Ahead of the inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly in June, some lawmakers-elect have begun scrambling for its leadership. They are eyeing the top jobs of Senate president and House Speaker, which the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has reserved for Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila. Will party supremacy prevail? Abdulgafar Alabelewe, Kaduna; Adesoji Adeniyi, Osogbo and Dele Anofi, Abuja, report.
Kalu: we’ll stand by party’s decision
DESPITE the preference of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila as Senate president and House of Representatives Speaker, some of its National Assembly members-elect are still showing interest in the top jobs.
Others have, however, accepted the party’s decision and dropped their ambition.
Former Abia State governor and Abia North Senator-elect Orji Uzor Kalu and House of Representatives member-elect Khadija Bukar-Abba have withdrawn from the Senate presidency and Speakership race.
But Kalu is praying the party to reconsider the Southeast for the principal positions in the incoming Ninth Assembly.
Speaking with reporters after an APC stakeholders meeting at his Igbere country home in Abia State, he said if the principal positions were not equitably distributed among the geopolitical zones, especially the Southeast, the APC might find it difficult to win future elections, particularly in 2023.
According to him, apart from President Muhammadu Buhari, no other person in the APC currently has the followership and capacity to single-handedly garner 12 million votes.
Kalu said: “We are not going to be having another Muhammadu Buhari because Buhari is the only individual in the party who single-handedly polled 10-12 million votes alone. So the contribution of every region in the country will be very vital to the elections the party will be participating in, in the coming years. So leaving the Southeast behind will be detrimental and dangerous. It is very vital to share the leadership positions equitably to give every region a sense of belonging.”
On APC’s performance in the elections in the Southeast, Kalu said: “For me, it is erroneous to state that our zone did not vote for APC in the last elections because there was tremendous improvement judging from what we had in 2015. From 3% to 27% in Abia and some other states so for me we should respect the leadership of our party, and the leadership should also respect our views.
“If you have shared the positions and you didn’t share well, include our region in the sharing so that we can be empowered to go out and continue campaigning and mobilising for the party and soliciting for our peoples vote. These are very simple things to do and nobody would want the party to lose anything. Yes, we should learn from our mistakes in the Southeast; I am sure we shall continue to improve. What we had in 2015 is not what we had in 2019 in terms of results.”
He said the Assembly leadership struggle was not for him alone, noting: “It’s not going to be my fight alone; it’s going to be our fight once we are ready, we are going to involve our traders, our religious leaders and some other people to first of all understand that APC is a national party and it’s a party that has the capability to cover the interest of the Igbo.
My position on contesting the Senate Presidency has changed and we respect the decision of the party. Except we want to deceive ourselves the Senate President usually comes from the region that produces the President. So when you go back to history and see what it stands for you don’t need to cause more headaches for the party. You need to align with the decision of the party.”
Bukar-Abba opts for Majority Leader
Bukar-Abba told reporters in her Kaduna home that she withdrew from the Speakership race for Gbajabiamila in line with the party’s decision.
She said: “I have what it takes to steer the affairs of the House; but being a party loyalist, I have to drop my ambition and obey the party’s decision.
The party, she said, had zoned the Senate president and House Speaker to Lawan and Gbajabiamila from the Northeast and Southwest.
She said she would be vying for Majority Leader at the House inauguration in June.
Bukar-Abba promised to intensify her push for girl-child education in the next Assembly.
APC not threatening us, says Southeast aspirant
The APC leadership has not threatened any of the contestants that refused to support its choice of Assembly leadership, a member of the House of Representatives, Chike Okafor said.
Okafor, who said he was still in the Speakership race, stated that the party was rather “engaging contestants individually and collectively for the best way forward to avoid a repeat of the 2015 National Assembly leadership crisis”.
Responding to questions during a House of Representatives media parley, Hot Seat, he said his understanding of the party’s decision on the Speakership was that APC was lobbying for Gbajabiamila’s candidature “which was different from endorsement, as widely reported”.
He said: “The party’s intention was disclosed at a private dinner but in democracy, there are rules and one of the rules is lobbying. What I understand with the position of the party at the dinner is that the party is trying to lobby us, trying to ensure our buy in for a candidate.
“The party has a right to be involved in the emergence of the leadership of the National Assembly and no one would expect it not to get involved in the affairs of the party it worked so hard to make a majority in the House.
“The party is not threatening us but still consulting and lobbying; even the President met with contestants.
“We are beautiful brides and the party is still meeting with all the contestants.
“We are not being coerced by the party but we are confident that the party may change its mind and make a surprise announcement in days to come”.
He said the pursuit of his Speakership ambition despite the party’s position, was anchored on fairness, equity and reward for contributions.
“Not that some of us are against the party’s decision but there are some facts that must be examined and brought to the knowledge of the party, like zoning arrangement and federal character as contained in the constitution.
“So, the party should look at all of these and bring it to bear on this contest by revisiting its earlier decision”, he noted.
The lawmaker said his loyalty to the party would remain unshaken, if the final decision did not favour him.
“I’ve never belonged to any party in my life.
“I’m a foundation member of APC in my state since 2013 and I ran for election when it was almost an impossibility considering the region but we braced all odds.
“Whatever the decision of the party is at the end of the day, I won’t dump the party, I’m a loyal party man and I do not intend to confront the party leadership but I believe the leadership will change its decision, even if it does not, I won’t change allegiance.”
Okafor said he would not betray the party that has given him so much even if his ambition crashes, adding: “The opposition can’t and will not use me and my ambition won’t ever make me compromise the party that gave me a platform to come this far.
“Even if this agitation and the push we are making now failed to make the party change its mind, I will not change my allegiance”.
He added: “The party should not sacrifice national unity for anything because the crises in the country are enormous, which make accommodating social justice imperative.
“Gbajabiamila is most qualified and we can’t get anyone better for the Ninth Assembly and the party can’t be wrong looking at his antecedents but what we are saying is that there are other factors the party should consider like fairness and equity and there are competent hands from other regions too”.
Afenifere back Lawan, Gbajabiamila
The Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, has thrown its weight behind Lawan and Gbajabiamila for the Assembly leadership.
In a communique issued after its meeting at the residence of its national leader, Chief Ayo Fasanmi, in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, the group said Lawan and Gbajabiamila had the credentials to lead the Assembly.
Present were Senator Olabiyi Durojaye, Chief S.M. Akindele, Elder Yemi Alade, Sooko Adeleke Adewoyin, Chief Dosu Ladipo and a representative of Prince Tajudeen Olusi, among others.
Congratulating those elected on APC platform in the Southwest, the Afenifere enjoined them to support the Buhari-led administration’s fight against corruption and insurgency.
Afenifere described the victory of Buhari and his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, at the February 23 presidential election as the triumph of good over evil.
The group assured Buhari of its support “as you further intensify your effort to secure the nation”.
It expressed satisfaction with the war against insurgency, particularly in the Northeast.
“We appeal to all Yoruba sons and daughters, at home and in the diaspora, to support the Federal Government for them to have relevance in Nigeria politically and to be able to derive more dividends of democracy,” the group said.