As the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Working Committee (NWC) members meet today to address some contentious internal issues, including the agitation over the choice of presiding officers of the next National Assembly, KUNLE ODEREMI writes on whether the matter will be finally laid to rest against the backdrop of the demands by the various zones to produce president of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
By the last count, 10 senators-elect are in the race for the position of president of the Senate of the 10th National Assembly. For the post of Speaker, House of Representatives, a total of 11 members-elect are chasing the seat currently occupied by Honourable Femi Gbajabiamiala. All the contestants for the exalted offices are drawn from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which has majority of seats from the last National Assembly elections. With both the North-East and the South-West technically knocked out of the race, the battle for president of the Senate and House Speaker is among the four other geopolitical zones: North-West, North-Central, South-South and the South-East. Thus, the campaign for the positions remains frenetic, with a few of the candidates said to have reached out to National Assembly members-elect on the platforms of the main opposition parties for support. This has also led to varying permutations and projections on what might determine the emergence of the presiding officers of the Senate and the House in June when the 10th National Assembly will be inaugurated. Today’s meeting of the major organ of APC in Abuja is one of many meetings coming against the backdrop of controversies over who gets what and utterances of the national vice chairman (North-West), Mallam Lukman Salisu over what he considered as the actions and inactions of the leadership of the party in the management and running of the APC.
The more fundamental issue at stake, at today’s meeting, is generally believed to be the modalities to be adopted by the party in determining who becomes the next president of the Senate and House Speaker. Whereas some inside sources in the party claimed that main stakeholders in the APC are favourably disposed to the option of consensus to pick successor of Ahmad Lawan as the president of the Senate, there is subdued resistance in the camps of contestants who crave for a level-playing field. Those said to be behind the consensus arrangement are looking towards the direction of ranking senators-elect from the South-South or the South-East. While the latter has had the privilege of producing most of the president of the Senate since 1999, the South-South has not enjoyed such advantage, Interestingly, the clamour for the South-South is boosted by the fact that, in the 2023 presidential poll, the zone gave more votes than the South-East to the APC.
For the post of House Speaker, most of the candidates hail from the North-West and the North-Central. Each of them is flaunting the fact that their zones gave APC a large number of votes to guarantee its victory in all the elections. Candidates from the two zones contend that the post of Speaker should come to them in appreciation of their loyalty expressed through the electorate, and that the APC should harness the immense human and material potentials of the areas, as well as act on the basis of equity, fairness and justice among the six zones.
The zones hinge their demand on the figures declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the general election. For instance, leaders from the North-Central said the area contributed significantly to the success of the APC during the presidential and National Assembly elections. One of the leaders was quoted to have said, “In fact, the APC won four out of the six states in the North Central. The zone gave Asiwaju Bola Tinubu 1, 670, 091 votes even more than what he got from the North East (1, 190, 458). The party lost in the North West states of Kebbi, Katsina, Kano, Kaduna and Sokoto. Accordingly, the major stakeholders insisted that the APC should adhere to the principles of equity, fairness and justice by zoning the post of speaker to the zone because, according to them, out of the zones that have occupied the seat, the North-Central has had the shortest stint, just three months, whereas all the other zones, including the South-South have held it for many years. They provided a historical perspective to the issue, noting that the only time the North Central produced Speaker was in 1983, when the National Party Nigeria (NPN) administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari won a second term and the late Honourable Akkai Chaha Biam from Benue State became House Speaker. But, he served from October to December of that year before the Shagari administration was toppled by military coup that terminated the Second Republic.
In the First Republic, Chief Jaja Wachukwu from the South-East became the first indigenous speaker shortly before Nigeria’s independence in 1959. He was succeeded by Ibrahim Jalo Waziri from the North East in 1960. In 1979, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) from the South-East between 1979 to 1983, while Agunwa Anaekwe from Anambra State in the South-East served as speaker between 1992 and 1993.From 1999 to 2007, the position was zoned to the North West with Salisu Buhari, Ghali Na’aba and Aminu Masari holding sway, just as between 2007 to 2011, the South West produced speakers in the persons of Honourable Dimeji Bankole and Patricia Olubunmi Etteh.
But from 2011 to 2015, current Governor of Sokoto State, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal from the North West was speaker; Yakubu Dogara from the North-East was in the saddle between 2015 and 2019. As APC leaders converge on Abuja to consider how to achieve a seamless process that will throw up a set of presiding officers in the Senate and the House, pundits believe they might spare a thought on a very important provision in the 1999 Constitution (as amended). One of such provisions is Section 14 (3), which provides that, “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies shall be carried out in a manner as to reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few ethnic or sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies, in order to command loyalty and peaceful coexistence.”
This provision forms the basis of the agitation by some entrenched interests in the APC that the party should concede the position of speaker to the North Central for the purpose of national cohesion, unity and development. Incidentally, two lawmakers from North Central in the race are Tunji Raheem (Kwara), Idris Wase (Plateau) and Yusuf Gagdi ( Plateau). Speaking on the issue, another contestant and member representing Ekiti, Isin, Irepodun and Oke-Ero Federal Constituency in the National Assembly of Kwara State, Abdulraheem Tunji Olawuyi, explained that zoning is usually done to establish a sense of belonging within a party. “We are all hoping that the party leadership would speak up and adopt one region in this zoning formula. You would agree with me that zoning arrangement in any political party is just done to carry every region along; to give every region some sense of belonging.” Will today’s NWC meeting of the ruling party bring an end to the weeks of suspense and mutual distrust and suspicion on the appropriate zoning arrangement to be adopted in the choice of the president of the Senate and the House Speaker?
The list of contenders for the office of president of the Senate are former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio; the senator-elect representing Imo West, Osita Izunaso, Orji Kalu (Abia North) and Patrick Ndubueze (Imo North); former governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari; Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Jibrin Barau; Sani Musa (Niger East) and the incumbent Senate President, Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North).
The contestants for the House speakership are the deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase; Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; Chairman, House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi; Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, Aliyu Betara; Chairman, House Committee on Science Research Institutes, Olaide Akinremi; Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu; and Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Land Transport, Tajudeen Abbas; Chairman, House Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, Abdulraheem Olawuyi; Chairman, House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli; deputy Chairman, House Committee on Defence, Makki Yalleman; Chairman, House Committee on PWDs, Miriam Onuoha; and Sani Jaji. Wase and Gagdi are from Plateau in the North-Central; Ado-Doguwa (Kano, North-West); Betara (Borno, North-East); Akinremi (Oyo, South-West); Kalu (Abia, South-East); Yalleman (Jigawa, North-West); Jaji (Zamfara, North-West); Soli (Katsina, North-West); Olawuyi (Kwara, North-Central); Abbas (Kaduna, North-West); and Onuoha is from Imo State in the South-East.
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