..Religious balancing, Northern interest set to clash
However, indications have emerged that despite the President-elect, Bola Tinubu’s endorsement of Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio as the President of 10th Senate, some political heavyweights from the North have other plans.
Recall that a meeting was held at the Defence House, Abuja, between the President-elect, Tinubu, and prominent members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Working Committee (NWC), as well as select floor functionaries of the National Assembly, last Friday.
During the consultative meeting, which was attended by the APC national chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu; President of the Ninth Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and his Deputy, Omo-Agege, and Speaker House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, Tinubu purportedly endorsed Akpabio and Tajudeen Abass as his preferred candidates for the posts of Senate President and Speaker House of Representatives, respectively.
Discreet searches by The Guardian revealed that the North is plotting to ambush the inauguration of the 10th plenary to ensure the emergence of a ‘strong player’ as first among equals in the Senate.
This is just as some Senators-elect expressed their belief that the election of the next Senate President would be predicated on either, “an anticipated dollar bazaar to influence voting or power of bloc voting interests.”
Also, a third-term Senator from one of the Northwest states disclosed that northern Senators were working across party lines to ensure a revenge against Tinubu for stoking the confusion that attended the inauguration of Eighth Senate.
He explained that the activities of Tinubu in the lead up to the inauguration of the Eighth NASS were being reviewed by influential political leaders from the zone, stressing that it has been discovered that the President-elect wanted to be the power behind the throne in 2015.
“So, we are talking with them (APC lawmakers). We want to know if the Tinubu Presidency would protect northern interest when he promised to continue with President Muhammadu Buahri’s programmes.
“Will the continuation be on the path of side-lining stakeholders in appointments and distribution of amenities? Is Tinubu coming to be a winner-takes all? How would the North respond to some pieces of legislation to come by way of Executive bills?
“These are issues we are trying to put in perspective. So, it is not just about electing a President of Senate that could end up dividing the north further. The legislature is intended to offer checks and balances to the executive and we are minded to guarantee those constitutional bulwarks,” he stated.
The ranking Senator added that it was in a bid not to jeopardise the bi-partisan collaboration being engineered in the North that the APC NWC was advised against imposing a Senate President on Tinubu to know where he stands on the matter.
“Remember that President Buhari did not interfere in 2015, when we were inaugurated. So, the fact that the President-elect is interested in who becomes the chairman of National Assembly raised the first red flag to the North.
“All what you people in the media are seeing and writing would not be the same when the 10th Senate is proclaimed and inaugurated,” he added, stressing that nobody is taking zoning serious on the matter.
However, APC national chairman, Adamu, had told journalists that the party’s NWC did not want to zone the posts of principal officers without hearing from the President-elect.
Speaking after an extended NWC meeting, in which only about six members were absent, Adamu explained that the meeting afforded the committee the opportunity to unite more than ever before to offer robust leadership.
He maintained that although the NWC did not deliberate on the issue of zoning of floor functionaries of NASS, “we have to carry along the president-elect, in the person of Ahmed Bola Tinubu.”
The former Nasarawa State governor noted that the NWC would not try to quench the ambition of those who are predicating their aspiration on either “zonal, individual or institutional interests.”
“We cannot deny them, but as long as those considerations are there, we have to find a persuasive manner to get some level of consensus. That is what we are working on and it does not have to be a one-day affair.”
But, dismissing Akpabio’s endorsement by Tinubu, a former Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), who is also a Senator-elect, Andulaziz Yari, said it was unacceptable for the Executive arm to school the legislature on how to run its affairs or impose a leadership on it.
Yari explained that the stance of the President-elect was not enough to banish his ambition to lead the 10th Senate, insisting that he would not step down like Governor David Umahi and Senator Ali Ndume.
Yari, who spoke while addressing leaders of his Tinubu Shettima Network (TSN) in Abuja, Saturday, noted that election of the Senate Presidency remains the exclusive preserve of Senators.
He stated: “The constitutional stipulations on the matter are very clear. Whatever we do on the day of inauguration would be based strictly on the constitution rather than the instructions of any one man. So, it is a question of Senators exercising their constitutional rights there.”
Also, current NGF chairman, Governor Simon Lalong, who was the Director General of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, told the audience at the Ninth Annual Sir Ahamdu Bello Memorial Lecture on Leadership, that the Northern governors did not envisage a Tinubu Presidency.
At the event that held in Lafia, Nasarawa State, the Plateau State governor noted that as at the time of moving for a Southern President, the Northern governors did not take their stand with Tinubu in mind.
He explained that what was uppermost in the minds of the governors was basically “to promote the unity, peace and stability of Nigeria within the spirit of fairness, equity and justice, which the late Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, stood for.”
“When I led my colleagues in the Northern Governors Forum to push for power shift to the South, it was not because we wanted Asiwaju to be President. Rather, we wanted to ensure that justice and fairness prevail in our nation for unity, peace and harmony.”
But, shortly after Tinubu emerged as APC presidential standard bearer and failed to pick any of the outgoing governors from the Northwest states as his running mate, some chieftains from the zone began to grumble, complaining that being the zone with the highest number of voters, their zone ought to be considered.
It would be recalled that in a bid to bolster Tinubu’s confidence on the workability of Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket, Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el Rufai, prevailed on Senator Uba Sani to adopt his deputy, Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, as his running mate for the 2023 governorship poll.
Former APC national secretary, Architect Waziri Bulama, however, told The Guardian that the decision to adopt the Muslim/Muslim ticket was reached after wide consultations among party stakeholders, remarking that only the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal and former House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, rejected it.
As the inauguration of the Tenth National Assembly draws closer, the issue of religious balance has once again crept to the fore, with Senators-elect from the South contending that a Christian from the Southern part of the country should be supported to mount the saddle as President of Senate and Chairman of National Assembly.
But, noting the potential of religious sentiments to divide the National Assembly, the leaders of Renewed Hope Advocates (RHA), a pro-Bola Tinubu presidency group, pleaded with gladiators to avoid ethnic and religious sentiments.
While noting that the ethnic based campaigns could prove counter-production to nation building, the group’s Director General, Olufemi-Daniels Agbaoku, declared: “This is not the first time we are having same faith leadership at the National Assembly and heaven did not fall. In fact, the Muslims never made a fuss of it. But the Christians cannot continue to stoke religion politics, because it is nothing but defeatist.
“In our not-too-distant-history, we had David Mark and Ike Ekweremadu at the head of the National Assembly leadership and both were Christians, who held their grounds without pandering to sentiments. We have to move past this and the Tenth National Assembly provides the opportunity for that.”
Daniels noted that one of the greatest takeaways from the election of Tinubu, is that it has defeated religion in the politics of our nation with his Muslim-Muslim ticket, and urged politicians to sustain that effort “and take out that enemy of Nigeria (religion) from her politics.”
Yet, a member of the Arewa Consultative Forum (AFC), Musa Saidu, has maintained that the north would not support Akpabio to head the Tenth National Assembly, when there are capable northern lawmakers to occupy the position and protect the interests of the region.
In a statement in Abuja, Sunday, Said expressed reservations about an Akpabio headship of the Senate, pointing out that only ignorant northerner would endorse the former Akwa Ibom governor for the position of Senate President.
Part of the statement read: “We hereby dissociate ourselves from the endorsement of Sen. Godswill Akpabio for the Senate Presidency by a coalition of Northern groups. The Coalition is not speaking for the North; it was just speaking for itself.
“No true Northern group will want to endorse Akpabio for a sensitive position like that of Senate President because he is not friendly with the North. We are the people who know Akpabio, because we are resident in the South, we know those who are friendly with the Northern people and Akpabio is actually not one of them.”
Spokesperson of APC, Felix Morka told The Guardian that the party would do whatever is necessary and constitutional to ensure that the next administration delivers good governance to the people of Nigeria.