About two months to the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly, the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is yet to decide on key issues that may shape the race for leadership positions in the parliament.
The ruling party yesterday said there was no special committee on ground for zoning, saying it was taking time in order to do the right thing.
The delay by the APC making known its zoning arrangements for Senate presidency and House of Representatives Speaker’s position has crowded the contest, with no fewer than 16 lawmakers-elect from all parts of the country so far declaring for the positions.
In the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Barau Jibrin (Kano), Sani Musa (Niger), Ali Ndume (Borno) and Dave Umahi (Ebonyi) have publicly declared their bids for senate presidency.
Others believed to be eyeing the coveted office, but are yet to publicly declare their interest are; Abdulaziz Yari (Zamfara), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom) and Osita Izunaso (Imo).
In the House of Representatives, the deputy speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase; Mukhtar Betara; Abubakar Makki Yelleman; Yusuf Gagdi; Sada Soli Jibia; Abdulraheem Olawuyi; Abbas Tajuddeen, Olaide Akinremi and Aminu Sani Jaji are jostling for the speaker’s seat.
From the list of the candidates, North Central has three candidates; Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase (Plateau) Yusuf Gagdi (Plateau) and Abdulraheem Olawuyi (Kwara).
The North West has Sada Soli Jibia (Katsina) Tajudeen Abbas (Kaduna), Abubakar Makki Yelleman (Jigawa) and Aminu Sani Jaji (Zamfara).
The North East has the chairman, House committee on appropriations, Mukhtar Aliyu Betara while the South West has Olaide Akinremi (Oyo) who is also interested in the race. However, zoning by the leadership of APC, whose party won majority seats in the parliament, will determine the final list of aspirants for leadership positions in both chambers.
What the senate rules say
The senate rule book states that nomination for presiding officers shall be in accordance with the ranking of senators.
It says, “In determining the ranking, the following order shall apply: (i) senators returning based on the number of times re-elected; (ii) senators who had been members of the House of Representatives and (iii) senators elected for the first time.”
As the APC keeps Nigerians in suspense over its decision on which zone will produce the presiding officers in the federal parliament, candidates from the north and south divide are already up in arms against one another.
While lawmakers from the North and mostly Muslims are pushing for an open contest, their southern counterparts are advocating zoning the seats to their region for equity and fairness.
The likes of Senator Barau and Ali Ndume from North West and North East respectively said competence and ranking should determine who emerges as Senate President.
Ndume, who has publicly declared his bid for the plum job, urged APC leadership to throw the race for senate presidency open, just like it did during the APC presidential primary.
He said zoning elective positions is not good for the country’s democracy, urging the party to allow lawmakers to decide their presiding officers.
He said: “The APC leadership did not take any position during the presidential primary election. Aspirants from all the geopolitical zones participated in the exercise.
“Senators should be allowed to choose a competent person among them that has adequate legislative and managerial experience to lead the senate.
“Zoning may not lead to the emergence of the best person for the job, which is why the decision to choose the senate presiding officers must be the sole responsibility of the senators.”
Similarly, Barau Jibrin dismissed the calls in some quarters for a Christian senate president to balance the party’s Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket.
He said competence should not be sacrificed for religious sentiment as the job requires a ranking lawmaker with deep knowledge of legislative proceedings.
Barau recalled a time the federal parliament had David Mark as senate president; Ike Ekweremadu as deputy and Patricia Etteh, House speaker, all Christians.
“They were the most experienced and ranking at that time. Competence was not relegated for sentiment then.
“Bringing religious sentiment won’t fly. It is about competence not sentiment. When we talk about experience, I am the most experienced,” the senator said.
However, another contender, Sani Musa from Niger State, said he was ready to sacrifice his ambition for a Southern Christian aspirant in the spirit of equity and fairness. While briefing reporters on his intention to run for senate presidency, Musa said the party must ensure religious balance in the configuration of leadership of the 10th National Assembly for the unity of the country.
He noted that the tension that heralded the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC presidential candidate and his running mate should be avoided in the race for the senate presidency.
“If for the sake of religious balancing and unity of the country, senate presidency is not zoned to North Central, deputy president of the senate should be given,” he added.
Also, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State and Orji Kalu of Abia have clamoured for zoning the senate presidency to the South East in the interest of equity, justice and fairness. Umahi, who is the senator-elect for Ebonyi South, said allowing the South-East to produce the next senate president would help calm frayed nerves in Igbo land.
Kalu said that it was his turn to become senate president being a ranking lawmaker and from the South.
Almost all the candidates for House speaker want the seat to be zoned to their areas, with each saying their zones deserved to produce the number four citizen.
However, they acknowledged the supremacy of the party’s decision on the matter.
A rep member, Yusuf Gagdi (Plateau), while speaking on his interest to contest for the speakership seat, said the North Central should be considered for the slot as the region has not produced the speaker since 1999.
“I think people have the right to say whatever they want to say, but the ideal thing is for us to do the zoning, and I am a party man. Wherever the party zones it, I will respect the party, but I expect the party to bring the spirit of justice to bear”, he said.
Speaking on running alongside the deputy speaker who is also from Plateau State, the lawmaker said that should not be an issue because they have equal rights to contest.
Daily Trust findings indicate that APC lawmakers-elect scheming for the presiding officers’ posts have started intense lobbying, reaching out to their colleagues, seeking their support and the party leadership in zoning the positions to their geo-political zones.
Some, it was learnt, had sent out their foot soldiers, comprising high-profile lawmakers, to commence underground campaigns. Others had met with lawmakers-elect to garner their support.
The deputy speaker, Idris Wase had visited some governors including Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Ademola Adeleke (Osun) and Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo) as well as other personalities to solicit their support and prevail on lawmakers from their states and others to vote for him.
His counterparts from Plateau State, Yusuf Gagdi and Abdulraheem Olawuyi from Kwara State are also not resting on their oars to give the deputy speaker and other candidates a run for their money.
There were also reports of moneybags inducing their colleagues with mouthwatering offers to get their support.
Senator Ndume, in an interview with BBC Hausa, claimed that some senators were using money to buy support at the expense of competence.
He said, “In the past it was said that the vote of the poor is being bought, now it has reached that even the senator’s vote is wanted to be bought. There are senators aspiring for the senate president who give money to senators.”
Ndume, who did not provide evidence to back his claim, said that even those who knew nothing about the legislative procedures wanted the position, “but because they have money, they are now in the pursuit of the seat.”
Opposition holds the ace
While the ruling party is still working on its zoning arrangement, the opposition lawmakers have vowed to use their numbers as a bargaining chip.
As it stands, the ruling APC has 162 seats in the 10th House as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). However, the opposition has a combined strength of 163 seats with PDP leading with 102, LP 34, NNPP 18, APGA has four seats ADC while SDP have two seats each and the YPP has one seat.
There are however supplementary elections that will be conducted in some places whose outcome will determine the final number of seats to be occupied by the ruling APC as well as the opposition.
Members of the caucuses at a meeting held at Transcorp Hilton in Abuja Tuesday night expressed their willingness to cooperate and work for the common good of all the opposition parties and Nigeria.
Elected members from the PDP, Labour Party (LP), APGA, SDP, YPP, and the NNPP attended the meeting.
Speaking at the meeting, Beni Lar (PDP, Plateau) said, “I believe with our numbers, our doggedness and our strength we can achieve a lot.”
Why we’re delaying zoning of offices – APC
The national leadership of the APC said it is yet to zone the positions because it wants to ensure fairness, inclusion and justice.
The APC National Publicity Secretary, Barrister Felix Morka, however, told Daily Trust in a telephone interview last night that no special committee would be constituted for zoning of the positions.
He said, “It is better we delay and do the right thing than rush through and have issues with the outcome.
“The party will make that decision; we are not talking about constituting a special committee at this time. The party will decide.”
By Abdullateef Salau, Balarabe Alkassim & Saawua Terzungwe