A two-week orientation programme, which commenced last week in Abuja for all the newly elected 479 members of the ninth National Assembly has become a campaign ground for those itching to lead the federal legislature upon inauguration in June, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo
With the general election gradually coming to a close and the Independent National Electoral Commission now presenting Certificates of Return to those elected including Senators-elect and House members-elect, the next battle might have shifted to the National Assembly for leadership race. But this would not come before its inauguration, which also follows its proclamation by President Muhammadu Buhari in June.
Ahead of the inauguration, the leadership of both the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), which has majority of the lawmakers-elect and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are at daggers drawn over the leadership of the next federal parliament.
While the APC is singing the winner-takes-all song for the principal offices and chairmanship of ‘juicy’ committees in the legislative assembly, the PDP believes that its members have constitutional right to aspire to lead both chambers of the Assembly.
The public endorsement of the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, as the next Senate President by the APC leadership last week is also creating ripples among some of the Senators-elect, who are vowing to resist the imposition.
A Senator-elect and ranking Senator like Lawan, who is also interested in Nigeria’s number three office, Senator Ali Ndume, had criticised the reported adoption of Lawan, saying it was at variance with Section 50 (1a) of the amended 1999 constitution of Nigeria, which gave the members-elect the explicit right to elect their leaders on the floor of the Assembly.
Some other Senators-elect from the North East, where the APC has zoned the Senate Presidency to, also opposed the adoption of Lawan as the issue was never discussed with the new legislators. They even added another dimension to the adoption of Lawan, saying the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who celebrated his 67th birthday with a colloquium in Abuja last Thursday, was out to ‘colonise’ the National Assembly ahead of his presidential ambition in 2023.
They have therefore advised President Buhari against handing over the National Assembly to Tinubu. A cross-section of the Senators-elect, said the recommendation by the APC that Lawan should be considered for the Senate presidency was a plot to hand over the parliament to Tinubu.
One of the Senators-elect, who spoke with THISDAY on the condition of anonymity, said since Tinubu had produced the Vice President in the person of Yemi Osinbajo and party’s National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, other contributors to the victory of the party, should also be rewarded.
“Lawan and Gbajabiamila are the candidates of Asiwaju. If they have their ways, it means Tinubu has extended his hold to the parliament. Already, he has the Vice President and the National chairman. What else is left for others?” adding: “People are just keeping quiet, because of their respect for Buhari, who believes that it’s payback time for Tinubu. It’s shouldn’t be so at all, because other people contributed and they should be rewarded, accordingly.”
Another ranking Senator from the North West said the quest by Tinubu to conquer the National Assembly was simply to lay the foundation for his 2023 presidential ambition.
“He deliberately brought his colloquium to Abuja, as against Lagos, his usual venue, because he wants to conquer the country. He feels that it’s time for him to do so. He has pocketed Lagos and he is leaving no stone unturned to pocket the country. Some of us are of the view that neutral candidates should be considered for the National Assembly leadership and not those whose allegiance will be for Tinubu and not the country,” he said.
The PDP Senate caucus is also interested in who becomes the next Senate President. For now, it has said all Senators-elect have constitutional right to aspire to be Senate President, when the Ninth Senate is inaugurated in June.
At the last count, the party has 41 Senators-elect and may spring a surprise by backing APC Senator-elect outside the choice of the party as the presiding officer of the next Senate.
For the green chamber of the National Assembly, APC leaders including President Buhari, Tinubu and other party loyalists are believed to be rooting for the House leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila representing Surulere I federal constituency of Lagos State, to succeed Hon. Yakubu Dogara as Speaker.
Once bitten twice shy, the APC leadership says it is working hard to avoid the June 9, 2015 experience, when some of its members in cohort with some opposition PDP members, opted to elect Dogara as Speaker against the position of the party, which had elected Gbajabiamila in a mock election designed to suit their desire.
Oshiomhole categorically told newly-elected House members at the Shehu Yar’adua Centre, Abuja that the party was not prepared to share the principal offices of the House and headship of critical committees with the PDP, except positions reserved for minority members.
Ordinarily, Gbajabiamila is qualified for the job. As a lawyer, who was elected into the House in 2003 and having retained his seat for a record fifth term, he ranks among some of the savviest in running the affairs of the green chamber.
Gbaja as he is fondly called by colleagues is already working underground to enlist the support of all relevant stakeholders, including newly-elected members, returning members as well and party leaders in the bid to ensure that the party template, which favours him is eventually adopted.
He may have a stiff opposition in the incumbent Speaker, Dogara, who is said to be actively in the race too. Sources told THISDAY that the outgoing Speaker enjoys the backing of the PDP to vie for the speakership of the 9th assembly.
Recall that after Oshiohmole told his party members that they must ensure that only its members fill up leadership positions in the ninth Assembly, the opposition PDP disagreed with him on the grounds that its elected senators and members of the House of Representatives are constitutionally eligible to seek election into any presiding office of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Though some had concluded that he was out of the equation, Dogara would bank on the support of 125 currently serving lawmakers, who have won their re-election across party lines, and would eventually throw his hat into the ring to re-contest.
“You cannot rule out the incumbent Speaker in the race for the speakership of the 9th assembly. Apart from the fact that he is ably qualified to be in the race, he is trusted and has been tested. The Speaker will easily rally the support of old lawmakers who know him and work with new members to retain his position,” said a ranking House member who spoke anonymously.
Other aspirants for the Speakership position include a female member, who has shown more than a passing interest in the position, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha. She has declared her intention to contest for the highest position in the green chamber even before the party would take any position on zoning the position.
A very active lawmaker, Onyejeocha, who is the Chairman, House Committee on Aviation and a fourth time lawmaker representing Isuikwuato/Umunneochi/ federal constituency of Abia State, is not joking about her ambition. Not only does she possess the needed experience to take up the job, rather than considering her feminist status as disadvantage, her opinion is that it was time Nigeria gave a woman an opportunity to lead at the level of Speaker to see what difference she is capable of making.
Convinced that she is marketable, the lawmaker stormed the APC interactive meeting with newly elected members with her manifesto for the 9th assembly speakership titled: ‘Seeking Your Support.’ and canvassed for the support and vote of her colleagues to secure the position.
“I believe I possess the requisite legislative skills, knowledge, experience and temperament to be Speaker of this great House,” Onyejeocha said, stressing that given the opportunity, she would improve on communication with the general public, facilitate improved internal communications among members, adopt a legislative agenda with a clear framework for compliance and monitoring and ensure improved lawmaking.
“A number of key reform bills were proposed, considered and passed in the 8th House of Representatives, chief among them are the constitutional amendment bills, which contained significant amendments such as financial independence for counterpart in the state i.e state assemblies. A number of some constitution amendments were not assented to while some others key reform bills were not concluded or adopted by the 8th House with its term running out.
“These include bills such as the Police Reform Bill, Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill (PIGB), Universal Basic Education Act amendment Bill, the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) Bill, Audit Bill, Witness Protection Bill etc. I will work to ensure that these bills are revisited.”
Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas representing Jada/Ganye/Mayo Belwa/Toungo federal constituency of Adamawa State, has not only officially declared to run for the office of speaker of the 9th House, he is also embarking on robust consultations and discreet meetings with his colleagues, which are indicative of his seriousness.
Noting that as the Nigerian democracy grows, it requires competent and committed individuals with requisite experience and pedigree to build and strengthen institutions during his declaration, Namdas said “I am offering myself for the position of Speaker, because the ninth assembly deserves the best of leadership.
“I am convinced and I believe you are aware that I possess the necessary legislative and personal credentials to effectively lead the House to enviable heights. As spokesperson for the House, I represented and defended the legislature effectively for four years hence I am better positioned to preside and speak for the House as Speaker.
“Apart from competence, experience, untainted personal record and excellent leadership traits,” he claimed, “We are presenting a new legislative charter, which is our contract with the Nigerian people. This is a contract that will be driven by good laws and ethical legislative practices. We are desirous to enter into a contract with the Nigerian people for the good of the nation.”
Also in the race, a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Borno State, Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno, representing Jere federal constituency. He is capable of pulling off a surprise. Parading every qualification needed to become the Speaker, and as the leader of the North-east caucus, who has equally been in the House for the fifth time, underestimating Monguno would only serve as the undoing of whoever does that.
Another lawmaker, Hon. Yusuf Buba Yakub representing Gombi/Hong federal constituency, also from Adamawa State, has taken his ambition to vie for speakership beyond speculation.
Apart from putting up a campaign structure to actualise his dream, the two-time member of the green chamber told THISDAY that his interest in the job is basically to contribute to building a team of patriotic Nigerians that would address some of the major problems confronting Nigeria. These problems, according of him, are unemployment, youth restiveness, high level of insecurity and corruption, among others.
“There is so much to do within so short a time. Our nation requires nothing but men and women, who share the vision of a great Nigeria to beat a path of national vision and ambition so that others will follow”, adding that “I am vying for this position, because I am driven by the ideal of service to continue to offer my humble talents, treasure and time to see how I can adequately contribute to the growth and development of my country.”
Yakub said given the opportunity, he would work to facilitate executive-legislative harmony and collaboration that would make for better Nigeria, adding: “I see the best years ahead and I know that we at the National Assembly particularly, we in the green chambers, can make it work.”
Like others, who had declared their intentions to run for the speaker position, Yakub has also indicated his readiness to abide by the zoning arrangement of his party, the APC.
Interestingly, while others are jostling to become Speaker, Hon. Magaji Da’u Aliyu representing Birnin-Kudu/Buji federal constituency of Jigawa State, has declared interest in vying for Deputy Speaker.
Aliyu told journalists that he hopes to bring his legislative experience to bear in the day-to-day running of the House in that capacity. Also, a second time lawmaker, he said if elected as Deputy Speaker, it would offer him an opportunity to add value by working in collaboration with the Speaker to effectively relate with other arms of government.
“I have every qualification to become a Speaker. The requirement is that you should be voted for and my people have voted for me, but I believe people underrate the position of Deputy Speaker. The deputy is not a spare tyre. If you look at the president and vice-president, you will see that deputies are not spare tyres
“As a deputy, I can be a source of communication with other arms of government and I believe I have the capacity to carry my people along. I am going to be a just leader, because what brings quarrel is injustice,” he said.
With all the gladiators throwing their hats into the ring, the election of the leadership of the 9th National Assembly will be interesting with all the issues and factors springing up almost on a daily basis.
It is only hoped that the ruling party, APC, would as soon as it releases the zoning formula for the Assembly positions, call a meeting of all stakeholders especially, the legislators-elect and stress the need for the lawmakers to speak with one voice on the day the 9th Assembly would be inaugurated. This is the only way to avoid a repeat of what transpired on June 9, 2015 when the candidates supported by the party lost out when the presiding officers of the 8th National Assembly were elected.