President Bola Ahmed Tinubu yesterday urged elected members of the National Assembly to support Senator Godswill Akpabio (APC, Akwa Ibom) to become the Senate president and Hon. Tajudeen Abbas (APC, Kaduna) as speaker of the House of Representatives.
Tinubu said this when he met a joint session of the National Assembly member-elect comprising senators and members of the House of Representatives across all parties.
The meeting took place at State House Conference Centre, Abuja.
Multiple sources at the meeting told the Daily Trust that Tinubu, while calling for a common front devoid of sentiments to salvage Nigeria, advised the legislators to respect the choices of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the National Assembly leadership.
Tinubu reportedly said he had respect for the individual choices of the legislators but quickly added that it would be a great honour to him, if they collectively throw their weight behind his chosen candidates, Akpabio and Tajudeen, as well as Jibrin Barau (APC, Kano) and Benjamen Kalu (APC, Abia) as deputy senate president and deputy speaker, respectively, in the interest of carrying all the geopolitical zones along.
The president tasked lawmakers to put the nation first and downplay party politics in the discharge of their duties.
Outgoing Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila and now Chief of Staff to the President, who was at the meeting, commended Tinubu for initiating the gathering, saying it will further strengthen the mutual relationship between the executive and the legislative arm of government.
The meeting was attended by Akpabio, as well as former governors of Ebonyi, Dave Umahi and Edo, Adams Oshiomhole.
Others were Senator Osita Izunaso, former governors Sani Bello (Niger), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), amongst others.
Tajudeen Abbas was also present.
But Senator-elect Abdulaziz Yari and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Wase, who have ambition to become the President of the Senate and Speaker, respectively, were conspicuously missing at the meeting.
It was, however, reliably gathered that Tinubu’s request did not go down well with some contenders, who have resolved to go ahead with the aspiration. Yesterday’s meeting was one of several engagements between the president, lawmakers and other stakeholders ahead of inauguration of the 10th National Assembly on June 13.
There are 109 senators and 360 House of Representatives members drawn from about eight political parties from the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.
In the Senate, the APC has 59 senators, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) 36; Labour Party (LP) eight, New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) two, Social Democratic Party (SDP) two, Young Progressives Party (YPP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) one seat each.
In the House of Representatives, members elected under the platform of the opposition parties put together, outnumbered the ruling party. The opposition parties have a total of 181 while the ruling APC has 179.
The PDP leads the opposition with 116 seats, Labour Party (LP) has 35, NNPP is third with 19 seats, APGA has 5 seats, SDP has two, ADP has two and YPP also has two seats. Tinubu had before meeting all the legislators in one place met with those elected on the platform of his party, the APC, on Wednesday.
He had also met with the 36 governors of the federation.
‘Why Akpabio, Tajudeen’
A source close to the ruling APC and the presidency said unlike what happened in the recent past, Tinubu was trying to talk to all those that mattered so that he would not be seen to be “unbothered or dictatorial.”
“He respects the legislators and he is not unmindful of their independence. However, all over the world, there is no country where the president will not have interest in those who will lead the legislature. It is not about having absolute control on what they do; it is about establishing synergy for the betterment of the country.
“Therefore, when he met all the members, he told them to support the candidates of the party. He told them he means well for Nigeria and he will not meddle in their internal dealings.
“It was a frank talk and from all indications, the majority of the legislators have agreed to vote for the president’s candidate. This was clear in the way they gave him a standing ovation after he finished his speech. They all stood up and this is a sign of respect, a sign of acceptance.”
On whether the legislators were given an opportunity to talk, the source said, “One of them, who I think is from the South East, stood up and said he was convinced by what Tinubu said.
“He, however, made a passionate appeal to the president to respect federal character in the process of making more appointments.”
Another source explained what Tinubu told all the 36 state governors when he met with them at the Villa on Wednesday.
“It was his first meeting with all the governors led by their chairman, Governor AbdulRazaq AbdulRahman of Kwara State, although he had met with governors of his party last Friday.
“The meeting was significant because it was across party lines. He appreciated them and told them that they are partners in progress; the elections were over and it is time to deliver promises.
“But most importantly, he sought for their support in the selection of leaders of the National Assembly. He said governors are very powerful and drive enormous respect from legislators from their state.
“It is based on this that he pleaded that they should curry support from their respective legislators in order to have rancour free 10th National Assembly.
“Besides, he reminded the governors that by convention, it is always the ruling party that produces the presiding officers of the National Assembly and therefore advised those from the opposition party not to support any move by any group that might attempt to decapitate the convention,” the source said.
Yari, Kalu have 65 senators in kitty – Sources
But sources opposed to the wish of Tinubu and the APC said the inauguration of the 10th Assembly will not be an easy sail, insisting that there must be an election to enable the 469 legislators in both chambers select the best from among the contenders.
“Yes, the president has spoken but that is not the end of the conversation,” one of our sources said.
“I want to assure you that Senator –elect Abdulaziz Yari from Zamfara State is very much in the race and Senator Orji Uzo Kalu from Abia State is also very much in the race.
“In fact, they have solidified their alliance; they have been talking over time but they have now coalesced into a single force.
“Yari has 43 senators and Kalu has 22, which gives you 65. They have more than the simple majority to win.
“It has been agreed that Yari will vie for the Senate presidency and Kalu will serve as his deputy. They are for Nigeria; it is about fairness. The North West gave the Tinubu presidency more votes than any other region and considering the number of governors and legislators, the South East is more APC than the South South,” he said.
A source close to Orji Kalu, who was at the meeting with Tinubu yesterday, gave reasons as to why Yari and the former Abia governor remain adamant to the call by Tinubu and the APC.
“It is not about them. It is about the people they represent. Tinubu is from the South West; the vice president is from the North East. How do you expect the North West to react to this faulty arrangement of taking the Senate presidency to South South?” he queried.
Another source close to Yari, who is also a senator and was at the meeting with the president, said, “Honestly, there is no going back. It is too late to appease Senator Yari to back out from the race.
“Of course, we listen to the president. He spoke at length including on balancing the offices; the issue of having a Muslim president and a Muslim vice president and therefore the need to have a Christian Senate president.
“Some of us are not convinced by this analogy; we are talking about the legislature. It is about allowing the 109 senators who have equal status in the eye of law to select those that would lead them.
“We would certainly support the president to achieve his lofty dreams for Nigeria but we want him to hand off everything that has to do with the National Assembly,” he said.
Uneasy calm in Reps
While the contest in the Senate remains shaky, the drama ahead of the inauguration of the House of Representatives is also dicey, Daily Trust learnt.
Multiple sources said it was not yet an easy ride for Tajudeen as some of the contenders said they would not back out.
For instance, the immediate past Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Idris Wase said he is still in the speakership race for the 10th House.
His Chief Press Secretary, Muhammad Puma, while responding to a question as to whether Wase has stepped down to support the ruling party’s anointed candidate, Abbas, said there was nothing like that.
He said if Wase had withdrawn from the speakership race, such information would be communicated to the public through official channels.
But efforts to get position of Yusuf Gagdi as to whether he is still in the race did not yield result last night as he did not respond to calls and a text message sent to him as of time of going to press.
However, someone very close to him said he was not aware of any change in the aspirations of the legislator from Plateau.
Similarly, a source close to Rep Sani Jaji who is also in the race, said he strongly believes the Zamfara lawmaker is in the race.
“I don’t think he has opted out of the race. I spoke to him even today but he did not tell me that he has withdrawn even though I didn’t ask him.
“In fact, what I heard is that if the president could not succeed in pushing Tajudeen, Jaji would most likely be considered for the post,” he said.
A source close to Rep Mukhtar Betara said anything could happen.
“Let me be frank with you. Officials of one of the intelligence agencies had held a meeting with Rep Betara because they know he is one of the leading contenders. They told him everyone knows that he has the support of his colleagues.
“But they also reminded us of the need to respect the choice of the party and the president. But Betara told them it is not about him. The contest is about his supporters. It is based on this that Betara and a few of his supporters would meet with Tinubu tomorrow (today).
“I am sure during the meeting, compromises would be made, there would be negotiations and if the outcome is favourable, Betara would not go against the wish of Tinubu. He calls Tinubu his father but this would be the first time he would personally make the request for him to withdraw,” the source said.
The source added that one of the reasons for working hard to get the buy-in of Betara is to avoid losing the two chambers.
“Former Governor Yari is unyielding; he is not ready to drop his ambition because he is representing a powerful interest. This is why they obtained a court order against the police, DSS and EFCC not to detain him over whatever grievance they have against him.
“With this in view, anything can happen in the Red Chamber; he might win and he might not win. But in the event they have their way, the president could have the House of Reps to work with,” the source said.
By Muideen Olaniyi, Abdullateef Salau,Balarabe Alkassim & Itodo D. Sule