The race for the 10th National Assembly leadership appears to be one of the most intense, crowded, and rancorous since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999. Daily Trust highlights the factors responsible for this.
Although the contest for the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly had always been dogged by high-wired politicking, drama, and executive interference, that of the incoming National Assembly has assumed an unprecedented dimension for various reasons.
At the dawn of the Fourth Republic, the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, coming from a military background, saw the National Assembly as one of the garrisons under his control. He thus wielded an overbearing influence on the leadership of the parliament.
For the eight years Obasanjo was in power, the federal parliament and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), were defined by his whims and caprices, thus leaving little or no room for the lawmakers interested in leadership positions in the National Assembly to express their views freely as is currently being done.
Due to Obasanjo’s dictatorial stance and the quest to remote-control the parliament, his first four years in office saw the National Assembly parading three different senate presidents and two speakers of the House of Representatives.
Evan Enwerem was appointed president of the senate at the start of the fourth assembly but was removed from office on November 18, 1999, and replaced by Chuba Okadigbo, who was also impeached on August 8, 2000, and replaced with Pius Anyim. The leadership changes were believed to have been orchestrated by Obasanjo.
In the House of Representatives, the leadership change from Speaker Salisu Buhari to Ghali Umar Na’abba in the fourth assembly was basically hinged on issues surrounding his academic qualification.
At the dawn of the fifth assembly, Senator Ken Nnamani was elected the president of the senate without much acrimony. His leadership and the entire senate took the independence of the parliament to the next level when they stood against the tenure elongation plot, otherwise known as Obasanjo’s “third term agenda”.
In the sixth and seventh assemblies, the emergence of David Mark as senate president back-to- back was also without much acrimony and jostling.
In the eighth National Assembly, Senator Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogora dramatically upstaged the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to emerge president and speaker respectively.
In the Green Chamber, the emergence of Aminu Bello Masari (2003-2007), Patricia Etteh (2007), Dimeji Bankole (2007-2011), Aminu Tambuwal (2011-2015), Yakubu Dogara (2015-2019) and Femi Gbajabiamila (2019-2023) no doubt came with drama and, but perhaps, not as intense and crowded as the current race.
Why current race is intense
A number of factors are responsible for the intensity of politicking and the crowded nature of the 10th National Assembly leadership race.
Despite the release of the zoning list and preferred consensus candidates by the ruling APC, the race still remains a hot contest, with aspirants sticking to their guns. Rather than douse the resultant tension, the release of the APC’s zoning list has exacerbated the intensity of the jostling and scramble for the next leaders of the national parliament.
In the House of Representatives, the G-7 aspirants have stoutly opposed the choice of Tajudeen Abbas and Benjamin Kalu as preferred consensus candidates for the speakership and deputy speakership positions of the 10th House.
The G-7, which consists of the Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase; Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Muktar Betara; Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa; Chairman, House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi; Sada Soli; Sani Jaji and Miriam Onuoha, rejected the party’s anointed candidates and have vowed to push on with their aspiration.
While Doguwa later backed out and agreed with the party’s decision, the other six lawmakers have vowed not to retreat.
High number of opposition lawmakers-elect
Another factor behind the intensity with which the gladiators for the National Assembly leadership are going about their ambitions could be attributed to the overwhelming number of lawmakers elected on the platforms of opposition parties.
Unlike in the past assemblies where the ruling party usually had an overwhelming majority, the situation is not so in the incoming assembly.
For instance, in the House of Representatives, members elected on the platform of the opposition parties put together outnumber those of the ruling party.
In the 109-seat senate, the APC has 59 senators, PDP 36, LP eight, NNPP two, SDP two, YPP, and APGA one each.
This development has buoyed the confidence of the aspirants moving against the APC’s anointed candidates, believing they can leverage on the overwhelming number of the opposition members-elect to upstage the ruling party during the inauguration.
It was gathered that Abdulaziz Yari, a major contender for the senate presidency, has reached out to some ranking PDP chieftains who had served in the National Assembly to mobilise the party’s lawmakers to support his bid.
For the house speakership, the aggrieved aspirants are also banking on the opposition to sail through, especially as a faction of the minority caucus has rejected the anointed candidates, Abbas and Kalu.
‘Lopsided’ zoning arrangement
The APC’s zoning template for the 10th National Assembly leadership, with the North West getting two slots – deputy senate president and speaker – triggered a backlash from stakeholders in the North Central, who described the arrangement as injustice.
Aspirants and other stakeholders from the area feel the zone has been treated unfairly as it is not considered for any of the positions.
Senators and governors elected from the zone have also insisted on getting the deputy senate president position and are pulling resources to achieve it.
Aliyu Wadada, a senator-elect from Nasarawa West, recently told journalists that his colleagues from the North Central were still determined to ensure the emergence of Senator Sani Musa as deputy senate president during the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly next month.
He said, “The North Central will not, and cannot be left out with a representative like us. We will always strive to get what belongs to us or what we deserve.”
The failure of the APC and Tinubu’s camp to engage in adequate consultations and dialogue with the aspirants and other stakeholders before coming up with its zoning and consensus candidates’ list is also believed to be one of the factors responsible for the bickering trailing the race for the National Assembly leadership.
Some of the aspirants and other stakeholders said they were not consulted and that some vested interests were trying to impose leaders on the National Assembly, arguing that in the absence of justice, equity, and fairness, party supremacy and loyalty remained inconsequential.
They insist that the zoning formula must be reversed so as to favour other geo-political zones for the sake of equity, fairness, and justice.
While receiving some aggrieved senate presidency aspirants, Orji Uzor Kalu, Abdulaziz Yari, and Sani Musa, in his office, APC National Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, admitted that there was no adequate consultation and promised that the party would go back to the drawing board and review the zoning arrangement where necessary.
Despite Adamu’s assurance, the aggrieved contenders for senate presidency and speakership have intensified campaigns, indicating that they are not ready to step down.
‘It’s my turn’ mantra
Some aspirants believe that it is their turn to be the presiding officers in both chambers, claiming that they had earlier worked and sacrificed their ambitions for others.
For instance, the likes of Deputy Speaker, Wase, and Mukhtar Betara Aliyu, House Committee Chairman on Appropriations, believe they could have clinched the speakership position in the ninth house but were persuaded to sacrifice their ambitions.
These aspirants believe that having sacrificed their ambitions to allow the emergence of Femi Gbajabiamila as the speaker of the ninth house, it is now their turn to be given the opportunity to push for the speakership position.
During his declaration, Wase said, “In 2019, I felt I should go for speaker, but again the party leaders said I should step down for Femi Gbajabiamila, and I obliged even though I had the endorsement to go through and we then ran a joint campaign.
“These are part of the sacrifices I have made, and in the words of my leader, president-elect, Sen Bola Tinubu, I say, ‘Emilokan – It is my turn’.”
With the current arrangement, the heads of the three arms of government – executive, legislature, and judiciary – in the incoming administration will be from the Southern region.
President Tinubu (Lagos) and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola (Oyo), are from the South.
If Senator Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom) wins the seat of the 10th senate president, the legislative arm will equally be headed by a Southerner. The Senate president equally serves as the Chairman of the National Assembly.
Aspirants like Yari, who insists on contesting for the senate presidency against the party’s arrangement, has declared that the APC’s zoning formula for the election of presiding officers is unconstitutional and unfair to Northern Nigeria, as all the heads of the three arms of government will be Southerners.
Northern stakeholders who subscribe to this argument are said to be scheming behind the scene to ensure that a Northern aspirant emerges as Senate president.
By Abdullateef Salau & Itodo Daniel Sule