
Mohammed said, “APC has created some problems it cannot solve easily. The only way to solve these problems is to listen to the voices of those clamouring for a northern Senate President otherwise APC will completely vanish in the north. If the party insists on zoning the position to the South it then means they are taking us for a ride. How many votes did we get from the South, especially the South South and the South East? The votes from North Central alone surpassed all the votes from South South and South East, so what are we talking about?”
But the South is claiming that precedence has been set.
A socio-political commentator, Chris Abaecheta, said there is no way another northerner will emerge as Senate President after eight years of a northerner in the same position.
“What are we talking about? The APC is right to zone the Senate President to the South and the Speaker to the north. This is a follow-up to the precedence set by the outgoing Buhari administration which is APC government. What is the north complaining about when they enjoyed it for eight years? In fact if APC falls to the northerners’ blackmail, it will rubbish their zoning policy. Zoning is not only for the presidency that is what they should know. To me the crisis APC has plunged itself into is which zone between South East and South South will produce the Senate President. But to be modest, the position should be zoned to the South South. This is my opinion.”
The APC is fast turning to a house divided among itself. Same is the case with the South East. While the north is demanding for the positions, the south East is saying it is interested in the position. The South East senators-elect are alone in the fight for the position.
One of the front runners from the zone, former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu who was among the senators that stormed the party’s national headquarters on Thursday expressed displeasure with the party’s zoning.
He expressed concern that although he had never disobeyed the party, the aggrieved aspirants might brazenly disobey the party on the day of voting.
Kalu criticized the party’s decision to micro-zone and pencil down names, noting that while there is nothing wrong with the party zoning positions to geopolitical zones, micro-zoning is fundamentally wrong.
He said the party’s decision was unconstitutional and threatened to challenge it in court, adding that he will not obey the APC zoning arrangement if justice is not done to the South East.
The party however seems to be in control of the situation with the plea for calmness from the National Chairman and promise that the party will review the zoning process.
Review of zoning formula begins this week
The Point learnt at the weekend that the party may kick off the process of reviewing the zoning arrangements this week,
It was also gathered that while the President-elect, Bola Tinubu has stood in solidarity with the APC’s preferred choice of Akpabio, the ruling party is making moves to compensate for the North Central geopolitical zone.
It was understood that under the planned review, which will be subject to the approval of Tinubu, the ruling party may reconsider the positions zoned to the North West and the South East geopolitical zones.
Investigation revealed that Adamu has started consultations with individual aspirants and critical stakeholders within the party to canvass their support for the proposed review of the zoning arrangements.
It was gathered that he had reached out to about six aspirants in both the red and green chambers with a firm assurance that a slight adjustment would be made to pacify the regions that felt short-changed in the process.
Some of the aspirants reportedly said that Adamu assured them at separate meetings held with him that the process of reviewing the zoning arrangement would kick off this week.
A returning senator from the North Central geopolitical zone, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Adamu gave him assurances that the proposed review would commence this week.
The ranking senator said: “Anybody that knows the National Chairman of our party would know that he is not a frivolous person.
“He says what he believes in and his position on the matter is in the best interest of the party.
“Many lawmakers are not happy that their geopolitical zones were not treated fairly in the zoning arrangements. The chairman is pushing for justice, equity, and fairness.
“He had assured us that something would be done on the matter this week.”
An aspirant, who also craved anonymity, confirmed the latest development, explaining that two zones are being considered in the proposed review.
He said: “The chairman had assured us that there is no way the North West would be allowed to produce two presiding officers.
“So, the leaders of the party are looking into the position allocated to the South East and the fact that the North Central was totally excluded.
“The problem was caused by the inordinate ambitions of some people who are desperately looking for presiding officers’ positions at all costs. We have to apply caution in the whole thing,” he added.
Opposition lawmakers strategize
Further investigations also revealed that opposition lawmakers held a series of meetings with the aggrieved aspirants in separate locations in the last three days.
An opposition party’s Senator-elect from the South West geopolitical zone, who spoke in confidence said he had held meetings with four different aspirants in the last two days.
He said: “I am not sure that the zoning arrangements announced by the APC are working.
As opposition senators-elect, what we had agreed upon is that we would study their characters and qualifications before we cast our votes. APC cannot choose presiding officers for us,” he added.
Another Senator-elect, however, said that any planned review would be subject to Tinubu’s approval.
He argued that in the absence of the President-elect, who approved the current zoning formula as announced, Adamu does not have the final word on the matter.
According to him, the pronouncement made by Adamu on the matter was to douse tension.
“The NWC led by Adamu is just begging for time. There is nothing he can do for the party until Tinubu returns,” the senator-elect from the North Central explained.
He asked: “What do you expect them to say? The mistake if we call it so has been made.
On our side, we know that it was done deliberately; we wait to see what will be done when the President-elect is back.”
Abbas, Kalu woo Sanwo-Olu
Meanwhile, the anointed candidate for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas and APC’s preferred choice for Deputy Speaker, Benjamin Kalu, have urged the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to reach out to his colleagues and other aspirants to ensure the successful emergence of the party’s preferred candidates.
The duo made the request on Saturday when the governor hosted them and the members of the Joint Task Team of the House in their maiden consultative engagement to seek bipartisan support from the governors
Abbas urged Sanwo-Olu to reach out to other governors and other aspirants for conversation that would make the election of presiding officers hitch-free.
He pledged that he would not fail the party and his predecessors.
On his part, Kalu promised that the Abbas-led leadership would project institutional trust in the 10th National Assembly, adding that the decision of the House would reflect the interests of Nigerians.
Also speaking, the Leader of the Joint Task, Bello Kumo, representing the Akko federal constituency of Gombe State, said the Abbas-led leadership would not compromise the independence of the House.
The lawmaker said the team was not interested in just winning the election, but also having a peaceful 10th National Assembly.
He urged Governor Sanwo-Olu to speak to his colleagues on the need to buy into the agenda.
Responding, Sanwo-Olu, suggested that the incoming leadership of the 10th National Assembly should reflect the diversity of the country, describing both National Assembly chambers as “people’s houses.”
Sanwo-Olu, who said the unity of the country was more important than the aspirants’ ambition, urged Abbas and Kalu not to take any member-elect for granted.
He said: “This race to elect leadership in the House of Representatives should reflect the true federal composition and political diversity of the country. Here today, I have seen diverse political parties and representatives from all regions coming together to work as a team in electing the Speaker. I urge you not to stop at this; you should further deepen your engagement and extend the hand of comradeship to every member.
“At the end of the day, your aspiration is not about you or your colleagues in the chamber, but about Nigerians. The objective must be about joining forces with the incoming administration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to make life better for the people, improve the economy and strengthen security. Greatest good must be achieved for the greatest number.”
Can Akpabio weather the storm?
Many analysts have argued that there is nothing wrong in Tinubu or the governors showing interest in who becomes the head of the National Assembly.
They argued that the refusal of President Buhari to show interest on who emerged as the presiding officers of the eighth National Assembly was believed to have led to the frosty relationship between his administration and the federal lawmakers.
However, many Senators-elect have argued that the way and manner Tinubu and the governors went about selecting Akpabio as if they were nominating a member of Tinubu’s cabinet undermines the independence of the legislature as an arm of the government and also makes mockery of separation of powers.
Many of the serving and the incoming senators have vowed to stop Akpabio.
In an apparent move to scuttle Akpabio’s bid, the outgoing Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, had ordered a probe into how a whopping N1.4 trillion was allegedly spent by the Niger Delta Development Commission without appropriation, on Akpabio’s watch as the supervising minister.
“I am not sure that the zoning arrangements announced by the APC are working. As opposition senators-elect, what we had agreed upon is that we would study their characters and qualifications before we cast our votes. APC cannot choose presiding officers for us”
Lawan had allegedly protested against his emergence, citing his alleged dishonourable treatment of the federal lawmakers probing the NDDC when he was Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs.
But the most formidable opposition to APC’s zoning came from the North Central senators-elect who had written an open letter to Adamu, rejecting the zoning arrangements because it excluded their region.
The elected federal lawmakers said only the North Central geopolitical zone did not produce any presiding officer.
The letter by the lawmakers-elect was signed by 18 senators-elect, including, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa (Niger East), Senator Ashiru Oyelola Yisa (Kwara South), Senator Sadiq Umar Suleiman (Kwara North), Senator-elect Mustapha Saliu (Kwara Central) and Senator Isah Jibrin (Kogi East).
Others were Senator Abba Moro (Benue South); Senator Godiya Akwashiki (Nasarawa North), Senator-elect Ahmed Aliyu Wadada (Nasarawa West), Senator-elect Ireti Kingibe (FCT), Senator-elect Sunday Karimi Steve (Kogi West), Senator-elect Ohere Sadiku Abubakar (Kogi Central) and Senator-elect Peter Ndalikali Jiya (Niger South).
The rest include: Senator-elect Napoleon Binkap Bali (Plateau South), Senator-elect Mwadkion Simon Davou (Plateau North), Senator-elect Diket Plang (Plateau Central),Senator-elect Mohammed O. Onawo (Nasarawa South), Senator-elect Emmanuel M. Udende (Benue East) and Senator-elect Titus Tartenger Zam (Benue West).
Even the Chairman of the South West Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu had condemned the zoning arrangement, describing it as skewed.
Akeredolu, in a press statement he personally signed last Wednesday, said the purported arrangement stood logic on its head as one geo-political zone, North West, would be favoured with two presiding officers out of four while the North-central, despite its loyalty to the party, won’t have any.
With pressure being mounted against Akpabio, many are wondering if he can weather the storm without stepping on the proverbial banana peels.