• Saraki group supports Ndume, Yerima for senate leader, chief whip
All Progressives Congress continued to talk over the recent resentments regarding the headship of the National Assembly with the party’s legislators at the weekend to try to prevent the problem from festering. Last week, the party was said to have proposedconcessions aimed at accommodating key interest groups in the sharing of principal posts. But such moves were opposed by supporters of the new leaders of the National Assembly.
In the House of Representatives, a proposal by the APC leadership to concede the post of House Leader to Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who was the party’s choice for the speakership, was opposed by the new Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
Dogara had defeated Gbajabiamila in the contest for speaker on June 9 owing to collaboration between a section of APC’s 225 members and Peoples Democratic Party’s 125 members, a situation that enraged the APC leadership.
Dogara’s argument, THISDAY gathered, was that the South-west, where Gbajabiamila hails from, had already produced the deputy speaker in the person of Hon. Yusuf Lasun, and could not rightly produce the majority leader while there were zones that were yet to get any principal position.
A source, however, said the position of chief whip of the House of Representatives had been zoned to the South-south, with Hon. Pally Iriase representing Owan East federal constituency of Edo State, being tipped to occupy the position.
In the Senate, THISDAY learnt that the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, had no issues with whoever occupied the remaining principal positions. However, his supporters, under the aegis of Senators of Like Mind, ruled out the possibility of conceding the office of Senate Majority Leader to the Senate Unity Forum, a group of senators loyal to Senator Ahmed Lawan. Lawan was Saraki’s main rival in the contest for the senate presidency.
Saraki had emerged senate president on June 9 with the votes of 57 senators, comprising mainly the bloc votes of Peoples Democratic Party’s 49 senators, against his party, APC’s favourite, Lawan. Most of the 59 APC senators in the 109-member Senate were away, reportedly, for a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari on how to resolve the divisions in the party when the election of the senate president took place. In the House of Representatives, too, a similar collaboration between a section of APC and PDP members, backed by the Saraki group, had led to the emergence of Dogara as Speaker, contrary to the nomination of Gbajabiamla for the post by the APC leadership.
The outcome of the election of the National Assembly leadership set off a crisis that has continued to make the majority party’s hold on the legislature wobbly.
But last week, the leadership of APC under its national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, put forward suggestions to try to douse the tensions by conceding some of the remaining principal positions in both chambers of the National Assembly to members of the Senate Unity Forum, which is widely believed to be supported by the APC national leader, Bola Tinubu.
Backed by the APC leadership, the Senate Unity Forum was said to be pushing for the election of Lawan and Senator George Akume as Senate Majority Leader and Deputy Senate Majority Leader, respectively, and Professor Olusola Adeyeye as Senate Chief Whip and Abu Ibrahim as Deputy Chief Whip.
A reliable source among the Senators of Like Mind told THISDAY yesterday in confidence that the group had settled for Ndume (Borno South) as the next senate leader. He also disclosed that the group had resolved to elect Senator Ahmad Sani, nicknamed Yerima (Zamfara North), as the senate whip.
The source further told THISDAY that at a meeting of the APC leadership with senators on Thursday, there were suggestions that the office of the senate leader should be conceded to Lawan as compensation over his loss to Saraki. But according to the Saraki supporter, conceding such a sensitive position to a rival group may create problems for the senate president. He, however, said the Senators of Like Mind were ready to concede the posts of deputy senate leader and deputy whip to the Senate Unity Group.
He said, “Immediately Bukola emerged as the senate president, we held a meeting that the senate leader must be somebody from the group. Otherwise, it will create trouble for us. So we resolved that we must get somebody from our group as senate leader or whip because if we don’t, it will create confusion.
“At the initial stage, other members said we must take position. They wanted Ahmad Lawan to be senate leader, but we said no, because we want somebody among us. Our decision is that Ali Ndume will be senate leader and Yerima will be the whip. They are free to take from the remaining two positions – deputy senate leader or deputy whip.”
The source said APC had zoned positions in the National Assembly but lacked the “political will to enforce the zoning.”
In a similar vein, Yerima and Danjuma Goje, members of the Saraki group, said at separate interviews with newsmen yesterday in Abuja that the alleged move by APC to fill the remaining principal positions with ranking members of the Senate Unity Forum amounted to unlawful imposition.
Yerima said, “The Senate Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader, Senate Chief Whip, Deputy Chief Whip are elected by the caucuses and the 8th Assembly cannot be different. The best thing the party can do, given the circumstances, is to give us directives. Any attempt to impose will be resisted and this will further divide the party.”
Goje stated, “Imposition and impunity were what drove us away from the PDP.”
But a spokesman for the Lawan group, Senator Kabir Marafa, dismissed the position of the Saraki supporters as perpetuation of lawlessness. He told THISDAY by telephone, “Our group is meeting with the party and the president. For people who felt they didn’t win election through the party, they can do whatever they want. All l know is that the leadership of APC will decide who holds whatever office.”
THISDAY gathered that members of the group met yesterday in Keffi, Nasarawa State, to perfect moves to invalidate the election of Saraki and PDP’s Ike Ekweremadu as senate president and deputy senate president, respectively. A prominent senate source who was privy to the plans said many senators “attended the meeting at the instance of one of their colleagues and many steps towards reclaiming the lost mandate were discussed. Many of the senators were enraged that the party could not sanction the utter contempt with which some of its members treated the party and, hence, decided to prevail on the party’s leadership to toe the line of discipline.”
In a related development, PDP governors and the party’s National Working Committee are billed to meet tomorrow to discuss modalities for the sharing of the minority posts in the Senate and House of Representatives. The NWC, led by the acting PDP national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, would also at the meeting debate the issue of the election of a substantive chairman, THISDAY learnt.
The National Working Committee of APC met last week in Abuja and considered various options to try to reconcile its members in the National Assembly. The NWC initiated several consultative sessions and discussed the sharing of the remaining principal offices.
Odigie-Oyegun in a statement on Friday said the party had reached out to all interested parties, stressing that when the National Assembly resumes this week, Nigerians would see one harmonious, happy APC family.
“We owe it to our party, our teeming members and supporters and, indeed, all Nigerians, who reposed so much confidence in us by voting us into office, to quickly put the unfortunate incidents of the recent past behind us and forge ahead,” he said.