Saraki, Lawan In Tight Race
THE intrigues and high level horse-trading involved in the race for the Senate Presidency of the 8th Senate has narrowed down to a straight fight between two ranking Senators, Lawan Ahmed of Yobe State and Bukola Saraki of Kwara
Even before the formal withdrawal of former Benue State Governor and Senate Minority leader, George Akume, from the race last week, it had become obvious that he belonged to the camp of Lawan, who has been enjoying solid support from the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC). However, more and more characters are throwing up issues that kept changing the predictions.
Two main issues have emerged since they announced their intention: Party supremacy and discipline the one hand; these have been canvassed by those committed to Lawan.
There is also the issue of independence of the legislature that has been the thrust of the campaign of Saraki’s supporters.
Officially, the APC leadership has not announced any candidate for the Senate Presidency, but some strong forces within the party leadership have been reported to have blessed the Lawan candidature. When Lawan addressed the media last Wednesday, Senator Oluremi Tinubu was present, an indication that her husband, the APC national leader, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was supporting Lawan.
This development has, however, attracted negative response from Senators canvassing for the election of Saraki. They see the support for Lawan as an attempt to dictate to the Senate on who becomes its president.
According to the group, the main issue is to allow the lawmakers to exercise some levels of freedom in electing their leader. Again, the struggle by those APC chieftains who defected from the PDP to gain prominence is one that has positioned the Saraki group against the APC leadership.
Apart from the popular Group of five (G-5) governors, who defected from the PDP to the APC, along with their supporters in January 2014, the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, House of Representatives’ Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, and quite a number of outgoing Senators belonged to this group, which has now formed a formidable caucus in the APC.
Both candidates had laid claims to some levels of support. Lawan declared last week that he had the support of 37 APC Senators, while Saraki claimed that 35 Senators of the party are supporting him. Lawan has increased the number of supporters to 40.
However, when the two candidates had the opportunity to prove that they truly enjoy the support of APC Senators as they claim, they paraded numbers of Senators quite below their claims.
During a retreat organised by the APC in Abuja for all Senators elected on its platform, the Saraki campaign group led by Senator Dino Melaye, paraded some 24 senators, while the Lawan group paraded seven Senators.
Due to the crisis that this contest had generated, the retreat ended up polarising the incoming lawmakers into two different camps. While a group of senators, under the aegis of Senate Unity Forum, led by Gemade (Benue North-east), threw its weight behind Lawan (Yobe North), another group, named “Senators of Like Mind,” went with Saraki (Northcentral).
The division ruined the plan of the party leadership to produce a consensus candidate at the retreat. The party had planned to conduct a primary election among the three senators vying for the office so that whoever won the election would be the party’s sole candidate for the office when the 8th Senate would be inaugurated.
It was gathered that the leadership of APC under its national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and the deputy national chairman, Senator Lawan Shuaib, had tried to use the retreat to reach a negotiated agreement among the senators. But when it proved difficult, the leaders were said to have advised the three main contenders, Saraki, Akume and Lawan to go and sort the issues out among themselves.
It was also gathered that the party’s leadership was forced to cancel the planned primary after discovering that most of the senators present might not like it. The primary election and zoning issues later became a burden on the APC leadership as many senators saw them as part of the strategy to impose a candidate on them.
The Lawan group known as the Unity forum, which is believed to be enjoying unofficial support of the APC leadership, was forced to issue a statement later stating that no primary election was ever contemplated.
The party said it was deeply embarrassed by the story, which it claimed was apparently planted in the media to sow the seeds of instability in the party.
Caucuses in the Northwest and Southwest are backing Senator Lawan’s bid for the job, with the home support of his governor. The support of the Northeast caucus and Northcentral caucus, understandably, are not his, given the challenge by some other senators from the two zones, Ali Ndume and Danjuma Goje,who are now openly campaigning for Saraki.
The solid support for Lawan from the Southwest zone is also being challenged by the slight disagreement among Senators, some of whom now prefer that the Senate be allowed to elect its own President. This group of Southwest Senators are said to be pushing for a secret voting to avoid being which-hunted later by the party over their manner of voting.
Lawan has to work very hard to increase his level of support from his North East zone where he appears to be losing much ground.
A few weeks ago, some Northeast senators-elect had publicly disclaimed the alleged backing they were reported to have given Lawan. That situation seemed to have changed recently, when a senior senator from the region, Senator Abba Ibrahim, countered with an endorsement on behalf of the people and government of Yobe State.
On Saraki’s chances, his inner caucus is banking on the 12 senators of the APC from the Northeast that rejected the aspiration of Lawan. Also, he appeared to have secured the support of four other Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators from the zone.
From the Northcentral, it was gathered that apart from Senators George Akume and Barnabas Gemade, all other 11 APC senators are in full support of Saraki, while there is a split among the senators from Sokoto, Jigawa, Kebbi and Zamfara.
With the serious divisions within APC incoming senators of the Peoples Democratic Party, may hold the key to determining who the new president of the senate would be.
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