Saturday, 9th December 2023

How presidency’s last minute intervention shaped NASS leadership election

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh and Adamu Abuh (Abuja), Godwin Ijediogor (Asaba) and Julius Osahon (Yenagoa)
14 June 2023   |   4:22 am
The 63 against 45 votes recorded in Tuesday’s Senate presidential election showed how serious and intriguing the contest was. Issues of competence, religion, ethnicity, and even region came into play while the over three months campaigns for the Senate Presidency lasted.

• Akpabio: Beginning of a new era, says PANDEF
• Open voting, a game changer on Abass’ election
• Azaiki, Robinson, Nwosu, others hail Akpabio’s emergence

The 63 against 45 votes recorded in Tuesday’s Senate presidential election showed how serious and intriguing the contest was. Issues of competence, religion, ethnicity, and even region came into play while the over three months campaigns for the Senate Presidency lasted.

The Muslim-Muslim ticket of the Bola Tinubu Presidency became a serious problem for the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the need to ensure religious balancing pushed the party into a serious and desperate campaign to get a Christian Senate president. This was particularly important when the Abdulaziz Yari camp was reported to have raised concerns about the need to balance the ethnic configuration of Nigeria.
The stage for the election of the former Akwa-Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio was set as early as last Thursday when the Presidency renewed its campaigns for the party’s anointed candidate.
Vice President Kashim Shettima did not hide his feelings when he openly declared that the Presidency would immediately begin a passionate and subtle diplomacy in reaching out to many senators-elect, particularly those on the side of the former Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari.
But Shettima’s message to Senators-elect present at the pre-election meeting convened by Akpabio’s stability group in the popular Lagos-Osun hall of the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja was targeted at the sensitive issue of the likely religious imbalance that could hit the country should Yari emerge Senate President.
Before the meeting with members of the Stability Group, the Vice-President had met with some lawmakers, particularly from the North already being swayed by the Abdul Aziz Yari narrative that the North is at the receiving end of power distribution by the Tinubu administration.
Senator Shettima’s involvement in the mobilisation for Akpabio-Jibrin ticket was at the instance of members of the Stability Group who were already jolted that Senator Yari’s narrative that the Northern interest be protected was gaining traction amongst Senators from the region.
At the dinner hosted on Saturday at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Shettima confirmed that he has seized the initiative to sell the Akpabio-Jubrin ticket, which he noted, was meant to promote stability and national cohesion.
He told the gathering that he would not relent in talking and pleading with some of the lawmakers-elect working to install Yari.
He said: “I am ready to beg my colleagues. I don’t want to mention their names but I am sure I will bring about five senators from the other camp to join this group.  My friend, Senator Ibrahim Geidam, will give us all the senators from Yobe State. I am working on Taraba. Let me leave it here, I don’t want to expose all my strategy. I will take your permission to leave now because I still have consultations to make tonight.”
The Vice-President also explained why his principal, Bola Ahmed Tinubu picked Godswill Akpabio from south-south and a Christian as his favoured candidate for the office. He recalled the demonisation, which trailed the APC Muslim-Muslim ticket and submitted that the Akpabio-Jibrin ticket was to give Christians a sense of belonging and ultimately, promote national cohesion.
He said: “This gathering represents the Nigerian nation. Here we are with a Muslim president and Vice President in a multi ethnic country like Nigeria. Justice and equity demands that the number three person must be a Christian. We must strive for inclusivity. This is a young nation where every community will like to be given a sense of belonging.”
The Vice president continued: “Politics is about perception, it is about optics. I want to appeal to you that the stability of the nation is greater than the stability of your pocket. We are talking about the sustainability of the nation. The country is at a threshold.” Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator George Akume applauded the Forum for acknowledging the diversity of the country.
“This forum appreciates the value of diversity. Diversity, if not well-managed can lead to disaster. Society has collapsed because they can’t manage diversity. Your focus is on the stability of the polity. With the number I have seen today, this is the winning team. I wish you the best of luck on Tuesday,” he stated.
For three and a half months, the National Assembly leadership politics dominated the political atmosphere in the country. It became particularly interesting when President Tinubu and the leadership of the APC officially endorsed the former Akwa-Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio as the official candidate for the Senate Presidency.
Allegations and counter allegations had equally been made about the role played by money in the campaigns.  It was Ndume who first raised allegations that money was being shared in dollars to buy Senators-elect votes. He said some aspirants boast of their capabilities to share as much as $200,000 to fellow members to buy their votes.
But waving off claims by the Akpabio camp that senators-elect were financially induced to move en masse to Yari, a member of the Yari camp, who would not want his name in print, described the allegation as “not only false and laughable, also unfortunate, irresponsible and a feeble resort to falsehood and smear campaign, which is unbecoming of any individual that wants to lead an institution as important as the Senate.”
He stressed that Senators-elect “are already made, respected, contented, very responsible and independent-minded individuals who cannot be compromised or induced.”
According to him, senators-elect across the camps see this allegation as a deliberate smear on their individual and collective reputation, integrity and image.

Akpabio’s victory foretold
A night before the day of the election, news went round that some aspirants had stepped down for Akpabio. Ndume sent out a press statement in which he disclosed that two leading senate presidential aspirants, Orji Uzor Kalu and Osita Izunaso, met with the APC’s anointed candidates, Godswill Akpabio and endorsed his ambition.
Similarly, President of the 9th Senate, Ahmad Lawan, was said to have also met with President Tinubu and Godswill, where the Yobe senator was said to have promised to deliver the former Akwa Ibom State Governor.
Ndume, who was the Director General of the Akpabio Campaign, told journalists that 15 senators-elect from the South East met with Akpabio, where they reportedly endorsed his candidacy.
He said that with that endorsement, Yari’s bid had hit the rocks and his plans of usurping the zoning arrangements had failed. Speaking further, Ndume said former governors from the North, who hitherto refused to support Akpabio, have also made a U-turn. He listed Danjuma Goje, Aliyu Wamakko, Adamu Aliero, among others. He said Sani Musa who had settled for the position of the Deputy President of the Senate, has also stepped down and has endorsed Jibrin Barau.
MEANWHILE, the introduction of the controversial open voting in the House of Representatives standing orders played a major role in the emergence of Dr. Tajudeen Abbas as the 10th Speaker of the lower legislative chamber.

The open show of support by President Tinubu, his Vice, Shettima, and the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) and the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) further ensured a smooth sail for Abbas.
Open voting as against the open secret voting system had enabled the lawmakers to exercise their franchise without any let or hindrances since the return to democratic rule in 1999.
But for secret voting, the likes of Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, and Yakubu Dogara would not have emerged Speaker of the House of Representatives by defeating Adeola Mulikat Akande and Femi Gbajabiamila against the will of the then Presidents, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari and their respective political parties, the peoples democratic party (PDP) and the ruling APC in the 7th and 8th Assemblies.
Gbajabiamila, who eventually realised his aspiration, as the Speaker of the 9th Assembly, is believed to be the mastermind of the review of the voting system to avert backstabbing and betrayal that has become a common feature of the House of Representatives elections.
Prior to the election of Abbas, campaign coordinators of a coalition of aspirants for the Speakership seat comprising Gbajabiamila, Ahmed Wase, Muktar Aliyu Betara, Yusuf Adamu Gagdi, Aminu Sani Jaji, Sada Soli and Miriam Onuoha had raised eyebrows on the introduction of the open ballot system on the basis that it was antithetical to the tenets of democracy.
Indeed, there were media reports, apparently instigated by the coalition of aggrieved aspirants that an open ballot system was introduced through the backdoor in breach of due process.
However, the chairman of the House Committee on Basic Education and Services, Prof Julius Ihonvbere, who chaired the panel that reviewed the rules in 2019 faulted the report.
Ihonvbere, in a statement released by the Secretariat of the ‘Joint Task – 10th Assembly’, a coalition of members-elect of the APC and opposition parties, recalled how the House, on July 25, 2019, unanimously considered and adopted the report by his panel on a series of amendments to the Standing Orders of the House.
The Edo born lawmaker also denied interference by the then Speaker, Gbajabiamila, in the process.  Ihonvbere referred to Page 32 of the Gazetted Votes and Proceedings July 25, 2019, in the House’s Gazette of Votes and Proceedings Official Records to buttress his position.
According to Ihonvbere in a statement,  “For the records: Anyone insinuating the House Rules was forged to allow open voting is either ignorant of what the members of the House of Representatives passed at plenary on Thursday, July 25, 2019, or is mischievous or intend to manipulate the election process of the 10th House against the rule of law.”
The statement reads: “Let me state very clearly that I was the chairman of the ad hoc committee that reviewed our standing orders. Those that know me can attest to the fact that I adhere to the highest levels of integrity in any assignment I undertake. The process was transparent and in line with our Rules. Mr. Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, did not interfere once in our deliberations. I never had even a one-on-one meeting with the Speaker throughout the process. The committee finalised its work and it was laid out accordingly…the rest is history.”
THE Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) has described the emergence of Senator Akpabio, as the beginning of a new era, expressing happiness that there are still some Nigerians that believe in equity and fairness in the political leadership of the country.
National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Dr. Ken Robinson, told The Guardian that it is one of the best things that have happened recently in the country for the South-South, recalling that the organisation had earlier called on the APC and its leadership to zone the office of President of the Senate to the South-South.
He said: “Subsequently, they did and yesterday, 63 senators demonstrated that they believe in equity and fairness, as against 46 senators who wanted the political leadership of Nigeria to be an all-Muslim leadership, President Bola Tinubu and his vice, Kassim Shettima being Muslims.
“Thanks be to God that we still have people in the senate who have conscience and believe that our diversity can be managed and that in a complex society like Nigeria, there is a need to balance power.
“So, PANDEF is happy with the development and we congratulate Akpabio on his emergence as senate president of the 10th National Assembly. We wish him the best and we are sure that he would provide robust leadership and assist Tinubu to move Nigeria to the next level.
“We think that Akpabio’s emergence is the beginning of a new era.”
  A former member of the House of Representatives in the 9th National Assembly, Prof. Steve Azaiki said it is good that a minority from the South-South is given the opportunity to serve this country at that level.
“Further more, Akpabio is very qualified, having served as governor and minister.” The National Chairman of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralph Okey Nwosu, said the lawmakers have made their choices, but the people remain worried about the role of the executive in arriving at such choices.
He stated: “Moving forward, for the National Assembly to become real, the principle of seniority should apply. You cannot have a first-time lawmaker emerge leader of any of both chambers; seniority is critical.
“Even though we want to do our ethnic balancing and diversity management, seniority should be critical in the leadership of the National Assembly. That will go a long way in reducing the in-fighting and tussle for positions in the Legislature.
“I was at Transcorp Hilton on Monday and discovered that one of the senators had taken over a floor of the five-star hotel, while another one took two whole floors, just because the National Assembly was going to elect its leadership yesterday and a lot of horse-trading was going on. The cost of a standard room in Transcorp is between N250, 000 and N600, 000 per day/night.
“This is one of the things that affect the cost of governance, because by the time one spends millions of US dollars to get to a position of influence and authority, he might begin to engage in things and activities that could cost the country huge sums of money as he tries to recoup.
“Well, as for the leadership of the Legislature, this is the choice of the senators and representatives, willy-nilly, but one believes that maintaining seniority will help to reduce the level of horse-trading and spending of resources to get certain positions.”
For the National President of Niger Delta Non Violence Agitator Forum (NDNAF), Wilson Ikuli, Akpabio is an outstanding personality who has successfully institutionalised his name in Nigerian politics because of his good works, as his footprints and legacies in Akwa Ibom State remain unmatched and unequalled. “He is a leader that believes so much in team work and a true nationalist, which is the reason he has built political bridges across the country. He does not subscribe to parochial and primordial sentiments that characterise some leaders that do not think or see beyond tribal and religious sentiments.
“So, his election today is a further confirmation of his general acceptance in the polity and also has put a balance to the political equation in the country.

“The people of the Niger Delta (South- South) are indeed grateful to members of the 10th Senate and to Tinubu for finding him worthy for this national assignment.”
On his part, Newuwumi Omolubi, said it is a good development and a plus for the people of Niger Delta, being the first time someone from there is occupying the position.

While congratulating Akpabio, Omolubi said: “We hope and believe that he will bring his experience in governance to the Senate and address all the myriad of underdevelopment, exploitation and deprivation in the region, which has been laying the golden eggs.”
Omolubi, a Warri chief, urged Akpabio, to ensure, among other things, the quick completion of the dilapidated East-West road, quick intervention in the NDDC crisis, completion of the Koko-Oghere road, which was awarded since 1966 end oil theft and that the second phase of the amnesty programme, which is the infrastructural development of the region and yet to begin, years after the promises was made, take prominence.
Leader of the first phase ex-agitators forum, Charles Kurobo, said: “Niger Delta critical stakeholders and political leaders are in support of Akpabio to make a positive difference in Tinubu’s administration.
“The best is what we want from the Niger Delta people, in terms of human empowerment, infrastructural development, social amenities and human capacity building.” 
The Bayelsa State APC Chairman, Dennis Otiotio, while congratulating Akpabio, said: “We are happy that the senators listened to the advice of our party and President in voting for him. We believe he is going to bring his wealth of experience to bear in ensuring that they work cooperatively with the executive arm of government to bring democracy dividends to the people of Nigeria.
“This is the first time the South-South is producing the senate president, we believe Akpabio will use his position to attract development to the region. We pray to God to give him the wisdom and knowledge to pilot the affairs of the senate.”

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