•APC zoning creating tension, cannot guarantee unity, Izunaso warns
•North-Central Senators write APC chairman, decry zoning exclusion
Aspirants for the senate presidency have rejected the adoption of a former minority senate leader and ex-Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, by the All Progressives Congress for the position of President of the Senate in the 10th National Assembly.
The contestants faulted the party’s position on the National Assembly leadership announced after its National Working Committee meeting last week and demanded fresh zoning of the principal offices.
Also, aggrieved aspirants for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives on Wednesday stormed the APC headquarters in Abuja, where they demanded a fresh zoning formula.
The NWC had endorsed Akpabio from the South-South geopolitical zone as the President of the 10th Senate while Senator Barau Jibrin from the North-West was picked as his deputy.
Also in the House of Representatives, the APC endorsed Tajudeen Abass from the North-West as the Speaker and Benjamin Kalu from the South-East as deputy.
The decision of the party to allocate two of the four presiding positions in the 10th National Assembly to the North-West and none to the North-Central stirred protests and outrage among the lawmakers and aspirants.
A frontline aspirant for the Senate presidency, Senator Osita Izunaso, said the zoning had created tension and cautioned the party leadership to take steps to douse it by coming up with a zoning arrangement that would guarantee unity and national cohesion.
Speaking at a media parley in Abuja on Wednesday, Izunaso said the outcry and protests that erupted following the announcement of the provocative formula showed that the arrangements were not acceptable to the majority of the newly elected legislators and Nigerians, adding that it should therefore be discarded without any delay.
The Imo senator said he agreed with the position of the NWC on the need for “further and better consultations” by all the necessary stakeholders of the party in reaching a workable zoning formula for the principal offices of the National Assembly.
Izunaso said as the most suitable person for the senate presidency, being the highest-ranking Senator from the South-South and South-East with legislative experience spanning several years.
“Equally, if you want to go with the Not-Too-Young Act, one of the greatest achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, I am the youngest of all the aspirants, the face of the youths, representing the most agitated demography in the country today. It is me. I am indeed the best and the next person for Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Emi Lokan,’’ he declared.
As the opposition against the APC’s decision gained more traction, a source said the NWC members had realised they made a mistake in their decisions.
The source stated, ‘’The NWC realised they made a mistake by naming individuals. They should just have zoned. The President-elect has also been briefed on the error made by NWC. Whatever happens, the President-elect is only interested in the APC producing the leadership of the two chambers, not individuals.’’
The Chairman of the Southern Governors Forum and Governor of Ondo State Governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu also condemned the zoning arrangement adopted by the party leadership.
Akeredolu, in a statement he issued on Wednesday, drew attention to the allocation of two positions to the North-West while the North-Central got none.
According to him, the zoning formula represented “early signs of steps aimed at attempts to cabin the hard-earned Presidency for our leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu by a few individuals with eyes on ‘Aso Rock power buttons.”
The governor’s statement was titled, ‘Proposed APC zoning formula for NASS leadership positions is a skewed arrangement that reinforces injustice and enhances inequity.’
The statement read, “It is trite to aver that it stands logic on the head that one geo-political zone, North-West in this regard, will be favoured with two presiding officers positions out of four while North-Central suffers the consequences for its innocence and shrewd loyalty by having none.
“It is an insidious permutation that North-East will be deprived in the face of the unsavoury generosity dispensed through two slots to a particular geo-political zone. It is self-repudiating for one to argue, therefore, that the Speaker of the House of Representatives cannot also emerge from the North-East.
“Therefore, the move to zone the National Assembly leadership positions on the behest of interested personalities with perceived closeness to the President-elect manifestly lays the dangerous foundation of distrust, and needless suspicion even as it structures nothing but a combination of booby traps. We must avoid all these.’’
He further described the arrangement as an unworkable arrangement that reinforced injustice and enhances inequity ‘’and I join them in rejecting this zoning formula.’’
He frowned on the relegation of the Progressive Governors Forum in the scheme of things, describing the party’s action as a disservice to them.
The Ondo State governor said a consensus had yet to be reached when the NWC hurriedly released ‘’a dangerous tool for the opposition in the guise of a zoning formula. To me, even on this note, it’s unacceptable.’’
He noted, “Does it not also exude a serious discomfort that the aspirants to the speakership were not consulted, approached and effectively engaged before the purported zoning formula? It does, and clearly so.
“It is in this regard that I salute the courage of the speakership aspirants for their show of solidarity, companionship and applaudable love for the party in their rejection, resentment and objection to the brazenly teleguided zoning arrangement that is skewed and targeted against some zones and identified individuals. Their action is commendable just as they are urged to ensure they pursue this to a logical conclusion.”
He added, “I call on the NWC of our great party to follow the path of purity and justice. It is perhaps expedient that Mr President-elect interrogates this skewed arrangement and gives direction that reflects our collective commitment to equality and fairness.
“In this particular case, and for the purpose of avoiding a repeat of untoward situations, it is advised that the APC NWC immediately summons the National Executive Committee after robust National Caucus/Stakeholders parley to agree on terms that would strengthen our great party.’’
In the same breath, Senators-elect across the North-Central geopolitical zone from different political parties have rejected the APC’s zoning arrangement for the National Assembly for excluding their region.
In an open letter to the National Chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Adamu, they said only the North-Central geopolitical zone did not produce any presiding officer, the president-elect and vice president-elect.
The protest letter signed by 18 lawmakers-elect was titled, ‘Resolution of the North-Central Caucus of the 10th Senate on NASS Leadership Zoning.’
The signatories include Senators Mohammed Sani Musa (Niger East); Ashiru Oyelola (Kwara South); Sadiq Umar (Kwara North), Isah Jibrin (Kogi East) and Senator-elect Mustapha Saliu (Kwara Central).
Others are Senators Abba Moro (Benue South); Godiya Akwashiki (Nasarawa North); Senator-elect Ahmed Aliyu Wadada(Nassarawa West); Senators-elect Ireti Kingibe (FCT); Sunday Karimi Steve (Kogi West); Ohere Abubakar (Kogi Central) and Peter Jiya (Niger South) and others.
The letter read partly, ‘’We, the North Central Senators-elect Caucus met on Monday the 8th May 2023 and resolved as follows:
“That the North Central as a geopolitical zone in Nigeria has paid its dues in the political stability of the country and shall continue to do so, but where we see an open denial of our rights and privileges, we will have no option than to voice out in the interest of the zone and its people we represent.
“It is pertinent to know that we are fully committed to supporting the incoming administration of the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for a better Nigeria. This can only happen if fairness, equity and justice are ensured. It is on record that the North-Central gave the APC 41 per cent of her votes to victory, hence we equally deserve as others.”
A Senator-elect from Kano South Senatorial District on the platform of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Suleiman Kawu, warned the president-elect to avoid sycophants from deceiving him into taking a wrong decision on the National Assembly leadership issue.
Kawu, who addressed journalists in Abuja on Tuesday, said a majority of the lawmakers-elect were already planning to work against the APC zoning arrangements.
“We are in touch with 109 senators and I will assure you that we have a serious number to stop imposition in the Senate or the House of Representatives. We are in consultations and politics is a game of numbers, it’s a game of persuasion, and interface and we are doing it. We will cross the bridge when we get there,’’ he stated.
On his part, the Media aide to Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, Kamen Chuks, noted that the Senate South-East caucus felt the choice of a consensus was a premature one.
He added that the caucus believed that the President-elect should have consulted widely with them before releasing a person as a consensus candidate.
In an interview with The PUNCH, Chuks said” The South East caucus feels the release of a consensus candidate is premature and proper and wide consultation, particularly to the South East should have been made.
“ The South East senators have no issue with the president-elect, we only want him to start afresh because the South Westerners are aggrieved with the policies of the current Buhari administration has made the Igbos feel marginalised.
“The voter apathy from the South East isn’t because the Igbo hate Asiwaju, they are only protesting against the marginalisation of the current administration.”
He said, “In the current administration, the President is from North-West; Vice President, South-West; Senate President, North-East; Deputy Senate President, South-South and others.
“The South East got nothing and the President-elect should not just give it the Deputy Speaker position.
“The position is not enough to assuage the grievances of the Igbo from past cases of marginalisation.”
The South East lawmakers further noted that the South-South can not claim to be marginalised as the zone produced the current Deputy Senate President and a former President of the country.
Chuks noted, “ The South-South produced the current Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, also they held the president seat for six years under the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.”
Also, Emeka Nwala, an aide to the chief whip of the ninth Senate, Orji Kalu, noted that it was S Akpabio who should step own.
He said, “Senator Akpabio should support OUK for equity and fairness.’’
Also, the Coalition of Northern Groups has asked the APC to allow lawmakers-elect principal officers of the 10th National Assembly, through a democratic process.
While addressing a press conference in Abuja on Wednesday, spokesperson for the CNG, Abdulazeez Suleiman, said the group noted a plot by “certain Interests groups” in the APC, to impose Akpabio as President of the Senate, to the detriment of other aspirants and democracy itself.
Despite the outrage against the zoning, the Joint Task – 10th Assembly, a coalition of members-elect of the APC and opposition parties in the House of Representatives, on Tuesday night adopted the zoning plan of the ruling party.
In attendance, for the first time, was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, consensus candidates of the APC, and leaders of other opposition coalitions and alliances.
Addressing journalists after the closed-door meeting that lasted about two hours, Abbas expressed his happiness that the APC chose him to be the next Speaker of the House based on competence.
When asked how he felt about being nominated by the party, Abbas said, “I feel elated, I feel inspired, because I believe that if the party is going to use competence as its yardstick, I’m the right person to actually be picked. So for the fact that they did what I expected them to do, I feel very elated; I feel very satisfied.”
Responding to a question on other aspirants who are aggrieved with the alleged imposition of candidates by the APC, the lawmaker disclosed that efforts were being made to pacify them.
The PUNCH reports that a group comprising the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase; Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa; Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, Aliyu Betara; Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli; and a former member of the House who is now member-elect, Sani Jaji, has vowed to oppose the APC candidates adopted by the party for the NASS leadership.
But Abbas said, “We are in the process (of reconciling with aggrieved aspirants). We have reached out to so many (of them), and we will continue reaching out to all of them. Before the end of next week, I assure you – all the candidates and all the contestants – we will beg them. We will ask them to come on board so that we can work for the good of the institution.”
Meanwhile, candidates of the APC in the House met with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the president-elect separately on Tuesday.
Videos and photographs and video recordings released by the secretariat of the Joint Task – 10th Assembly, which is currently managing their campaign, showed Obasanjo and Tinubu welcoming Abbas and Kalu, respectively.
Kalu took to his Twitter handle, @OfficialBenKalu, on Tuesday night, to announce the meeting with Obasanjo.
He tweeted, “A moment of respect and shared vision as the former President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, warmly received the nominated candidates nominated for the leadership of the 10th House of Representatives.”
He, however, did not state where the meeting was held and the media aide to the former President, Kehinde Akinyemi, said he was not aware of the meeting.
Wase, others protest
In furtherance of their opposition to the party decision, frontline aspirants for the position of the Speaker on Wednesday stormed the APC secretariat in Abuja, to register their displeasure over the imposition of consensus candidates ahead of the 10th Assembly inauguration.
The delegation, which was led by Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Idris Wase, held a crucial meeting with the Senator Abdullahi Adamu-led National Working Committee shortly after their arrival.
In attendance were Sani Jaji (Zamfara), Yusuf Gagdi (Plateau); Muktar Betara (Borno), Mariam Onuoha (Imo), Sada Soli (Kastina); Femi Bamishile (Ekiti), Abubakar Nakraba (Nasarawa) and Ahmed Jaha (Borno).
While accusing the leadership of the ruling party of betraying the trust of the lawmakers through its sudden imposition of candidates, Wase lamented that the APC leadership did not even deem it fit to consult with them before taking its decision.
He said, “You recall in one of the meetings that you (Adamu) summoned us to the Villa with the vice president. You told us to step down and wait for a zoning arrangement. While doing that, as politicians, we slowed things but everybody continued the fight to get the favour of our colleagues. Some of us have also tried to reach out to Members of the NWC and critical stakeholders around the country to ensure that we have their buy-in.
“Unfortunately, you also told us to slow down further because of the governorship election so that the party will not be distracted while we wait for another meeting that will be convened. That meeting didn’t come to fruition. Those of us who are here aspiring were not called for that meeting. (Instead) what we saw on social media was (that position was) micro-zoned to particular individuals, saying these are the people that had been picked by the party.
“As I speak to you, Sir, I want to say categorically that none of us here was approached or consulted even for a second to seek our opinion on what was going to be done. While trying to convince ourselves it was one of the social media reports, we saw the spokesman of our party on television confirming that there was actual negotiation or consultation that resulted in the list (of consensus candidates) produced. It is unfortunate.
Speaking further, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, reiterated that he was subsequently to discover that the criterion deployed in the choice of Abbas was his PhD qualification and the number of bills sponsored.
The lawmaker also expressed disbelief that the president-elect was a party to the choice of consensus candidates announced by the APC.
Betara, another aspirant in the race, also expressed disappointment in the manner the ruling party handled its zoning arrangement.
According to him, he had done more than enough to deserve the respect of Tinubu and the party going by his loyalty to Gbajabiamila over the years.
Reacting to the complaints, the national chairman of the APC called for restraint and understanding, stressing that they are still consulting with stakeholders.
Adamu also argued that the party had previously warned many of the aspirants at a previous meeting to allow the president-elect, NWC members and other stakeholders to take a decision before raising their hope.
He noted, “We have listened to you and don’t intend to open discussions right now in respect of your submissions. When you listen to the release from this office, we did say very clearly that we would endeavour to do more consultations to carry with us the greater number of members of this great party.
“There is nothing we do that may not be challenged here and there. But let us be able to attend the best possible means to consult with people and give them their right to a fair hearing before we can say whether we are changing positions or not. We will re-invite all Senators and House of reps-elect in due course after the National Assembly election.’’