Abuja — The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may face a major crisis in the election of the leadership of the ninth National Assembly as one of the aspirants for the office of the Senate President, Senator Ali Ndume, yesterday faulted the adoption of the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, by the party leadership.
On its part, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senate Caucus yesterday said every senator-elect is constitutionally empowered to aspire to be Senate President, when it is inaugurated in June.
Also, the main opposition party has described as "laughable and empty grandstanding," President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Chairman of the APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole's posturing, suggesting that the presiding offices and committee chairmanship of the National Assembly were exclusive rights of the APC.
Ndume (APC Borno South) told newsmen at his Apo Legislative Quarters in Abuja that the disclosure by the APC national chairman, on Monday night, endorsing Lawan as president of the 9th Senate and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives was not only embarrassing but unconstitutional.
He said: "What took place at the presidential dinner in Aso Rock on Monday night, where Oshiomhole as party chairman, announced Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as president of the ninth Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively was very shocking to me and many of my colleagues.
"Oshiomhole in making the announcement or endorsement, did not even allow myself or senators Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central) and Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West), widely known to be in the race for the position to say anything.
"More disturbing was the fact that even Senator Lawan endorsed for the position, was not allowed to make any comment in form of acceptance speech or soliciting for support from other interested senators."
According to him, such endorsement is at variance with provisions of Section 50 (1a) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The provision of the constitution states: "There shall be a President and Deputy President of the Senate who shall be elected by the members of that house from among themselves."
He emphasised that by provisions of the Constitution, neither Oshiomhole nor Buhari or any party leader, has the right to force on elected senators or members of the House of Representatives, their presiding officers.
Ndume added that the party that was expected to have learnt her lessons from the June 2015 experience is threading the similar path.
According to him, since 1999, there was no time leadership was imposed on any of the chambers of the National Assembly without repercussion.
He said: "If you look at the history of the National Assembly, such action, normally do not go down well with members. In 1999, Evans Enwerem was imposed, he did not last. After that Wabara was also imposed and he did not also last. The PDP that was then accused of impunity did not do what the APC did yesterday.
"In 2003, PDP showed wisdom by opening up the contest by just zoning the position to the North-central and that led to the contest between David Mark and George Akume. Because that process was democratic, David Mark lasted two terms peacefully. I don't think what happened yesterday has improved on the process but rather, worsened it.
"For the sake of cohesion and stability among party members as regards aspirations for such positions, what was expected from the party leadership, was to just zone the positions and allow contenders within each of the zones to sort it out either through consensus or shadow election.
"The 109 elected senators and 360 House of Representatives members are the constitutional kingmakers as far as the emergence of presiding officers of both chambers are concerned and not national chairman of a ruling party or even the president."
Ndume said he has a vision for the Senate because the Senate had drifted and is drifting to a position where it will not be able to serve its purpose.
"The Senate is supposed to be an institution of 109 senators to fashion out ways of stabilising the polity. It is not fair for somebody to appoint a leader for leaders. The leaders are supposed to appoint who should be their leader. The Senate president is supposed to be the President of the Senate not senators' president. Now, we are again getting a senators' president; but this country needs a senate president," he added.
Ndume, a former Senate leader, however, said his loyalty to the party and in particular, Buhari, has not been affected by the unpopular decision of Oshiomhole.
He said: "I don't even believe that President Buhari was in the know of what Oshiomhole did because he didn't make any comment on leadership of the ninth Assembly at the dinner but only greeted us before the organizers of the programme hurriedly called for rendition of the National Anthem.
"We all left the place in shock and disbelief but my commitment and loyalty to the party remains."
He further explained that he would consult with party elders from his home state, Borno, and his colleagues, who encouraged him to join the race on the next line of action, saying: "It is not over until the Almighty Allah makes final decision on who becomes President of the 9th Senate on the day of inauguration."
"I am now leaving this for God and for my people that elected me. I am going home (Borno State) right away to consult with the elders who encouraged me to vie for the position. So, I will engage in consultations before I take the final position. But, I want to say that the party has taken a position and I ultimately await the decision of the Almighty God and that of my colleagues."
APC Threatens Disciplinary Action against Ndume
Meanwhile, the APC has said it would invoke disciplinary measures on any of its members found opposing or working against the decision of the party on the choice of the National Assembly leadership.
Speaking to THISDAY on the statement issued by Ndume, rejecting the party's endorsement of Senator Ahmed Lawan for the Senate presidency post, the party's National Publicity Secretary, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu said any such move would attract sanctions.
APC also reacted to another statement by the PDP that it would not accept imposition of National Assembly leadership, saying that the opposition has no choice in the matter.
The APC spokesman said the party does not expect any of its members to oppose its position on the zoning of leadership positions in legislative chambers.
He said: "If Ndume actually understands democracy, with due respect to the number of years he has spent in the National Assembly as a lawmaker, he should realise that we are practicing presidential system of government.
"That would amount to indiscipline and our party's constitution is very clear on indiscipline. The party has taken a position and anybody we presented for election and who has won an election on the platform of the APC is duty bound, morally bound and status bound to comply with what the party has decided.
"When you go against that position of the party, it amounts to indiscipline and our rules are clear on the supremacy of the party."
Explaining how the party arrived at the decision to endorse Lawan, Onilu said consultations were made at the highest level of the party's leadership caucus.
He said that after consulting with top leaders, the party also had to present its position to the president for his input and advice.
According to him what happened was that all the leadership organs including the governors elected on the party platform were consulted before the decision to endorse Lawan was taken.
Regarding PDP's position on the choice of National Assembly leadership, Onilu said that if the opposition party has any objection to APC's decision it has to wait to defeat it on the floor of the legislative chambers.
"And what that means is that the party that produced a majority in the National Assembly also will produce leaders in the place. So all the positions that are due to the party, with majority belongs to APC, and PDP has no role whatsoever to play in choice of the Senate president, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and other leadership positions in the National Assembly," he stated.
PDP Senate Caucus Says All Senators-elect Can Contest Senate Presidency
But the PDP Senate Caucus yesterday added its voice to the issue, saying all senators-elect are eligible to contest for the position of Senate president, when the ninth Senate is inaugurated in June.
The caucus in a statement jointly signed by the Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi, and the Chairman of Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Dino Melaye, explained that it is the right of every senator to aspire to the position as stipulated in the 1999 constitution (as amended).
According to the statement, it is the duty of all senators in the Ninth Senate to elect their Senate President and other leaders, saying nobody from outside the Senate has such powers.
The caucus also advised APC to stop dragging the name of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, into the scheming by senators-elect of the ruling party over the leadership of the 9th Senate.
It warned that such surreptitious attempts to drag Saraki into the issue that does not concern him would not augur well for the smooth take-off of the next Senate and could only create suspicion and ill-will among the incumbent senators and the incoming ones.
The statement added: "We have noted with regret and surprise how some senators who are interested in becoming the next Senate president and those seeking to occupy various leadership positions in the next Senate have been busy dragging the name of the Saraki, into their schemes for fulfilling their ambitions. We believe those involved in this dirty game are only afraid of the shadow of the Senate president.
"Such people should know that Dr. Saraki is not interested in their plots, schemes and manipulation. His concern now is to continue to provide leadership to the Eighth Senate and to ensure that the Senate achieves as much as it is possible in the remaining two months of its tenure.
"It is obvious that many senators and even senators-elect still defer to Saraki. And this is understandable because he is a national leader of the PDP. He is a respected senator, who has also provided solid leadership for the Senate. So, those who are afraid of his influence should find a positive way to deal with that, not sponsoring falsehood in the media."
PDP: All Lawmakers Can Contest N'Assembly Leadership Positions
Also reacting to the issue, the main opposition party, PDP, said yesterday that its elected senators and members of the House of Representatives are constitutionally eligible and can seek election into any presiding office of both chambers of the National Assembly.
The party in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said that Buhari and Oshiomhole should wake up to the fact that the National Assembly belongs to no political party but to all Nigerians, who exercise their control through their elected representatives.
He stressed that the PDP does not only have a constitutional say in the process of the emergence of the leadership of the ninth National Assembly, but would, as a matter of constitutional right, field candidates into presiding offices of both chambers, if need be.
According to him, "It is therefore laughable and amounts to empty grandstanding and self-delusion for President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, to posture as if the presiding offices and Committee Chairmanship in the National Assembly are exclusive rights of the APC."
The PDP cautioned Buhari, Oshiomhole and the APC to respect the independence of the legislature, end their imposition plot and sowing of seeds of discord among the lawmakers, as such is directly against our overall national interest.
The party stated: "The position of the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives as well as the Deputy Senate President and the Deputy Speaker are not the exclusive preserves of any political party, but a constitutional right of every elected lawmaker in both chambers.
"For emphasis, Section 50 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is clear in providing that there shall be: (a) a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves; and (b) a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves,
"Section 92 (1) makes the same provision for the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of State House of Assembly.
"The PDP wishes to remind President Buhari and Oshiomhole that the APC had in the past benefited from the provisions of section 50, with the defection of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal from the PDP to the APC, in October 2014, without relinquishing the speakership of the House to the PDP; a development that was applauded by President Buhari, as then opposition leader as well as the APC, through its then National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed."
Ologbondiyan stressed that the former Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, echoed the constitutional provision that "the constitution requires only that the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be elected by members of that House from among themselves."
He explained further that in June 2015, Hon. Terkimbi Ikyange and Hon. Peter Azi, both of APC, were elected Speakers of Benue and Plateau State Houses of Assembly respectively, though their party, the APC, was minority in both Houses.