Abuja — Former Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, and his House of Representatives counterpart, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, looked good yesterday to emerge as Senate president and House speaker as lawmakers of the two chambers of the federal legislature today pick their presiding officers.
The election of the presiding officers of the two chambers will kick-start today's ceremonies for the inauguration of the ninth session of the National Assembly.
While Senator Ali Ndume is Lawan's only challenger for the Senate presidency, Gbajabiamila is vying for the House speakership along with Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba from Imo and Hon. Mohammed Bago from Niger State.
In last-ditch efforts to consolidate their frontline position in the race, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which has presented the duo as its choice for the leadership positions, met yesterday with its members-elect in the National Assembly and impressed it on them on the need to vote for both Lawan and Gbajabiamila.
However, Ndume, his counterpart representing Abia North, Chief Orji Kalu, who is angling to be deputy Senate president, and Bago were all absent at the APC meeting held at Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja.
THISDAY checks also revealed that majority of lawmakers-elect on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will vote for both candidates of the ruling party.
However, it was learnt that the PDP had decided to reject APC's pick for the deputy Senate president, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege from Delta State.
Rather, the opposition party would be voting Senator Anthony Alimikhena from Edo State as deputy Senate president.
Sources told THISDAY last night that Lawan and Gbajabiamila were not leaving anything to chances as they continued their lobbying of their colleagues.
It was gathered that Lawan met with the PDP to firm up negotiations with them, especially on the distribution of Senate committee chairmanship.
A source said all grey areas in the negotiations between Lawan and the PDP had been resolved and he was likely to get the bulk of votes from the party's senators-elect.
The PDP leadership, including its National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, its 16 state governors and 44 senators-elect also held a meeting at the Bayelsa State Governor's Lodge, Abuja yesterday.
A source told THISDAY that the meeting ended in a deadlock as there was no agreement on who to vote for today.
A fresh PDP lawmaker-elect in the House of Representatives from one of the South-west states, however, told THISDAY that he was 85 percent sure of Gbajabiamila's emergence as the House speaker today.
He said with majority of APC members-elect backing him and the huge votes he had been able to mop up from the PDP bloc, it was unlikely that either Nwajiuba or Bago would be able to muster enough votes to defeat Gbajabiamila.
Although a speaker needs at least 181 votes from the 360 member-legislature to be declared winner of the election, tally from the Gbajabiamila Campaign Organisation shows that as at Sunday night, he has locked in 268 votes from incoming lawmakers.
He said: "It is unlikely that Gbajabiamila would lose that election. He is getting a lot of buy-in from us in PDP and of course from his party, APC.
"APC officials and even its governors are not leaving anything to chances because they do not want a repeat of the 2015 incident in which Hon. Yakubu Dogara defeated Gbajabiamila who was the party's candidate then.
"In PDP, at least 50 percent of our votes are sure for him. There is a group called Progressives Group that is dominated by PDP members-elect but with membership cutting across the parties, is sure to deliver 62 bulk votes to Gbajabiamila."
He was also sure that the APC-backed candidate for the deputy speaker post, Hon. Idris Wase, would be victorious today.
However, while PDP senators-elect might have decided to vote Lawan, they rejected Omo-Agege whom the APC had endorsed as his deputy.
It was learnt that the PDP senators-elect adopted Alimikhena, who hails from the same senatorial district with the APC National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole.
At a PDP senators-elect meeting held at the residence of former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, the incoming senators agreed to vote Alimikhena instead of Omo-Agege, arguing that to vote the Delta State senator would amount to rewarding bad behaviour.
They cited Omo-Agege's alleged involvement in the stealing of the Senate mace last year as a reason why he does not deserve the post, saying it would be unfair to elect him into a position of responsibility like the deputy Senate president.
But when some PDP senators-elect expressed the view that Alimikhena is from the same Edo North Senatorial District with Oshiomhole, others countered that it was the same thing that is happening in Lagos State, where Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and Gbajabiamila hail from.
THISDAY gathered that the PDP senators have also agreed to vote for Lawan, saying Ndume would be difficult to manage.
A list sighted by THISDAY yesterday, however, showed that 40 APC senators-elect had signed to vote Omo-Agege for the office of the deputy Senate president.
The secretary of the Omo-Agege Campaign Committee, Senator Barau Juneau, gave the list to THISDAY in Abuja.
Meanwhile, most of the governors, from both the APC and the PDP are in Abuja to monitor the elections of the presiding officers today.
Ndume, Kalu, Bago Absent as APC NWC Meets Lawmakers-elect
Also yesterday, the APC National Working Committee, as part of last-minute efforts to ensure members comply with its directive on the leadership of the National Assembly, met with its lawmakers-elect.
The meeting, which also had in attendance the APC governors, was to tidy up all loose ends.
However, Ndume, Kalu and Bago did not attend the event.
Briefing journalists after a closed-door meeting that lasted for two hours, Oshiomhole said APC caucus had endorsed Lawan as the APC candidate for the presidency of the Senate; Omo-Agege as the deputy Senate president, Gbajabiamila as the speaker and Wase as deputy speaker.
He lauded those who had stepped down for the party's candidates, saying the APC appreciates their sacrifice.
Oshiomhole stated: "APC caucus in the National Assembly, that is, both the Senate and House of Representatives as well as all APC and members of the National Working Committee met today. It is basically to firm up all the conversations and lobbies that have been going on, we have ended up the meeting with specific conclusion.
"We have all agreed as a caucus to endorse distinguish Senator Ahmed Lawan as the APC candidate for the presidency of the Senate and Senator Omo-Agege as the deputy Senate president and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as the speaker and Hon. Muhammed Idris Wase as deputy speaker."
Asked if Ndume has stepped down for Lawan, Oshiomhole said they were still trying to talk to him.
He was optimistic that Ndume as a democrat would abide by the party's decision.
He said: "Well, for now we are still trying to talk to Ali Ndume. I believe that he is a democrat. He understands that in a democracy, it is important that he listens to the voice of the majority and accept the decisions of the majority. I mean it is all about sacrifice.
"Like I said, I do not know of anybody who has been elected who is not qualified to become the Senate president and all senators are equal. For those who have stepped down, they have done that in recognition of the fact that at a particular point in time, only one person will emerge and I believe that my dear friend Senator Ali Ndume will not be a lone ranger.
"He will abide by the spirit of the party and he will respect our overall leader, who is the president of our country, who is also the leader of our party. I do not have any fear, I believe Ndume will accept the will of the majority."
The party also reiterated its decision yesterday on the adoption of Omo-Agege and through a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu.
It said following emergency meetings of the NWC held on Saturday and Sunday, the adoption of Omo-Agege and Wase was arrived at after wide consultations with President Muhammadu Buhari and party stakeholders, including APC governors.
"All elected APC members of the Senate and House of Representatives are hereby directed to fully mobilise as a united force behind the party's choice.
"Members, who have earlier signified interests in these positions are urged to support the party's decisions as loyal and committed members of APC by working with other members to ensure the emergence of the adopted candidates," the statement added.
The APC Governors' Forum has equally backed Lawan and Gbajabiamila for the Senate presidency and speaker of the House respectively.
The governors disclosed this yesterday in Abuja after a meeting held at the Kebbi Governor's Lodge.
The Governor of Kebbi State and Chairman of the Forum, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, said the governors were unanimous in supporting the party and Buhari.
"We are all unanimous in our support for Senator Ahmed Lawan for the Senate presidency and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for the speaker of the House of Representatives and all governors are in agreement and we will work towards that purpose," he said.
Bagudu urged members of the party, who are kicking against the zoning arrangement, to support the party's position.
Kalu Steps Down, Backs Omo-Agege
Also yesterday, Kalu said he was stepping down for Omo-Agege and urged support for him.
Kalu, in a statement from his Media Office, said his decision to drop his earlier plans to run for the deputy senate presidency today, followed the official endorsement of Omo-Agege and Wase by the APC NWC for the positions of deputy Senate president and deputy speaker.
Throwing his weight behind the party's candidates across board, Kalu said he would always abide by the decision of Buhari and the APC NWC.
While thanking his associates, followers, well-wishers and colleagues, the former governor called on incoming lawmakers to place the collective interest of Nigerians above selfish ambitions.
He said: "I decided to throw my hat into the ring to contest for the position of deputy Senate president after wide consultations with stakeholders especially my political associates, friends and colleagues (returning senators and senators-elect).
"However, I use this medium to announce my withdrawal from the race in the interest of the APC and Nigeria at large.
"I contested and won election as a senator on the platform of the APC and as such, I cannot go against the decision of my party.
"The party, I am optimistic, will consider the South-east for other principal positions in the Senate and the House of Representatives for the sake of national unity.
"The South-east should be ably and well represented at the top hierarchy of the Ninth National Assembly."