Abuja — For the All Progressives Congress' (APC) official candidate for the Senate presidency in ninth Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, the coast became clearer yesterday as one of the main contenders, Senator Danjuma Goje, bowed out of the race after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Goje explained to State House Correspondents that he was standing down out of respect for the president and the party that had proclaimed Lawan as its candidate for the top job of the National Assembly.
But it's not all clear for Lawan, as the other contender, Senator Ali Ndume, quickly reacted to the development yesterday and said in a statement that he remained in the race and was confident of breasting the tape.
Goje had gone to the Villa in company with Lawan, who was the majority leader of the eight Senate that was dissolved yesterday, and the Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nazir el-Rufai.
According to sources close to the discussions, the meeting was in fulfilment of Goje's condition that before he could withdraw from the race, he must hear directly from Buhari.
With the condition met yesterday he had no more straw to cling to, and had to stand down.
Consequently, Goje, who represents Gombe Central Senatorial District, threw his weight behind Lawan of Yobe North Senatorial District.
Speaking with State House correspondents after the meeting, el-Rufai said the former governor had agreed to fully quit the race for the number one seat in the National Assembly and support Lawan, thanking him for the sacrifice he had opted to make.
El-Rufai also said Goje's decision to withdraw his ambition and support Lawan was meant to strengthen the unity of the party.
He said: "Gentlemen of the press, I am very pleased to report to you that we just came out of a meeting with our leader and mentor, the president, with distinguished Senator Danjuma Goje, and Ahmad Lawan from Yobe to discuss steps to unify our leadership in the National Assembly, starting with the Senate.
"I am very pleased to announce that distinguished Senator Goje has agreed to fully endorse and support the choice of the party and that of Mr. President to lead the Senate. I am very grateful to Senator Goje for his sacrifice. This discussion has been going on for a very long time and am honoured to be part of the discussions."
Confirming his withdrawal, Goje thanked his supporters whom he said had been persuading him to throw his hat in the ring, saying he was left with no option than to withdraw from the race in deference to pleas from party leaders and in expression of his loyalty to the party.
He also said he opted to withdraw from the race in the overall quest for the unity of the party as well as the necessity to assist the president in his policies for the development of the country.
Goje said: "Before I proceed, I want to use this opportunity to thank my teeming associates, supporters and admirers across the country. Some have been calling me to declare for the Senate presidency.
"The calls have come from across the country. I listened to them. I appreciate them and thank them so much, but I want to say that as an elderly man that has been in this game for a long time and my age, I should be able to appreciate leadership coming from our elders.
"So, in spite of all these calls and my support base, I have decided in deference to loyalty to our party and in the interest of the unity of our party, the APC, and the development of our country and in order to assist President Muhammadu Buhari in his policies, I have decided by not declaring for Senate presidency. Instead, I am supporting the position of the party, thereby endorsing the candidature of Ahmad Lawan."
Asked if succumbing to pressure from party leaders to withdraw his ambition does not amount to compromising the independence of the legislature to choose its own leaders, Goje said he was not intimidated out of the race.
He also said he was not forced out of the race, neither did his withdrawal for Lawan amount to the latter's imposition on the Senate, explaining rather that his decision was taken from the depth of his own conviction in the interest of the country and his support for Buhari.
According to him, "I don't think there is any imposition. I am not compelled to step down but as a reasonable person and at my age, I think I have the capacity to think well and to respect my elders and my party.
"I have been in party politics since the Second Republic and I have been independent. I have been winning my elections several times, from local government to house of assembly, to National Asssembly, to governorship and also a minister, to say that I would be frightened to support somebody, it's impossible.
"I am supporting him based on my own conviction that I am doing the right thing for our country and our president."
Lawan expressed gratitude to Buhari and el-Rufai whom he described as the architects of the move, describing it as another step aimed at boosting the unity of the party.
According to Lawan, yesterday was a great and remarkable day for him, saying his endorsement by Goje would further foster the unity of the Senate.
He said the resolve of the APC is to go for the election of the Senate president on Tuesday in the spirit of unity with a view to having a focused Senate in the ninth National Assembly.
He thanked Goje for the decision, saying nothing could be better than a united family.
Lawan said: "Let me thank Mr. President, our leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, for giving us the leadership that we need at this point. We have just come out of a closed-door meeting as it were and mine is to thank Governor el-Rufai of Kaduna State for making it possible for us to achieve what we are having today.
"For me, this is a great day and very important moment for the race. The endorsement by Senator Goje is going to bring so much unity in the APC and the entire Senate. I believe that is the way to go.
"We want to go there united from all sides, to kick-start our activities. It's very important at this time to have a Senate that is focused for optimum performance. I believe that our colleagues in the ninth Senate will be happy to hear that this has been achieved. I want to also thank Senator Goje himself. He is a very experienced politician and he has been in this business much longer than some of us.
"I respect him because when there was so much clamour for him to run, he never came out publicly to declare, but the position he has taken to respect the wishes of the party is the best position any politician could take and there is nothing better to have a family that is very united and very solid. So, I thank him for that."
APC Commends Goje's Withdrawal
The APC commended Goje's decision to withdraw from the race in support of Lawan.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement yesterday said that Goje has demonstrated that he is a reliable, committed party leader, good role model and elder statesman.
The party also commended the fatherly role played by Buhari in ensuring compliance with the party's decisions and directives.
It said: "We believe that Goje's selfless actions typify APC's progressive ideals and should be emulated by all party members to ensure unity, strength and supremacy of our great party. There is no doubt that the majority APC caucus is going into the incoming 9th National Assembly as a united house."
On the sponsored reports against Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who is the party's anointed candidate for speaker of the House of Representatives, that he was 'convicted' by Georgia State Supreme Court in the United States of America, the party urged Nigerians to ignore the phantom and infantile allegations.
It stressed: "The allegations have become a reoccurring fabrication. Nigerians will recall that the same baseless allegation was made against Gbajabiamila in the lead up to the 8th National Assembly speakership race and came to naught. It needs restating that Gbajabiamila has never been convicted for any crime in Nigeria and abroad.
"We urge Gbajabiamila and his vibrant campaign team to remain focused on their extensive countywide consultation and engagements which has been well-received and endorsed across party lines."
The ruling party, however, urged all APC federal lawmakers to rally around the candidature of Lawan and Gbajabiamila and all other candidates of the party for the respective principal positions ahead of the June 11 inauguration of the ninth National Assembly.
Ndume: It's Now a Straight Contest between Two Senators
In a swift reaction, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume (SMAN) Senate Presidency campaign office said it welcomed Goje's withdrawal from the race, saying the race is now a straight fight between the two main contenders.
SMAN said the development had narrowed down the race, presenting senators-elect with a choice between one that would serve the nation's best interest.
In a statement signed by Ndume in Abuja, he affirmed that he was still in the race, adding that the final decision on who becomes the president of the ninth Senate would rest squarely with the senators-elect.
He stated: "Let me assure you that l remain in the race, and l am very optimistic. I have said my prayers. I have implicit faith in God. He is the giver of power. So, there is no cause for alarm.
"A school anthem says: 'Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide... on Tuesday my colleagues will decide. And we believe Allah is on our side."
Eight N'Assembly Dissolved, State Assemblies Proclaimed by Govs
Meanwhile, the eight National Assembly was dissolved yesterday following the adjournment sine die of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Senators and House members were full of praises for their work, saying they out-performed the previous assemblies.
By the close of proceedings yesterday, the Senate, under its president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, had passed 319 bills, while the House, led by Speaker Yakubu Dogara, passed 382 bills.
Saraki, after more than the six-hour closing session, described the August, 2018 invasion of the National Assembly by security operatives as the saddest day of the eighth National Assembly.
The former Senate president, who rounded off the session with a valedictory speech after most senators had spoken, also declared that the leadership of the ninth Senate would be a straight contest between Lawan and Ndume.
He emphasised that the invasion of the National Assembly by armed security operatives in August 2018 will live in infamy.
He said: "This way down the line, however, I realise that the day of that invasion was the saddest - but in many ways it was also a good day for asserting the independence of the legislature and the triumph of democracy."
According to him, the invasion also turned out to be a showcase of the special relationship between the two chambers of the National Assembly, "as Honourable members stood in unison with their Senate colleagues in defiance of the invaders and I thank the House for the remarkable unity of the two chambers of the 8th National Assembly, for it was only in unity that we could withstand the storm".
Saraki stressed the need for the independence of the legislative arm from the executive arm of government, saying if the executive sees the National Assembly's work on the budget as interference despite the provision of the Constitution, then there will continue to be problems between both arms of government.
Saraki said: "If the presidency refuses to have engagements and consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly before the president submits the budget to the legislature, then there will continue to be frictions.
"If the Executive sees the failure of a few of its appointees to secure confirmation by the Senate as a disagreement, then the relationship will not improve. If the Executive encourages its appointees who fail to secure Senate confirmation to remain in office, then there will continue to be disagreement.
"If the Executive believes the Legislature is a rubber stamp without the right to question its actions, then it will be a subversion of the Principles of Separation of Powers and Checks and Powers. My advice is that both arms of government have a role to play in our quest for good governance and their leadership should work for co-operation and fruitful engagement".
Saraki while appreciating Lawan and Ndume for their support for his leadership and wished the duo well as they run for the presidency of the ninth Senate billed for inauguration on Tuesday.
"I thank Majority Leader Ahmed Lawan; you have made your mark here and the record reflects it, I also thank former Majority Leader Ali Ndume; you also made your mark. Between the former Majority Leader and the current one, it is clear that one of you will be President of the Senate. Whoever emerges, I wish you the very best of luck. This I know: whatever the capacity, we should always do our best to serve the interest of the people. We should also have it in the back of our minds that power is transient", he further said.
He advised his successor to be there for the people, act in the interest of the average Nigerian "and keep the legislature always at the behest of the citizens, let it be a people's parliament. Whoever succeeds me, that person will still be a product of the 8th Senate. We did it together. Let there be continuity".
While acknowledging what the 8th Senate couldn't do, Saraki expressed hope that the 9th Senate "will improve on our performance and deliver on those areas that we were not quite able to touch".
He was however quick to define the 8th Senate by the high number of bills passed, motions cleared, resolutions adopted as well as number of petitions treated.
"We can also define ourselves by the belief that we fought for democracy, held government to account and made personal sacrifices. For some of us, sacrifices are still being made, owing to the fallouts of some of the decisions taken. I have no regrets because, as first among equals, we bear collective responsibility for those decisions. As a leader, however, I take responsibility. The buck stops with me.
"In doing all that we did in this chamber, we always used to believe that poverty knew no party, religion, tribe or region. We came together in response to the needs of Nigerians as a whole, and we got the job done. It will be said of us that we were truly representative of all our constituents."
In the states, some of the Houses of Assembly were proclaimed open yesterday. Those whose assemblies were inaugurated included, Enugu, Osun and Ekiti States.