By Ahuraka Isah, Adebiyi Adedapo, Isaiah Benjamin, Andrew Essien and Sunday Isuwa
Nine days to the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly on June 11, the race is still opened to the major contenders for the offices of the Senate president and the deputy Senate president, LEADERSHIP has learnt.
Most of the returning and senators-elect, who spoke with LEADERSHIP yesterday on the race, declared that it was “still very tight.”
According to them, none of the contenders for the positions of the Senate president and deputy Senate president was in a comfortable lead. They attributed the situation to the alleged interference in the process leading to the inauguration ceremony by certain individuals and forces.
The lawmakers said that their anxiety was heightened because even the open declaration of support by the All Progressive Congress (APC) leadership and the presidency for the Senate leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, has not put him in a clear lead ahead of the others.
The senators said that the strength of former Senate leader, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume and Senator Danjuma Goje, who are strong contenders in the contest was not easy to determine because their strategies are many and covert.
They cited statements credited to Senator Lawan over the weekend that he expects all the PDP senators to support him as well as the senior special assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, who last week represented the presidency at the open declaration of Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta North) for Lawan as indications that Lawan was not winning all.
The senators who cut across party lines said that the actions of the presidency and Lawan were a clear indication that none of the three APC senators eyeing the Senate presidency had truly secured the winning number amongst the APC senators-elect.
They also drew attention to another statement credited to the APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, that the number of APC senators-elect was enough for Lawan to emerge victorious as hurting the party’s “anointed candidate”.
Both Senators Ndume and Lawan lay claims to great numbers of followers among the PDP senators-elect, a situation the lawmakers said should call for concern for the APC leadership and the presidency.
The presidency, the lawmakers urged should be circumspect and avoid adopting measures that may cause setback for democracy in the country, saying a level playing ground should be maintained for all the contestants.
They said even though Senator Goje has not openly declared his intention to contest for the fear of harassment by security operatives or as a form of strategy to lie low until the last minute, they were sure he would contest.
The senators who are mostly supporters of Senators Ndume and Lawan who spoke on condition of anonymity stated that the contest for the Senate presidency is “highly open”.
This is just as they added that it was also open to unintended beneficiary, and even the PDP senator-elect except the presidency and APC leadership avoid further provocation of the senators-elect.
When the chips are down, they said either Goje would step down for Ndume or vice versa so that one of them would emerge the winner. The duo, they said, were working in concert and having the understanding to that effect.
According to the senators, “it is a source of concern that none of the major contestants for the position of the Senate president for the ninth Upper House is unarguably in clear lead for now.
“No one can say that with this factor or the other, this candidate shall emerge the Senate president. Not even Senator Lawan who the APC leadership and the presidency have endorsed is favoured to win among us, although he has his supporters like the other contestants.
“Unlike Lawan who calls his supporters for meetings with media coverage, both Ndume and Goje meet their supporters under the cover. They prefer to hide the identities of their supporters so that security operatives and anti-graft men do not pounce on them. So, there is no way anybody can vividly assess their strength, and you cannot rule them out or dismiss them as inconsequential.
“Senator Lawan said that he expects all the PDP senators to support him. The senior special assistant to the President, Senator Ita Enang, represented the presidency at the open declaration of Senator Peter Nwaoboshi for Lawan. This is because all is not well with the APC, and the ruling party cannot go alone contrary to a statement credited to Oshiomhole that his party’s senators would elect Lawan without the PDP.
“It is a new turn when the presidency through Enang was wooing the PDP senators-elect for Lawan. The contest is widely open; it can even go to the PDP senator or the most unintended beneficiary,” the senators said.
In a recent interview, Ndume boasted that he was confident of winning the Senate presidency contest. “The national chairman of the party has endorsed Ahmed Lawan but as I said, power belongs to God; he gives it to whoever he wants. I am making my contacts to my colleagues with encouraging responses and I am in the race and at the end God’s will shall prevail,” he said.
A day after Senator Nwaoboshi declared his support for Lawan, the lawmaker said that he expected all PDP senators to endorse him as the Senate president.
Lawan told newsmen on Saturday in Abuja that Nigerians do not care about the political party lawmakers represent but about the security of their lives.
He said that the support of Senator Nwaoboshi, who is a member of the PDP was a show of patriotism, adding that “we are expecting the PDP senators-elect – all of them to have an understanding with us and endorse me as a caucus.”
Kalu, Gaya, Omo-Agege Split Senate Over Deputy Slot
For the office of the deputy Senate president, alignment and realignment by senators-elect over their choice for the office is still ongoing.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the incoming lawmakers were divided over the interest of former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzo Kalu, the most high ranking senator from the North West zone and former governor of Kano State, Kabiru Gaya, and a staunch Muhammadu Buhari supporter from Delta State, Ovie Omo-Agege, for the office.
Gaya, Omo-Agege, and Kalu are members of the ruling APC who are believed to be in the same camp struggling to form the leadership of the 9th Senate.
Investigation revealed that even though President Buhari has a preferred candidate for the Senate presidency, he does not care which part of the country the deputy Senate president comes from.
A reliable source said that “the president favours Senator Lawan for the post of Senate president, but he will not be against anyone from any of the geopolitical zones who emerges as the deputy Senate president as far as the election is credible.
“It is true that Senators Orji Uzor Kalu, Kabiru Gaya and Omo-Agege are vying for the post of deputy Senate president but in the spirit of fair play, Senator Kalu, , a shrewd international business tycoon and a grassroots politician, from the South East zone, should occupy that post,” the source said.
He further said that Senators Lawan and Kalu would form a good combination because they will bring together both politics and business to consolidate the efforts of the executive arm of government.
“Remember that they were classmates in the University of Maiduguri, so they would have a cordial working relationship as each of them would bring their expertise to bear on the job,” he said.
Some of the senators-elect told LEADERSHIP that some people think President Muhammadu does not favour their region but added that the president does not have any preferred candidate.
“Though people believed the president does not favour a particular segment of the country, the president has no preferred candidate for the position of deputy Senate president,” a source said.
“The president is bound to support the decision of the party but whoever that emerges as Senate president won’t be a problem to him. Yes, he favours Senator Lawan for the post of Senate president, but he will not be against anyone from any of the remaining geopolitical zones apart from the North East to emerge as the deputy Senate president as far as the election is credible,” a presidential source said.
According to the source, what the president wants is a leadership that would have a cordial working relationship with the executive so that the country can move quickly in delivering democratic dividends to Nigerians.
Meanwhile, some of the senators-elect contacted by LEADERSHIP said they would support Gaya while others went for Ovie Omo-Agege.
The incoming lawmakers said the election of the deputy Senate president would be on pedigree and not just region.
“Some of us are supporting Gaya for the office of the deputy Senate president,” one of the senators-elect said.
“We’ve contacted some people and they have seen the need to spread the political offices across the regions. Omo-Agege is a strong supporter of the Buhari’s ideology and having him as the deputy Senate president will help the APC and the Senate. We are supporting him for that office,” another senator-elect said.
Let Party Supremacy Prevail, ACF Tells Lawmakers
Relatedly, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has called on senators and members-elect to be guided by the wishes of their political parties in making their choices of who leads them.
In a statement, he issued yesterday in Kaduna, ACF national publicity secretary, Muhammad Ibrahim Biu, however, stated that it is the prerogative of senators and members-elect to choose their leaders.
ACF said that “the political parties that provided the platform for them to be elected also have a role in choosing those to superintendent over the affairs of the National Assembly for the purpose of ensuring good coordination with the executive that is needed for delivering on the promises of democracy.
“More so that democracy is a majority rule in which the political party with the electoral mandate is held accountable and the minority party is expected to be a viable alternative platform for the electorate, considering that democracy without a viable opposition is spurious.
“ACF, therefore, urges senators and members-elect that in exercising their right to elect officers of their choice, certain attributes like legislative capacity and experience, amiability, track record of selfless service, integrity, compassion of the candidates and above all loyalty to their political parties, which manifestos are used for securing the electoral mandate needed for implementation, should guide them in making the best choice.
“It should, however, be noted that multiparty democracy impels progress through change that comes with robust debates on issues of real concern to ordinary citizens,” the group said.
Attempt To Impose 2015 Standing Order Will Fail – Sen Adeola
In his reaction, Senator Solomon Adeola (APC-Lagos) warned that any move to adopt the 2015 Senate Standing Order for the election of the Senate leadership on June 11 would be resisted.
Adeola told newsmen in Abuja that proper procedure was not followed in amending the 2015 rule by the outgoing 8th Senate.
He noted that the 2011 standing order allowed for open ballot system which is the practice in parliaments in other climes.
The lawmaker said that one of the best things that would happen to the 9th Senate is to jettison the 2015 rule and adopt that of 2011.
According to him, adopting the 2011 standing order would give room for open ballot system in the 9th Senate election that would afford Nigerians the opportunity to know choices being made on their behalf by their lawmakers.
Standing orders also known as standing rules refer to the body of rules, ethics, and customs governing legislative bodies.
Most PDP Senators-elect Rooting For Me – Sen Lawan
To Lawan, most PDP senators would queue behind his candidacy because they have identified with his vision.
Lawan said that his supporters do not care what platform any senator represents in the Senate, adding that “what Nigerians care for will be what the 9th Senate is able to do to better their lives. What Nigerians care for is an improvement in the security of their life and property.
He told journalists yesterday at his campaign office in Abuja that “I believe that at the end of the day, the PDP senators-elect would endorse my candidacy. There are so many PDP senators-elect who have identified with our vision, because it is not a political party vision, it is a national vision that everybody will find comfortable to embrace.
“We are expecting all the PDP senators-elect to have an understanding with us and endorse my candidacy as a caucus,” he said.
Lawan eulogised Senator Ifeanyi Uba of the YPP who identified with his aspiration the first day the idea of running for the office was muted.
“He has been with us all through, we have been campaigning together, sometimes; he goes alone to campaign to spread our vision for the 9th National Assembly
“Specifically on the endorsement by Senator Nwaoboshi who is a serving member and a PDP senator-elect, what the endorsement means is not a crack in the PDP fold in the Senate.
“It means a feeling of patriotism, that feeling of necessity for all of us that will be in the 9th Senate to work together in the national interest. That feeling that we have no anytime to lose or waste, that we should hit the ground running immediately we are inaugurated in the 9th Senate,” he said.
Lawan said that APC senators-elect may be 62/65 senators, while the PDP senators-elect may be 44/45 senators and a YPP senator, for that, he said there is no reason to keep the barriers.
“I believe that we should demolish the barriers right from now. We should think of how to come together all of us that would be in the 9th Senate, to work out how we can make those interventions that would be helpful to the administration, to the executive arm of government,” he said.
Another PDP senator-elect known to have openly supported Lawan is the former interior minister, Abba Moro (PDP, Benue South), who at a strategic meeting in Abuja disclosed that he was working for the incumbent Senate leader.
Support Senate President, Speaker Endorsed By Buhari, APC Orji Kalu Tells PDP
Meanwhile, Uzor Kalu has enjoined incoming members of the National Assembly to elect candidates endorsed by the APC and President Buhari.
Kalu claimed that 58 senators-elect had pledged their commitment to Lawan to emerge as the next Senate president.
This, according to him would guarantee harmonious relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government.
Kalu stated this yesterday in Abuja when he received the team of the majority leader of the House of Representatives and speakership aspirant, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and his deputy, Hon. Idris Wase in his residence.
Kalu assured Gbajabiamila and Wase that their support base for the election would be sealed in the next four days.
“We cannot continue to quarrel all the time’ we have concluded that of the Senate, we need 55 senators to elect a Senate president and 58 have already signed, including the YPP Senator. We are going to seal yours in the next four days,” he said.
Kalu added that it would be a disgrace to the resident and to the ruling APC if the candidates they endorsed do not emerge as presiding officers when the 9th Assembly is inaugurated.
He described as false, the notion that Gbajabiamila is solely sponsored by APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
“You are not the candidate of Bola Tinubu, you are the candidate of the president and our party, I know people have been blackmailing you, but it is wrong to say you’re Bola Tinubu’s candidate,” he said.