The ruling All Progressives Congress may be facing a palpable dilemma over the zoning of leadership positions in the 9th National Assembly.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH showed that lawmakers from various geopolitical zones were making conflicting demands, claims and counter-claims.
Some of the lawmakers who spoke to our correspondents on Thursday argued that the North-East had produced more votes for the APC in the just-concluded general elections than the South-West and should be rewarded with certain positions which the South-West was also clamouring for.
The South-West is clamouring for the position of Speaker in the House of Representatives and that of Deputy Senate President in the Senate
Speaking with one of our correspondents, a member of the House of Representatives from Bauchi State, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, said, “Our argument is that, when Senator David Mark became Senate President, he spent eight years, and he is from Benue State in the North-Central. And don’t forget that the zone has produced several Senate presidents. Before Mark, there was Ibrahim Mantu who was Deputy Senate President. And now, there is Bukola Saraki as Senate President (from Kwara State), also from the zone.
“What we are now saying is that, given the pattern that we have had and that Dogara has been able to stabilise us in the North-East, it is only fair that we allow that structure to continue for the next four years. The people will also have a sense of belonging, of having a speaker from the zone for eight years.”
Another APC chief from Taraba State in the North-East, Mr Garba Chede, supported the call for zoning of the top seats to the geopolitical zone.
“The reason why we want these positions zoned to the North-East is that though the incumbent Speaker became Speaker by accident, look at what (the votes) our zone is fetching. That is why we are saying now we want the speaker to come from that zone. This is our demand.”
The APC is said to be considering presenting Femi Gbajabiamila as the Speaker and Ahmed Lawan as the Senate President.
There are fears that should the APC insist on Lawan from the North-East as Senate president, the choice will clash with the interest of some APC representatives who want the Speaker’s seat zoned to the geopolitical zone.
The three leading aspirants for the Senate President position in the North-East are Lawan, Senator Ali Ndume (Borno State) and Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe State). Another aspirant, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, who was the chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum, is from Nasarawa State, North-Central.
In the House, some members of the APC have called for the retention of the office of the speaker by the North-East geopolitical zone contrary to the ruling party’s 2015 zoning arrangement which gave the slot to the South-West.
The lawmakers from the zone, some of whom are aspiring for the position, argued that it would be unfair for the ruling party to zone the office elsewhere.
In the South-West, the APC is faced with the conflicting demands of its members, especially how to resolve the conflict between those aspiring to leadership positions in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Should the ruling party present Gbajabiamila as the Speaker in line with the party’s 2015 zoning arrangement, the South-West lawmakers from the zone aspiring to be deputy senate president will be eased out of the leadership arrangement.
Saturday PUNCH had exclusively reported that the wife of the national leader of the APC and the lawmaker representing Lagos Central Senatorial District, Senator Oluremi Tinubu; former majority leader and Senator-elect, Oyo-Central, Teslim Folarin; and Senator Ajayi Boroffice were eyeing the position of the deputy Senate president. Senator Tinubu had confirmed her interest.
Similarly, senators from South-East and South-South have called for the zoning of the leadership positions to the zones, especially the deputy Senate president position.
A senator told one of our correspondents that there were three APC senators from the South-South; Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta State), Francis Alimikhena (Edo State), and the third one, a new entrant, is Senator-elect, Biobarakuma Degi-Emerenyo, representing Bayelsa-East.
The lawmaker, who is rooting for Omo-Agege, said, “All ranking senators are qualified to vie for presiding offices. As a ranking member, Omo-Agege, from the South-South, is qualified to be deputy Senate president.
“Omo-Agege is interested in being the deputy Senate president or any position zoned to the South-South, he only wants to abide by whatever APC says. Indeed, Omo-Agege has been loyal to Buhari and the APC. He also has the capacity. In the name of loyalty, he now carries a scar; he carries a scar from defending Mr President. For that, the pro-Saraki people wanted his head on a platter. This is the time to reward that loyalty.”
When contacted to confirm the aspiration, Omo-Agege said, “No comment.”
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, Omo-Agege said, “The six geopolitical zones must be accommodated as the principal offices are shared. At least, one of those key offices ought to go to each of the six geopolitical zones.
“The Nigerian electorate have already settled the issue of the President (North-West) and Vice-President (South-West). I believe the other four key offices must be shared in such a way that the other geopolitical zones will be accommodated.
Adding to the conflict of interest, a group, South East Main Media Forum, has asked the ruling APC to ensure that an Igbo lawmaker emerges the next Senate president.
At a press briefing in Owerri, the Imo State capital, on Friday, the group’s spokesperson, Modestus Nwamkpa, said the call was politically and morally justifiable.
According to him, with the re-election of Benjamin Uwajumogu, the South-East has a ranking senator from the APC.
He said that with the President from the North-West; Vice President from the South-West, Chief Justice of the Federation from the North-East and the APC national chairman from the South-South, the South-East should be supported to produce the next Senate president.
He said, “Suffice it to say that the South-East being a major bloc in the country’s political arrangement deserves nothing less than the Senate presidency. Already, with the re-election of President Buhari from the North-West and Prof. Osinbajo from the South-West, the next in line in the order of political hierarchy which is the Senate president should, as a matter of equity, justice and fairness naturally come to the South-East in line with the federal character principle.
“This is only fair, just and equitable and again this will further re-assure the people of South-East that the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari has the interest of the South-East at heart.”
Saturday PUNCH had exclusively reported that barely one week after the National Assembly election was held, lawmakers who won had begun to lobby for leadership positions.
The claims and counter-claims are pointers that another leadership crisis in the federal legislature looms.
The APC had in 2015 zoned the position of the Senate President to the North-East and that of the Speaker to the South-West.
The APC had also chosen the current Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan (Yobe, North-East), to be the President of the Senate; and the House Majority Leader, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos, South-West), to be the Speaker.
However, Senator Bukola Saraki (Kwara, North-Central) and Mr Yakubu Dogara (Bauchi, North-East), who were APC members then, formed an alliance with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party to emerge as Senate President and Speaker, respectively.
While Senator Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu, South-East) of the PDP was elected Deputy Senate President as part of the deal, Mr Yusuff Lasun (Osun, South-West) of the APC emerged as the deputy Speaker against the wish of the ruling party.
APC leadership may revisit zoning arrangement
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the APC would take into cognisance the performance of each of the six geo-political zones in terms of votes in deciding a zoning formula for the distribution of principal positions in the 9th National Assembly.
Party leaders, it was learnt, were set to remind President Muhammadu Buhari of his promise to reward those who worked for the party’s victory.
A highly-placed member of the party leadership, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH in confidence, said, “As a party, we have learnt lessons from the mistakes of 2015 when we were forced to swallow the bitter pill by (Bukola) Saraki and (Yakubu) Dogara whose emergence altered our calculations.
“Now, Mr President has realised that he can no longer sit on the fence. We will definitely tinker with the zoning arrangement because of the realities of today and the kind of future we want for our country.
“The President is from the North-West, the Vice President is from the South-West, although against our wish, the North-Central and the North-East occupy the positions of Senate President and Speaker respectively- that was before they left our party. The powerful office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is also in the North-East.”
He said, however, that whatever new arrangement would be made with respect to positions in the National Assembly, the contributions of the North-East and the South-West would not be overlooked.
“The North-East delivered almost 100 per cent, you cannot ignore that; the North-Central tried but there is a ‘but’ so also it is with the South-West.
“Now, there is also the issue of constitutional balancing based on which you have to accommodate other regions where we did not do so well because we will want to still have a party to contest elections in 2023. All these have to be considered,” he added.
Buhari won’t interfere with 9th N’Assembly leadership -Presidency
Reacting to the looming leadership crisis in the 9th N’Assembly, the presidency said on Friday that President Muhammadu Buhari would not interfere with the emergence of the new leadership of the 9th National Assembly.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate) Ita Enang, disclosed this while addressing reporters in Abuja.
He said the President believed in the rule of law; hence he would allow each arm of government to perform its constitutional responsibility without interference.
Some Senators-elect on the platform of the APC had told journalists on Thursday that the Presidency and the leadership of the party should, by next week, give direction on the leadership to avoid another leadership crisis in the nation’s legislature.
The incoming lawmakers cautioned President Buhari and the APC leadership against working at cross-purposes to avoid another tussle that would alter the party’s zoning formula.
But Enang said the President would remain neutral and allow the elected lawmakers to carry out their constitutional responsibilities.
He said, “The principle of President Muhammadu Buhari is that each arm of government should function according to what the constitution says which is that every person in government should do the right thing.
“He (Buhari) will not go beyond what the constitution allows him and every arm of government should stick to its constitutional responsibilities.”