By Soni Daniel, Emman Ovuakporie, Johnbosco Agbarakwu & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—The contest for the leadership positions in the National Assembly, last night, stretched out for the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, which battled to contain a rebellion in its ranks.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, apparently aiming to cause maximum damage for the new ruling party, was itself positioning to enter the fray as a united body in the leadership contests against the fractured APC.
Pleas by the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, for unity at a press conference, yesterday afternoon, were snubbed by supporters of Senator Bukola Saraki who is aspiring for the Senate Presidency and those of Yakubu Dogara for Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Upon that snub, the party hierarchy brought Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo into the fray through a meeting with the Reps-elect and senators-elect.
The Dogara group was quick to dismiss that meeting with a pledge not to attend, saying there was little political distance between the vice-president and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who they claimed had railroaded the leadership to endorse Femi Gbajabiamila as the sole party candidate for the position.
However, the vice-president did not turn up and was represented by the party chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
Tinubu and the party leadership were also pushing the aspiration of Senator Ahmad Lawan upon the endorsement of the Yobe North third term senator at the party caucus last Saturday.
Last minute deals
Supporters of Senator Lawan on their part after a meeting at about 8.30 p.m. last night, were said to have resolved to personally approach Saraki to keep the unity of the party and step down. The peace mission to Saraki was, however, yet to see Saraki as it was learnt that the Kwara strongman had become unreachable.
Meanwhile, Dogara’s aspiration which appeared to lose momentum at the weekend following the controversies that trailed the primary caucus, seemed to have recovered following the intervention of two serving governors in the Northwest formerly in the House of Representatives. The support of the governors, it was learnt, were also dousing religious sensibilities after it appeared that many Muslim members-elect had ditched him on account of his Christian background. The support of the Northwest governors including a former powerful official in the House of Representatives emboldened the Dogara camp to insist on taking the battle to the House floor.
The Dogara camp was also banking on the House rules which provides for secret voting, a situation they claimed, yesterday, would allow their closest supporters to vote for him since the votes cannot be traced.
Dogara’s momentum was, however, tempered by the decision of a Federal High Court in Abuja to remove Gbajabiamila’s name from the contest upon alleged infractions committed in the United States. The court rather asked that Gbajabiamila be put on notice for the case coming up on June 18.
That decision nonetheless, the Dogara camp spread out word that they cannot afford to have a presiding officer who would be parading the court.
Meanwhile, the aspirations of both Gbajabiamila and Dogara were also being threatened with the alleged plot by the immediate past Deputy House Leader, Rep. Leo Ogor to enter the race for either the position of speaker or deputy speaker.
PDP joins the fray
Meanwhile, the PDP which had earlier pledged to stay out of the tussle entered the fray in different ways last night. PDP senators-elect and members-elect, it was learnt, were determined to enter today’s contest as a united body, putting the minority body which commands 49 of the 108 senators-elect in a decisive position to determine the outcome. PDP governors and immediate former governors including some who have now entered the Senate were also rallying to present a united front in today’s election.
The governors of the two major parties have, meanwhile, descended fully into the race.
Speaking at a press conference in Abuja, yesterday, Odigie-Oyegun during a terse press conference where he refused to take questions, affirmed that members elected on the APC’s platform had already taken a decision on whom to elect as Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
According to him, the incoming lawmakers out of their own volition on Saturday organized a mock election that produced Senator Lawan (Yobe State) as candidate for the Senate president and Gbajabiamila from Lagos State as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
He reminded the lawmakers that the party provided the platform upon which they got elected and not the other way round.
“I want to appeal to APC members of the National Assembly, both Senate and the House of Representatives to please respect the party, the views of the party and the decision that they themselves took in selecting the persons that will be presented to the National Assembly as presiding officers: The House of Representatives level, Gbajabiamila and at the Senate level, Lawan.
“I want to make it quite clear that all the party did was to provide the platform for all elected members of the party. No other person joined them in stating their preferences. It is still left for the house itself to elect their own leaders, and the house is made up of both APC and non-APC members.
“But we, the APC, thought rightly in my view that we should provide a platform for our members of the National Assembly to state their preferences for the key offices in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This they have freely done by themselves in the presence of the party leadership and almost the entire NWC.
“But it seems that some of the aspirants are not satisfied with the preferences of the majority of the members either of the House or the Senate. So, for me and the NWC, this is an appeal that no individual interest should be allowed to override the interest of the party as a whole. Members contested on the platform of the party, and the party did not contest on the platform of members. So the party’s views and method of doing things should be respected.
“My appeal is that they respect the arrangement that has been made by the party, that they respect the views expressed in a secret vote that the majority of the members of the House of Representatives and their senior colleagues, the Senate and let peace be.
“We have preached change and you cannot undertake change with a flip. The change must start with the conduct of members of the party themselves. The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo will also address members of both houses, and I hope that thereafter, peace will prevail.”
However, the Dogara and Saraki camps snubbed the invitation of the vice-president.
Govs rally PDP senators
Meanwhile, two former governors from the South-South and the Southeast were said to be rallying the PDP senators ahead of today’s contest.
The attention of the President was said to have been drawn to the activity of the two former governors before he departed Nigeria for the G7 meeting in Germany.
Apparently not being able to proffer a response to the development, the president is said to have referred the matter to the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Tinubu, and asked him to take steps to douse the tension being generated over the election of the two principal officers.
However, while Tinubu has waded into the matter with a view to ensuring that the APC produces the two leaders in the NASS, key loyalists of the president, were said to be peeved that many senators and House of Representatives members on the platform of the party had openly revolted against the party.
A top source told Vanguard last night that the affected men would be made to face some disciplinary actions to be decided at the highest level of the party.
“We are sure that some of them would be made to sight their report cards with the new EFCC to be put in place by the president, which will not tolerate graft in any form.
The feeling seems to be that the name of a former military officer being suggested as the chairman of the anti-corruption agency is already sending shock waves to some of the political actors in the country and they may not like to be caught on the wrong side of history,” the source explained.