Nigeria: Anxiety, Intrigues As National Assembly Picks Leaders Today

National assembly.

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held a series of meetings yesterday night aimed at advising its lawmakers on whom to vote for ahead of today's election of presiding officers of the National Assembly.

The first meeting, between the party's leadership and its 16 governors, was held at the Bayelsa State governor's lodge. Thereafter, they all proceeded to the Rivers State governors lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, where an enlarged caucus meeting involving all senators-elect was held.

Invitations to all the meetings were sent out as early as Monday morning.

This was as the deputy minority leader of the Eighth Senate, Emmanuel Bwacha, hinted that the PDP would speak with one voice at the end of the meetings.

Responding to questions by journalists on his party's position at the National Assembly, the lawmaker said: "There is dignity in silence and there is mischief in noisemaking. So, we maintained a dignified silence because we want a Ninth Assembly that will be rancour-free. We speak as a family. That is our tradition; we speak as a family. We are not divided."

His assertion came on the heels of a warning by PDP National Chairman Uche Secondus that President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) must not suppress other arms of government.

He said this against the backdrop of alleged interference in the choice of the principal officers.

"Indications are clearly showing that full-blown dictatorship is brewing in our country. When a supposed democratic government brazenly muscles all the other arms of government, the legislature, the judiciary and even the press, the fourth estate of the realm, we should be worried at what is loading in our polity," said a statement by his media office signed by Ike Abonyi.

Also, a youth group, Progressive Youths of Nigeria (PYN), in a statement yesterday by its spokesman, Adekanmbi Julius, expressed reservations on the decision by the APC to "foist an all-Muslim leadership on the House of Representatives and by extension, Nigeria."

Similarly, another group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), warned of grave consequences if Christians were marginalised in leadership positions in the legislature and judiciary.

"This exclusion will mark the end of religious harmony in Nigeria and may result in anarchy and doom, unless political stakeholders take measures to stave off the building up of mutual distrusts," the group said in a statement by its national media affairs director, Zainab Yusuf.

But undeterred, the APC held a closed-door meeting where it sustained support for its anointed candidates, urging Senator Ali Ndume to step down for Senator Ahmed Lawan.

In attendance at the Abuja venue were: Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha; a handful of APC governors including Ahmad Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Abdullahi Umar Ganduje (Kano), Mai Mala Buni (Yobe), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Yahaya Bello (Kogi), Abdullahi Sule (Nasarawa) and Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa); chairman of the Progressives Governors' Forum, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State; and hundreds of National Assembly members.

Though details of the parley were kept secret, it was learnt that they deliberated on how to avert a repeat of the 2015 scenario where the former Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara pulled the rug off the party's feet by clinching the seats ahead of Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila.

APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole who spoke to reporters at the end of the meeting said it aimed at drumming support for the party's candidates.

"We are still trying to talk to Ali Ndume. I believe he is a democrat. He understands that in a democracy, it is important that he listens to the voice of the majority and accepts the decisions of the majority. It is all about sacrifice.

"We have all agreed as a caucus to endorse distinguished Senator Ahmed Lawan as APC candidate for the presidency of the senate and distinguished Senator Ovie Omo-Agege for the deputy presidency of the senate," he said.

But the contest for the seat of deputy senate president has remained unpredictable as all the known candidates refused to withdraw despite the adoption of Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central).

A former Abia State governor, Orji Kalu, debunked insinuations that he had withdrawn from the contest.

Kalu, who some days ago met behind closed doors with Buhari, disclosed yesterday that the president only adopted the candidacies of Lawan and Gbajabiamila for the positions of senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives, stressing that anyone was free to contest for other principal positions.

In a statement by his media office, signed by Ken Cole, the former governor said that as a staunch supporter of Buhari and a loyal member of the APC, he would always abide by the decisions of the president and the NWC.

He however said talks of a formal endorsement of Omo-Agege were the handiwork of selfish APC elements desperate to cause disharmony among party stakeholders.

"Ahead of tomorrow's (today's) inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly and election of principal officers, politicians have started deploying different antics to satisfy their ambitions. One of such is a statement credited to Lanre Issa-Onilu claiming that Buhari and the NWC formally adopted Omo-Agege.

"I am still in the race to become deputy senate president because the president and the NWC have not adopted any candidate and as such the contest is open to all members of the party who have the capability," he said.

He asserted: "Tomorrow (today) by the special grace of God and to the admiration of APC members and Nigerians, I will emerge as deputy senate president in the Ninth National Assembly."

Also, the APC lawmaker representing Kano South, Kabiru Gaya, insisted he would contest today's election. He told journalists in Abuja that despite the endorsement of Omo-Agege, his chances were very bright.

"I'm still in the race. I will contest with whoever would also contest the position. Democracy is actually game of numbers; whoever has the highest number would win."

Meanwhile, a member of the House of Representatives, Mrs Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, who stepped down for Gbajabiamila gave reason for her action yesterday.

She explained: "I was not ignorant of the party's position all this while. But outside my competence and capacity to lead a house of eminent lawmakers, with pragmatism, I elected to push ahead because the arrangements already put in place by the leaderships of my party had excluded the southeast zone, and painfully too, it did not take into account the importance of gender inclusion.

"It has never been about my personal interest but for the greater good of my dear country. This historical decision to review my position and step down for the party's choice in the person of Femi Gbajabiamila was after another round of consultations and appeals from prominent Nigerians, lawmakers-elect, women groups, and members of my immediate constituency in the southeast. It has not come lightly."

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