It’s a fierce contest permeating all spheres of the polity, but nearing its apogee. From the wetlands of southern Nigeria to the northern Sahara, the polity is bristling with the politics of the incoming 10th National Assembly, waiting for the inauguration in June with bated breath.
And the political actors are leaving no stone unturned in an effort to successfully achieve their ambitions.
At the last count, aspirants have emerged in the jostle for the positions in both chambers of the National Assembly. For the Senate President, those in contention are Senators Barau Jubrin from the North-West (Kano); Orji Uzor Kalu from the South-East (Abia); Sani Musa from the North-Central (Niger); Godswill Akpabio from the South-South (Akwa Ibom), Ali Ndume from North-East (Borno) and Abdulaziz Yari from the North-West (Zamfara).
Others are David Umahi from the South-East (Ebonyi) and Adams Oshiomhole from the South-South (Edo).
Umahi and Oshiomhole are first timers in the Senate who have never had legislative experience at any level of democratic governance.
And it’s almost a legislative taboo to drop their names among ranking senators in the contest for the Senate President. But then, Nigeria is a country of anything can happen.
In the House of Representatives, the mad rush for the speakership is creating tensions in the polity. In Nigeria’s 24 years of democracy, there have been Speakers but never has the contest been this contentious.
From what is already public knowledge, over 10 persons are ready to battle for the speakership and, given the luxury of time and the laxity of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in unveiling the zoning formula for the National Assembly principal offices, more lawmakers will join the fray.
At the moment, those jostling to succeed outgoing Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila are Rep. Ahmed Idris Wase from Plateau State, Rep. Makki Yalleman from Jigawa State, Rep. Adamu Yusuf Gagdi from Plateau State, Rep. Benjamin Kalu from Abia State, Rep. Peter Akpatason from Edo State, Rep. Muktar Aliyu Betara from Borno State, Rep. Miriam Onuoha, Rep. Sada Soli Jibia from Katsina State, Rep. Tunji Olawuyi from Kwara State, Rep. Abbas Tajudeen from Kaduna State and Rep. Aminu Sani Jaji from Zamfara State. House Majority Leader, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa just threw his hat into the ring of the speakership race.
Tinubu at the centre
President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the cynosure of all eyes. He is both the bride and the toast and everyone now courts him. Last week, his new abode, the Defence House, Abuja, was a Mecca of sorts with many aspirants for the Senate President, House Speaker and allies visiting for the purpose of lobbying him. This is understandable.
Everyone in the APC, which has the majority in both chambers of the National Assembly, believes Tinubu, as president-elect, should have a say in who emerge as the National Assembly presiding officers as they ultimately will work together should the next administration be successful.
Apart from the Senate President and House Speaker, other offices up for grabs and to be zoned to the various regions are Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker, Senate Majority Leader, House Majority Leader, Senate Chief Whip, House Chief Whip, Senate Minority Leader and House Minority Leader.
And as the South-West and North-East have taken the slots of the President (Tinubu) and Vice President (Senator Kashim Shettima) respectively, the next two top offices in the country should go to the four other geo-political zones – North-West, North-Central, South-East and South-South – on the grounds of equity and fairness.
Port Harcourt trip
Not satisfied with lobbying Tinubu in Abuja, some of the aspirants for the 10th National Assembly top offices, it was learnt, trailed the president-elect to Port-Harcourt, Rivers State capital, late last week, to plead their causes for endorsement.
One of such aspirants, according to sources, was Akpabio, who is a ranking senator and the immediate past Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
Hardly had Tinubu landed in Port Harcourt on the invitation of Governor Nyesom Wike to commission some projects, it was learnt, than Akpabio announced his presence.
At the State Banquet organized in honour of the president-elect, Akpabio was said to be one of the speakers and he reportedly used the opportunity to regale the audience with the story of the 41 senators-elect who came in solidarity with him pay to pay obeisance to Tinubu.
He allegedly said: “They (senators-elect) are the ones that are going to evaluate your policies. They are the ones that are going to advise on a daily basis and they are the ones that are going to show you total loyalty to bring peace to Nigeria.
“Standing before you here are senators from NNPP, senators from Labour Party, senators from PDP, senators from YPP and senators from APC.
“Mr. President, we have 109 senators but 60 of us were supposed to be here tonight. We did not have enough aircraft to convey everyone.”
Meanwhile, sources said that what happened in Port Harcourt was choreography.
It was revealed that Akpabio was trying to play smart to a condition said to have been given to him by Tinubu to attest to his popularity for the Senate presidency contest.
It was gathered that Tinubu asked Akpabio to convince him by producing 60 senators whom he had said had endorsed him for Senate President.
We could not ascertain at the weekend if Akpabio’s reported display met the condition the president-elect had set for him to guarantee an endorsement even as sources said Tinubu may be neutral in the battle for the jostle for the 10th National Assembly principal offices so that he won’t appear to be taking sides, a situation that could be counter-productive should candidates he didn’t favour eventually emerge.
North/South dichotomy case
In a related development, it was understood that many northern senators-elect are insisting that the Senate President should be zoned to the North should there be zoning by the APC for the National Assembly principal offices.
The northern senators-elect are basing their argument on the understanding that Nigeria operates on the basis of the North/South dichotomy and that since there are three arms of government – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – and the South already has two of the three – the President and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) (CJN Ariwoola who hails from the South-West, same zone as Tinubu), the next most important office in the land, Senate President, should go to the North, and not South-East or South-South, as it is believed in many politically informed quarters.
Those in the camps of Yari, a former governor of Zamfara State, and Jibrin are said to be pushing this narrative but it is said to be gaining ground among many senators-elect. It wasn’t also clear at the weekend whether the narrative will get the understanding of the APC leadership and Tinubu to the extent of accommodation in the anticipated zoning arrangement.
Meanwhile, the standing rule of the Senate that bars first timers from contesting for the National Assembly presiding offices might be in jeopardy. Some stakeholders might in coming days approach the court to ask for the interpretation of the rule, seeking to know if it supersedes the Constitution of the land. Recall that Section 50 of the Constitution authorities anyone to contest for the top position.
The first choice of Tinubu for the Senate President was Oshiomhole who is not just a former governor of Edo State and former National Chairman of APC but also a strong ally of Tinubu. Both men have come a long way and can always promote their mutuality at all times.
Sources close to the president-elect said that what appeared to have aborted Oshiomole’s bid for Senate President was the standing rule especially as he is from the South-South which is clearly favoured to get the Senate top job in any zoning arrangement.
Tinubu’s men disagree
In the meantime, two allies of the president-elect, the Speaker Gbajabiamila and the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Finance, Hon. James Falake, are said to be at war over who succeeds Gbajabiamila. While Gbajabiamila is believed to be rooting for Abbas, Faleke, according to sources, is clamouring for Aminu Jaji for the House top job
Betara and the opposition
Betara, who is the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, is running for speakership against the run of play as APC zoning is not likely to favour him due to the fact that Vice President-elect Shettima is from the same Borno State with him.
But like it or not, Betara is strongly believed to have support of the opposition parties that have 180 members-elect. Recall also the determination of the opposition parties to contest the speakership. The plan, sources said, is that if APC throws up any unpopular candidate, the opposition will stand on Section 50 of the Constitution to nominate one of them to contest with the choice of the ruling party.
It is against this backdrop that the ‘Joint Task Group’ for 10th Assembly convened by Hon. Bello Kumo, Chairman, Committee on Police Affairs from Gombe State, birthed, basically to ensure that APC zoning stands.