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NASS Leadership Tussle:Tension in APC over secret ballot rule

By Azimaz Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abuh, Matthew Ogune (Abuja), Ayodele Afolabi (Ado-Ekiti) and Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt)
10 June 2023   |   4:00 am
Despite President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s meeting with 109 Senators-elect and 360 House of Representatives members-elect at the President Villa, Abuja, to seek their support for the chosen candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly, there are indications that the candidates are still not convinced of their chances of victory when the lawmakers-elect cast their votes on Tuesday.

10th National Assembly.Pix: Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre

• Simultaneous voting in both chambers makes race unpredictable
• Nomination of Akpabio, Abass in order, says Bamidele
• Clark urges Senators-elect to support Christian candidate for equity
• Rivers Gov, N’Delta Youths back party’s zoning formula

Despite President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s meeting with 109 Senators-elect and 360 House of Representatives members-elect at the President Villa, Abuja, to seek their support for the chosen candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly, there are indications that the candidates are still not convinced of their chances of victory when the lawmakers-elect cast their votes on Tuesday.

The APC preferred candidates are Godswill Akpabio, Jibrin Barau, Tajudeen Abbas and Benjamin Kalu for Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.

With the refusal of other candidates to withdraw from the race and back the party’s anointed candidates, it was learnt that the Akpabio camp has become uncomfortable with the Senate’s standing rule that stipulates secret voting, which makes it impossible for ‘kingmakers’ to monitor and influence Senators-elect in their favour.

Although the top hierarchy of the APC, including members of the National Working Committee (NWC) and state governors may be present at the plenary, the rule makes it difficult for them to achieve little in the task of influencing voting.

The Senate rule states that “when two or more senators-elect are nominated and seconded as Senate President, the election shall be conducted by electronic voting or voting by secret ballot, which shall be conducted by the Clerks-at-Table using the list of the Senators-elect of the Senate, who shall each be given a ballot paper to cast his vote, with the proposers and seconder as Teller.”

The standing rule further states that, “the Clerk of the Senate shall submit the result of the voting to the Clerk of the National Assembly who shall then declare the Senator-elect who has received the highest number of votes as Senate President-elect. (i) When more than two Senators-elect are nominated and seconded to be Senate President, the division shall be conducted in the manner prescribed in Order 3(3)(e) (ii) herein and the Senator-elect who has received the highest number of votes shall be declared the Senate President- elect.

In the event of two or more Senators-elect receiving highest but equal number of votes, the name of the candidate having the smallest number of votes shall be excluded from subsequent divisions, a further division shall take place. This voting shall continue until one candidate receives a simple majority of votes of the Senators-elect. Such person will then be declared Senate President-elect.”

Also, with the amendment of the House of Representatives rules to allow the Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly to conduct the election in the absence of the clerk, which means that the elections could be conducted simultaneously, the stage is set for an unpredictable outcome.

Traditionally, the clerk of the National Assembly conducts the election in the Senate and later proceeds to the House of Representatives to conduct the election of the Speaker and the deputy speaker.

In 2015, the emergence of Abubakar Bukola Saraki from Kwara State (North Central) as Senate President paved the way for the emergence of Yakubu Dogara from Bauchi (North East) to emerge as Speaker of the House of Representatives because the then ambition of Ahmad Lawan from Borno State (North East) had been thwarted. Thus, it became easy for lawmakers from the North East in the House of Representatives to withdraw from the camp of Femi Gbajabiamila and pitch tent with Dogara’s camp, having lost the opportunity to produce the Senate President.

But the same scenario may not play out on Tuesday, as elections would take place at the same time in both chambers.
A candidate for the position of Senate President, Abdulaziz Yari from Zamafara State, has seen his campaign gather momentum in the last few weeks despite the endorsement of Akpabio by the APC.

Also, the outgoing Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase, who is vying for the position of speaker, has insisted that he would take the race to the wire.
Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, who was re-elected to represent Ekiti Central Senatorial District, has said that the APC committed no wrong by nominating its preferred choices for the leadership positions in the Senate and House of Representatives.

In an interview with The Guardian, Bamidele said the protests against the choices of the party were expected, adding that the party has a duty to ensure proper dialogue and carry every zone along.

He said: “There is no doubt that the party has taken a decision and it’s a decision that cannot be said to have gone well with everybody or everyone involved. In every democracy, the minority will always have their say while the majority will have their way. As far as I am concerned, I believe that what is playing out is a situation where some interests that feel not being carried along in the decision made by the party are protesting, which is normal.

“Protestation is an integral aspect of democracy itself. What the APC has done in zoning positions to different political zones is not an exclusive preserve of the party. It’s not anything unusual; it’s not anything unheard of. It is consistent with global best practice in advanced democracies around the world.

“Back home in Nigeria, definitely, even the minority parties will still do their zoning because principal offices also exist for minority parties. Out of the 10 principal positions, four of them will go to the minority; which is the minority leader, deputy minority leader, minority whip and deputy minority whip. As for me, the fact that our party has come up with a zoning formula and some people are not happy about it is still part of the game. What is most important is the ability and sincerity of the leadership of the party and the President, as the leader of the party, to ensure proper dialogue among different stakeholders and negotiate where it is necessary to ensure that no geo-political zone is left behind and no strong or relevant stakeholder is left behind. The party is doing that.”

Meanwhile, an elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, has joined the stream of Nigerians pushing for the emergence of a Christian as the next Senate President.

In an open letter to Senators-elect ahead of their inauguration on Tuesday, he argued that the call was based on ensuring a peaceful and harmonious relationship among Nigerians.

The nonagenarian said it behooves the senators to ensure that the country remains where the citizens genuinely trust one another, regard themselves as equal citizens and as brothers and sisters.

His words: “Our division is hindering us from taking our pride of place both in the African continent and globally. It is time to heal our land, and in so doing, what I expect of the 10th Senate is to give the position of Senate President to a Christian senator from the southern part of the country.

“It is only fair, equitable and just to do so. We have Their Excellencies, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Kashim Shetima as President and Vice President of the country. Both of them are Muslims. The Chief Justice of the Federation, Olukayode Ariwoola is a Muslim.
“Making a Muslim the Senate President will be unacceptable to any discerning mind that thinks well of this country, as it will mean that the three arms of government are all headed by Muslims. It is also to be noted that the person tipped to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives is equally a Muslim.

“Nigerians and indeed those agitating for this unequal and unjust treatment to be meted on Christians should remember what happened in 2014. Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu was to be the running mate to General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) under the ticket of the APC.
“It was the same party leaders who objected to this arrangement on the grounds that a Muslim-Muslim ticket is not suitable for Nigeria. Tinubu listened to voice of reasoning and nominated Prof. Yemi Osinbajo for the position of the Vice President. What has changed now?
“Once again, I appeal to the 10th Senate that as they choose their leaders to be directed by true sense of reasoning. The position should be given to a Christian southerner.
“I appeal to the northerners to look into their stand again. The Muslims need the Christians and the Christians need the Muslims. No one group should think that they can do it alone.”

Similarly, the Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities Youth Leaders Council has appealed to the leadership of the APC not to renege on its zoning arrangement, which favours Akpabio, a Christian.

The Council, after its general meeting in Abuja, urged the ruling APC not to bow to pressure from those who are against the candidacy of the “best man for the job.”

The council’s President-General, Comrade Terry Obieh, who addressed the press after the meeting, said Akpabio remained the best choice for the senate president position among personalities from Southern Nigeria.
Obieh also revealed that youths from the Niger Delta region have been working assiduously to ensure that he emerges the Senate President in the 10th National Assembly.

“We the ethnic nationality youths leaders from the Niger Delta, the zone of Senator Godswill Akpabio unequivocally declare our unalloyed support to APC zoning of the Senate presidency to South-South and throw our weight behind Akpabio.
“We recall that the last time the position came to our zone was in 1979, which was the Second Republic, which saw the emergence of Senator Joseph Wayas.

“We plead with all the senators-elect to join hands to ensure that our zone produce the next senate president,” he said.
Obieh, however, warned that any scheming and pressure on the party to throw out Akpabio would be counterproductive.

“We have heard and seen how some persons are piling pressure on the APC leadership to drop Akpabio, and we warn that if that happens it will affect the party negatively and that would be counterproductive. Therefore, we counsel that the choice of the party be upheld.

“We also call on all Nigerians to join hands with President Tinubu to build our great nation and make it the giant of Africa indeed, the joy of Black nations and the citadel of greatness, and once again reclaim our enviable position in the comity of nations,” he added.

Rivers State Governor Siminalayi Fubara also declared support for Akpabio and Abbas.

The governor, in a meeting with the National Assembly members-elect from the state in Port Harcourt, yesterday, said the decision was to advance Nigeria’s interest.

He said the position of the state should be the interest of all elected National Assembly members from Rivers State.

The governor charged members-elect not to veer off the declared interest of the state but remain focused in electing the preferred choices.