After the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, one major task that stands in the way of the All Progressives Congress is how the leadership of the National Assembly will emerge.
At the first meeting held with lawmakers-elect on March 13, the party directed its members to leave the issue of National Assembly leadership and focus on winning the governorship and House of Assembly elections. The National Chairman of the party, Adamu Abdullahi, told lawmakers-elect to work for the victory of the party in the governorship elections.
The APC chairman said members-elect had the right to seek positions but they should not cause rifts in the party.
He stated, “People have the right to struggle for positions of leadership for which they believe they are eminently qualified.
“But we, in the national working committee of the party, are not comfortable with the tone adopted by those who seek those offices. Those offices are not tribal or sectional rights and must not be so portrayed.
“Leadership positions at the national level is a delicate matter and must not be approached with levity or lack of seriousness.
“It may be good to start early but it is wiser to be patient. Some of you may recall what happened to the party and the National Assembly in 2015 when some members of the national legislature chose not to wait for the decision of the president and the party in sharing those offices.
“It created bad blood within the party and between the executive and the legislature. I urge us not to regress.”
Also at the intense Monday meeting, the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, revealed that he had no preferred candidates for the leadership of both chambers who will constitute the 10th National Assembly.
Tinubu, who was represented by the Vice President-Elect, Kashim Shettima, disclosed this at the meeting with new members-elect to the National Assembly.
However, irrespective of the decisions of the party, some lawmakers have refused to give up as lobbying is going on among members.
The PUNCH learnt that some lawmakers particularly former governors, were lobbying the first-time senators.
One of the senators, who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said although they were told to go and work for the elections that did not take away the fact that aspirants were lobbying for the position.
A senator said, “Consultations are still ongoing but some desperate contestants especially former governors are luring senators-elect with pledges of juicy committee members.
“They are cajoling them with membership of committees such as oil and gas upstream and downstream, appropriation, finance, and Tetfund among others where lawmakers make much money from oversight.”
While the inauguration of the 10th Assembly is expected to take place sometime in June following the issuance of the certificates of return to the senators-elect on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, contentions have begun in earnest.
According to results announced by the INEC for the February 25 elections and so far in the Senate, the APC won 57 seats while the major opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party garnered 29 seats.
Others include the All Progressives Grand Alliance, one; Labour Party six; New Nigeria Peoples Party, two; Social Democratic Party, two and Young Progressive Party with one seat.
Having won the majority of the seats, according to Parliamentary tradition, rules, and convention, the APC is expected to form the majority caucus and produce the presiding officers.
The party with the dominant members would also constitute the majority leadership, while the PDP which is the party with the second highest number of lawmakers in the chamber would produce the minority principal officers.
While there is no written law on when a senator can contest any of the offices, it is believed that first-timers should take time to acquaint themselves with the legislative practice before running for any parliamentary leadership.
Some of the APC lawmakers who have openly declared intentions for the Senate Presidency are; the third-term ranking senator representing Kano North, Jibrin Barau; the former governor of Abia state and Senator representing Abia North, Orji Kalu; and the Senator representing, Borno south, Ali Ndume.
Others who have been said to be in the race include senator, Sani Musa( Niger-East), former Akwa-Ibom governor, Godswill Akpabio, former Edo governor, Adams Oshiomole (Edo North) and Dave Umahi (Ebonyi South).
While some are still shadowing and trying to understand the body language of the party, others have started work fully meeting with their colleagues to lobby them for votes.
Some lawmakers have met with some of their colleagues individually, and some daring ones such as Senator Barau hosted not fewer than 70 out of the 109 senators to a luncheon last week at a hotel in Abuja.
While some senators are solely relying on zoning, the senators are wooing the parties to favour their geopolitical zone, while others are asking that the party leave it open.
Some analysts have called that for power balance, fairness and equity, the APC should zone the post to the South-East while the South-South gets that of the Deputy Senate President considering the outcry from the zone on marginalisation.
If the party goes by that formula, the contest would likely be between Kalu and Umahi.
However, some people believe Kalu, the current chief whip would be more favoured based on his experience and his position in the Senate.
Others in a different school of thought believe that the party should not base such important positions on the religious and ethnic basis but should consider the competence and experiences of the persons involved.
The North West has also claimed to have been marginalised despite being the ones that produce the highest votes for the presidency every election year.
The North-West also claimed not to have any position in the current leadership of the party nor have they produced a Senate president before, so they also should complain of marginalisation.
Responding to the issue, a source close to senator Barau who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the APC particularly under the leadership of Tinubu would consider the interest of Nigerians and the party.
The source said, “ Senator Barau is high-ranking. He is very experienced and knows his onions. He has been the chairman of the Appropriation committee since he was in the House of Representatives and he is currently still the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He has shown interest in the race because he knows he has all it takes.
“Talking about zoning, I think people should be free to contest. But even when you talk about zoning, the North West hasn’t benefited from any position in the party.”
Some senators from the North-Central are also interested in the position.
According to a source in the Senate North-Central caucus, the zone was willing to sacrifice the seat of the National Chairman of the party to clinch the seat of the Senate President.
For the South-South, the media aide to senator Akpabio, Anietie Ekong, said his principal stood a high chance of becoming the senate president in the 10th Assembly.
He noted that in 2015, Akpabio as a first-term Senator, surprised most bookmakers with his election as the Senate Minority Leader, a position he held till he resigned to join the ruling APC.
He said, “He is returning to the Senate in 2023 as a ranking Senator. It is believed that the odds are in his favour to succeed Senator Ahmed Lawan as the President of the 10th Senate.’’
From all indications, the APC is trying to avoid the 2015 bitter experience, when Bukola Saraki, against its wish, became the President of the Senate.
Ahead of the inauguration of the eighth assembly on June 9, 2015, two groups emerged: Senate Unity Forum, led by Barnabas Gemade; a senator from Benue state, and – Likeminded Senators, led by Dino Melaye, a senator from Kogi State.
The party was preparing to present Ahmed Lawan as the Senate President and Femi Gbjamiabila as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, but Saraki joined forces with opposition senators to emerge as the Senate President.
Advising the APC on how to avoid what happened in 2015, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy, Auwal Rafsanjani, said it was important for the ruling party to have a consideration of sharing political offices across the zones.
This, he noted, would help alleviate the perceived lack of participation or involvement of other zones.
He said, “ It would also help them address the perceived marginalisation of some zones that some people are arguing about.
“Also, I will urge the ruling party to ensure the equitable sharing of political offices because democracy is also about participation and inclusion. We urge the party to have a very free-minded distribution of offices.