Abuja — The battle for leadership of the 9th Senate got tougher, yesterday, with former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, vowing to continue with his Senate presidency aspiration despite pressures from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, leaders.
Currently, there are three front-runners for the Senate presidency -- Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North-East), Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central) and Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South). There are pressures on Goje and Ndume to drop their ambitions and back Lawan, who has been endorsed by APC leaders and President Muhammadu Buhari.
National Chairman of the APC, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, said penultimate week that the APC has the majority in the Senate and does not need the support of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to produce any of the principal officers. The National Working Committee, NWC, of the APC is yet to zone the other principal offices, leading to a rat race of sorts among aspirants from practically all the six geo-political zones of the country for the seats, especially in the House of Representatives.
Some PDP senators are insisting on the independence of the legislature and have vowed to oppose any candidate sponsored by the APC hierarchy. Some of them said yesterday, that Lawan is a good man but they may not vote for him because of Oshiomhole's outbursts.
Conversely, some APC governors have been lobbying lawmakers to back Lawan, who was the party's choice for the National Assembly top job in 2015 when he lost out to incumbent Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
No stepping down, Ndume vows
Yesterday, Ndume, whose campaign group has started lobbying first-term senators, told reporters after a closed-door meeting with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja,that he was not stepping down for anyone.
Ndume's remarks elicited immediate response from the APC, which told the senator that the issues on ground were bigger than him.
The meeting started at about 3.20pm, when Ndume arrived the Vice President's office.
The Borno State-born politician is seen as a detribalised person and appears to have the support of some senators across party lines, though his opposition to some policies of Senate President, Bukola Saraki appears to be the obstacle he may face in achieving his dreams.
After the closed-door meeting, Senator Ndume declined to talk to State House correspondents that waited to know the outcome of his meeting with the Vice-President.
He said that he was still consulting and would not make any comments on the meeting.
Asked whether he would succumb to pressure by his party to step down for Senator Lawan, he rhetorically asked: "Me, step down? I am still consulting."
Told that he had become the opposition bride, he also replied, "Me, who is regarded as enemy by the opposition?"
Senator Ndume was suspended as Senate leader because of his opposition to the non-confirmation of Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and his loyalty to President Buhari. He was Director of APC Presidential Campaign in the North-East geo-political zone in the last elections.
Pro-Ndume group woo first- term senators
As the battle for the office of Senate top job hots up, a group, National Coalition in the Defence of Democracy, NCDD, has shifted its focus to first-term senators to enlist their support for the aspiration of Ndume.
At a news conference in Abuja, yesterday, National Coordinator of the Coalition, Amb. Auwal Gama, said the group recently met in Lagos with all its state co-ordinators and the national executives to present a report on the just-concluded general election and the way forward.
According to him, the coalition observed among other things that one of the reasons the administration of President Buhari did not meet the expectations of many Nigerians in the areas of infrastructure and human development was the sour relationship between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government.
"This has created setbacks in the areas of full implementation of the budget and alteration on key intended projects by the government," he said.
As a result, he said "the National Coalition in Defence of Democracy, in its wisdom felt the need to call on the newly-elected members of the upper chamber of the National Assembl,y irrespective of the political party to consider Senator Ndume, a three-term Senator from Borno South Senatorial District, Borno State, a patriot, a detribalized Nigerian and an experienced member of the National Assembly, who has contributed to the growth of our democracy for the position of the President of the Senate."
Issues on ground bigger than Ndume -- APC
Reacting to Ndume's comments, the APC asked him to subsume his personal interest in the interest of the party, saying "the issue on ground is bigger," than the ranking Borno lawmaker.
National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu expressed optimism that the former Senate Leader would kowtow to the dictates of the party.
"The issue on ground is bigger than Ndume and the party will not put itself on the same pedestal and start exchanging words with him. Though I am not privy to what they discussed there (Villa) and what will make him to do that, but there is no point heating up the polity now. As a party, we will continue to do what we have to do and we hope all our members understand the need for our party's interest to take precedence over any individual interest," he said.
In an earlier interview, Issa-Onilu said the party would not hesitate to wield the big stick on any lawmaker, who goes against its position on the National Assembly leadership.
According to him, Ndume was merely expressing his democratic rights but he must subscribe to the dictates of the party.
"The day he subscribed to be a member of the APC, he signed off to abide by the dictates of the party and we take what has happened in the last 24 hours as an expression of how badly the news hit him, but we are also conscious of the fact that Senator Ndume is a respected member of the APC, he is a leader in this party and we know he knows the right thing to do and on whose side he rightly belongs and that also includes any other person who has such grievances," Issa-Onilu added..
PDP senators to dump Lawan
Meanwhile, there are strong indications, yesterday, that senators elected on the platform of the PDP may have resolved to dump Lawan and support a candidate who would protect their interests and independence of the Senate.
A ranking PDP senator who spoke with Vanguard yesterday said Senator Lawan is a perfect gentleman who should be supported by all, but for the outburst of the APC National Chairman, Oshiomhole that it will be a situation of winner-takes-all, they were ready to throw their weight behind another person who may not been seen as a party candidate.
According to the senator, "Lawan has reached out to us, but we have told him to reach out to others and his party that is not projecting him very well. He has good chances of becoming the Senate President with his experience as the longest serving lawmaker in the National Assembly, but you know that interest must come in. Do we have to look for and support the Senate President who will carry us along? We have the number and when we swing the number to someone, that person will win. The APC can go ahead and bring Lawan, if we feel that he will punish us, we will not support him. Oshiomhole had said that PDP senators will suffer and die and we do not want to suffer and die.
"Mind you, the APC National Chairman is not coming to vote or dictate to us, we can nominate anyone outside Lawan and give him the votes. We are not representing Oshiomhole, we are senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, representing our people, our constituents; we are not school children, some of us are former governors like him, former deputy governors, former party chairmen, former ministers, very educated Nigerians, successful businessmen and women, among others. We shall see when we get there."
The PDP senators as gathered may be supporting Ndume who is not the candidate of the party.
PDP senators split; prefer Goje
A source told Vanguard that the PDP Senators were already divided and this was because a camp of the PDP Senators want the former governor of Gombe State and Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central)
According to the PDP Senators, it had become imperative to ensure that they back other persons outside Lawan because the APC National Chairman believes that the Senators are some boys that he could threaten, adding that the nomination and voting would take place on the floor of the chamber and not the National Secretariat of APC or the residence of APC National Chairman.
Oshiomhole had penultimate week when he addressed 164 members-elect insisted that apart from Minority Leader and the statutory Public Account Committee chairmanship position, no member of the PDP would be allowed to hold any position.
Warning that the ruling party will do everything possible to forestall the recurrence of the mistake of the 8th Assembly in 2015, he said: "Somebody told me the opposition party people are already doing something, raising money to bribe people and I said no, we are anti-corruption, we cannot be corrupted. If they bring N1 billion to each member, PDP person will not be Speaker, a PDP person will not be Deputy Speaker, a PDP person will not be Whip, a PDP person will not be Leader and a PDP person will not take any of the committees that are meant for the ruling party. We are determined to achieve that and be rest assured that the party will stand by you.
"We have the numbers to produce the Speaker and we will produce the Speaker, who must be a member of the APC. We have the numbers to produce the Deputy Speaker and we will use the numbers to produce the Deputy Speaker, who must be a member of the APC. We have the number and we must use the numbers to elect a House Leader who must be a member of APC. We have the numbers and we will use the numbers to produce a Chief Whip and a Deputy Whip, who must be members of the APC. I think the only position that we are not interested in is the Minority Leader. Let it remain minor in the hands of the minors in the opposition."
However, former governor of Benue State and a Senator-Elect, Gabriel Suswam (PDP, Benue North); Governor of Ogun State and Senator-elect, Ibikunle Amosun (APC, Ogun Central); and former Governor of Abia State and Senator-elect, Orji Kalu (APC, Abia North), among others, yesterday, bared their minds on what should be done ahead of the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly.
They spoke separately in Abuja while answering questions from journalists at the on-going orientation programme for Senators-Elect and Members of the House of Representatives-elect of the yet to be inaugurated 9th National Assembly.
Lawan, a gentleman, but is being imposed - Suswam
Senator-elect, Gabriel Suswam who said that the APC has not learned from the past, especially what played out in 2015, stressed that Senator Lawan is a perfect gentleman, but with what the APC and its National Chairman are saying, there are strong indications that they want to impose him on senators.
He said: "From my experience, I think the ruling party should have learned from their past experience. Since 1999, it has always been an issue when names are thrown up. Those names are usually rejected even if the candidates are well-qualified members of the National Assembly. It is even too early for the APC to bring up names. When subterranean moves are made from outside and produce a presiding officer, there is likelihood and tendency that some members would stoutly object to it. There might likely be surprises even within the APC because there are lots of resistance. We are talking to a lot of them. They are just keeping quiet but what would happen on the floor will be different because we the ones who are going to vote. People who are bringing up names will not vote. So, you should expect anything but that is not to say that the people whose names have been bandied are not qualified.
"Ahmad Lawan has been a federal lawmaker since 1999, he is very versed and experienced. I wouldn't mind him as a senate president but because he is appearing as if there is an imposition, people are beginning to question him. Ordinarily, Lawan is a complete gentleman who should be senate president but the fact that people are feeling that he is the party's choice is a factor. The same thing is affecting Femi Gbajabiamila who has been in the House for a long time. He is a very experienced lawmaker who will make a very good speaker but the fact that members believe that he is the party's choice will lead to resistance. That is how it has been happening since 1999.
"The three people who are contesting the senate presidency are all APC members and whoever emerges will be loyal. It is the impression of an imposition that is a problem. I was in the House of Representatives for eight years and there was no time that the person nominated by the party became the presiding officer. We are all matured and people want to freely express themselves; after all we are equal."
Save APC from division, Kalu begs APC NWC
Former governor Kalu who pleaded with the APC not to cause any division, said: "I am a very loyal party member and since the APC has already zoned the position of the senate president to the North-East, it is left for the senators from that region to produce somebody. I cannot contest against such candidate because I would not want to disobey my party.
"However, what I am saying is that they should zone the deputy senate position to the South-East so that I will not disobey the party by contesting the office of the senate president which I have the capacity to contest. As the APC has zoned the position of the senate president to the North East, they should as well, zone the position of the deputy senate president to the South East so that I can contest with whoever is contesting from the South-East or our caucus from the zone will go and meet in order to produce a consensus candidate.
"So, I am pleading with the NWC and other APC leaders to save the party from any form of division. We should maintain the unity between us as loyal party members. The views expressed by Senator Kabiru Gaya that zones with the highest numbers of votes should produce the presiding officers are not fair and it did not represent the position of the party leaders."
Also in her remarks, Mrs. Akon Etim Ejakenyi, Senator Akwa Ibom, said, "By convention, the presiding officers are expected to be ranking officers it is therefore left for us to study the three persons that have so far indicated their interest to contest the offices and do proper assessment on them. Leadership carries with it, a lot of things. If the leaders chose to lead the National Assembly doesn't have what it takes, it therefore means we are going to have a chaotic sessions. We have been told that it would be by secret ballot and the exercise would be properly conducted.
Principle of separation of powers must not be compromised - Amosun
On his part, Amosun said: "Every senator has the right to contest any position so far they are qualified. In the eight assembly, the two parties are being represented. The APC produced the senate president while the position of the deputy senate president was won by the PDP. I think it's a good arrangement because it achieved balance in the country's political equation. If the ninth assembly will do the same, I will strongly buy into it. So far, the final decision has not been taken on it."
He added: "The executive and the legislative arm should work together without compromising the principles of separation of powers. I am ready to work with my colleagues all over Nigeria so that we can take our country to the next level."