The National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress on Monday ordered all the party’s members-elect in the National Assembly to vote Senator Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively during the inauguration of the 9th federal legislature on Tuesday (today).
The NWC gave the directive after a meeting with the APC governors and its members-elect in the National Assembly in Abuja on Monday.
This is as the Peoples Democratic party directed its members-elect to vote the former Senate Majority Leader, Ali Ndume, and Umar Bago both of the APC, as the 9th National Assembly’s Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives, respectively.
The APC NWC’s meeting also endorsed Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and Idris Wase as Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker, respectively.
Ndume from Borno State, who had also declared for the Senate President, was absent from the APC meeting.
Among the contestants also absent from the APC meeting were Senator Francis Alimikhena, Kabiru Gaya and a former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu.
Addressing journalists at the end of the meeting, the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, said, “We have all agreed as a caucus to endorse senator Lawan for Senate President and Senator Omo-Agege as the Deputy Senate President.
“We have also agreed to endorse Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Wase as deputy speaker. These four are the APC nominees for the respective positions. The governors and members-elect were unanimous in adopting this position.”
He thanked other aspirants for agreeing to step down despite being qualified to contest the positions in order to preserve the unity of the APC and the interest of the country at large.
Specifically, Oshiomhole thanked Senator Danjuma Goje from Gombe State for stepping down for Lawan and Senator Francis Alimikhena for assuring him to support Omo-Agege.
He also thanked Senator Ajayi Boroffice (Ondo State), Olusegun Odebunmi and Nkiruika Onyejeocha among others for agreeing to step down for the party’s candidates.
Oshiomhole noted that those that stepped down were eminently qualified to contest the positions.
“They offered to step down as a mark of honour for the President and leadership of the party. They are all unanimous to back these candidates as the APC candidates for the good of the country,” he said.
Oshiomhole commended Lawan and Gbajabiamila for travelling the length and breadth of the country to woo members of the opposition in order to build bipartisan cooperation, which he noted, had been helpful to their course.
“I believe together we will work to take Nigeria to the next level,” he said.
Oshiomhole urged Ndume to respect the party’s position, which he said, was the position of President Muhammadu Buhari.
He added, “For now we are still trying to talk to Senator Ali Ndume but I believe he is a democrat; he understands that it is important to listen to the voice of the majority and accept the decision of the majority. It is all about sacrifice.
“For those who have agreed to step down, they did so because they realise at a point in time, only one person will lead.
“I believe that my friend, Ndume, will not be a lone ranger; he will respect the party and the President who is the leader of the party. I do not have any fear that he will respect the decision of the party.”
Earlier, the NWC had urged all aspirants for the presiding officers of the 9th National Assembly to step down and support the anointed candidates of the party.
The party made the declaration at the end of its NWC emergency meetings held over Saturday and Sunday.
Recall that The PUNCH had reported exclusively on May 10 that Omo-Agege and Wase had been picked as the party’s candidates for the two positions.
It was reported that the party had set machinery in motion to ensure the emergence of the two men.
A statement issued in the early hours of Monday by the APC National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, restated that the duo of Lawan and Gbajabiamila were the party’s candidates for the positions of Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively.
Ndume from Borno and Umar Bago representing Chanchanga constituency of Niger State in the House of Representatives on the APC platform among other aspirants had declared for the positions.
But the party said it arrived at the conclusion following wide consultations with President Buhari and party stakeholders, including the APC governors.
“All elected APC members of the Senate and House of Representatives are hereby directed to fully mobilise as a united force behind the party’s choices.
“Members who have earlier signified interests in these positions are urged to support the party’s decisions as loyal and committed members of the APC by working with other members to ensure the emergence of the adopted candidates,” the statement said.
PDP backs Ndume for Senate Presidency, Bago as speaker
But rising from a meeting the members of the National Working Committee of the PDP had with its lawmakers-elect in Abuja on Monday night, the party said it would support Ndume to become the President of the Senate in the 9th National Assembly.
In the same vein, the main opposition party is also giving tacit support to the ambition of Umar Bago to lead the House of Representatives as its speaker.
The meeting was presided over by the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus.
Sources at the meeting told one of our correspondents that the attendees engaged in serious calculations on whether their preferred candidates could defeat those lined up for the job by the ruling APC.
The APC had adopted both Lawan and Gbajabiamila for the positions of Senate President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively.
However, the national leadership of the PDP was said to have told the lawmakers-elect that the party must play the role of opposition in both chambers.
Though it was argued that while the meeting was ongoing, some lawmakers-elect from the party were at the press briefing where Gbajabiamila was endorsed, the party believed that mere attendance of the meeting might not necessarily translate into votes for the Lagos State lawmaker.
A source, who was at the meeting, told one of our correspondents that there were signs that some members of the ruling party in both houses would also work against the party’s candidates.
The source said the APC lawmakers were merely carrying on and appearing as if they were in tandem with the dictates of the national leadership of their party.
He said, “We have done our calculations very well. We have also spoken with a lot of lawmakers and we have come to the conclusion that we should not just be part of the crowd that the APC is forcing on Nigerians.
“We have spoken with our lawmakers-elect and even some members from the APC in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. We have interacted with the candidates running for different positions in both chambers.
“We know that the legislature must be independent and also be free to elect their leaders. We must not be seen to be controlling this special arm of government from outside. The legislature remains the beacon of Nigeria’s democracy.”
When contacted, Secondus confirmed the position taken by the party.
He said, “As the opposition political party, we must be seen to play responsible opposition role.Yes, none of the two presiding officers we are rooting for belong to the PDP, but we know that as a critical member of the National Assembly, we must have a say in the election of its leaders. This is the reason why we are backing both Ndume and Bago.”
INEC ballot boxes arrive N’Assembly as lawmakers pick presiding officers today
Meanwhile, the National Assembly management appeared set for the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly and the election of the presiding officers of both chambers on Tuesday (today).
The bureaucracy of the federal parliament has also, finally laid to rest, the issue of voting method it would adopt for the polls.
Investigations by one of our correspondents revealed that the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani -Omolori, has taken possession of some ballot boxes from the Independent National Electoral Commission.
A member of the management staff of INEC told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity on Monday that the boxes had been kept in the offices of both clerks of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
He said, “The issue of voting method is no longer in contention. The ballot boxes supplied by INEC are already in the possession and safe custody of the clerks of both red and green chambers.
“The lawmakers are aware that they would elect their presiding officers via open-secret method as contained in House Rule booklets in their possession.
“We are looking forward to a peaceful election tomorrow (today) because adequate arrangements have been perfected around the National Assembly complex, the premises and inside the chambers.”
One of our correspondents had reported that the management of the federal parliament took the decision to avoid rancour on Tuesday (today).
A senior employee of the nation’s legislature had said, “There were attempts to amend the rules of both chambers to give room for open ballot but the idea was frustrated by the outgoing leadership.
“I’m aware that advocates of the open ballot method mounted pressure on the outgoing Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, and stressed the need to amend the rules in line with the global practice.
“There is no way the management will come up with a voting method different from what is contained in the Rule Book that had been distributed to elected members since April,” the senior civil servant had said.
Investigation by The PUNCH revealed that the members of the Ahmad Lawan Campaign Organisation had soft-pedalled on their agitation for an open poll.
A strong member of the group, Ibrahim Gobir, and senator-elect from Sokoto State, confirmed on Tuesday that the Rule Book in his possession provided for an open-secret poll.
Gobir, who fielded questions from journalists shortly after completing his documentation process on Monday, said the 2015 Rule Book would be used for the election.
He said, “The voting pattern is provided in our standing rules; so I don’t think that it is going to be a problem. We are going to make use of the 2015 Standing Rules (which provided for open -secret ballot).”
Attempts to speak with the Director of Information, Rawlings Agada, on the issue failed on Monday as calls made to his mobile phone did not connect.
Meanwhile, the Deputy President of the 8th Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, on Monday evening sent messages to all the PDP senators-elect for a meeting with Governor Nyesom Wike.
The meeting, according to the Special Assistant (administration) to Ekweremadu, Ndubuisi Nwigwe, was scheduled for the Rivers State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja by 8pm.
“Thereafter a final meeting of the forum will meet at DSP (Ekweremadu’s) residence at 10pm at the Apo Legislative Quarters,” the notice added. The meeting was still going on as of the time of filing this report.
Don’t muzzle legislature, Secondus tells Buhari, APC
Meanwhile, Secondus on Monday warned President Buhari and the APC not to muzzle the legislature and the judicial arm of government.
Secondus made the call in a statement in Abuja by his media aide, Ike Abonyi, ahead of the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly.
While alleging that President Buhari was directly involving his party in the election of principal officers of the National Assembly, Secondus warned that the doctrine of separation of powers must be respected to avoid dictatorship.
Secondus said, “Indications are clearly showing that full-blown dictatorship is brewing in our country. When a supposed democratic government brazenly muzzles all the other arms of government, the legislature, the judiciary and even the press, the fourth estate of the realm, we should be worried at what is loading in our polity.”
The PDP chairman urged members of the 9th National Assembly to guide their independence jealously and refuse to be intimidated.
Abuja agog ahead of N’Assembly inauguration
Meanwhile, political activities peaked in Abuja on Monday as members of the 9th National Assembly were set to elect their leaders on Tuesday (today).
State governors and other leaders of the APC, the PDP and other political parties have relocated to the Federal Capital Territory ahead of the inauguration.
Other politicians from all states of the federation also arrived in Abuja on Monday to identify with the federal lawmakers from their states.
The development led to a boost in business for major hotels located in the city centre.
Gbajabiamila free to contest, says VATLAD
In a related development, the National President, Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy, Igbini Emmanuel, in a statement on Monday said Gbajabiamila was free to contest the election despite the allegations being levelled against him that he was convicted in 2007 by the Supreme Court of Georgia in the United States of America.
Emmanuel said Section 66 (1c and d) of the constitution “only disqualifies people from contesting if convicted within a period of less than 10 years before the date of an election.”
He said, “Femi Gbajabiamila was said to have been convicted by the Supreme Court of Georgia more than 10 years before February 23, 2019, being the date of election for the 9th House of Representatives of Nigeria.
“It is very important for us to mention and inform Nigerians that ‘double jeopardy’ in criminal case is highly prohibited by the 5th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America which also applies to the State of Georgia and the Supreme Court of Georgia which allegedly convicted Femi Gbajabiamila over 10 years ago.
“It also applies to Nigeria in regard to a resident of the US. The Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment is part of the critical Bill of Rights of persons which provides the right of defendants to be tried only once for same offence.”
He added, “To deprive Femi Gbajabiamila of his constitutional right to vie for the Office of the Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the same alleged offence will amount to double jeopardy that must not be tolerated and allowed in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria.
“The allegation of perjury against Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for purpose of seeking his disqualification from NASS can only be a pre-election matter not post-election.
“Except and until there is a proof that a suit was properly filed against him before the February 23, 2019 National Assembly elections, any suit filed outside such period shall be statute-barred and therefore no court of law in Nigeria shall have jurisdiction to hear any such matter.”