National Assembly Leadership Race: Who Wins?

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National Assembly Complex

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As the seventh National Assembly wounds down its activities on June 6, there is need for the incoming legislators to elect leaders who will shepherd the affairs of the legislature for another four years. Many candidates are already scheming to get the posts but they all have to test their popularity in an open contest when the new legislative term starts

By Olu Ojewale  | Jun 8, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

IT IS another time for politicking. But this time, it is solely the National Assembly affairs. After David Mark has led the Senate for eight years on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the upper legislative chamber needs a new president and so, the House of Representatives needs a new speaker to pilot the affairs of the National Assembly in the new administration. However, it is incumbent on the All Progressives Congress, APC, to produce these leaders as the party controls both the houses of the National Assembly.  Thus, the race for the coveted jobs is on and there are people who are now engaged in horse trading and political manoeuvring to realise their vaunted ambition.

In the Senate, the race seems to have narrowed down to be a straight contest between Ahmed Lawan and Bukola Saraki.  And in the House of Representatives, the race is also between Femi Gbajabiamila of Lagos State and Abdulmumuni Jibrin from Kano State.

As the time for the seventh assembly to bow out June 6, draws near, the battle for the Senate promises to be as fierce as it can be. At the end of a two-day retreat organised by the APC, for senators elected under the platform of the party, the two major contenders formally emerged on Saturday 23.

Mark
Mark

Saraki, former governor of Kwara State, was said to be leading having secured the support of 34 senators from his party. He also enjoys the support of some senators from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Former governor Godswill Akapbio of Akwa Ibom State, recently led a number of freshly elected senators to pay an homage to Saraki and also offered their support to him.

Giving confidence to Saraki to clinch the post is a group known as “Like Mind Senators.” At the end of the retreat, the ‘like mind senators’ addressed a press conference which announced that out of the 59 APC the group had endorsement of 35 senators. The remaining 24 were said to be in the camp of Lawan, who also has the support of a group, called “Senate Unity Forum.”

Dino Melaye, a senator-elect, who addressed the press on behalf of the ‘Like Mind Senators’ displayed to the media a document which he said contained the signatures of 35 senators who agreed to support Saraki. Emphasising his point, Melaye said: “Of the 59 senators of the APC, 35 of us present here today hereby reaffirm our collective commitment and resolution to ensure that the candidature of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki as the Senate President of the eighth Assembly.” He also disclosed that the deputy to Saraki would come from the North-East, although no name was mentioned, Ndume was tipped as a strong contender.

Melaye’s address came shortly after the ‘Senate Unity Forum’ also addressed the media where it announced that Akume, former governor of Benue, had stepped down for Lawan, a senator from Yobe State, in exchange for being selected as deputy Senate  president.

Addressing the press on behalf of the Senate Unity Forum, Barnabas Gemade, former national chairman of the PDP and senator-elect of the APC, said that the group had adopted a joint ticket of Lawan and Akume to lead the eighth Senate. “All senators-elect across the political divide in the yet to be inaugurated Senate are already identifying with the team, especially those in APC. In terms of the experience, we have been telling our distinguished colleagues across party lines that the Lawan-Akume ticket will provide the nation with the much desired legislative know-how because Lawan is going to be the highest ranking APC senator in the Eighth Assembly. Senator Akume is a former governor and a legislator in the last eight years. He is the minority leader,” Gemade said.

Saraki
Saraki

While Saraki is counting on the support of the likes of Andy Uba and Akpabio, his former colleagues in the PDP before defecting to APC in 2013, Lawan is reputed to enjoy the backing of Bola Tinubu, APC national leader and former governor of Lagos State.

Although the APC has repeatedly said it was not interested in zoning of candidates for any post, it appears that the Senate members of the party has succeeded in zoning the contest to the North Central. Analysts say both Saraki and Lawan are eminently qualified to lead the eight Senate of the federal republic. The contest between Saraki and Lawan is one contest with expected intrigues as both of them share a common background having also defected from the PDP at certain points in their political trajectory. Perhaps, the only advantage Lawan has over Saraki is that he is one of the veterans and highly respected member of the upper chambers of the National Assembly. This, some analysts say may tip the contest in favour especially with endorsements coming to him from various groups and individuals.

The contest in the House of Representatives for the speaker is no less intriguing.  On Monday, May 25, Yakubu Dogara, an APC legislator from Bauchi State, announced that he had the support of 213 members. Consolidation Group, an association promoting the candidacy of the lawmaker, which made the announcement of the endorsement of Dogara, said that it secured the signatures of the 213 supporters. “Our membership is drawn from all political parties and from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. We are determined to unite the Eight House and consolidate on the achievements of the Seventh Assembly under the leadership of our most able and amiable leader, Aminu Tambuwal,” a statement signed by Babangida Mahuta, also elected member said.

Also in the race are Gbajabiamila, Lagos State; Pally Iriase, Edo State; Mohammed Monguno, Borno State and Abdulmumuni Jibrin, Kano State.

On April 27, Gbajabiamila, a current minority leader of the House, and Jibrin formally wrote their colleagues on why they want to run the affairs of the eighth Assembly.

Gbajabiamila in his letter explained that in January 2010, he struck the deafening silence of his colleagues across party lines on the impending leadership vacuum created by absence of the late President Umar Yar’adua who travelled to Saudi Arabia for medical help under doubtful circumstances. Consequently, Gbajabiamila was the first and only legislator to move a motion on the floor of the House for invocation of doctrine of necessity that eventually led to elevation of Goodluck Jonathan from vice-president to acting president of Federal Republic of Nigeria. Gbajabiamila also turned down the national award of OFR conferred on him on the ground that the abused rewarding system in Nigeria needed reform first.

Lawan
Lawan

The legislator recalled some of his achievements and his position in the House until date. Over the past 12 years, Gbajabiamila said his legislative focus covered employee rights, local content in construction, industry, vocational schools, economic stimulus, interest-free students loans and constitutional reform. He promised to do greater things if elected.

On his part, Jibrin in his letter also told his colleagues to help deepen democracy in Nigeria with his three-point legislative agenda. He promised to disclose all the allowances of representatives and adopt transparency as his guiding principle if elected speaker.

However, a recent bid by the leadership of the party to garner massive endorsement of Gbajabiamila at the APC retreat for legislatures in Abuja failed woefully on May 26. It was learnt that new members who attended the retreat kicked against the endorsement.

Consequently, many of them were reportedly asked to vacate their rooms in the hotel where they were lodged for the event immediately the programme ended.

An unnamed influential chieftain from the South-West was said to be responsible for picking the hotel bills. But when the legislators revolted against endorsing Gbajabiamila, they were asked to vacate their rooms immediately after the retreat which ended late on Tuesday, May 26.

Halliru D. Jika, a member-elect of the House from Bauchi State, told journalists that he came to Abuja from Bauchi for the retreat and was billed to return home on Wednesday, May 27, but was shocked when he was asked by the hotel management to vacate his room.

Gbajabiamila
Gbajabiamila

“I am shocked that after the retreat ended by 6pm, I went back to my room only to be told to vacate,” Jika, a former speaker of Bauchi State House of Assembly, said. “They lodged us without even complimentary breakfast and members are stranded now. What have we done to warrant this from our party leaders?” he queried

However, ahead of the retreat, Mongonu, hitherto a contender in the speakership race, announced at a press conference in Abuja that he had withdrawn from the race for Gbajabiamaila and would wish to be his deputy.

From all indications, the race promises to be a contest between Gbajabiamila and Jibrin. But whoever emerges among them has the blessing of the party hierarchy, especially President Mohammadu Buhari, who again said in statement on Wednesday, May 27: “I am prepared to work with any leaders that the House or Senate selects. It doesn’t matter who the person is or where he or she is from.” So, it now incumbent on the National Assembly to choose wisely those who will represent them and help strengthen the nation’s democracy.

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