13th June, 2019
By Obike Ukoh
From onset the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) made it clear it would not allow a repeat of the 2015 scenario, where it shared principal officers’ positions with the opposition and was unable to determine the composition of the National Assembly leadership in the two chambers.
President Muhammadu Buhari set the ball rolling by timely indicating interest that his preferred candidate to lead the Senate was Sen. Ahmad Lawan and the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.
Analysts say the president’s choice may not be unconnected with what happened in 2015.
In 2015, APC had chosen Ahmad Lawan to be President of the Senate and Femi Gbajabiamila, to be the Speaker.
Sen. Bukola Saraki and Mr Yakubu Dogara, though APC members then, formed an alliance with minority PDP to emerge as Senate President and Speaker, respectively.
The analysts posited that the president “opted for Lawan and Gbajabiamila because they are the victims of the conspiracy against the APC in both chambers in 2015’’.
With the choice of the president clear and unambiguous, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, the APC National Chairman, made it clear that all the elected members of the National Assembly on the platform of the party must vote for the preferred candidates.
Oshiomhole, when he addressed the members, said what happened in the 8th National Assembly would not repeat itself.
“This time around, we must ensure that we have a leadership of the National Assembly that shares the vision of the executive.
“Although we will adhere to the principle of separation of powers, but there is only one government and unless the various arms pursue the same agenda, it will be difficult for the executive to realise its vision because legislative backing is often required for the executive actions.
“So, I will expect that you bear it in mind that we are one family joined together as shown in our broom, with a share commitment to bail Nigeria out of the condition in which we found it in 2015.
“We have the number to produce the Speaker and we will produce the Speaker, who must be a member of the APC.
“We have the numbers to produce the Deputy Speaker and we will use the numbers to produce the Deputy Speaker, who must be a member of the APC. We have the number and we must use the numbers to elect a House leader who must be a member of the APC.
“We have the numbers and we will use the numbers to produce a Chief Whip and a Deputy Chief Whip who must be members of the APC. I think the only position that we are not interested in, is the minority leader. Let it remain minor in the hands of the minors in the opposition.
“We will not share power in the House of Representatives and the leadership must ensure that critical committees that drive government are chaired only by the APC members. If the Nigerian people wanted them to be chairmen of committees they would have voted for them.
“So, all the chairmen of committees, except the one that is statutorily reserved for the opposition, which is Public Accounts, they can have that.
“So, we will not do the kind of thing that happened the last time in which some APC members became distance spectators in the management of committees, when the PDP had majority of the strategic committees in the House, that will not happen in the next assembly,’’ he said.
In a meeting chaired by President Buhari, the APC national chairman, stressed why the lawmakers must toe party lines.
Oshiomhole said that the purpose of the meeting “is to bond the new and old members, to establish a new relationship between the executive and the legislature.
“Happily, the Nigerian people have given us the number in the legislative arm of government. All we have agreed today is that we will use these numbers as a functioning whole to determine the leadership of the National Assembly.”
Also before the formal inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, the National Working Committee of the APC met with governors and members of the National Assembly elected on the platform of the party, to endorse candidates for positions of the Senate President, Speaker and their deputies.
The forum endorsed Senator Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively.
Also endorsed were Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and Idris Wase as Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker, respectively.
The endorsement of the APC candidates by the highest organ of the party compelled Sen. Orji Kalu (Abia-North) to withdrew from the race for deputy Senate President.
Before the endorsement, Kalu had vowed not to step down, adding that the party should zone the position to the South-East.
The former governor of Abia, explained that he dropped his ambition in the interest of APC.
He stressed that the decision of the party was supreme and must be respected by loyal party members.
Kalu said: “I decided to throw my hat into the ring to contest for the position of Deputy Senate President after wide consultations with stakeholders, especially my political associates, friends and colleagues (returning Senators and Senators-elect).
“I contested and won election as a Senator on the platform of APC and as such, I cannot go against the decision of my party.
“The party, I am optimistic, will consider the South-East for other principal positions in the senate and House of Representatives for the sake of national unity.
“The South-East should be ably and well represented at the top hierarchy of the 9th National Assembly.
“The 9th National Assembly will work harmoniously regardless of party affiliations to ensure that the executive and judiciary arms of government are complemented in a bid to build a prosperous Nigeria.”
In spite the endorsements of the National Assembly leadership by all hierarchies of the APC, former Senate Leader, Sen. Ali Ndume, insisted and contested against the preferred party choice.
Ndume in a letter of intent dated March 25, 2019, and addressed to Oshiomhole, said he was “throwing his hat into the ring believing that the Senate President position would be zoned to the North-East geopolitical zone.
“I wish to emphasise that my decision to contest for the Senate Presidency is informed by my desire to contribute my quota to nation building.”
Ndume remained adamant, and contested against Ahmad Lawan, party supremacy triumphed as he lost. Lawan scored 79 votes, while Ndume got 28 votes.
Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, APC National Publicity Secretary, who commented on the election, said the victory was a triumph of party politics.
According to him, it is triumph of democracy over the brazen lawlessness of anti-democratic forces and a defeat of impunity of minority party.
He said that the APC had consistently maintained that the leadership of the National Assembly belonged to the party in the majority.
The APC spokesman maintained that the outcome of the elections had clearly validated the party’s efforts to institutionalise party discipline and loyalty.
“It is triumph of internal democracy, anchored on consensus building, to which we lay claim, we are deeply humbled by the honour bestowed on our great party,” he said.
He added that while the party’s members were entitled to savour this victory, they should avoid pettiness and continue to stretch hands of fellowship to progressive forces in other political parties and groups.
Why did the APC succeed this time by reclaiming its `mandate’ in the National Assembly? Analysts said they acted the way a party should act by carrying every stakeholder along.
Prof. Okey Okoh, a professor of law, in a publication entitled: “Legislators and the Challenge of Party Supremacy,’’ stressed the need for elected officers and party leaders to work together.
He noted that party leaders and elected officers were equal partners who should work together for the success of their party at the polls.
“The main duties of party leaders are to broaden the party’s support base and lead the party to victory at the polls.
“The rights of party members and the dictates of democracy must be paramount in all their dealings.
“Party leaders must create conditions for the party’s success and viability by observing democratic values, steering the party away from trouble and making members to feel vested in the party,’’ Okoh said.